Chan Meditation Explained

10 May 13161981_10153583766816485_1772940815_n

As we have been practicing Meditation quite a bit since the opening of our new temple in Southampton.    I thought it might be nice to write a small blog about its meaning, methods and practice. We hear a lot about Chan in the temple but what is does it actually mean and what is it all about?

What is Chan all about?

To start with, a bit of history! Bodhidharma was a fifth century Indian Buddhist monk who, in legend, came to China to spread the teachings of Buddhism, he is said to have been responsible for the birth of Chan. Chan is a direct translation of the word “Dhyana” which means meditation. Historically Shaolin Temple is where Bodhidharma chose to settle and teach this method or “Way”.

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What do we gain through practice?

Chan is the main philosophy that underpins Shaolin Kung Fu. It is a method or way of practice that gives us greater insight or awareness into our true nature, true mind, Buddha mind.

The mind plays a huge part in this practice. Great sages have said that the mind has no form and its awareness no limit and once we see our true nature or mind we are no longer bound by attachments, there is no duality, we are free from negativity and we can can see the world more clearly with greater wisdom and insight.

Through the practice it encourages us to live and experience the present moment, to liberate the body and mind, and in time can lead us into a deeper understanding about our own being, existence, life, death and beyond.

The sages expressed that all living things share the same nature, which is difficult to see as it is covered by our human sensations and mental delusions. One way to help us to uncover or discover our true nature can be done through meditation. Meditation can come in many forms and is not always sitting and still but this ancient and traditional method of crossed legged seated meditation seems to be the most effective way to help us to gain this insight.

How we practice.

Zen Practitioner, Katsuki Sekida, expressed that we are never separated from our personal practice, which we carry out with body and mind.

When we practice it is important that we are mindfully conscious, by that I mean not sleeping or dreaming. We are mindfully present in the moment as we practice.

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So how do we become aware of the mind?

Through meditative activities consciousness is stopped and we cease to be aware of time and space and causation.

The brain can’t do this by itself; it is unable to control thoughts alone. The power of the control of the mind comes from the body; it depends on the posture and breathing.

So firstly immobility is essential. Sitting crossed legged is a traditional and effective method for practice as it keeps the body still but the mind awake. By keeping the body still it results in producing as little stimulus as possible to the brain, this posture and non-movement reduces the activity of the brain’s cortex. Putting us into a state where we are not aware of the sensation our bodies, this brings our attention solely to our thoughts and minds.

Therefore to summarise – when we meditate we try not to move at all, and by our bodies being in a correct posture it can create as little bodily sensation as possible without us falling asleep, hence the traditional method of sitting crossed legged.

 

Correct posture also includes straight back, tongue placed to the roof of the mouth behind the teeth. Relaxed muscles. Hands relaxed in lap. (See picture 1)

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 This beginning stage can take a lot of practice and some getting used to. Some may find it uncomfortable as their bodies adjust to this posture (its interesting to note that traditional Indian Yoga training, is a physical training method in order to prepare the body for meditation and its sitting posture) For others it can be very painful and for some it can even be difficult to stop the body from moving. You will be pleased to know that this all passes with practice.  

 

Once this stage has passed and we are able to sit unmoved, a sensation of timelessness and “unbodily” awareness occurs. This is the first step into our practice. Breathing is then adjusted.

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Our breathing can affect the state of our mind; therefore quiet relaxed breathing has a specific calming affect on the mind. In practise lower abdominal breathing can be performed. This is a way to breathe where the chest is bypassed and breathing is done by the muscles of the diaphragm and lower abdomen alone. We breathe into where the Dantien is located and is said to store our energy and power.

Through the practice the student can go on to realise pure existence, then comes the next and many other stages in training. Hope this is helpful to you and encourages you to keep practicing. I will leave you with this interesting thought – Bodhidharma explained to us that Buddha nature is something you have always had. Your own mind is the Buddha. Don’t search outside yourself for Buddha. Where you are there is a Buddha.

The Buddha is your own mind so to find Buddha you have to see your own nature or your own mind.

Many blessings and Happy Life,

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Martine Niven / Chen Miao Shan

 

Chan/Zen Mind: Thoughts on Direct Experience and Perceptions; Keys to Happiness and Peace.

28 May

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Zen/Chan thought encourages the practitioner to study with the whole body and mind, through this way of practicing the student can have a direct experience.

Consider that everything in life is geared towards the encouragement, development and discovery of our true nature.

Just reading about the subject can give some understanding from an intellectual perspective, which is a necessary part, but may be lacking in the complete direct experience.

