Traditional Chinese Medicine and Life: First, Meditation (part I)
Last month in our acupuncture course, the teacher, Fernanda Catarucci, gave a very informative presentation on the eight pillars of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). What follows, in large part, is a reproduction of that lesson.
Traditional Chinese Medicine aims at maintaining one’s health through continuous self-knowledge. To achieve this goal, TCM is built on eight pillars: Meditation, Body Movement, Diet Therapy, Feng Shui - Environmental Health, Herbal Medicine, Moxibustion /Cupping, Acupuncture, and Massage Therapy. These are divided into two groups with the first four pillars (Meditation, Body Movement, Diet Therapy, Feng Shui) considered central because anybody can do them without help and these four are aimed at maintaining a balanced life using “self-healing”. The second set of pillars are secondary and support the first four because they represent actions that usually include the help of a specialist.
Without a doubt, the most important pillar is that of Meditation because of its impact on our physical health and mental awareness: it is where you learn that you are everything and nothing. There are various forms of meditation: active, contemplative, induced, etc., which work with breathing and dealing with your ego. Meditation is the state of constant self-observation in order to work with who you are, what you are feeling, and how the environment can affect you. In other words, Meditation is a way of using breathing techniques to help on two levels: first, from “nutritional” energy we get through breathing; and second, how breathing acts as a bridge between the conscious and subconscious.
Chinese medicine starts with understanding Qi – vital energy - that exists throughout the world, including in our bodies. When we are born, we receive a set amount of Qi essence from our parents; when it is gone, we die. This is only one kind of energy our body uses. We can influence the use of this vital essence which causes us to live more or less time through postnatal Qi – energy that comes from two other sources: air and food. For this reason, breathing is so important and why meditation is an important pillar to TCM.
In day-to-day living we almost never think about the way we breath. When we have a good laugh, or sing in the shower or our cars, we breathe deeper and healthier - air enters through the nose and out through the mouth. But when we are irritated, stressed, or even sitting with bad posture, the muscles of our body (eg, back, neck, chest and abdomen) are tighter, and the air does not reach as deep and we miss out on quality results from breathing. So, our body needs to access that precious Qi essence, which depletes our limited supply. Meditation is a way that helps us train to breathe well and improve the quality of postnatal Qi in exchange for a longer quality life.
The second function of breathing through Meditation works as a bridge between our conscious and subconscious. What happens to us on a daily basis is stressful, and our mind does not stop talking and controlling our attitudes. The result is that when we complain to ourselves, get worked up, our necks and backs start to hurt, so we do not breathe well. We don’t get enough external Qi circulating through us and keeping us healthy, so we need to go to our Qi essence and use that. In order to put an end to this kind of cycle, we need to learn how to deal with this stress and/or lack of peace, stopping the situation before it takes too much from us. This means we need to pay more attention to those internal conversations coming from our conscience and subconscious, that is, we must face our ego.
The ego is an important servant, which as a positive influence maintains our self-esteem through the information we receive from around us and helps us define our priorities. It defines a situation as "yin" or "yang", i.e., a time to observe or to act; so our minds are constantly in motion, moving from one thought to another and making a decision about that information and feeding into our servant ego. However, the ego is very strong and tends to go beyond its limits, so that instead of serving and passing on information, it takes on the role of
"governor". And when we are not careful, this governor begins to include unnecessary comments about situations. For example, let’s say you are in a supermarket line, in a bit of a hurry, and the person in front of you is taking too long for your patience. Your ego not only tells you that you may take a little more time than planned, but it includes comments about how this person should have planned better so that he/she doesn’t hold up everyone else and in your mind you start to criticize this person. The ego has successfully turned the information into a complaint, a judgment, and now influences your mood, and you have successfully undermined your health.
Meditation helps separate us from the hostage state of our mind. We learn to observe our inner conversations, attitudes and actions and most importantly, keep our egos in their place. It is the breathing exercise during meditation that takes us to a state of observation – that moment before passing judgment – that is more harmonious and peaceful hidden away in our subconscious. We learn to accept situations and our emotions without unnecessary judgments, we relax and we breathe better, we live better.
So when should we meditate? According to Chinese Medicine, the best time would be between 3 and 5 o'clock in the morning and in case that is difficult to do, the second best time would be extending that time to 7 o'clock. However, Meditation is such a good exercise for your physical and mental health that the most important thing is to include it at any time in your daily life.