Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jason R. Hackler: Thoughts on Energetic Breathing

Ki, or energy, creates form. Our Body is the form which is made up of the continual flow of Ki (energy). In Acupuncture Medicine and Meridian Therapy we think of the Body with a capital B, as in Body, Mind, Spirit. In actuality, these are not three separate capacities, but, one. They are one with various aspects. The beginning place of Ki in our Body is in our Tanden, situated in our lower belly, 2-4 fingers below our navel. This is where we should begin our breath from. As my medicine teacher, Dr. Duckworth, has shared, "the first thing a child does born of natural childbirth is take a deep breath from their center." To breathe correctly is the single most important thing we can do for our health, physically, spiritually, and mentally.

Lie down, place a book or weight over the area of your Tanden, and breathe through your nose, making the weight or book rise each time you inhale. Your inhale should cause your abdomen to expand first. You're not trying to 'belly breathe' per say, you're practicing beginning your breath from your center, deep in your abdomen, and allowing it to rise and expand into your chest and back. For a beginning practice, don't pause between the inhale and exhale - just allow for a continuous flow as you breathe. Your thinking brain will usually be noisy; don't try to stop your thinking, just return your focus to your breathing. To start, just take five minutes twice daily to practice deep breathing.

Deep breathing actually raises levels of blood oxygen. More blood oxygen means that all the organs and tissues are oxygenated more thus creating the potential for improved digestion and mental performance; a more relaxed nervous system helping to deal with anxiety, stress, insomnia, body pain, hormonal fluctuations; and much more.

A well known Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu, once said: "most of us breathe from our throats, and that real human beings breathe from their heels." (I think we can safely say that "real" human being means a 'whole,' as in holistic, human being.) Dr. Andrew Weil says, "if I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would simply be to learn how to breathe correctly."

So, all of us please, take a deep, relaxed breath from your Tanden, and continue practicing for a lifetime. Happy Spring!

Jason R. Hackler, Dipl.Ac., Associate Natural Life Therapy Clinic

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tribute to Aline

Tribute To Aline

This past Saturday, March 19, 2010, my friend Aline Crawford left her physical form. She was a student of the Kototama sound practice and contributor to the Institute of American Acupuncture and Life Medicine. She was generous in all things. I feel honored to have shared a small portion of her life. She inspired me.

Aline found the medicine shortly after I began my studies. She became interested in the Kototama sound studies. I was privileged to be her ferry to and from sound meditation/study and Jizo Bosatsu celebrations. After those sessions, she would riddle me with questions that stretched me and took me in directions I would have otherwise probably not gone. And she provided me incredible insights in the sounds, in the aspects of the celebrations that I had missed, in life in general. She gobbled up life. And she never stopped learning. It kept her young and vibrant, in spite of physical maladies that challenged her.

I have had uncles, aunts, grandparents, my mother, my step mother, a brother, and friends, some who are my contemporaries, move out of the physical realm. Each of their lives have left an indelible mark on mine. In the quiet that follows comes the true appreciation for that which they have bestowed upon me. I intend to recognize those attributes while they are with me in the moment. Aline has helped teach me that awareness. I intend to continue to learn, truly experiencing life until my final breath in this form. I intend to honor family and friends as the precious gift that they are.

Since my mother's death I have recognized that the ripples of energy that people in our lives cause, like the ripples on water from a pebble drop, continue in me. Now I carry with me all who have touched my life. And those lives continue to touch more lives through me. I am grateful. And the work of Masuro Emoto provides us with factual evidence, that human vibrational energy, thoughts, words, ideas and music, affect the molecular structure of water. The words, thoughts, idea of gratitude creates beautiful crystal structures in frozen water. Aline was fascinated by Emoto's work, as am I. Since people are largely made up of water, spreading gratitude has its merit.

Thank you Aline! You laughed, loved, mourned, cried, giggled, and meditated with the sound of "su". I will think of you often, and it will make me smile.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mindful Meditation

In The Moment – Meditation & Breathing, Contemplation & Renewal

In modern terminology, it is sometimes called “Mindful Meditation” or “Mindfulness Meditation”; it is also termed “One-pointedness of Mind Meditation.” People often think of Hinduism, Buddhism or Zen Buddhism when they speak of meditation but this practice is not about religion, though it definitely is about the spiritual realm. The realm of stress-free, relaxed, peacefulness that comes when the mind is quiet; when the mind is focused on one thought or (better still) no thought.