We need together intellectual and physical to actualise practice and to fully understand and experience something.

So this is also the case when studying martial arts, it is necessary to have strong conviction to study with mind but also in body too.

Direct experience will come when you are completely at one with your activity and when you have no concept of self.

When this occurs all concepts of right and wrong disappear.

Our opinions are dropped; there is no subject or object, therefore no “two” of something.

We can then break free from superstitions, philosophical opinions and even religious beliefs.

For example a skilful martial artist can use his sword to cut a fly off his friends nose without cutting the friend.

To have fear of cutting the nose is not true practice.

When you do something have strong determination to do it, without an idea of skilful or not, dangerous or not, just do it. When you do something with this kind of conviction it is true practice.

When I was training recently with my master, a highly skilled practitioner, I did feel fear when confronted by this way stronger opponent, but soon discovered that when you can focus the mind and stay in the present moment you could respond appropriately. I tried to not let my mind create illusionary situations, for example “this is going to turn out bad!!!” Or “golly gosh”, or words to a stronger effect, “this is going to hurt!!”

When you can forget preconceived ideas of self, like ‘who am I?’, then the mind can become open to all possibilities. Then you can act with clear and focused attention. Then you can see your true nature.

When we can forget about the self, we can respond to the moment that is occurring now.

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This is why martial arts training, particularly in Shaolin Kung Fu, is considered a method or way to Chan/Zen enlightenment or a way to discover your true nature. The Venerable Abbot Shi Suxi (释素喜) 1924 – 2006, 30th generation Shaolin Monk, highlighted how Chan comes before Quan (fist).

Could it be that Chan can be Quan and Quan can be Chan?

When you can develop this true understanding and practice.

It is beyond any feeling of fear, good or bad, right or wrong.

Another example is I sometimes can become discouraged by the state of our current world, every time I turn on the news there is war, destruction, people behaving and acting inhumanly. I say to myself why is this happening, why are people so cruel and heartless, how can I make a difference, how can I change this, but I soon realised that this way of thinking is impossible, I would get angry or sad and despondent and sometimes even feel ashamed to call myself a human being knowing that these atrocities are happening in the world.

Sometimes to cope I will ignore it saying, this is nothing to do with me, I’m not a part of this. But I realised that this too is a limited way to respond and ignoring a situation doesn’t make it better, stop it from happening, or as you all well know, make it go away.

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I soon realised this way of thinking is painful, limited and useless. It cannot help or change anything and most importantly doesn’t assist you in helping to discover your true nature.

So what to do, what could I do?

I thought about the questions that many people ask about life; like how can we create peace, happiness and fulfilment in life? When all of this is going on around us?

I realised that to gain peace it is not enough to just change our environment or to physically try to help/make all the people change or awaken in the world.

Even though we should continue to help others, this in turn will create happiness, but we cannot expect them to change, this only causes suffering and pain when the expectation is not achieved, and for some in this lifetime can be an impossible task.

So my old patterns of thinking were also an impossible task, like trying to squeeze water from a stone.

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So here is the insight………..

We can guide people, inspire people; enlighten them by our own actions.

We cannot be responsible for the actions of others, but what we can be responsible for is our own actions, thoughts and behaviour.

The only real peace we can truly gain is inner peace, and then everything you see will be peaceful.

So how do we achieve inner peace?

Well this could be very difficult or very simple, there are many paths and methods, but as we explored in the text above, whatever path or method you choose, do it with all your body, heart and mind with full commitment and determination.

To truthfully seek, we need to persist in our practice even when we become discouraged. We will have then ‘attained’ when the urge to give up has been overcome……eventually.

Consider this:

“To an awakened mind even destruction could be peaceful.”

                                                       SHI YAN MING (from Uk Shaolin Temple)

 I state that I am far from this level of awareness, I have many days where I forget and need reminding, I’m just a beginner after all, but a beginners mind is worth consideration, don’t you think?

I leave you with an extract from the great Chan master Sengcan, the fourth patriarch of Chan Buddhism.

This is his only surviving work called the Hsin Shin Ming (xinxinming), or “Trust in Mind.” This poem—thought to be one of the earliest Chan treatises. ENJOY X

 

Trust in Mind –

The Great Way is not difficult
 for those who have no preferences

When love and hate are both absent
 everything becomes clear and undisguised

Make the smallest distinction however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything

To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind 


When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail

Things are objects because of the subject (mind),
the mind (subject) is such because of things (object)

Understand the relativity of these two 
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.


In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
 and each contains in itself the whole world.
 If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine 
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.

In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.

