TCM: Meditation

By now we have all probably heard of the benefits of meditation. For thousands of years, teachers in Eastern traditions have been encouraging the practice of meditation as a way to become more present, calm, and empathetic and to address a range of issues from the physical to the spiritual. Recent scientific research supports those claims by demonstrating how the brain actually changes when you meditate regularly.

Meditation is a foundational branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Remember that all the branches of TCM work together to balance your qi? Meditation does this both in the moment when you’re meditating and over time when you practice regularly. Immediate benefits can include a lower heart rate and increased relaxation. Longer term benefits can include enhanced immune function, increased ability to focus, and an overall sense of wellbeing.

What is meditation?

A simple definition of meditation is that it is a way of bringing your awareness into the present moment. You may notice that you often spend time thinking about things that have already happened or that may happen later. When you meditate, you deliberately set all that aside to focus on the here and now: your body, your breath, the world around you. There are thousands of different meditation practices and no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. There is only the way or ways that work for you. Finding what works can require some experimentation, so patience and self-compassion in that process are essential.

How do I meditate?

A simple way to meditate is to focus on your breath as it flows in and out on its own. I encourage you to close your eyes to minimize distractions, then feel your breath as it enters your nostrils, fills your lungs, and then again as it leaves your body. Simply notice the physical sensations of breathing.

For people who find sitting still to be a challenge, I like to recommend a combination of qigong or acupressure and meditation. In the previous series on Acupressure & Qigong, I shared that, “Qigong helps to manage stress in a number of different ways. Not only can it help to balance and direct energy during times of mental and/or emotional stress, it also acts as a meditative practice, helping to calm the mind and slow the incessant stream of thoughts that are often at root of our stress-related symptoms.” Qigong itself is a moving meditation, and movement is a yang energy. Sitting still is a yin energy. Doing a gentle qigong practice can help to bring excess yang energy under control and serves as a bridge from your everyday life to a more sedentary meditative practice. Similarly, acupressure can help to release stuck or blocked energy throughout the body and makes sitting still easier.

Acupressure and Meditation for Sleep

Let’s say that it’s an hour past your bedtime and you’re still tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. (Maybe this even happened last night!) What can you do to help yourself unwind, relax, and fall asleep?

The foundation for a good night’s sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to the physical attributes of your bedroom (such as temperature, ambient light, and type of mattress and pillow) as well as to your behaviors at bedtime (such as consumption of alcohol or caffeine, screen time, and having a bedtime routine). If falling asleep easily is an ongoing challenge for you, I encourage you to learn more about sleep hygiene and to make changes to improve your quality of sleep.

Here is an acupressure and meditation routine to help you wind down and fall asleep:

  • First, if you sense a restless energy in your body, try some gentle stretches to help you wind down.

  • Next, spend about five minutes massaging your ears (you can do this seated or lying down). Your ears are a microcosm of your body, containing points that correspond to your muscles, joints, nerves, and internal organs. Massaging your ears helps to clear excess yang energy, relieve stress, and calm your mind.

  • Then give yourself a scalp massage or brush your hair. Excess energy often gets locked in your head; there are many meridians that pass through your scalp, so stimulating them with massage or brushing helps to restore the flow of qi. While seated or lying down, brush 100 times or more, or spend about 5 minutes massaging.

  • Finally, lie down in bed and place your hands on your lower abdomen below your navel. Focus on deep abdominal breathing and feel your body settle into your bed as you drift off to sleep.

  • If you find yourself still restless, the above steps can be repeated as necessary until you fall asleep.

Integrating Your Meditation Practice with the Other Branches of TCM

Your personal meditation practice sets the stage for the other modalities and treatments of TCM, allowing them to have the most positive healing effect possible. As you explore and experiment to find out what types of meditation work well for you, you’ll begin to notice the benefits in your daily life. If you’re feeling stumped or having trouble starting or maintaining a practice, I’d love to talk to you about it. There’s no reason for meditation to be “sink or swim”; my role as a TCM practitioner is to suggest qigong, acupressure, and meditation routines that are appropriate for your needs, support you as you develop your practice, and to help you troubleshoot if you encounter difficulties. If you want to start meditating or learn how to connect your practice with your current physical, emotional, or spiritual needs, please make an appointment. 

Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine

After reading my Acupressure & Qigong series, you may be wondering how that fits in with acupuncture and what happens in my clinic. Let’s take a step back and learn about Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Practiced in China for 5000 years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a rich and complex history with philosophical underpinnings that are different from Western medicine. For Western patients, TCM can be beneficial but also confusing. It’s my goal in this series to shed light on what TCM is and how it works in a way that’s accessible and applicable for patients.

Many people think that TCM = acupuncture. Actually, TCM has eight branches, with acupuncture being the last one. The other branches are: meditation, qigong, nutrition, acupressure, cosmology, feng shui, and herbal medicine. In my practice, I focus on meditation/qigong, nutrition, acupressure, herbal medicine, and acupuncture.

Why so many branches? Unlike Western medicine, which views the body as a series of systems that sometimes malfunction and need to be fixed by the relevant specialist, TCM takes a holistic approach to health. Everything is interrelated: The energy of this organ affects your energy level and mood, which affect your dietary and exercise choices, which affect the original organ. The factors that influence your state of health are both internal (like thoughts, feelings, diet, genetics, and physical symptoms) and external (like environmental stresses, toxins, and the weather). Picture it like a large knot you’re trying to untangle: When you tug on one part, all the other parts are affected.

You may already sense the holistic impact of some of your choices and symptoms, but other factors in your health may not be as obvious. Don’t worry, you don’t have to untangle the knot by yourself. In TCM, the patient and practitioner work together to discover what the patient needs to heal, recover, and stay healthy.

As I shared in my Acupressure & Qigong posts, prevention is the real strength of TCM. There are many things that can disturb the balance of your qi. The different branches of TCM work together to restore and maintain the balance and flow of your qi before a temporary imbalance becomes long term and causes illness or pain. In the remaining posts in this series, we’ll take a closer look at the branches of TCM that are the focus of my practice, the roles of patient and practitioner, and what to expect when you have an appointment.

In the meantime, if you’re chomping at the bit to learn more, I’d love to meet you.

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