How to practice conscious awareness of your way of living, eating and moving, and emotions that arise throughout the day to promote internal change, balance and spirituality. Some small tips to start transforming everyday normal life into a spiritual and flourishing one, full of mental strength and great health.
One simple, but often very underestimated, key to feeling good and having mental strength is to nurture good physical health. A healthy, well-functioning body leads to a well-functioning mind and a body full of energy. There are several ways to promote health and you can incorporate healthy living and mindfulness into many aspects of life. When we are mindful, we do not allow space for unnecessary emotions and arguments to arise. The word emotion is derived from the Latin term emovere, which means “to stir up”. Emotions stir up and set our energy in motion. The movement of emotions can easily lead to some energy being wasted on things, such as created dramas or negative memories that have stayed with us like old angers and sorrows. In Daoism the emotional energy primarily gets expressed through the middle Dan Tien. When the emotional energy is centered it will not be wasted, it will be able to build up and later be refined into Shen, which can be used in meditation. To change and affect ingrained negative thought patterns to the better we need mental effort. When the middle Dan Tien/emotional centre is strong, the energy will be able to rise to the upper Dan Tien and this in turn enables a person to practice spiritual arts. It is experiencing spirituality that will create change deep in the core and the congenital meridians. Before a person has practiced long enough to make the conversion of Jing to Qi to Shen stronger, spiritual exercises will mainly be beneficial for health, but after this stage the process can go much deeper. Two people can perform the same exercise, but depending on how open the energy system is in the two people’s bodies, the practice will have an effect on different levels. There is a major difference in doing spiritual movements depending on how open the meridians are and how efficient the Qi flow is. When the meridians are open and the body is free from stored up mental and physical tensions, the body becomes “empty” and it can start to work as an empty vessel where the energy of Heaven and Earth can come into the body. When energy is not wasted on negative feelings, energy and mental strength will increase massively. Leaving the old negative emotions behind, having our consciousness tuned into what is really important, we will be healthier, more energised, and receive inspiration for how to lead our lives, being in connection with our true Ming. When bad habits change to positive ones, a positive upwards spiral will start to take place. Taking care of our health and emotional balance will lead to more energy and more mental strength etc.
Here are some ways of incorporating mindfulness and health nurturing practices into everyday life.
Chinese medical food therapy – this can be used to strengthen whichever imbalances you have. Food is your medicine. All foods have different qualities and affect or strengthen different organs and bodily functions. With a healthy body it is much easier to have, and maintain, a healthy, strong mind.
Whilst cooking and preparing food – use Chinese food literature to guide you to the best meals for the season and your body type. This is an easy way to learn how to balance and nurture yourself. When CM food therapy is second nature, and when you have awakened your energy system, through, for example, Nei Gong practice, you will have developed an internal and energetic sensitivity. When the lower Dan Tien has been freed up and you can easily tune into your energy system, you can guide yourself to what is most beneficial to eat. You can learn to tune into the foods and feel how its information and energetic frequency affect you. You will be able to feel to which organ energy of the food you have eaten travels, and if it has a positive or negative effect. You will now know what is good for your body as you put it in your mouth or maybe as soon as you see it. When you can do this you do not have to follow the dietary guidelines so intensely, now you can start to use intuition instead. Feel what the body needs rather than what your mind wants to eat. Decide what meal to have by asking yourself what is the healthiest thing for you to eat at this moment, rather than what your desires are. Base it on climate, season, and bodily and mental imbalances. By choosing what to eat according to what your body needs, you will feel refreshed and energized waking up in the morning. For example, some basic signs for Liver disharmonies are: you often feel angry, or easily annoyed; you maybe have eye problems; you might have stuck diaphragm and breathing; you possibly have a bitter taste in your mouth. This indicates that there is an excess of, or stagnated, Liver Qi in the body, and it shows you that you need to consume foods that cool, detox and free up the flow of Qi of the Liver. Green foods would be particularly good because the colour itself is related to the Wood element and the Liver. Examples of these are lightly steamed green vegetables, like broccoli, kale, spinach, and asparagus. Drink chamomile tea and lemon water. Avoid alcohol, fatty greasy foods, and an excess amount of meat because these will add to the imbalance. There is much literature on the subject so I do not need to add long lists of effects of different food types here. A very detailed book that I would recommend you to get is Healing with Wholefoods by Paul Pitchford.