To come directly into harmony with this reality 
just say when doubt rises “not two”.
 In this “not two” nothing is separate, 
nothing is excluded.

Words!
 The Way is beyond language, 
for in it there is
 no yesterday
 no tomorrow
 no today.

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Staying Healthy with the Seasons : Winter

4 Dec

“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 Chinese have a tradition of adapting to seasonal changes and following certain universal natural laws of nature to help them to stay healthy and strong.

I have to admit that when I regularly visit China and see the older generation, they are much more vital and active than our western counterparts. Every morning they are up early in the parks taking various different exercises, moving their bodies, staying active and socializing. They are educated in self-care and are aware of their environment and how they are and can work in harmony with it to prevent illness.

They are taught from a young age about health prevention. Knowing what foods to eat to balance their bodies, how to adjust to climatic changes and what exercises are beneficial. And in general they have a deeper awareness of nature and their place within it. They follow the laws of yin and yang and five elements and therefore try to balance themselves before sickness or illness can take hold. I think we have a lot to learn from these older generations and we could prevent a lot of illnesses occurring by just taking responsibility for ourselves, and our lifestyles.

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Before I talk about the health tips for winter I want to explain a little about The Chinese Five Element understanding of this season and its associated organs.According to The Chinese Five Element system, Winter is ruled by the water element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands.According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body.They store all of the reserve Qi in the body so that it can be used in times of stress and change, or to heal, prevent illness, and age gracefully.The kidneys control the life force energy; our vitality and longevity are said to be stored in our kidneys. Therefore over the winter period there are various methods to help us to restore and protect our kidneys and kidney energy.

During these winter months it is important to nurture and nourish our kidney Qi. It is the time where this energy can be most easily depleted. Our bodies are instinctively expressing the fundamental principles of winter which are rest, reflection, conservation, and storage.Winter is a time of deep stillness and conservation. It is the most inward time of year, the time of ultimate yin, where nature is resting, hibernating in preparation for the spring.

“Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”–Zen saying

You may find that at this time of year you are deeper within yourself seeking rest, replenishment, reflecting and listening, being more aware of your senses. It is considered a time to get plenty of rest, good nutrition, relaxation and sleep.

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Winter Diet

As we move into winter we need to adjust our diets once again. Winter diet should be warming and substantial, with more whole grains, less fruit, lots of steamed and baked vegetables. Soups are wonderful for this time of year and also ocean foods like fresh fish and seaweeds.

Because the weather is colder and days shorter we tend to have less physical activity therefore burning fewer calories in comparison with the summer. Therefore is it suggested we don’t increase our food intake too much or you may gain extra pounds over this period. A diet which is mainly carbohydrates and proteins will give you the heat you need and a few extra pounds ready to burn off when the spring time comes.

Seasonally, fruits are less available unless you live in a tropical climate. Vegetables can be eaten daily, it is recommended steamed or baked. Vegetable soups are recommended on cold days as they are nutritious warming and easy to digest. Garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper can also add a bit of warmth to your meals and warm up those long dark nights.

Cooked whole grains are an excellent staple in the winter. Complex carbohydrates like millet and buckwheat are great body heaters and are less starchy than other grains. If you combine these with beans like mung beans or red beans you can make complete proteins. Adzuki red beans are good for kidneys and black beans assist with sexual function.For meat eaters I would suggest fish, deep sea fishes from non polluted areas, some chicken or small bits of red meat is ok as long as you know it has not been fed loads of chemicals and hormones to plump up their muscles. If you listen deeply to your body, it will tell you what is right for you to consume. Here are a few healing properties of certain foods.

Adzuki beans – remove damp and ease swelling

Celery – calms the liver and treats high blood pressure

Chestnut – strengthens kidneys, lower back and knees

Fennel – eases flatulence and removes clotting during menstruation

Kidney – strengthens kidneys and helps with lower back pain and sexual problems

Leek – warms the body and counteracts diarrhoea

Liver – nourishes blood and treats Liver deficiency

Mung beans – cools summer heat and reduces fever

Pine nuts – builds the yin of the heart and lungs

Radish – cools heat from the digestive system

Sesame seeds – moisten the intestines and treats arthritis

Spinach – acts as a sedative and eases burping and acid reflux

Christmas Tipple

Winter is a time that many people like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage. Depending on our constitution this is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is done in moderation. Wine is pungent and bitter and sweet and enlivens the spleen, warms the digestive system, expels wind and cold, promotes circulation of qi and blood, improves appetite and dispels fatigue. It is dry and warm or hot and can be used to dispel dampness and cold. Its yang nature enables these positive effects to reach everywhere in the body including the head, skin, and extremities. It’s particularly useful when the weather is windy, cold, raining and damp.Alcohol is also poisonous – so only drink amounts your particular body is comfortable with. Drinking too much will impair the mind, blood, stomach and increase production of phlegm-fire. The legendary Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) physician and herbalist, Li Shi-zhen wrote:

