• To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

    - Buddha
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Zen and The Way of The Motorcycle

Life’s Turning Points Require the Balance of Yin and Yang. That is the Balance of Heart and Head.

Imagine yourself on a motorcycle racing at the breakneck speed of 200 mph and out of nowhere an abrupt left turn appears on the racetrack called LIFE.

Adrenaline is coursing throughout your body; your attention, reflexes and instincts are functioning at optimum performance levels. The task requires a Zen mind: stay in the moment, navigate the turn to avoid losing balance thus avoiding injury, failure and death.

Physiologically this is often how the crucial turning points feel in our hurried and hectic lives. In the world of motorcycling, maintaining momentum along your path at the accelerated speed, just as in our modern lives, requires a skillful adjustment– the balance of two complementary forces to avoid falling over. In Nature this is known as the balance of Yin and Yang.

As the moto-racer you carefully adjust your weight to one side leaning away from inertia’s pull while counter steering the handles to create stability. My partner once explained this counter-instinctive phenomena; he is a skilled motorcyclist and while taking a sharp left turn at a high speed he will lean his body to the left but turns the handles toward the right to maintain stability.

A snapshot of any racer going around a sharp curve at that speed appears unstable when extracted from basic quantities like speed, distance and weight. If the racer puts all his energy and focus into leaning into the turn and ignores the importance of steering away to maintain equilibrium then he would loose control and end up being thrown off course. To lessen injury the racer must let go of the bike, relax into inertia and pray that there are no trees or large rocks in the way. By then it is all in the hands of destiny.

You may want to consider modeling a moto-racer’s precision when navigating a turning point or major decision in your business affairs or personal life. Before reacting learn to embrace any obstacle or major decision with your heart, but to avoid being thrown off course, or worse, being harmed, be sure to steer with your intellect.

The word embrace actually means to press to the bosom; to hug. On the racetrack the rider must lean into the abrupt turn practically hugging the asphalt. And in life when you genuinely accept what has been thrown your way you can choose to embrace it, to press it into your chest, and hold it with the arms of compassion.

When you embrace an obstacle or an uncomfortable moment in your life then you are accepting your present circumstance. This is different than concluding, “this shouldn’t be happening to me,” “they are out to get me” or defensively blaming the situation on someone else’s lack of competence. Those statements and attitudes deny the truth that you find yourself in.

Don’t misunderstand me. Yes, you’re expressing the emotions that you are feeling in that moment, however your emotions are in denial because you’re caught up in feeling that it is not fair or you are blaming yourself or others.

By embracing the circumstance then you allow different emotions to surface that will need to be expressed. Sure, it will still feel like you’re walking across a tightrope without a net or speeding out of control but your new attitude about the situation will help you skillfully navigate to the other side while tapping into the best parts of your intellect. The secret here is in your attitude.

This Wouldn’t Have Happened If So-And-So Did Her Job Right…

If you’re not leaning into the circumstance with an open heart and embracing all the parts then you’re caught up in the past or future. Perhaps you’re thinking that this wouldn’t have happened if so-and-so did her job better or if you went to such-and-such school… These feelings create specific attitudes and those attitudes will dictate how you view the situation and the choices that you make.

It takes courage to accept the present moment. It takes a strong heart to embrace the circumstance with compassion and accept that it is supposed to be there otherwise it wouldn’t have been on your racetrack.

Embrace It All, Now You’re Ready To Be Steered To Action!

Western society has advanced by marrying the thinking mind with action; therefore reward is bestowed on those who can analyze a situation and swiftly make impersonal judgment. The problem is that most make personal judgments that lead only to personal gain without considering the harm that this may cause others.

Incredible progress has come from this, but in light of the financial catastrophe of the last two years and many other similar offenses, so has greed and corruption and with that there is no Heart.

Balance your Head with your Heart and vice versa. This is what it means to be born of this planet. Even if you’re speeding toward your destiny at 200 mph you can skillfully create a world in which you do little harm to those around you and to the ground you walk upon. You can create wealth and cultivate personal peace.

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Restoring Balance To The Body And The Mind

Life Energy Instinctively Strives For Balance

In Shiatsu terminology, pressure points that feel painful to the touch are considered too full of Ki-energy, bodily fluids and toxins; the excess is causing a blockage in the muscle, in the meridian channel and in the pressure point.

Shizuto Masunaga, founder of Zen Shiatsu, referred to fullness of energy as a Jitsu, whereas a deficiency resulting in relative ‘lifelessness’ is known as a Kyo.

KYO & JITSU ARE LINKED IN A CONTINUAL CYCLE OF CAUSE & EFFECT

Kyo and Jitsu are linked in a continual cycle of cause and effect, in which the Kyo (emptiness) causes the Jitsu (activeness) in order to bring the body, the mind and the spirit back to natural balance.

