In western medical circles were hearing more and more about something that eastern cultures have known for decades, that the mind place a huge role in your health, immunity and well being. While this has been common sense to the rest of us for decades really, it seems that western medicine can’t believe or accept anything without a hundred studies and trials to back up what all the rest of us know from common sense, simple logic and empirical observation.
I for one never did and still don’t regard most of these studies as much of anything, mostly because there is a study out there to just about prove or disprove virtually anything that you want to believe. Most studies, especially those that seem to prove or invalidate the effectiveness of natural cures including herbs, breathing, meditation, chi-gung and other natural and cheap health techniques are actually funded by the drug companies and many front groups. Some of these groups are even using very convincing names with keywords in their titles such as “organic, natural” or other names to make them appear as if they actually believe in natural cures, but subtly and deceptively lead you to believe that a natural cure is not as effective as it was first thought. They tend to do this by degrees, slowly leading the consumer to believe that this natural method or cure is not all it’s cracked up to be.
St.Johns Wort is a great example of this. At first it was highly touted and people bought it in droves in the early 90’s. Once the pharmaceutical companies saw it’s sales and how much their sales were hurting, various studies came out later on which showed that it had no effectiveness at all. Of course those same studies showed that none of the anti-depressants, including the chemical versions that it was up against in the studies did anything either, but that part was conveniently left out giving the illusion that this ancient and highly touted and effective herb was virtually useless. Quite the opposite is true of course.
The same is true when it comes to the power of the mind. Even the west has finally come to realize that most diseases are either caused or exacerbated by stress and the mind. Researchers have found stress is the main factor of all major illnesses including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, skin infections and back problems.
Since most stress is caused by the mind due to excessive thought and worry, its in the mind where our greatest power lies to not only eliminate or greatly reduce stress, but also to use the power of our minds and relaxation to greatly enhance our energy (Chi) flow, boost our immunity, increase our resistance to many diseases and to greatly help us achieve longevity.
Meditation: Key to health and Longevity
Meditation is probably one of the most effective natural techniques that anyone can do to quickly and effectively increase their health and immunity and help themselves feel so much better, especially on an emotional level. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most confusing things to most people and one that most find it very difficult to begin to do. This is something that I can well understand and it’s one of the main reasons that I teach basic meditation in my Chinese health and fitness video.
When most people think of the idea that they have to learn to calm down their minds or gain control over it, there is a bit of fear and a big collective sigh at the thought of trying to do this. Why is the mind so hard to control and calm down? Mostly because thoughts occur on many levels and in fact the more you try to stop thought, the more the mind tends to fight and throws even more thoughts in your path. Many people find this very frustrating and soon give up and simply and wrongly conclude that “meditation is just not for me”. Well that’s not true at all. Anyone can learn to meditate and gain the great health and emotional benefits of this incredibly effective and time honored technique.
Learning to calm down the mind and gain control over it is vital in internal cultivation and martial arts. That’s because if the mind is constantly thinking for no real reason, energy is being dispersed and just like an idling car engine, you’re wasting your fuel and going no where, generating a lot of heat that is just being vented out into the atmosphere and the universe and getting nothing back. Just like with an idling car engine, once that fuel is converted into heat, its dissipates into the air and can never again be recovered, at least not in that same form and not with existing technologies.
When the mind is calm, energy does not scatter, when energy does not scatter, it stays at it’s residence or source, meaning it will stay within the body to be used and not wasted. Meditation helps us to sustain energy so that were not wasting it, like the idling car, with the constant and mostly useless chatter that we get from the subconscious mind. It’s this type of constant thought that leads to unnecessary and detrimental stress. The more our mind is racing; It invents and creates things to worry about. Too much thought leads to excessive fear, excessive and unrealistic fears weaken the kidneys which are a vital organ for health and longevity, not to mention immunity too. When the kidneys are weak, their subjucative control over the heart is weakened which then causes heart palpitations and eventually leads to heart disease and more. This is but one example of how the mind and unnecessary emotions throw our organs and organ chi all out of balance and if not corrected, over time can and does lead to more serious health issues.
How to Begin Meditation
So how do we begin to learn to calm down the mind? The first step is to gain control over the mind itself. There are many techniques that have been discovered and developed for this over the millennia. This is especially true in Chinese chi-gung and martial arts. You can begin by simply paying attention to your breathing. The mind and energy follows our breathing. When were angry, our exhalations are longer than our inhalations. When were sad, our inhalations are longer than our exhalations. This is because anger builds up fire chi, so the body increases our exhalations automatically to purge the body of the excess fire, kind of like when a dog pants on a hot summer’s day. When were sad our energy is suppressed and weakened so the body increases our inhalations in an attempt to absorb more chi and again keep the chi in balance. When calm and neutral of thought, then our inhalations and exhalations are equal in length.
In paying attention to your breathing, simply start by being aware of each breath and start to slow down your breathing. Try this for at least five minutes as this is also an excellent warm up to use before beginning any meditation session as well. As you breath in and out, use your conscious will and mind to begin to command your mind to calm down. An old axiom in Chi-gung is “The mind controls the chi, the chi controls the body”. As we begin to calm down our minds, our chi will also become calmer, more balance in regards to yin (water) and Yang (fire) and our organs will also be in stronger. When this happens their function and strength is automatically enhanced and increased, sometimes significantly so and this is how having a calm mind can and does greatly improve and affect our health.