‘Wine, a beauty bestowed by heaven – drinking a small amount harmonizes the blood and moves the qi, strengthens the spirit and wards off cold, disperses worry and dispels moodiness. Drinking an extreme amount damages the spirit and consumes the blood, causes detriment to the stomach and death to the essence, engenders phlegm and stirs fire… Addiction to wine and getting drunk on a regular basis leads to disease and decay at best and to humiliation of one’s nation, ruination of one’s family, and loss of one’s life at worst’

Exercise

You need to take care during these winter months it is a busy time with the Christmas holidays but you must be careful not to run your batteries down. Plenty of sleep and relaxation will help you to recharge. Although this is a time for less physical activity it is very important to exercise still.Move every joint every day!!! This will keep you young and vital. Practices like Tai Chi, Yoga and Qi Gong are beneficial during this time, make sure you warm up extra to avoid injuries from cold and damp. Do not sweat too much during this seasonWinter is a great time to do indoor exercises.

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Stay warm, avoid the cold, and keep the skin covered. The ancient Chinese believe that pathogens like cold and damp can invade the body, of which there are certain key areas; these are at the nape of the neck, ankles and wrists, lower back and tummy therefore it is advisable to keep these areas covered and warm when you go outside in the cold.

Here are some extra tips for general health preservation ENJOY X may you have a happy, peaceful and restful Christmas break xxx lots of love Martine xxx

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Tip 1: Protect your feet. Wash them with hot water before sleep and keep them warm and wrapped up.

Keeping the feet warm through winter is essential in order to nourish Kidney qi”

In Chinese medicine feet are regarded as “the second heart” of the body. On your feet are many reflections of your internal organs and the tissues of the body. So massaging them regularly is a must. It will improve circulation of both your qi (energy) and your blood. Before you go to bed soak your feet in a bowl of hot water and then massage them. This will have the additional benefit of helping you sleep better. Feet must also be kept warm, especially in winter, as according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are related to the kidneys. Our kidneys are believed to be the source of yin and yang for the whole body, which keeps our bodies in balance.

Tip 2: Change your sleeping pattern with the seasons

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.

In traditional Chinese Medicine there are a set of rules governing the timing of going to bed and getting up based on the relationship between nature and humans. In Winter we need to go to bed early and to rise late. If we rise before the sun, we have to cope with the cold when we are least prepared to do so, having just got out of a warm bed, which will lead to “cold diseases” and drains our energy reserves.

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Tip 3: Go for a walk after dinner

A Chinese proverb says: “if you wish to live to the age of 99, please walk 100 steps after each meal”.

Walking has been a good way of keeping healthy since ancient times. One way is because walking helps improve bowel movement. This in turn shortens the time it takes for food to enter the small intestine, promotes digestion and absorption of food, and prevents stomach and intestinal disorders. Walking is beneficial to all age groups but especially for middle-aged and elderly people, as it is a relaxing form of exercise. Also in TCM theory we need oxygen to combine with food to make a special type of energy called Wei Qi, this is the qi that protects our body from pathogens and external climatic factors. So therefore by walking after dinner helps to generate Wei Qi more efficiently.

Suggestion: Walk daily, and when you get the chance, go to an area of great natural beauty and breathe in the fresh air. This has the added benefit of aiding the whole body especially the muscles, joints, heart, and respiratory and nervous systems.

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Tip 4: Give your head an early morning massage to

brighten your day and face

After getting out of bed, rub and pull your ears gently with both hands. Then rub your scalp and comb your hair with your fingers. After this rub your two hands together until they are warm. Lastly wipe your face with warm hands (like when you wash your face), in an up and down motion for 10-20 times. This massage stimulates the circulation of qi and blood in the face. This will brighten your face, keep hair from greying and prevent diseases.

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Tip 5: Keep your emotions in balance

According to TCM there are 7 emotions: joy, anger, pensiveness, worry, sadness, fear and fright. TCM states that joy is related to the heart, anger is related to the liver, pensiveness comes from the spleen, worry impairs the spleen and the lungs, sadness harms the lungs and fear and fright both affect the kidneys.

If we allow our emotions to constantly run away with us, illness and

disease may follow; we all know what it is like to get over excited during the day and find ourselves unable to sleep at night. So try to not allow yourself to let your emotions go into over-drive.

