Letting Intuition be Your Guide

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and
the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honors
the servant and has forgotten the gift”.
– Albert Einstein

Having a strong mind-body connection can help you improve your health. The body and mind “message” each other constantly about what to eat or when to rest, what to do. It’s like, “hi can i get an orange juice? not milk this time” or “it’s getting kinda sluggish in here can we move around some more, go outside maybe? Thanks.” It’s all about getting one’s needs met. When we are living in the “information age” as it’s called, our logical minds are so strung out on projects, ideas and the to-do list that we forget the body and stop responding accurately to its’ signals. But the body doesn’t stop messaging. The phone is ringing but no one is picking up. Eventually the signals start getting louder as the needs are not responded to. This is when simple discomfort builds into more serious pain and dis-ease. Simple nourishing touch is an easy and enjoyable way to bring our response-ability back.

Michael Gershon, M.D. wrote the book The Second Brain. After studying the human bowels for 30 years he realized that there are nerve cells in your gut that act as a second brain. It is further explained that as the embryo develops in the womb, neural cells first begin in the gut then divide out to form the spinal cord, split again to form the heart (where there are also neural cells) and split again to form the brain. So when we have a “gut feeling” there’s science in that expression.

Think of the mind-body as a storage house of loads and loads of information on all levels. We absorb more data than we are consciously aware of. We have something of a psychic satellite picking up energies and information from the world in and around us through our eyes and ears (our two more predominant senses) as well as our skin, nose, mouth and just the mind itself as it filters through dream awarenesses, memories, and the akashic record of all we’ve ever known. There’s so much there. The key thing for us at any given moment is filtering it so we know what to focus on. Clarity brings peace.

In this “Infornation Age” as it is often called, we are carrying around too much information. There’s a lot of excess information that doesn’t have much relevance to our lives, to what actually matters to us and our goals or spiritual work for this lifetime. Some of this information needs to be digested and sorted so we can make use of it and some of it just needs to be tossed. Some of this mental processing is actually taking place in our gut or second brain. We are literally digesting our experiences and emotions.

When we’re thinking, reading, or working things over in our minds, this takes energy. In TCM this energy of concentration is governed by the Spleen organ system. Interestingly, the Spleen is also responsible for digestion. Although there are many organs involved in digestion, they are all principally governed by and fed by the energy of the Spleen system. The Spleen is also connected with sense of touch in TCM and so people with Spleen deficiencies (often seen in students and people who do a lot of reading or worrying) are often helped by forms of body work such as shiatsu, tui na, cranio-sacral, ect.

I think of shiatsu as decluttering for my energy system. It gives me a quiet space away from the business of my world and the logic side of the mind. It allows me to “digest” life’s journey and access my gut-level intuition. Zen Shiatsu can strengthen one’s sense of self as touch develops awareness of our skin, our personal boundary of who we are and who we are not. This will bring out an intuitive self-awareness, in a completely organic way.

It’s like Feng Shui for the mind. Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese system of arrangement, is about creating a smooth flow of energy. Intuitively we feel the energy of the space we’re in. A cluttered dirty room gives us some bit of discomfort – if only a subtle mental discomfort – and drags our spirit down or makes us feel a bit anxious to get away soon. On the other hand a very beautiful space, think a garden or a national art gallery tends to be very uncluttered, carefully arranged and lends to feelings of peace and serenity. The relief from visual chaos allows us to remember the simplicity and beauty of life.

We can create a Zen garden in our mind by clearing away some of mental clutter, digesting, sorting and tossing the feelings, attitudes, beliefs that are no longer useful to us now. We can digest and release these thoughts by connecting to our gut brain, feeling it out through body work.

Do you feel more calm when you connect to your body? Love to hear your comments and questions.

Zhan Zhuang and the Myth of Qi Gong as “soft” exercise

Greetings Dear Readers,

I’d like to dispel a big myth about Qi Gong: the idea that Qi Gong is a “soft” exercise that doesn’t really give you a good workout.