Dao de Jing, verse 35: The Weakness of Sensual Pleasure
Hold onto the Dao and all under Heaven will follow,
The myriad things will live in harmony and peace.
Fine food and good music may please your senses while the Dao is tasteless and soundless.
Good food soon fades away,
Good music soon becomes tiresome,
Yet Dao is eternal and inexhaustible.
Cleanse Body, Mind and Spirit – Regularly take the advantage of longer or shorter detoxes and fasts to give your digestive system a break. This helps clear the digestive tract and benefits the health of all the organs involved in the digestive process. Small, easy, regular detoxes help cleanse the body of built up toxins that are stored in the fat, tissues and digestive tract of the body. During fasting the body begins to use the energy that is normally used for digestion to heal and repair the body instead. It is a very powerful cleanse for both body and spirit. I strongly recommend staying in a retreat setting during a cleanse, because the body will dispel many built up emotional and physical toxins. This process can be very exhausting and it can make you feel very bad during it, or it can make you feel great and have lots of insights, or both. It all depends on how much is built up and how healthy the body is. I recommend staying in a retreat centre because you are trying to shed old, negative stored-up tensions and emotions; this can be very hard if you have everyday normal life around you. It is necessary to take away all external stresses during a fast, because the body will need to use its energy to cleanse and heal the body. Another reason to stay in a detox centre is that you are very likely to feel nauseous, weak, light headed etc, so it is very good that people around you know what you are doing and can help you in case it is needed.
There are many different types of cleanses; total fasting, fasting with colema, just water and liquid supplement fasts, grape fasts or just fasting with 1 type of cleansing steamed vegetable etc. They can vary in lengths but most commonly they are done during 2½ to 7 ½ days. If you have never done it before I strongly recommend starting with a short fast, to see if it feels right for you. It is also important it is done at the right time in your life, when everything is settled and calm around you, not if you have lots of stresses going on in your life. It is also important to read up on the subject a lot before you start, if you need, take help of specialists to figure out which type of cleanse would be best for you. Then you need to come up with a plan of what you are going to consume prior to the fast, during (herbs, supplements, teas, juices etc.) and afterwards. It is important to break the fast in the right way, to enable the digestive system to start up in an easy way again, without causing it problems. Fasting and detoxes can be very beneficial, but they can also be damaging if they are done in a wrong way. I would recommend doing it in a warm place, not somewhere cold because then the body needs food to be able to keep itself warm. For more detailed information read The Dao of Detox by Daniel Reid.
I have found detoxes and fasting beneficial for my body, mind and spirit. It makes me feel light in body and mind, improves physical health and digestion, greatly increases my flexibility, brings clarity of mind and focus and allows me to feel energy much more strongly, especially during Qi Gong and meditation. It is also extremely effective in reducing one of life’s strongest attachments – craving for foods. If you make a conscious decision to not even think about foods you would like to eat, it is also a way of fasting your mind, and it will have a similar effect on your mental desires and senses. If you are into any spiritual practices, it is easy to see how this is beneficial. Because it helps quieten your mind and desires, you will pay more attention to things that are more important in life and you will experience more clarity of mind.
Buy the right type of food for your imbalances – When buying food mainly just choose the items that will strengthen your imbalances of organs and mind. Just put your most beneficial foods on a list and make those types of food a habit to buy. Forget about unhealthy cravings – if you do not buy it in the shop you will not have the possibility of getting something unhealthy from the cupboard. It will be easier to have healthy eating habits, if everything in the cupboards is healthy.
Importance of posture – Sit with good posture whilst eating. This will allow space for the digestive organs to work, and allow Qi to move freely through your body. Breathe well; this allows your diaphragm to move up and down which massages the abdomen and improves digestion. Do not sit still for too long after eating and do not sit in a slumped position. This will inhibit digestion and cause stagnation in the body and digestive tract. As you probably know, it is very beneficial to go for a walk after eating.