Research has suggested that meditation may improve mood, decrease stress, and boost immune function. It has long been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure and calm the spirit.

What is One Pointedness of Mind Meditation?

One Pointedness of Mind is a form of meditation that essentially involves focusing the mind on the present; in Shinto terminology, Naka-ima (Center-Now). Naka-yima is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the present, without judging yourself.

How to Practice One-Pointed Meditation

1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff. Sitting on the floor can be with legs crossed (tailor style), legs folded onto themselves (Lotus or half-lotus position) or legs bend under yourself (suwaru – Japanese style). Whether on a chair or the floor, try to position yourself so that the crown of your head, your shoulders, hips and tip of your tailbone are aligned.

2. Put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present. This is the core result for which we are striving. This will take time. For me, initially, it took a great deal of time. Be patient. If you have expectations of results, you are not being present; you are in the future.

3. Be aware of your breathing, focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your chest or belly rise and fall; feel the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to each breath, how each breath changes and is different; yet don’t think about the sameness or differences. Just breathe.

4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it is a worrisome thought, fear, anxiety, fantasy or just wondering if the light in the refrigerator is on. When thoughts appear, don't ignore or suppress them, just note them and let them go. Stay calm and use your breathing as an anchor.

5. When you find yourself getting carried away by your thoughts, observe where your mind went, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Don’t be hard on yourself when this happens; it’s just stuff. As my beloved teacher, Baba Ram Dass, once told me, “To chastise oneself for worldliness is just more worldliness.”

6. As the ending time arrives, just sit for a minute or two and let your mind reactivate, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

Focusing on breath is a technique for quieting the brain/mind – the thinking self. When you first begin this work, the inclination is to think about not thinking and while you can see the paradox of such a head trip, none-the-less, that is what you will do. There is almost a fear that if you are not thinking, you’ll die or go crazy or something. However, when you stop thinking incessantly, you will begin to truly live or become sane. You will relax.

There are variations of this practice. You can focus on your breath, you can focus on your anatomy of breathing where you note “rising” with each inhalation and “falling” with each exhalation. With your eyes open, you can focus on a single burning candle in front of you. Each time you find yourself thinking, resettle on the flame. The goal is to be in the moment – Naka-ima. The result is relaxation.

Being in the moment is furthered through sound. Use of mantra is an excellent method for reducing stress, tension and other stress-related symptoms.

Herbert Benson, MD, coined the term Relaxation Response, “a state that is opposite to the stress response”, after he investigated Transcendental Meditation and found that people who practiced TM could lower their heart rate, their blood pressure and slow their breathing by significant percentages.

The practice of focused attention on a prayer, a sound or a mantra, is a multi-thousand year old practice. The repetitious use of a word, group of words or vocal utterance has long been used in spiritual traditions to achieve and maintain a “super-state” of relaxed awareness. It is the practice of repeating a word, prayer, sound or phrase so as to exclude other thoughts or mental activity. Mahatma Gandhi uttered the word, “Ram” (GOD) all his life; so much so, that at the moment of his assassination, the last word he uttered was ‘Ram’.

How to Do It

The wonderful thing about using sound for meditation and relaxation is that you can do it anywhere and anytime, alone and with others. It is incredible to sit with several hundred people and chant a sacred sound over and over again. This is how you can begin your practice and use it for your own private mental health exercises.

1. Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Relax your muscles. (I have read instructions where it is said to “try and relax your muscles” but this is a contradiction of terms, if you TRY to relax, you aren’t relaxing. Don’t try to relax, just relax.)

2. Close your eyes. Breathe into and out of your belly.

3. Use a focus word, phrase, or prayer that has special meaning to you; one that is rooted in your belief system, or makes you feel peaceful. For example, the word "peace", “Om”, “shalom”, “Ram”, “Shiva”; the phrase "The Lord is my shepherd", "Hail Mary full of grace", or the prayer “Lord have mercy on my soul”, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, “Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hari, Hari”, “Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram.” I commonly utter the sounds “SU”, “Su A Wa” or “Rama”.