During aerobic exercise your energy and blood goes to the periphery of your body (the muscles) to give them fuel to stay active.  Many people have the idea that aerobics are necessary to “burn calories/fat” and to bring your heart rate up to keep it strong.  The downside is after the workout you have an oxygen debt from all the fast breathing that leaves you tired and over time depletes your body, specifically your inner organs, your liver, kidneys, spleen, pretty important organs, so that when you’re older, like in your sixties, maybe fifties even, you don’t have so much energy for those kinds of workouts anymore and this deficiency is a weakness that leaves the door open to disease.

Now with Qi Gong, you can accomplish the same benefits of aerobic exercise but with many added benefits.  Your heart and lungs still get toned but in a deeper way.  Breathing slowly and deeply along with the energy movement coming from mental intention allows oxygen to penetrate much deeper into the tissues which helps tonify not only the heart and lungs but also replenishes energy of the liver, kidney, spleen and many other organs.   Instead of feeling tired and depleted after exercise, you’re going to have more energy than before!

Here is a question answered by the Meiming Qi Gong Cultural Centre:

Q:What is the difference between Qigong and other physical exercises?

A:Most physical exercises, such as running and weight training make people sweat and feel exhausted.  These are in principle exhausting exercises, and they only work our body.  During a physical workout, our body remains in a very tense condition.  The slightest inappropriate movement is likely to cause physical injuries.  In addition, this kind of exercise creates exhaustion, leading to a sense of inner emptiness, and inner emptiness makes us eat more and sleep more to feel fulfilled.  This process turns our body into a battlefield, caught between exhaustion and over-fulfilling.  Our body tends to wear out faster.
On the other hand, Qigong increases our internal fortification as well as improves out physical fitness.  With correct breathing control and special body movements, qi travels freely throughout our internal system.  It has the same effect as cardiovascular exercises, while our body stays in a very relaxed condition, with little risk of physical injuries.  Practicing Qigong has all the benefits of regular physical exercises, but not the bad side effects that regular physical exercises will cause.

You can practice Qi Gong in the back yard, at the office, even in an airport departure lounge (did this once and it really helped fix that icky “just-been-on-the-plane” feeling).  And Qi gong has many added benefits.

One of my favourite Qi Gong exercises, called Zhan Zhuang (say “JAN JONG”) literally means “stand like a tree” and is one of the foundation practices of martial arts.  It’s benefits are almost innumerable.  I have listed a few here to get you started.  The benefits you’ll experience will come quickly if you practice daily, if only for 5-10 minutes.  What happens is rather unique to each person.  One of the first things I noticed was I became a lot more grounded and my ability to handle stress improved dramatically.  In spite of not doing any other type of exercise, I kept my strength up and didn’t need the usual push-ups and sit-ups routine I normally do to maintain my strength for shiatsu work.  It felt like meditation and exercise all rolled into one with very little discomfort.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything entirely wrong with jogging or swimming.  Who doesn’t like a jump in the lake on a hot day?  But for simple health maintenance and fitness improvement do you need to hit the gym everyday? No, not at all.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    32 Benefits of Zhan Zhuang (say “JAN JONG”)

  1. reduce stress                                                        22. Increases stamina
  2. alleviates pain                                                     23. Calms nerves
  3. promotes blood circulation                              24. Slows breathing
  4. lowers blood pressure                                        25. Increases red and white blood cell count
  5. increases longevity                                             26. strengthens sinews
  6. become grounded                                                27. Builds Essence (pre-natal Qi)
  7. develops strong Qi/energy                               28. Brings about fitness without oxygen debt
  8. increases mental clarity                                    29. Heart rate slows and becomes more powerfu
  9. increases vitality                                                 30. Relieves many chronic illnesses
  10. loosens tight muscles                                         31. Strengthens digestion
  11. increases bone density                                       32. Strengthens and expands auric
  12. develops strong limbs                                               electro-magnetic field
  13. develops powerful internal energy                        radiation
  14. Improves concentration
  15. improves mind-body connection
  16. perfects postural alignment
  17. builds confidence
  18. improves mental abilities
  19. improves immunity (study shows nutriphils phagocyctosis increases 50%)
  20. improves quality of sleep
  21. increases sense of well-being
  22. puts the body into healing mode
Read more about the scientific evidence behind Qi Gong in The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing By Ken Cohen.
What benefits do you get from Qi Gong?  Love to hear your comments and questions.
Happy November!