Moderation – Practice moderation whilst eating, not greediness; allow this to flow into the rest of life. Dao De Jing on moderation;
Exert from Dao De Jing verse 67:
I truly have three treasures that are mine to own:
The first is compassion,
The second is moderation,
And the third is humility.
With compassion I am fearless,
With moderation I am giving,
With humility I naturally rise to my natural state.
Find these three treasures to attain transcendence.
Let the digestive organs rest – Keep the stomach free of food in between meals. This will benefit your digestive energy, and your energy in general.
Do not drink much with your meal – the Spleen transforms the food into energy and nutritive Qi for the body much more easily if it is not swamped with liquid. This is not often thought of in the Western world, but is more prominent in some Asian countries. Drink in between meals instead. By drinking more in between meals you will help flush toxins out of your body, keep your body hydrated, have easier bowel movement, feel lighter, alleviate pain and feel more energized. An especially good drink to have is water with lemon or lime in it. It is very energizing, alkalizing and detoxifying. If you have to drink with your meal, have a small or half a cup of hot herbal tea or water. The warmth aids digestion due to the increased warmth/energy given to the Spleen.
Eat organic foods – it is good for you and the planet. Eating foods that are treated with chemicals and pesticides poisons the body. Pesticides and other chemicals that are used inhibit the vegetable’s natural ability to resist bacteria and parasites. This information then transfers into your stomach, making it less able to naturally fight bacteria and fungus.
Some more food for thought – According to Taoism, everything is made up of vibrational frequencies – information and consciousness permeates all. The ancient Taoists and modern quantum physicists both realised this. The information from what we eat goes directly into our physical and energy body and interacts with it. For example, if you eat meat from an animal that, when it was alive, was treated very badly, causing the animal fear, panic, depression and anxiety, this information goes directly into your being and affects it on a physical and conscious level. We are not just causing the animal harm but also ourselves. Therefore it is important to be very conscious if or when you choose meat. There was some interesting research carried out by a man called Cleve Baxter in 1966. He found and recorded on his research equipment that plants, just like other living things, had a reaction just before they were about to be cut into pieces. He even found that the plant reacted to the thought of hurting it. This seems to show that plants are more advanced than humans! He found that he could prevent the negative reaction of the vegetable before they were eaten, by explaining: I have to eat you to sustain my life. The researcher found that his health and energy levels went up dramatically when he changed the way he saw and interacted with plants. This suggests to me that we should be very conscious, respectful and grateful to the food we eat…
Nourish the energy of the Kidneys – To benefit your physical health, energy body and posture whilst walking, push off the acupuncture point Kidney 1 (located underneath the ball of the foot). This pulses and activates the point, which then sends more Earth force up the Kidney meridian into the body. This helps energize the body and directs more Qi upwards, which leads to a more upright and healthier posture. A healthy posture is essential for all bodily functions and processes to take place efficiently. Later you can also learn how to expand your Heart energy, raise your Shen and to project out through your eyes at the same time. This balances the energetic relationship of the Heart and the Kidneys.
Let go of the day – Before going to sleep, let go of the day mentally by using your breath. Use, for example, Sung breathing to release any stored habitual tensions from everyday life. If you do not know how to practice Sung breathing, please read Daoist Nei Gong by Damo Mitchell. By learning how to harmonize your breathing, you will be able to better harmonize your mind and the five Spirits that make up your being – Po, Hun, Shen, Yi and Zhi. This will enable you to sleep well and wake up refreshed.
Sleep practice – later on in the Nei Gong training you can learn sleep practice. It is used particularly to harmonize the relationship of the Hun and the Po, the spirits that make up our soul. The Hun is considered Yang, it is the ethereal and eternal soul. The Po is our mortal soul; it is Yin and the aspect or our mind that connects us to physicality. The Po roots the Hun in physicality, without this foundation the person would be delusional. In Chinese thought it is said that our Hun (Soul) goes wandering during the night into spirit realms. When the Hun and the Po are in balance you stop dreaming. You will only “dream” when the Hun needs to tell/warn you about something in your future. It can warn you about future negative events that are going to take place in your future and Ming/destiny if you carry on living in the way you are, or it can, for example, show you when there is going to be a major change in your life. The Hun and the Po’s relationship give an interesting explanation to why one can feel confused when waking up in the morning. During the night the Hun has been able to move freely in the spirit world, and when awakening one becomes restrained by the Po because it connects us to physicality.