Suggestion: When your emotions overwhelm you, remember to breathe deeply to exert a calming influence over your body and emotions.

Tip 6: Sex

In the winter, everything on earth goes into hiding. In compliance with this hiding, we should avoid depleting the spirit with emotionless sexual activity. In general TCM states that temperance in sexual activities is also important. Overindulgence damages health and shortens life span. It is best to avoid sex when:

  • You are very hungry or too full.
  • It is very cold or very hot.
  • Emotions are in excess or out of control
  • You are ill, or feeling frail or deficient.
  • Body or mind are exhausted.
  • You’ve had too much alcohol to drink. (this one is very important!!)

TIP 7: Proper Balance Between Work and Rest

Do not think that by taking a rest you are lazy!! Rest is an essential part of healing and restoration. It is really healthy to have a nap for about 10 minutes during the day.

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Naps can be one of the most powerful tools for self-improvement; they can increase not only our health and wellbeing but our intelligence and productivity as well. This is something great men have known all along. History is full of famous nappers!; Famous thinkers and leaders like Edison, JFK, Churchill, and Napoleon were all ardent nappers!

Benefits for napping:

  • Increases alertness
  • Heightens your senses and creativity
  • Prevents burn out
  • Improves your mood
  • Benefits your health……. how? Well…… When you sleep, you release growth hormone, the antidote to cortisol which boosts your immune system, primes your sexual function, reduces stress and anxiety, and aids in muscle repair and weight loss. Napping gives your brain a chance to rest and your body a chance to heal.

Proper rest can relieve the weariness of the body and mind and restore physical strength and mental power.Avoid physical strain through protracted exertion, over-exertion, or exertion when hungry or full. Also avoid mental overexertion; as soon as concentration becomes difficult during reading or writing, it is high time to take a rest.

Sources:

Staying Healthy with the seasons By Elson M Hans MD

The Yellow Emperors Classis of Chinese Medicine By Maoshinh Ni

Between Heavan and Earth by Harriet Beinfeild and Efrem Korngold

http://straightbamboo.com/how-to-stay-healthy-in-winter/ By Alex Tan

The Hand Salute by Chen Miaoshan

12 Mar
 


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In martial arts there are many different types of salutes. The wushu salute, which we perform at the beginning and at end of class, has a very deep philosophical meaning and a long cultural and ancient Chinese traditional history.

The modern wushu salute that we practice today it taken from the North Shaolin Temple Salute and it was then standardised by the people’s republic of china in 1986.

The salute was chosen due to its long history in wushu kung fu.

It is said that all Chinese Martials arts originate from Shaolin and still even hundreds of years later the Shaolin monks still maintain this high level of expertise’s of physical and spiritual attainment from there practices. It is no surprise then that the modern wushu salute today should be taken from the oldest and most honourable origin.

The hand salute is the most basic kung fu etiquette that any practitioner must understand before they begin there practice. It is a form of respect that we show when entering or leaving your place of practice, it is used to greet you master or coach and or other practitioners therefore it is very important to understand what it means.

How you do it?

  1. The right hand is clenched in a fist.
  2. The left hand thumb is bent, and the four fingers are stacked and straight.
  3. The palm of the left hand is placed over the fist.
  4. Both fist and palm are about 20 to 30 cm from the chest, with both elbows bent and the arms forming a circle.
  5. The hands are held at chest height.
  6. The feet are together with the knees straight.
  7. The posture is erect and the eyes are focused on the person who is being saluted.

What does it represent?

  1. The fist represents martial arts ability and using the right fist demonstrates that you are pledged to the cultivation of the martial arts, and are using martial arts to make friends.
  1. The left hand thumb is bent out of humility. Chinese people will point to themselves with their thumb instead of their index finger, as westerners do.

A straightened thumb, like the western thumb’s up gesture means “I’m number one!” to a Chinese. Therefore, the bent thumb means that that you are not number one.

Even if you are, proper martial etiquette would demand that you remain humble and not show off.

The four fingers stacked straight symbolize uniting Wushu across the four seas (or directions).

  1. When the fist and the palm come together it displays the union of sharing skill and martial arts practice around the world and amongst each other as friends in all martial arts community.

As we can already see the salute ceremony has a deep philosophical meaning and therefore should not be practiced as a mere formality. The action must have genuine intention of what one feels at the bottom of his or her heart.

When saluting to your teachers this shows your respect for his (or her) teachings. It is customary that the student should salute before the master.

