My father tells stories about following his father, Dr. Manuel Antonio Chamorro, around the Colombian countryside teaching people to boil their water. In his spirit, I’m going to write up the tools I teach people to improve their health without having to go to the doctor.
The title of this post refers to a famous Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.” In other words, bliss is found in the moment. I refer to that quote here because I know meditation to be the primary medicine, right up there next to food. Meditation—practicing being in the moment—induces the body’s healing response. There is no substitute for meditation, though there are many forms of it.
Meditation is what I mean by ‘calm wood.’ In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver is associated with the wood element and the liver is thought to be the organ most disrupted by stress. When we focus on the present moment, we ‘calm wood,’ ie./ reduce liver stress. Here’s an interesting article from the Hepatitis C foundation on the Western link between stress and liver health.
The best thing about meditation is how accessible is it. Here are five ways to meditate that you could incorporate into your daily routine right now:
Dan Tien Meditation – The ‘Dan Tien’ is the area two inches down and two inches in from your belly button. Focus your attention there and breathe. Whenever your mind strays, simply bring your attention back to that area. You can use this one to ground during the day, too, whether you’re walking to the bus, standing in line in the grocery store, or your kid is vexing you. Just bring your attention to the area below your belly button and breathe into it.
Mantra – ‘Om’ is the classic go-to when silence isn’t necessary, but you could pick any word, phrase, verse, scripture, to focus on and repeat. This is the essence of prayer.
Moving Meditation – Sitting still just isn’t for everyone, but there are plenty of forms of meditation that don’t require it. Tai chi and qi gong focus on the breath as a matter of course, but you can also make a meditation practice out of any form of movement simply by focussing on your breathing as you run, walk, swim, cycle, ballroom dance—anything.
Focussing – The practice of focussing had a heyday in the seventies, but it’s still a useful tool for reducing emotional stress. Basically, when you find yourself ‘triggered’ by something, you stop, feel into the emotional distress, and find the exact right word that describes what it is you’re experiencing. Naming something precisely can help dislodge it from the body.
Clear Mind Meditation – Just as it sounds, you endeavor to clear your mind and rest in silence. It can help to begin by counting your breath (1-10 and back again); once you stabilize there, just drop the counting.