Soul Travel – Another thing you can do whilst sleeping is to practice soul travel. You can leave your body and travel in different realms if you manage to free your Ling from the physical body. In order to be able to do this you usually need to have practiced many years of Nei Gong or other internal practices.
Increase Earth force whilst sitting – Use the opportunity when sitting to bring more energy up from the ground through the acupuncture point Kidney 1: ‘Bubbling Spring’. Do not use the backrest on chairs; always sit further forward so your feet can be lightly pressed into the floor, as this brings more energy up your legs from the ground. This can enable you to feel the bubbling of Qi in the area of the acupoint Ki:1, hence the name ‘Bubbling Spring’. The light pressure from your feet down into the ground and the increased energy flow up the legs also enables your vertebrae to be better pushed open. This will lessen the common problem of spine compression whilst sitting. It is much easier to feel the energy moving if you have already started practicing Nei Gong, but it is easy to get the physical benefit from it straight away. Just make sure your upper body is a little more upright and forward than normal.
Sit on the floor, increase flexibility naturally – Throw out sofas and chairs from at least one room; just sit on the floor on cushions and mats. It is much more natural for the human body than constantly sitting on chairs. It will help to naturally mobilize your body and to keep it supple and flexible by sitting in different positions on the floor.
Practice Internal Arts – Practice Nei Gong or any other type of spiritual arts to awaken your energy system and to help purge old stuck tensions and emotions. Open up your mind and physical body for spirituality and what really matters in life. Do not get lost in triviality.
Break Negative thought patterns – Use conscious effort to break negative thought patterns and habits. Replace reoccurring negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones.
Ethics and morals – Practice ethical and morally right behaviour. Physicality is an illusion, but consciousness is not. Therefore behaviour is very important.
Balance emotions through Qi Gong movements – Use Qi Gong, such as Five Elemental Qi Gong, to aid the balancing of your elemental and emotional make up.
Balance your emotional state through mental effort – Use the theory of the 5 elements, choose your weakest element and strengthen it through Qi Gong, Chinese Medicine food therapy and work to change any negative emotional habits. The human brain is addicted to repeating the same emotional patterns over and over again (for more info watch: What the Bleep do we know?) Look at the emotions and elements you struggle with, use effort to change them and embrace and nurture the virtuous manifestation of them instead. For example, if you have a wood and Liver/Gallbladder related imbalance; and struggle with indecisiveness, inner frustration, anger outbursts, asserting yourself onto others, impatience etc. Just acknowledge your weaknesses but don’t overly worry about them, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Then envision and feel what changes you would like to see in yourself. When you have acknowledged which areas you want to strengthen then you can start to practice; if you are indecisive, practice fast decision making. If you are impatient and have to assert yourself onto others in most situations, make a point of practicing patience and listening to others. It is not easy to just say; change your behavioural patterns, but by knowing where you are going and with help from Nei Gong practice, Qi Gong, Martial Arts, food therapy and acupuncture it will be easier to make the change happen. In Chinese Medicine the organs, emotions and our mental strength are all linked. See the chart underneath to help map out which areas, energies and organs you could strengthen to improve your well-being.
The 5 Spirits in balance, out of balance and their virtues:
Smile a lot – Smiling slightly pulls the muscles on the sides of the mouth, the front of the neck and the top of the chest. This pulls open the side branches of the Chong Mai on the chest, opens the chest, the Heart energy and the middle Dan Tien. This means that smiling literally makes us happier! The more we smile, naturally we will become happier because of the activation of the Heart energy.
Consider what is really important in life. Do you allow space for this in your life? Does the way you live your life nurture good health, emotional balance, mental strength and spiritual growth for yourself and others?
Use practices to improve your Physical body, Energy body and Spirit.
Follow your natural path to Spirituality and Dao.