When saluting to your partner the salute shows the intention not to hurt the partner, but to help him or her to progress to help hone each other’s skills.

When you salute before entering the training area you show respect to the schools ancestral history which represent the sacrifices that your grand teachers made for the discipline. It also demonstrates your respect for the space in which you train which from a Chan perceptive reflects self respect as we are a part of everything and everything is a part of us.

When saluting a practitioner from other martial arts disciplines it  displays mutual respect for each other’s skills and abilities.

In shaolin we can see that the shaolin warrior monks often bow with one hand. This represent the story of Bodhidharma’s first disciple Huike and his dedication and commitment to Chan practice.

Bodhidharma was a buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century CE. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan/ Zen to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch.  According to Chinese legend, he also began the physical training of the Shaolin monks that led to the creation of Shaolinquan. He was father of Zen/Chan Buddhism.

Legend has it that Bodhidharma initially refused to teach Huike. Huike stood in the snow outside Bodhidharma’s cave all night, until the snow reached his waist. In the morning Bodhidharma asked him why he was there. Huike replied that he wanted a teacher to “open the gate of the elixir of universal compassion to liberate all beings”.

Bodhidharma refused, saying, “how can you hope for true religion with little virtue, little wisdom, a shallow heart, and an arrogant mind? It would just be a waste of effort.”

Finally, to prove his resolve, Huike cut off his left arm and presented it to the First Patriarch as a token of his sincerity. Bodhidharma then accepted him as a student, and changed his name from Shenguang to Huike, which means “Wisdom and Capacity”.

Therefore the shaolin monks nowadays salute with the right hand only to highlight this legend and represent their commitment and dedication to there martial arts practice.

Compassionate Eating by Chen Miao Shan

24 Dec

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Through spending some time this year living with the nuns and monks in China’s oldest Chan Buddhist temple in Fangshan district,  Tiankai Temple, I was introduced to many new concepts, philosophies and ideas of life. One profound understanding came through our daily eating practices and rituals.

Eat Naturally

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Try to eat organic food, which has been allowed to grow naturally with little chemical intervention. Locally resourced and grown food is considered better for you and the environment – have you ever looked to see where your food has come from?

Eat Seasonally

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Try to eat seasonally, live in harmony with your environment; food comes at that time of the year for a reason. Remember you are a part of the natural world; you are not separate from the world in which you live but are linked intrinsically with it, and can flow with its natural rhythms.

Maybe consider this famous quote by one of the great thinkers of our time, Albert Einstein:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our

 must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Eat Variety

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Eat a varied diet (different foods every day), and avoid extremes (too much of one type of food). Variety is the spice of life!!! Try to eat a wide range of foods rather that sticking to the same old foods again and again, eating different coloured vegetables (red, orange, green, purple, yellow) with every meal will provide you with a variety of different nutrients.

If you are consuming meat try as best as you can to eat free range and organic, this will hopefully ensure that the animal that you are eating has been given a good quality of life therefore sharing that quality with you.

Eat Mindfully

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Thinking positively about the food that you are eating is equally as important; this is very difficult to do if we are eating in front of the TV or whilst working. If we can mindfully develop a better attitude to our food our bodies will more readily absorb important vitamins and vital nutrients.

Sometimes we can be eating all the right food but not always in the right conditions or environment, Chinese medicine diet therapy encourages us to eat our food in a relaxed, calm environment, stress free and not when over emotional or worried. It encourages us to chew our food slowly remembering that “your stomach doesn’t have teeth!!”

Eat Peacefully

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The Chinese believe that it is better to not mix work and food. The digestion works best when we are focused on the enjoyment of our meal and are not distracted by troubles or other influences, therefore it is best to try and not eat on the go but rather in a relaxed peaceful environment.

Eat Early

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Also it is not beneficial to eat late at night. At this time the digestive system can’t cope with large meals when the metabolism is already slowing down. The food will sit undigested in the system making you feel sluggish, groggy and slightly nauseous in the mornings. In the long term, this may weaken your digestive system and cause stomach and digestive issues later on. It was interesting to note that when we lived in the monastery we ate two times a day, once at 6am and then again at 11am, we didn’t eat again until the next morning.

Eat moderately

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There is a famous saying which can help us get an idea of how best to balance

the amount of food we consume. The saying goes:

“Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner.”

This means that in the morning our stomach and digestive system are at its strongest so therefore we can digest food easier, at night-time it is at its weakest so eating smaller portions or lighter foods like soup would be more beneficial.

In western culture especially in the UK we eat completely the opposite way around with very little for breakfast and very large and heavy dinners in the evenings.