Paradigm Shift and the Roots of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Greetings Dear Readers,

What really blows my mind about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is its’ rootedness in ancient scriptures (dating back between 2000-5000 years ago).  What’s even more fascinating (almost to the point of obsession for TCM geeks like me) is the way ancient medical texts such as the Nei Jing (Yellow Emporer’s Classic) and various Taoist and Buddhist texts describe masters and sages with states of health that far surpass what we ourselves experience even at the best of times.  In the 16 years since I first discovered TCM, I have been fixated on this one question: What were these ancient people doing back then that made them so unbelievably healthy and why do us modern people, with all our technology and material advancement, not have access to those states?

Following a Chinese Philosophy course this last month, I have distilled a bit of information about what makes this possible.  Basically, TCM holds the bar much higher as far as one’s physical and mental health are concerned.  Many detailed instructions are given on eating, sleeping, breathing, exercising, even and especially, new ways of thinking.  That’s really what it’s about for Westerners discovering ancient teachings from the orient, nothing less than a paradigm shift, a complete shift in our cultural ways of thinking. TCM looks at symptoms that to us as Westerners seem like no big deal and explains them as imbalances that can be corrected, setting us on a journey to health that’s better than what we thought possible.  A bit overwhelming at first, but taken from another perspective, the healing tools are often quite simple.  The trick is building these new tools into your daily life.    The magic number is 21.  Do something for 21 days it becomes habit.  Once they become habit, you’re on auto-pilot and barely need to think about it anymore.    Then after a few months, it’s surprise, better health.

These last 2 years I’ve been incorporating more and more Qi Gong into my life.  Admittedly, I can be a bit lazy but what keeps me going is that I keep experiencing the benefits from increased attention span to a less need for sleep to an increase in strength and energy.  And overall I haven’t pushed myself very hard to do this.  A bit of discipline, yes, straining, no.  Some people want to go to Qi Gong classes every week but for me I haven’t always had time for that.  And thankfully, what I’ve learned is that Qi Gong is not only physical exercises but also mental attention and intention: where you put your mind, and this is something I can practice anywhere, almost anytime.  Because probably like a lot of you, I’m living the busy modern life and squeezing things in where I can.  It’s looked more like just taking 5 or 10 minutes here and there in my day while I’m making tea or have a break at work or school.  It’s really been a matter of making the decision to do it, the intention.  Then when those little windows of time open up, I act on it.

In all these ancient teachings in TCM, Buddhism and Daoism, the same mantra pops up again and again: in order to heal the body we must heal the mind.  TCM and Daoism speak about cultivating virtues which bring strength and health to our organ systems: Joy benefits the Heart, Empathy benefits the Spleen, Courage and Integrity benefit the Lungs, Fearlessness benefits the Kidneys and Kindness benefits the Liver.  Buddhism speaks a lot to the need to purify one’s mind.  There is a space, a big beautiful amazing space underneath all the dramas and stresses and worries that circle around our minds many times a day.  We can clear up the negative thoughts and get to the beautiful space, the pure nature of our root mind through purification.

