• 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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The Heart of Summer

Summer Is In Full Gear, So Let’s Take Advantage of What Chinese Medicine Has To Say About These Long Summer Days!

For me, six words come to mind when thinking of the invigorating and enlivening experiences of summertime, they are: The Sheer Joy Of Being Alive!

summer joy by Dmitry Kichenko.

I feel totally imbued with the human spirit on a long, hot summer day. The farmers market abounds with juicy fruits and delicious veggies amidst the perfume of brightly hued blossoms. Activity is effortless and life feels full, transformed and somehow complete.

Needless to say, there is no complaining here about the heat because it won’t be long before we reach the dynamic height of summer’s inspiration and settle into a cooler, calmer and more collected fall.

So what does this mean for you in terms of body, mind and spirit?

Chinese Medicine teaches us to observe ourselves as an expression of Nature’s observable elements, depending on the cycle of the season and changes in the environment.  Just as Nature goes through a process of change, the Nature inside of you also undergoes a transformation.

If you are in harmony with the fresh green shoots appearing in spring then you will feel reborn, bursting with springtime activity. And when the trees are full of mouthwatering fruits and the plants are blossoming around you, then you will feel the joys of abundance coupled with the passion of the creative spirit.

Hmmm, an abundance of energy, stamina and passion!? Yes, clearly this is why I Love summer!

In the Five Element Theory, summer is ruled by the Fire element and is expressed through growth, joy, spiritual awareness and Love.  This is the Yang-est time of the year, which translates into a surge of physical, mental and emotional activity.

To be in sync with the long days, I wake up as early as 6:00am and stay up until at least midnight (it’s actually 1:48am while I write this post). Don’t worry to balance the work and play, I schedule a midday nap. Without my regular siestas I would be totally exhausted before summer’s end.

Anatomically, the Fire element corresponds with the heart which pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout our bodies. Emotionally, we’ve been warming up, going out and connecting with others. The heat of summer flows into our deeper relationships while our bodies relax around a more open heart.

In the Elemental theory, the heart houses the Spirit, also called the Spirit-Mind. A harmonious Spirit-Mind can be felt as a heart-connection with others and, for many of us, as a spiritual connection with Nature. This is a time that ushers in sensitivity and expression with the true contentment only known by a unified heart and mind. I view summer as an opportunity to transform negative experiences into feelings of Love.

Love is an extraordinary thing; it arouses the realization that the self and others are one. Love inspires what I call altruistic intimacy and the knowledge that what you cause and affect are one. Experiencing your heart’s purity reveals the responsibility we have for every action that occurs on our planet because we are one. Love between two people is a holy sharing when each have experienced their own depths and see their mutual identity and mutual causality through the starry-eyed gaze of eros.

Ahh, it’s easy to get swept away reflecting on the Fire element and Love, but let’s look at our original query: What does the long, hot days of summer mean for you in terms of body, mind and spirit?

Simple answer. The heart-felt enjoyment of family, friendship, perhaps even summer Love, but more importantly the exalting experience of the sheer joy of being alive!

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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.

Tap Into The Body’s Energy By Stimulating Acupoints

Stimulating Acupuncture Points for Health & Vitality is Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine

However, the stimulation techniques that I have learned and developed in private practice and that I teach reflect the cultural background of the Japanese Martial Arts by emphasizing the importance of being connected with and moving energy from your vital center, known in Japanese as hara.

Young and confidentStimulating acupuncture points should never come from muscular strength, but should come from the body weight in relation to gravity. Basically the practitioner should lean into rather than push into an acupoint.

The practitioner should also lengthen through his or her spine as one does while sitting in meditation. This allows the practitioner to raise energy along the spine while remaining grounded.

In order to do this correctly, you need to use your center of gravity, your hara. This is considered the whole belly area. By using your Hara you are using your whole body.

Think about this for one second: By using your belly area you are accessing your whole body. This means that you are using the total power of your body.