A competent Shiatsu healer must determine whether a meridian or pressure point is Kyo (low energy) or Jitsu (high energy) by the response to the healer’s touch.

In a Shiatsu session, healing begins by balancing the Kyo and Jitsu in the whole being. Complete balancing also includes freeing up the blocked or stuck areas in the movement of our feelings.

Here is a basic illustration that I use with students and clients: Every time you feel hungry you are in need, or, lack what you need.

Hunger = Lacking What You Need = Kyo

Your experience is then one of Kyo and your response to this need is to take action, Jitsu, by satisfying your craving.

Eating = Action to Fill Need = Jitsu

You bite into a delicious apple and after the last bite you not only cease your activity but you no longer have an empty stomach.

This aspect of you is now in relative balance until you once again feel hunger, or the need to satisfy a craving. Kyo and Jitsu are always in this energetic relationship in which the Kyo causes the Jitsu.

In this theory, pain and suffering is caused by not nurturing our Kyo. Let’s continue with the basic illustration of satisfying your craving for food.

What if you are on a strict diet that doesn’t allow any fruit? You know that you are craving a sweet apple. However to satisfy your fad diet you reach for a hard boiled egg.

You might experience a moment of satiation but since your body clearly communicated that it had a need for something sweet soon you will experience your hunger again. And this time it will be more intense and you may begin to feel light headed.

If you take inappropriate action again (ignoring your ‘real’ need) then you are creating an imbalance that may lead to dis-harmony and eventually dis-ease.

Taking the appropriate action, with our food choices and with life’s bigger challenges, is easy if we understand the healing theory of Kyo and Jitsu.

Life energy strives for harmony within itself. Believe it or not, it actually takes effort or really unfortunate circumstances to overcome the harmony of the body and the mind. It is when we get sick that balance has been lost. All illnesses are an attempt to restore harmony to the Ki-energy balance in the body.

bigstockphoto_Yin_And_Yang_1818215There are times when the body and the mind doesn’t have the resources to get well without some assistance. A healer versed in Kyo and Jitsu can approach the body and meet the needs of the weakness, Kyo,  and if necessary, disperse or calm down the Jitsu.

In shiatsu, the practitioner will determine the most Kyo meridian channel and the most Jitsu meridian channel and focus on harmonizing the Ki-Energy by stimulating certain meridians and specific pressure points to encourage balance.

By moving some of the Ki-energy from the Jitsu meridian into the Kyo meridian or using your own internal Ki-energy, you can revitalize the Ki within the Kyo meridian, therefore fulfilling its need for more Ki.

How to Develop Power and Focus in Your Hara

Cultivating Energy in the Hara

Shiatsu and Reiki healers use this meditation technique. I first learned it while on retreat at the Dai Bosatsu Zen Monastery. 

 

Sitting Posture: Legs Crossed in the Half-Lotus Position

Sitting Posture: Legs Crossed in the Half-Lotus Position

There are two basic sitting postures for harnessing powerful energy through your vital center. The two sitting postures are either performed crossed leg on the floor or sitting on the edge of a low stool or chair with your feet planted on the ground. 

Sitting in the crossed leg position is known as the ‘Lotus Posture’ and you can sit in either of two variations—half lotus or full lotus. In the sitting posture you will want to place a small cushion or folded towel under your bottom to lift your pelvis. This will slightly tuck the pelvis forward and prevent any strain in your lower back.

Once in the crossed leg position bring your attention to your head, neck and shoulders. Imaging a taut string attached to the center of the top of your head. Lengthen upward as if a puppeteer is pulling on the string. Neck straight, chin drawn slightly down and inward.  Relax your shoulders while inhaling deeply into your hara filling your entire body with fresh, revitalizing Ki.

Your shoulders should remain relaxed. Gently close your eyes halfway and gaze downward about ten feet in front of you. Take a moment to re-check the alignment of your spine. Is your nose aligned with your navel? Are your ears aligned over your shoulders?

 

The hands are particularly sensitive to Ki. How they are held during any practice has an influence on how Ki moves in, out and through the human system.

The hands are particularly sensitive to Ki. How they are held during any practice has an influence on how Ki moves in, out and through the human system.

Next follow this instruction from Shunryu Suzuki, in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner Mind“If you put your left hand on top of your right, middle joints of your middle fingers together, and touch your thumbs lightly together (as if you held a piece of paper between them), your hands will make a beautiful oval (photo above). You should keep this universal mudra with great care, as if you were holding something very precious in your hand. Your hands should be held against your body, with your thumbs at about the height of your navel. Hold your arms freely and easily, and slightly away from your body, as if you held an egg under each arm without breaking it.”