How do we purify our minds?  Having just come back from a Buddhist retreat in New York state last week, we received teachings on four nifty little practices that Buddha called “The Four Opponent Powers”.  Basically, when we goof up in life, (which, let’s face it, happens daily), there are easy ways to clean up the karma.  Fantastic.   The Four Opponent Powers are:  The Power of Regret, The Power of Reliance, The Power of the Opponent Force and The Power of Promise.   Here’s the translation: so I said something dumb to someone yesterday and it hurt their feelings, so Regret means I generate a feeling of wishing I hadn’t hurt someone with my words.  It’s NOT guilt, just “oops, that was a mistake”.  Like if we accidentally ingested poison we don’t sit around moping about it, we just get ourself to the hospital quick.  Reliance means we have faith in holy beings for guidance, protection and blessings.  Opponent Force means doing virtuous actions such as apologizing or being more kind and helpful to people to counter our mistake and finally, Promise means we set a period of time such as a day, a week, a month where we promise to avoid some form of negativity.   This may sound like something you heard when you were in kindergarden but if you think about it deeply, you’ll realize how relevant these teachings are to our world today and even if we all applied just a bit of this to our lives, what a difference it would make.

What do you think about healing the mind with these ancient teachings?  Love to hear your comments and questions.

Happy October!

Creating Harmony with the Autumn Season

Greetings dear Readers,

Autumn is upon us, the entrance way to the cooler and more introspective phase of the year. For some this brings sadness and longing for the return of warmer days and so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective on how to live in harmony and actually enjoy fall, also called “Metal” season according to the TCM 5 Element system.

In the 5 Element system, spring corresponds with the Wood element, the colour green, new beginnings and vigorous energy. We can see this evidenced in our world during spring when many little plants are pushing forth through the earth with great vigor, green buds on the trees that looked so lifeless only a few weeks prior, people coming out of hibernation and taking to the outdoors on bikes or walks in the park, birds laying eggs and the whole celebration of Easter as a resurrection, new life.

But how are we to understand the Metal element in our daily life? Nature seems to be betraying us with the death of much greenery, the end of the harvest, the shorter days and the need to be indoors. Metal seems to represent loss, death and the shrinking of life which sounds anything but health-promoting. In the TCM view, in order to promote balance in one’s body, mind, spirit and society as a whole we learn to embrace each phase of the year through harnessing the virtues of each element.

Standing in front of a polished brass sculpture I see my own reflection. Of the five elements, only two, water and metal, have the capacity to reflect surrounding images. Metal and water, being the two most yin elements of the 5 Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) can be associated with the yin capacity for reflection, a quiet time of inaction to allow for deeper insight. Reflecting on one’s being, one’s life, is part of the inner journey, a yin journey. Reflecting is also yin in the sense of receiving something, more passive, as opposed to yang which is more active and acts upon things. A visual message is received and is imprinted on to the shiny metal in a passive way unlike what the Wood element does when it actively pushes out roots and branches or the way fire spreads “like wild fire”. No, metal is not that. Metal sits and reflects the surroundings.

Metal, although malleable, holds its shape under most conditions. It is quite stable. It is strong, perservering and holds it’s value. Metal coins were perhaps the first monetary system of civilization to replace barter and trade economies because the stable element metal can “hold” the value of goods and services. Even during an economic recession like the one we are in now, we can see how gold trading is at its’ prime. It is the stable value that makes people want to invest in metals such as gold when many other investments are volatile and risky. During hard times and economic collapse, gold is unchanging, holding lasting value. The expression, “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth” expresses how metal’s quality of holding value is shown in the way we associate refined or higher class culture with precious metals such as silver and gold. Similarly, on the mental plane the virtue of metal is the capacity for integrity, maintaining one’s value system even under difficult conditions.

On the human level we can also see the virtue of metal in those that have a strong sense of self-worth. When metal energy is unbalanced, a person looses sight of their own value, their self-worth. It has been suggested that a person with a metal imbalance may seek out external things like money, reputation, fame, and respect from the outside in order to compensate for the lack of self-worth they feel within. It is also suggested that such a person may have a hard time letting go of various outdated attachments, achievements, possessions and attitudes because their self-worth is so strongly tied to these things.