After your mind is calm, a simple method of meditation that I prefer people start off with is to practice simple concentration exercises. This is because if you can’t concentrate, you will not have any control over your mind or you chi in the body and will not be able to will the mind to calm down effectively. The concentration exercises themselves are a type of meditation by themselves so you kill two birds with one proverbial stone this way. One of the simplest and most effective methods is to simply practice by staring at a lit candle for about five minutes at a time without being distracted by stray thoughts or losing your concentration. You’ll find that you can do this for many 10-20 seconds at a time and all of a sudden you’ll start thinking about tomorrow, yesterday, what to make for dinner, the show you saw last night and more. Then you realize…oops…what happened..exactly. This is quite hard to do. In Chinese Gung-fu, the minimum requirement was thirty minutes without being distracted while staring at the candle. This eventually takes great concentration and strength of will, but it’s easier for the beginner to practice this type of thought control than to totally blank out the mind which is a much higher level. Once your able to concentrate for about five minutes this way, then focusing your mind internally on quieting your mind will be more successful since your mind will now be stronger overall.
After you have achieved the five minutes of concentration requirements, you’ll find already that you mind is calmer, more focused and perhaps that you even have more energy overall. Of course this is something that you need to practice with every day. Depending on how serious your are about it and you commitment to it, you will find this goal can be achieved in a relatively short time, from a few weeks to perhaps a few months. Like anything it takes commitment and a never give up attitude. In the west where everyone is looking for a quick fix, this may sound like a long time but it’s really not. At first the desire to quit is strong, but just stick with it and do it seriously and believe in the training and the goal. The belief itself will greatly help you to achieve this or any goal much faster than if your mind is filled with doubt and uncertainty in the training and goal.
In a later article I will be teaching some more specific internal meditations which will focus on some energy centers of the body itself. These are places where chi is stored in the body and this will further increase the amount and strength of your chi, including the mind/body connection even further. The greater this connection and the calmness of mind we have, the greater is our health, immunity and overall sense of well being, not to mention greater emotional health and elevated mood on a more consistent basis. When we feel better about ourselves all of the little things of life that I see many people getting so flustered over really become almost nothing. For that is the way to overcome any obstacle. If you shrink the size of a problem down in your mind to nothing and believe that it truly is nothing, then you can convince yourself that you CAN overcome it. This is a simple way to increase your faith in yourself, your own skills and your ability to solve a problem.
We can change our automatically negative responses into positive ones through repeated positive thinking, telling yourself that you can overcome it and saying “this is nothing”. Its just like learning to lift a heavy weight. You didn’t start out with a heavy weight, but a lighter weight. Over time and practice as you get stronger, you eventually found that you could lift that heavier weight. The mind works in a very similar way. The more you work it, the stronger it will become. Just as it takes time and practice to lift a heavier weight, so to does it take time and practice to overcome and heavier (larger) problem on the mind. Sometimes we all make problems larger than they really are, to expand them then minimize them. We don’t want to make problems larger in our minds, but smaller. We want to use our minds to see the truth that a problem is only as large as we make it in our minds and only as large as our ability to overcome it. The more you believe in yourself, the smaller any problem can and will become as your faith in yourself and your abilities increases, and the problems shrink.
A great example is from the Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back”. In there, Luke’s ship sank in the swamp and small little Yoda, his Jedi Master knew that it was possible to lift the ship out through faith in the force. Luke, who had just a minute ago been lifting some rocks while standing on one hand stated “..moving stones around is one thing but this is totally different!”. Yoda exclaimed “No, no different!, only different in your mind” Luke tried and started to lift his ship, but doubted midway and the ship sank. Yoda came to his rescue and used the force and deep concentration to lift this seemingly insurmountable obstacle (a mountain of a problem) out of the water and onto dry land. Luke walked over to him in absolute shock and said “I don’t believe it!” Yoda replied “That, is why you fail”.
While this exact account is fictional, it was really taken from a section in the bible where Jesus was walking on the water in the middle of the night. His disciples saw him and were stunned in absolute shock, thinking it must be a ghost. Peter asked Jesus that if it is you, let me come onto the water with you. Jesus replied “Come”. Peter stepped out of the boat and onto the water and did in fact walk on the water for a short time, until he saw and thought about what he was doing, saw the waves and the wind and allowed fear to enter his mind. Immediately he began to sink and cried out to Jesus to save him, which He did. When they got into the boat Jesus said to Peter “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I hope that you can in fact see the similarities between these two accounts.
It’s interesting to note that as Peter became afraid, this led to doubt. Remember that I mentioned above that fear is controlled by the kidneys and they also control the strength of will. So its interesting to note the sequence of events with Peter, that as he first looked he became afraid. Once fear set in, his kidney chi was weakened which sapped him of his strength of will. Once his will was weakened his concentration and focus went. This caused his faith to falter and the instant that happened, he began to sink.
While none of us will ever be able to walk on water as Peter did, at least not in this life, the patterns of fear leading to loss of will and the subsequent loss of faith are well known in chi-gung. This can and does have a real cause and effect in our personal lives, just as it surely had a very real effect in Peters life that day. His loss of faith almost literally meant the loss of his life. Fortunately Jesus was there to save him. For us, we can us this lesson as well as the techniques of Chinese martial arts and chi-gung to strengthen our own minds, control our fear, increase our willpower and thereby faith as well so that we will be able to walk above all of our problems that we face in life and never sink below them ever again.