Focusing Your Energy in the Hara Harmonizes the Body, Mind, Emotions and Spirit.

The best example of using the hara is seen in the world of martial arts. It is known that when throwing a punch or giving a kick, if you focus your mind and breath in the hara and pivot from your lower abdominal area, you will have the force of your body weight behind that punch or kick. This is the secret to harnessing unseen power.

Developing the skills to meditate and channel energy from your hara is essential for not only martial artists but also many eastern healing modalities, this is especially true in Shiatsu. Incredible transformations occur when using the art of hara while stimulating an acupoint on yourself in daily life as well as on a client in a healing session.

A beneficial byproduct of balancing your internal energies by using hara is a shift from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of treating your body and the world around you.

Using your hara requires you to originate all of your movements from your belly area. To be more specific–to move from a point just below the navel which is your body’s central pivot point. This point is called tanden (or dantian in Chinese).

Stimulating an acupoint with finger pressure is not enough to modify the flow of Ki, blood, and other fluids helping you harmonize the functional activities of your body. Stimulating an acupoint also requires the power of the Universe harnessed through your breath and by moving internal Ki through the hara.

So, whenever you stimulate a point on the body, you must check in with yourself to make sure that the movement is rooted in your lower hara.

How do you make sure that you’re rooted in your hara? One way to do this is to mentally trace the movement backwards; starting with your fingers and mindfully moving your awareness through your arms and into your shoulders until you reach your hara. It is in this way that you will feel when you are using force or pressure as opposed to your lower hara.

For example if you’re leaning on specific acupoints along someone’s leg and you realize that the movement is coming mostly from your shoulders then you are not going to have the most effective results.

Worse is that it may even create tension in the other person that you are working on because of the tension building in your own body. It is through using your hara that you can ensure effective results.

It’s important to understand that the meaning of hara extends beyond the mechanical. To be rooted in your hara also illustrates a person’s ability to achieve and to have continued success. In Japanese culture, diligent and thoughtful effort toward your goal reflects someone with a strongly developed hara.

To have hara means to have the ability to get things done; to not shy away from the difficult and to overcome setbacks. When you are ‘coming from your hara’ whether in everyday life, in meditation or stimulating an acupoint, the meaning is that you are well grounded, strongly focused and fully engaged in the potential of the Mind and the Body.

Shiatsu is a healing practice that requires the development of hara.

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.

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.

Your Body’s Energy Pathways

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a person’s vitality depends on the subtle energy which flows through the body’s energy pathways. These pathways are called meridians. The meridians are classified in two groups:

  • First, the twelve regular meridians, which are associated with the functions of different internal organs. These channels flow to and from the hands and feet.
  • Second, the eight special meridians, which are not connected with any particular organ function.

Overtime, master healers learned that pressure on specific points on the body’s energy pathways would relieve certain symptoms. The next major discovery was that certain combinations of the acupressure points could also heal disorders that were caused by a malfunction in a certain organ.

By studying the relationship between the functions of the body and the acupressure points a system was formulated describing the energy pathways that flow through and connect the specific points.

Acupuncture ConceptIt is easy to understand the network of meridians and acupuncture points if you imagine your body as representing land. The meridians are your body’s main highways while the acupressure points are the gas stations. 

Just as people travel around the country by way of the highway and stop to refuel or get stuck in traffic or worse, run out of gas, your body can supply vital life energy to your internal organs and transform your emotional health by way of the meridians.

The body’s subtle energy, known as Ki in Japanese, concentrates within the meridians. The twelve regular meridians, mentioned earlier, run vertically along the body.

Each of the meridians are named after a physical organ, for example the Heart meridian, and is identified as either yin or yang.

Additionally, two of the eight special meridians are particularly important because they monitor the twelve regular meridians and have many important pressure points. In shiatsu, these two meridians are called: the Conception Vessel and the Governing Vessel and they run through the vertical midline in the front and back of the body.