This last point brings us to another quality of Metal: letting go. This quality is personified quite clearly in the two metal element organs: the lungs which take air in then let it go and their partner organ, the large intestine which holds the end products of digestion, then lets them go. A 500 mL tin can hold two cups of water only, any more will spill out. Metal is often used to hold things, a metal airplane holds cargo, a car holds passengers, a pail holds water. Metal brings us down to the essentials of life in preparation for the next phase after Metal, the time of Water, or the winter season, a time of conserving energy, hibernation and retreat. I have seen this process in my own life as my dear grandfather passed away at the end of summer. As a family we must let go and grieve for a family member who has passed on. Interestingly, in many parts of Asia, the colour worn at funerals is white, the colour associated with Metal.

This transition from Metal to Water reminds me of the way Theravadan monks and nuns live their lives with a lot of metal themes such as their vow to have only five personal possessions such as a begging bowl, a razor to cut their hair, notepad and pen. Their way of concentrating on the bare essentials of life gives them the time and energy for their spiritual pursuits such as meditation, helping others and gaining realizations. Here we see the meaning of the ancient TCM view that “Metal is the mother of Water”; metal (concentration) gives birth to of water (spiritual realizations).

Even in the west we have a very metal expression “to cut dead wood” meaning to let go of aspects of our lives that will no longer bear fruit (unworkable projects, useless possessions, meaningless activities) to allow enough time and energy for important things we need to do. In other words, we let go (Metal) of what is not beneficial to us to avoid wasting our time and resources in preparation for the winter season. In winter there is less daylight time and sun (yang) energy to invigorate the body to accomplish tasks. One prepares for this period by using the fall season to pair things down. Interesting while metal often holds things, it also lets them go: many tools used to cut things down or off are made out of metal (scissors, knives, saw, axes).

I see this element playing out for me this autumn season as I let go of old projects from the summer that will never get completed or “bare fruit” so that I can concentrate on what is most essential. The abundant growth and fun and frivolousness of summer gives way to an energy of structure, concentration and settling, getting down to business. It is a sobering, contracting and minimalizing energy, as well as a grieving one as one must let go of the warmth and fruits and joys of summer for a more cold and barren (externally) season ahead. Nature is less bountiful at this time so one must use one’s limited resources more carefully.

I also notice the quality of refinement in Metal. To “sharpen the saw” is an expression about fine-tuning or refining one’s talents and skills. In the same vein, the Metal element in TCM is said to represent the adult years in the life cycle, a time when one has already acquired many skills and abilities from one’s youth (Wood and Fire phase) which can now be refined and used in the service of humanity. Similarly, the phrase to “separate the wheat from the chaff” (presumably accomplished with metal tools or machinery) expresses the same quality of letting go of what is not needed, refining, concentrating, getting down to the essence.

Metal holds structure. On a societal level structure takes the form of routines, discipline and formality. The Metal season of autumn marks a return to school for many young people, a place where academic disciplines are taught and there is a lot of structure to the day. Similarly, a marriage is a ceremony that takes a relationship to a more formal level and is often seen as the foundation of the structure of the family, and interestingly, the occasion is marked by the exchange of metal (such as gold) in the form of a ring.

Finally, with all of its structure, Metal also represents boundaries. The skin is governed by the Metal element where the lungs control the pores’ opening and closing. Our skin is the dividing boundary where the outside world ends and we begin. Skin is where we make contact with things outside of us and where we first receive other’s contact. When a baby leaves its’ mother’s womb it first feels the world through the air on it’s skin and takes its’ first breath through the lungs. Similarly, Metal forms what TCM calls our “Defensive Qi” or another word for immunity. The lungs help form the defensive qi that resides below our skin to keep pathogens out.

On a mental level, Metal’s virtue of boundaries is conveyed in the expression “good fences make good neighbors”. A person with healthy Metal can maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. They know what they are responsible for and what they are not. They know where to respectfully draw the line and stay within the boundaries of one’s roles in relationship, family, or community as friend, parent, worker, employer. ect. A person with a metal imbalance is more likely to verge on the side of co-dependence where they experience fuzzy, unclear, indistinct boundaries. They have trouble maintaining the Metal quality of respect for themselves and others in their relationships.