It is proven that over consumption of food is a prime cause of many modern ills, so try not eating to excess, eat just enough. The Chinese give this wonderful piece of advice:

“Eat till you are two thirds full”

I discovered at meal times in the monastery that eating can be a great time to reflect on the self, your personality and your inner qualities.

Some questions you might like to ask yourself at this important time of the day:

Where has your food come from (not just from the supermarket)?

What is its purpose and why are you eating it?

Eat Respectfully

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Finally it is good practice to give some thanks to the life that is sharing itself with you in order for you to be strong and healthy.

Affirmation

This is a small affirmation you may like to say before meal times.

This food is a gift from the whole universe and so I am thankful.

Each morsel is sharing its life so I can be strong and healthy.

I am worthy to receive its life giving nourishment.

May its energy give me strength, make me healthy and help me to grow and develop as a caring, sharing and compassionate being.

May it help me on my journey through life and in turn help others to do the same.

Amituofo

Harmonising with the Seasons – Autumn: By Chen Miao Shan/Martine Niven

28 Oct

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In ancient days people lived in harmony with the elements of nature. They lived according to the seasons, in balance with the ebbs and flows.

The ancients new that we are not separate from our environment but are intrinsically linked with it.

The patterns that were seen in the natural world were reflected within their own bodies and minds, and therefore seasonal changes had a profound effect on them.

In our modern day ways of thinking we tend not to think about or even consider our environment and our connection to it, man has almost put himself above it, disconnected, unaware and as a result has forgotten its powerful truths and links into our own health & wellbeing.

“We can marvel at the separate cells that make up the body of a bird, but only in their union do we see the beauty of a life.” David M Bell

As Chinese medicine is an ancient and old world medical practice, it still encompasses these treasures of ancient knowledge and understanding. The theory of the seasonal changes, climates, recognising and working with the nature of the five elements, yin and yang, and the reflection of these in the natural world mirror our lives and bodies. These are not only key diagnostic tools but are foundational practices in balancing and harmonising our wellbeing and lives.

So how can we realistically apply this understanding into our modern day lives?

How can this knowledge and awareness benefit us and make us healthy and balanced.

One way is to firstly notice what season you’re in and gain some awareness of its nature, energy and patterns.

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The ancients would adjust their lifestyle according to what season it was. They would exercise and eat accordingly, even adjusting their moods and temperament to suit the season they were in.

For example trying not to get too angry in the spring or over excited in the summer, they felt this would have a profound effect on their health in the following seasons to come.

For us in the 21st century this may seem very profound and strange, adjusting our temperaments, but we can follow simple patterns as they did to help us lead healthier and more balanced lives.

So I have decided to put together some simple bits of advice rooted in ancient Chinese medicine to be able to help us through the seasons starting with the one we are in – Autumn.

Autumn is a time of change, the trees and plants slowly start to dry out, their nurturing sap returns to the roots and is drawn away from the leaves which turn into a beautiful array of colourful oranges and reds, and will eventually be released and let go of, back into the earth.

The temperature dips and we can feel that nip in the air, a small sign that winter is coming.

Fruits and vegetables are in abundance and we can see that squashes and pumpkins have become plentiful.

Animals start to collect nuts and prepare to harvest for the winter to come. It is a time when the energy of the seasons start to move inwards and downwards changing from yang into yin. The daylight lessens and the nights draw in.

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It is a time for inward cleansing, reflection and of letting go.

We can move along with this season working in harmony with its energy so as to balance our bodies and minds and prepare us to receive the next season, Winter, a time of maximum yin, rest and hibernation.

In this season it is a good time to finish projects that have been started in the spring and summer. To flow with the season we too can turn our energy inwards to home orientated projects and our close families. Activities like contemplation, writing, reading and nurturing your family prepare us for the winter to come, these activities will make the transition into winter easier.

Autumn-steps

The organs that are associated with this time of year are the lungs and large intestine. The lungs are the yin organ, and its partnered organ the Large intestine is yang.

The lungs are responsible for us breathing in pure revitalising energy and getting rid of toxic waste.

They are a great qi /energy provider of the whole body and a direct connection to the outside world.  The element associated with this season is metal.

At this time of year we can focus on ways to help strengthen the lungs by deepening our breathing through working on the breath. We can practice health exercises like qi gong and yoga, which link breath and movements together.

Practicing meditation also works in harmony with this season it helps to calm and clarify the mind as attention is brought to the breath. Breathing is an important aspect of meditation. Focusing on this will help you to center yourself and gain greater self-awareness and realization. Allowing you to experience the moment and be present in it.