The hands are particularly sensitive to Ki. Hand positions, known asmudra in Sanskrit, are regarded as very important aspects of meditation practice. The position of the hands has an influence on the movement of the Ki energy.

Remain relaxed and release any muscle tension. Breathe naturally. Your breath will find its own pace and you may notice that it naturally slows and deepens. Inhale and exhale through your nose and allow the in-breath to sink deep into your abdomen.  Visualize your breath falling into a point just below your navel. This point is the tanden (or dantian in Chinese).

For thousands of years people in the East have developed methods to gather energy from the tanden, this is the source of primal wisdom and vital energy that resides within each of us.

Where Your Mind Goes Your Energy Follows

Allow your mind to settle on the rhythm of your breathing. Bring your attention fully to your hara. Each inhalation renews this source of energy while each exhalation draws from it. After ten minutes you may bring all of your attention to focus on the tanden. It may be helpful to imagine a point of gold light in the dark of your abdomen.

If your thoughts drift gently direct them back to the rhythm of your breath and onto the golden light at your center. Own that part of your body.

Allow the energy of the hara to move up your spine and throughout your body. This energized feeling is peace from being in balance.

It is while cultivating energy from the hara that the emptiness of non-doing brings you peace and brings you back to your source to your true nature.

Cultivating energy from this center point requires consistent practice. Stay humble and move through every moment of each day through your hara.

In the words of scholar, Christopher Markert, “When you engage the energy of your Dan-Tien (tanden), your daily tasks become artful activities in which you joyfully engage yourself.”

Being focused in your vital center is bliss, while any suffering is simply a communication from your Body and your Mind that you have lost touch with your true nature. In fact, one could even say that you are out of touch with Nature in general and the cosmic life force.

Eros Heals

bigstockphoto_Chakra_Fire_441198It is easy to understand how physical and energetic blockages can occur anywhere in the body as a result of injury, infection, disease, abuse and unexpressed or overly expressed emotions.

Removing the blockage is the obvious first step in restoring balance to the human system. An open system with freely moving energy offers everyone the best chance for healing.

An important and often overlooked second-step comes from the world of spiritual healing:

 It is to revere the landscape of the physical body with eros.

This is not eros as sex but eros in its true origin, which is relatedness.

According to author Thomas Moore, the original Greek use of eros referred to the coherence that holds the entire universe together. It is in the thoughtful expression of eros that a highly spiritual form of Love has the potential to heal.

The key to encourage healing is to establish a connection that relates, not sympathetically, but through eros. For many this connection begins the unraveling of the original cause, or source of the block, and activates a greater facilitation of the bodies’ intuitions and impulses.

Plato once wrote that the aspect of eros, “is a coming to life in beauty in relation to both body and soul.” If a person truly loves him or herself then they will not feel ‘weakness’ during illness. This is to say that you do not lose your connection with source.

A revered body will intuitively listen to itself, understand its authentic needs and act accordingly.

If you revere your entire body, and not judge its passions and appetites, then you will be equipped in navigating your own healing.

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Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Suggested Reading: Thomas Moore’s The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love

 

“Un-Train” The Back Pain Cycle-Part 2

Healing Back Pain begins with a Two-Prong Approach that Targets the Pain both Mechanically and Mindfully.

Today’s blog post will cover the mechanical…

Healing back pain mechanically begins with eliminating the contributing physical problem and ineffective postural habit.

You and your family depend on a daily sequence of repetitive activities that you do all of the time.

Such as crossing the same leg when you sit, carrying your laptop over the same shoulder and even your daily commute to work which, if your drive, focuses movement mainly along your right leg and into your foot.

Eventually anything done the same way over a period of time will unbalance your postural muscles by throwing your body off center and leading to muscular compensation, physical tension and then to back pain.

You may not be able to determine which habits are having the most damaging effect. A postural assessment with a professional will help you see your blind spots.

A good place to start is with your sleeping position and the bags or cases that you carry daily. You can try sleeping on your other side, on your back or with a different pillow and begin carrying items on the opposite shoulder or with the other hand.

This allows you to exercise the weakened postural muscles while doing your normal activities, each time you do an activity in reverse you will be strengthening the weaker muscle group for the activity.

In as little as two weeks, this subtle change will create more balance within your body and you will feel less tension. You will also benefit by becoming more conscious, or mindful, of your postural habits. This will lead to greater self-awareness in all of your daily activities.

Pay attention to the little things. Like how you walk up or down the stairs and which foot you take your first step on. Do you lean your body forward feeling weight on the top of your legs? If so, then try using the back of your legs and buttocks with each step.