So here are some things you can do for yourself to experience more health and contentment in autumn:

For the physical plane:

1. Keep some sort of exercise routine. The Lungs correspond with Metal and one major way to enhance Lung energy is through deep breathing. Practicing Qi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga
or any such mind-body exercise that includes deep breathing, breath awareness and a more introspective approach will enhance Metal.
2. Thyme tea benefits the Lungs.
3. Eat orange and dark green vegetables. The beta-carotene benefits with Lungs while
the fiber-richness of the vegetables gently cleans the Large Intestine, the Metal element organ pair of the Lungs.

For the mental plane:

1. de-clutter. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to put away the summer clothes, shelve some projects, shred old papers, clear the email inbox, pack things up and practice some “less is more”. The goal here is not to be an aesthetic or any kind of extreme, it’s just about creating some “breathing space” for the mind. With a mind less encumbered by all the junk lying around and never-ending “to-do” lists, you will have mental space to have gratitude for life’s gifts, the real meaning of Thanksgiving which is right around the corner.
2. Think about where your boundaries are (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) and decide what in your life right now is crossing your boundaries and stressing you out. You will feel this in your body when you are in stressful situations. Your feelings are guides to where your personal boundaries are. Give yourself permission to redraw those boundaries. This can take the form of learning to say “no” to certain activities that are no longer supporting your growth, or deciding which foods do not benefit your health and deciding not to eat them or paying attention to your thought patterns and re-directing your thoughts in more positive, hopeful direction when you notice negativity creeping in.

For the spiritual plane:
1. Clarify your value system. Ask yourself “what do I believe in?” and “how do I uphold this value and belief in my daily life?” Seek out a counsellor or spiritual teacher for help.
2. Think about things you’ve had to let go of in the past that served a greater purpose. Reflect with joy and how you let go of those things you didn’t need. Celebrate the courage it took to have faith that the letting go could be beneficial. For example, as kids we lost baby teeth, it hurt for a while but then we got adult teeth which were better suited to our soon-to-be adult body. We had girlfriends or boyfriends that we broke up with. The loss hurt at first and later we felt glad to have room in our life for someone more suited to us.

I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.

Hope you have a happy fall!!

Qi Gong and the benefits of Wall Squats (Zhineng)

Greetings Dear Readers,

Thought I’d share a little tip my Qi Gong teacher once said to me:

“100 wall squats a day, never catch a cold”.

Cool I thought.  I’m always curious, so I did more research on the benefits of wall squats.

Benefits of Zhineng Qi Gong (AKA Wall squats):

*   Wall Squatting is used frequently in China to treat neurological disorders, such as at the Zhineng Qigong Recovery Centre, also called the  “medicineless Hospital” 

*    Activates the kidney meridian (most important system in Traditional Chinese Medicine for increasing vitality and      long life) which bring increased health and strength to the kidneys and adrenals

*    The kidney system in TCM has a spiritual counterpart, the “Zhi”, one’s will or inner fortitude to accomplish one’s                     goals.  Practicing wall squats will boost your reserves and give strength and fearlessness to face life’s challenges with             gusto.

*     Balances reproductive hormones

*     Increases energy

*     Loosens up the back, aligns the spine, opens and clears blockages in the Ren and Du meridians

*     In disease, much of our “Qi” or energy gets stuck around the waist and lower abdomen (also called “lower Dan Tien”).   Since wall squatting                              unblocks this, it has great power to heal many health problems.

*     Strengthens knees, legs and pelvis

*     Increase post-natal qi (in TCM you are born with a certain amount of pre-natal, also called ancestral qi, the rest of your qi comes from post-natal qi with is the energy you gather from how you live your life such as how you eat, how you exercise)

*     Wall Squats promotes Qi and blood flow through the whole body, especially good for the lower back and limbs.

Have you tried wall squats for any length of time?  What do you think about it? Love to hear your responses:)

Acupuncture and Wellness