Meditation As Traditional Chinese Medicine

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.

Meditation in Traditional Chinese Medicine

As mentioned earlier, meditation is a key component of TCM. It is as essential as a good diet and a healthy lifestyle, because without a strong foundation of meditation, the mind is not at rest, it is not at peace. TCM extols the virtues of meditation as a way of curing pain, physical and mental illness, and more. But the main benefit of meditation is that it prepares the mind and the body for everything else; it keeps everything stable and balanced. This stability and balance is essential to wellbeing in TCM as it allows the Qi to flow freely, feeding the organs and the mind.

Only when you have a strong foundation of meditation and exercise, as well as a proper balanced diet, can all of the other medicines associated with TCM work effectively. Meditation can also be used as a means of reflecting and understanding. After all, the basis for all meditation is mindfulness, and this ability to understand and be aware of yourself and your surroundings can help in times of stress, pressure and difficulty.

Meditation as Medicine

Meditation is common in the east. As mentioned above, this was down to the spread of Buddhism from India across Asia. It was common in Hinduism, Buddhism and other eastern religions, as well as Judeo-Christian faith practices which prevail today like Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, and Hesychasm.

The Greek Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria played a big role in bringing meditation to the west, as his words on the subject, written in 20BCE, were the first mention of meditation in the western world. A few hundred years later, meditation techniques were created by Plotinus, the Greek philosopher, with suggestions that meditation was already somewhat popular at the time of writing.

These days meditation is still practiced by most religions and prescribed by many alternative medicines, and it is also seen as great way to calm the mind by those with no ties to religion or alternative medicine.

Benefits of Meditation

Meditation in TCM can help with a number of ailments, whilst also maintaining a balanced state of being. The most immediate benefits that meditation brings is a peaceful and relaxed state of mind. The more you sit, the more relaxed and content you will feel, and the better you will be at handling stressful situations. Meditation creates an instantly positive affect on blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety and other physical problems. It may even help to kick addictions and bad habits, and to eliminate insomnia.

It is not just about relaxation either, as meditation is popular among athletes as a way of focusing their minds. After all, when a sprinter stands on the blocks and focuses on the race ahead, ignoring the screaming fans, the cameras and all of the other activities, they are effectively practicing a form of meditation. They are able to switch off and on so quickly because they practice meditation on a regular basis.

How Do I Meditate?

There is no “correct” way to meditate. You can do it with your eyes open or close, you can sit with you hands by your side or on your lap. The trick is to find a position that is comfortable for you, because if you lock yourself into a position that is uncomfortable for an extended period then you can do more harm than good. You can burn some incense and light a candle to give you something to focus on, or you can close your eyes. Just try not to fall asleep.

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 acupressure and meditation. Doing a gentle acupressure 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.

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.

In my next post, I will share how Reiki can be used as a simple yet effective method to help us get in to a state of gentle meditation.