The Six Pairs of Meridians and their Yin/Yang Associations are:

       YIN                            YANG                      
Lung (LU)                    Large Intestine (LI)
Spleen (SP)
                 Stomach (ST)
Heart (HT)
———–       Small Intestine (SI)
Kidney (KI)
———–     Urinary Bladder (UB)
Pericardium (PC)
—-   Triple Heater (TH)
Liver (LV)
————      Gall Bladder (GB)

It’s important to understand that the properties of the meridians are founded on the functions of the organs and not the organs themselves.

Besides the yin and yang divisions, qualities of appearance are further subdivided into five transformational phases. These phases flow into one another just like the changing of the seasons, they are known as the five-elements: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire.

As stated earlier, each meridian along the body is identified as being either yin or yang and is then associated with one of the five-elemental transformations.

The Meridians and Their Elements:

Lung and Large Intestine — Metal
Spleen and 
Stomach — Earth
Heart and
 Small Intestine —Fire
Kidney and 
Urinary Bladder — Water
Pericardium and 
Triple Heater — Fire
Liver and
 Gall Bladder — Wood

Despite the actual definition of the word meridian, which means longitudinal lines circling the planet, the original Chinese concept of the body’s energetic pathways means to have the quality of a flowing river or stream.

Shiatsu and Energetic Healing aim to balance the flow of Ki throughout the meridians and to relieve any blockages. 

“One Gave Birth To Two”

Shiatsu relies on Traditional Chinese medical theory, which uses the philosophy of yin and yang. Beginning with male and female, day and night, hot and cold, summer and winter, everything in nature seems to maintain a certain balance of what appears to be opposites. 

The yin yang symbol perfectly illustrates the essential principles of the theory. The circle symbolizes the infinity of energy, or, ki. There is no beginning and no end. A curved, moving line divides the two forces showing constant flow of yin into yang and vice versa. Within the two colors is a dot of the opposite color. This shows that everything contains its opposite and that it cannot exist without the other. And, the two colors are proportioned, showing their relative balance.

The yin yang symbol perfectly illustrates the essential principles of the theory. The circle symbolizes the infinity of energy, or, ki. There is no beginning and no end. A curved, moving line divides the two forces showing constant flow of yin into yang and vice versa. Within the two colors is a dot of the opposite color. This shows that everything contains its opposite and that it cannot exist without the other. And, the two colors are proportioned, showing their relative balance.

This balance is described in Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching: ‘the One begets the Two’. These ‘Two’ came to be known in Chinese as yin and yang, from which this system of opposition then gave birth to everything in the universe.

It is important to understand that yin and yang are understood as their mutual source (One) and subsequent transformations as one source of energy that creates into differing appearances.

Essentially, yin contains yang and yang contain yin through their constant flow into one and the other. As long as yin and yang are flowing into one another you are in a consistent state of balance.

Yin means the ‘shady side of a hill’, and is identified with the feminine aspects; water, quietude, the moon, and the night, while yang, means the ‘sunny side of a hill’, and denotes the masculine aspects; fire, noise, the sun, and the day.

The original ideograms of yin and yang clearly state that they are mutually transmutable and interchangeable as one, not as two fundamental entities, despite their dual appearance.

The quality of matter and substance is considered yin; this includes your body. The quality of movement and thought- the energy is considered yang.

The primary principal used to assess the individual’s state of life energy is yin and yang theory and it is used to describe the nature and location of the individual’s health imbalance. Each individual has a tendency to be either more yin or more yang in regards to their natural constitution.

If over a period of time either the yin or the yang forces dominate in an individual’s body or mind, then there will be an imbalance, which will manifest as recognizable conditions, or symptoms.

Your body also has aspects that are defined as either yin or yang. The yin side is the anterior side, or front of your body, and the posterior side, or your back, is yang. The anterior is yin because it has more areas that are considered vulnerable: your face, the front of your neck and your abdomen. Compared to the posterior side, which is more like armor and less vulnerable.