4. Breathe slowly and naturally. Inhale through your nose and pause for a few seconds. Exhale through your mouth, again pausing for a few seconds. Quietly say your focus word, phrase, or prayer as you exhale. You may silently say your sound but it is more powerful if you can hear yourself utter your ‘prayer’.

5. Don't worry about how well you are doing and don't feel bad if thoughts or feelings intrude. Just say to yourself “and this too” and return to your repetition.

6. As the time comes to a close, continue to be aware of your breathing but sit quietly. Becoming aware of where you are, slowly open your eyes and get up gradually.

This technique is usually practiced for ten to 20 minutes per day, or at least three to four times a week.

If you have to keep track of the time, try using an alarm or timer set on the lowest volume, so you don't have to keep looking at your watch or clock.

Breathe into Your Belly
(Breathing from your tanden)

Calm Your Mind

Stress, poor posture, snug clothes, and habit are some of the reasons that keep us from breathing properly. We wind up using our chest muscles instead of our abdomen.

Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple deep breathing technique that teaches you how to use your diaphragm, a sheet of muscle at the bottom of our lungs and the most important muscle for breathing.

Tanden breathing is deep abdominal breathing developed through the martial arts. It is also employed in yoga practices and opera singing. Belly breathing is very good, tanden breathing is much better.

It is often used as a complementary therapy for anxiety disorders and may also help to boost energy and stamina.

The goal should be to breathe this way all of the time.

Calm your mind. Forget about what you’re going to make for dinner tonight, the emails you still have to respond to, and the birthday gift you still have to get for your mother-in-law. Just let go of thoughts.

Don’t force it, just let go of any thought that pops into your mind.

Improve Your Posture

Proper posture gets air into your lungs and helps energy flow through your body.

Sit up straight, imagining a string lifting up your chest. You should feel the area between your chest and your navel lengthen. Sit in a chair, stand, or lie on your back. You don't have to sit cross-legged but whether sitting on the floor, on a chair, standing or lying on your back, be straight, be aligned. Although the classic posture is to sit cross-legged, what is more important is finding a position that is comfortable for you. Instead of sitting on a cushion or on the floor, you can also sit in a chair. Your feet should touch the ground. If they don't, place a stool under your feet.

As you try to improve your posture, you may find your muscles tensing up, especially around the abdomen. Consciously seek to release any tension from your body.

Breathe In Through Your Nose

Place one hand flat against the lower abdomen. Your thumb should be around/near your navel.

Breathe in through your nose at an even rate.

Allow your abdomen to expand, rather than your upper chest. You should feel the hand on your abdomen being pushed away from your body as your abdomen rises.

Count silently starting from "one".

Breathe Out Through Your Mouth

Breathe out slowly and evenly through your mouth.

Again, count silently. Exhalation should take about twice as long as inhalation. So if you counted to three when you inhaled, strive to count to six when you exhale, but don't force it.


If you feel light-headed at any time, you may be breathing too quickly. If you are standing, try practicing while sitting down.

I usually suggest starting with five to ten minute meditation sessions in the first week. Although that may seem short, as you may have already discovered, trying to clear the mind of thoughts can actually be quite difficult! Some people even feel a bit anxious in the beginning. So start slow and work your way up.

Try not to set time goals. Concentrate on the quality of your meditation sessions and on meditating consistently.

Eventually, you will naturally find yourself meditating for 20 or more minutes, a good length of time to calm and quiet the mind. You can also try meditating for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening.

If you have to keep track of the time, try an alarm or timer set on the lowest volume, so you don't have to keep looking at your watch or clock.

Rest your hands palm-down on your thighs or knees.

Energy flows better through the body when you are sitting upright, so it is important to sit up straight. It may help to imagine your body being pulled up from the top of your head so you are upright without being stiff.

Monday, March 1, 2010

WSJ Weighs in on Acupunture & Pregnancy

The Wall Street Journal's published an article by Shirley S. Wang, discussing acupuncture's effectiveness towards pregnant patients.

The piece begins, "Acupuncture designed to treat depression appears to improve symptoms in pregnant women, suggesting it as an alternative to antidepressant medication during pregnancy, a study found."

Here's a link to the entire piece.