An imbalanced postural habit is often a muscular compensation that is relying on your strengths to protect your weaknesses. The problem is the weakness is not being challenged to get stronger and you feel ‘normal’ with the physical distortion caused by the muscular compensation.

A major area of concern for most people today is sitting at their desk in front of the computer and talking on the phone. You should be aware of:

  • putting the phone to the same ear with every conversation
  • hunching over in front of the computer and
  • using only the same muscles over and over.

Just by looking at the way someone is sitting and working at their desk you can predict the problems that will result from their imbalances.

Beginning to understand and work with your body from the perspective of the cause of your pain cycle is the first step to relieving pain and changing patterns of movement in your muscles, nervous system and meridian channels.  The second step is working with and changing your emotional habits that prevent you from fully recovering.

“Un-Train” The Back Pain Cycle-Part 1

Why does a successful treatment or postural exercise program work for some back pain sufferers but not everyone?

For most, it’s due to the partnership between the Mind and the Body. Your mindset and your individual emotional landscape shows through your physical structure. 

"Un-Train" The Back Pain Cycle!

"Un-Train" The Back Pain Cycle!

The cause of the pain may be unknown, or perhaps you’re sure that an injury has left you with recurring pain. Regardless, the only useful knowledge that will make you pain free and get you functioning at a healthy level of activity is How Your Mind and Your Body Work Together.

Our bodies works well when our minds works well and vice versa. The body’s meridian channels (energy pathways) are a direct path to creating balance in everyone’s body and mind.

I use a simple formula with most people: Healing pain is 50% physical and 50% mental. Healing can be encouraged by balancing the flow of energy in the body’s meridian channels during a Shiatsu session to help “un-train” the back pain cycle.

Pain, whether acute or chronic, may be frightening and, in my experience, is very personal. Standard medicine cannot measure it like an infection or broken wrist. No x-ray or exam can tell how much it hurts. Pain is an unique experience and everyone will experience and express their pain in their own way.

It has been medically proven that the exact injury experienced by a group of people will affect the individuals in different ways, depending on things such as:

  • The ‘circumstance’ in which your pain first occurred and returns
  • Your outlook on the pain, such as “this shall pass” vs. “this pain is a death sentence”
  • Your emotions associated with the pain. Does is make you feel depressed or anxious? Do you feel optimistic and know that it isn’t serious?
  • Your cultural influences determine whether you are stoic in your response to pain or tend to be more dramatic in showing pain to others

It is important to approach your pain with a two-prong approach that targets your pain mechanically and mindfully

The Five Elemental-Phases

A Shiatsu practioner must be versed in the functions of the five-elemental phases to thoroughly understand how to work with the body’s energy to encourage balance and harmony.

Each meridian is named after an internal organ. It is important to understand that the function of the specific meridian goes beyond the particular organ function.

Ki energy goes beyond organ function and is also associated with your emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

In an earlier post, I explained how the meridians are either yin or yang. From the perspective of the yin and yang theory it is easy to understand the Chinese view of the Universe. Harmony in Nature is found in the perpetual movement of phenomena.

In this view, yin and yang maintain a balance between one another. Another view of this perpetual movement comes in the balance of the Five-Element theory or Five-Phase theory.

The five-elements (Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire) describe the manifestation of ki during a specific phase-like the type of weather during a specific season. Each elemental-phase stands for qualities and correspondences.

The Five-Elements are descriptions of certain qualities that pertain to particular phases of change. The Metal Element is associated with the qualities of Autumn and with the balance between rest and activity. This is reflected in breathing: whether air flows easily from the world into the body an out again.

The Metal Element is associated with the season of Autumn and with the balance between rest and activity. This is reflected in breathing: whether air flows easily from the world into the body and out again, or whether there is a permanent struggle between what is taken and what is given back.

Each elemental-phase can also be understood as an energetic quality of a particular function.

For example, one of the Metal Element’s defining functions is exchange with the environment.

Your physical lungs inhale oxygen, bringing healthy ki into the body and exhale carbon dioxide, expelling a state of ki that is beneficial to plant life.

The large intestine also participates in the elimination of waste from the body. These functions are supported by two meridians of the same name as the physical organs, the Lung meridian (yin) and the Large Intestine meridian (yang).

They are in effect the yin and yang aspects of the same function- like the two sides of the same coin.

Not letting go of emotional pain and issues with the bowels, such as constipation, are commonly seen in individuals with an upset in the Metal Element.

Essentially, the five-elements relate to differing states of ki energy. The elements correspond to certain functions and processes of the body, as well as to certain parts, emotions and physical phenomena.

Through in-depth knowledge of the elements and their corresponding organs, body parts, senses, emotions and symptoms, a healer–trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine–can feel an imbalance of ki in a particular meridian pair and work with the body’s energy to encourage balance and harmony.