Why we practice...
Greetings to everyone this vibrant green spring! This is the season of growth and the Wood element. This means it is a good time to commit (or recommit) to the practices in our lives that keep us growing and blossoming into the fullest expression of who we really are. I am in the process of a lot of personal growth myself this spring, as I am integrating an incredibly valuable workshop I attended a few weeks ago. The work was on the practices of "Whole Heart Connection" which are taught by my teacher, mentor, and healer Thea Elijah. Whole Heart Connection is a series of inner practices Thea has created that can help one access a deep connection to the heart, which in Chinese Medicine is understood as the supreme emperor of one's being, and the seat of all consciousness. I am integrating these Whole Heart Connection practices into my own life and personal healing journey, and I am also beginning to offer them to some of my acupuncture clients when I sense they would be of benefit. (for more information on Thea Elijah and her work, visit http://www.perennialmedicine.com).
Those of you who are already my clients know that I often will give out "homework" after an acupuncture session, and it is often an inner practice or exercise that I feel will further facilitate the client's healing and growth. Of course the acupuncture itself, as well as the herbs, are vitally important for shifting the whole self into a greater state of balance. But I also consider it to be vitally important to continually nourish that state of balance with regular practices that quiet the "monkey mind" and that bring us more fully into our bodies and the wisdom of our hearts. Inner cultivation practices such as sitting meditation, qigong, yoga, and many others are as essential for our health as is nourishing food and physical exercise.
Having a practice of this kind teaches us how to shift into a more grounded, calm, and clear state of consciousness (much like how you often feel after an acupuncture session). Having a practice helps us continue to grow and evolve, and to see with more clarity the areas in which we still need to grow. These practices also help bring our awareness more deeply into the body and less tangled up in the busy thinking mind. This is really important because healing happens in the body, and it happens when we are living a fully embodied life. While our thinking minds can be very useful for a number of things in life, what most healing traditions teach (and I share this belief) is that true healing happens through the body, not through our cognitive processes, clever as they may be.
Having a practice that brings us more fully into the present moment has a profound impact physiologically as well as psychologically. When we really come home to our bodies, we can come home to who we really are, and we can more clearly listen to the wisdom the heart has to share. Embodied consciousness practices also help us to shift from the sympathetic nervous system state of "fight or flight" (a state of chronic stress with which many people are all too familiar) into a parasympathetic mode of "rest, digest, and relax". True healing only happens when we are in a parasympathetic, relaxed state of consciousness, and these practices help teach us how to get there.
Most of us spend a large portion of our time every day "taking care of business"-- working to make money, caring for children or other people that depend on us, paying bills, running errands, keeping house. Having a daily practice of some kind is having a daily reminder and a daily commitment to go deeper than just surviving. It is a commitment to our selves and our wellbeing. A daily practice is a time for renewal, kind of like an island of refuge we can spend a little time on each day. Over time, that island of calm begins to permeate into more and more areas of our daily life.
Meditation, yoga, qigong, etc. are called practices for a reason-- they do require practice. I have been meditating for almost twenty years, and I definitely don't feel like I'm an expert at it! The practice is never mastered; we are always growing more, learning more, evolving more fully into who we really are. We embark upon a road with no end when we commit to a inner self-cultivation practice. The work is never finished and packaged up neatly with a "done" stamp on it. In a very goal and final product oriented society, the value of having a practice where you never "get there" is often dismissed. It certainly doesn't look like you are getting anywhere when you are just sitting on a meditation cushion with your eyes closed or doing such seemingly simple qigong exercises. It might "look like" a waste of valuable time. But there actually is a very clear and huge benefit to committing to such a cultivation practice. In essence, the benefit is called "health." But it does require effort, discipline, and patience.
When we do an inner cultivation practice on a regular basis, it gradually starts to become easier for us to shift into that parasympathetic mode even when we are experiencing a enormous external demands and stressors. Over time, doing such a practice gives us a fuller well of inner calm from which to draw, and we are much less likely to snap, collapse, or resort to escapism in order to cope with the inevitable pressures of life. This is the value of a practice. It gives us internal resources to cope, so we don't have to rely on faulty crutches like addictions or unhealthy self-destructive habits.
Many of us know that having a daily meditation, yoga, or qigong practice would be good for us, but feel like we just don't have the time. With a growing toddler and acupuncture practice, I can relate! But if we can make time to shower every day, we can make time to have a practice. Even ten or fifteen minutes a day of mindful breathing or qigong can make an enormous difference in our overall mental, emotional and physical health.
In parting I've included below a ten minute guided mindfulness meditation video. If you are new to meditation, this can be a helpful and non-intimidating introduction. There are literally thousands more practices, teachers, books and resources out there. But at the end of the day, all of these different roads lead us back to the same destination-- they lead us home to who we really are. They bring us back to our true nature, in health and wholeness.
Wishing all of you a clear mind, a healthy body, and an open heart as you continue on your healing road!
Guided Ten-Minute Mindfulness Meditation video:
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I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.