One aspect of the practice is that the process allows for a deep state of rest and relaxation along with opening our heart and mind to possibilities, gaining the wisdom and awareness of our true nature.

We have to remind ourselves that meditation is not a goal but a process, not something you have to try to do, but instead a process you can allow to happen. You must merely give yourself time for the experience. This awareness is an important step in finding peace and joy in the world, which will eventually spread to all aspects of your life.

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Did you know that how and what you think affects and creates the world around you?

Mentally in this season we can adopt an attitude of stillness, slowing down and mindfully letting go of unwanted negative thoughts. Like the trees, we too can let go of the old so we can start afresh, we too can let go of negativity, old habits, thought patterns, mental, physical and emotional clearing to make way for the new.

At this time of physical cleansing we can also make sure to bathe daily, brushing away dead unwanted skin with a loofa, this makes way for new cells and rids the body of toxins.

Exercise with a good sweat is also a great way to help rid the body of these toxins.

With regard to exercise in this season, the focus can move into developing strength and stamina.

Flexibility and other aspects of training still need to be maintained but are usually focused on in the long hot summer months. As the weather gets cooler we have to be more conscious to warm up for longer periods before we stretch and exercise, so as not to damage muscles and tendons. At this time it is thought beneficial to practice the more internal forms of exercise like the soft qi gongs; examples of these are the Ba duan jing and yi jin jing. (See links to these exercises below.)

 Click here to watch Master Yanmin Chen 34th Shaolin warrior demonstrating the Ba duan jing.

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuJ9nEFXwXk&feature=c4-overview&list=UUrAhkBKS5PJb5PhM6sn9fbg)

In ancient wisdom it is thought that as the temperature starts to drop it is important that we keep vulnerable parts of our bodies warm, like the lower back, wrists and ankles and the nape of the neck, as these are easy points in which cold, wind and damp can penetrate into the body causing problems.

After training it is best if we dry off the sweat and close the pores with a dry paper towel, it is best not to go outdoors in the cold straight after sweating.

In ancient traditions, food was considered a medicine and was used to help balance, strengthen and harmonise the body.In western culture everyday food is not really thought of in this manor; it is more about what pleasures us, what we like to eat, not what is beneficial or suitable for us, or what balances us.

Every person has different qualities within their body; different balances and imbalances. Therefore each of us requires different types of foods to keep the body in harmony; for example if the body is very hot in nature, putting in heating foods like coffee, chocolate, garlic, ginger and chilli would not be appropriate. This would create more heat and disturb the body’s equilibrium further. We may like to consider cooler foods, which would be more beneficial.

Our bodies are also effected by the change in the seasons therefore we need to adjust our diet accordingly. Foods for the autumn season should be warming, hearty and rich. Therefore the perfect foods to support us during these months would be root vegetables. The roots travel deep into the earth and have an internal and deepening nature. Some examples would be:

Potatoes, yams, turnips, carrots, radish, ginger, garlic, and onions.

fresh root vegetables

Foods that have a pungent quality can also be great for the health during this season. The pungent quality has a dispersing and stimulating effect, moving energy upward and outwards and also penetrating into the organs of this season the lungs and the large intestine.

During these months it is better to eat foods that are warm and cooked, foods that are raw or chilled are usually less freely used, these are more of a summer food.More meat, nuts, fish and oils are appropriate, using hotter cooking methods like roasting and baking.Hot soups and baked pumpkins and squashes are also wonderful foods for this time of year.

During this time of year the metal organs of this element the lungs and the large intestine can be easily affected hence causing lots of colds, chest infections and breathing problems. Depending on the nature of the cold the pungent foods can help to disperse the cold that may have entered the body. For example if feeling cold shivering and sneezing (wind –cold in Chinese medicine) you can make hot, ginger and lemon drink with a teaspoon of Manuka honey to help disperse and move the cold or pathogen up and out of the body, hence stimulating the sweating response. (See thyme tea recipe below.)

Sometimes the body can be too weak to absorb the nutrients from the food. In these cases herbs can be used as they have a stronger more powerful effect on the body.

Uses of Thyme Tea for Cough/Tonifying the lungs.

You can drink thyme tea for relief from coughs, bronchitis, and common colds. (Combining thyme with lemon and honey improves the flavor.) Thyme has a profound effect on the respiratory system; in addition to fighting infections, it dries mucous membranes and relaxes spasms of the bronchial passages.

The ability of thyme to relax bronchial spasms makes it effective for coughs, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Its drying effect makes it useful to reduce the abundant watering of the eyes and nose associated with hay fever and other allergies. And gargling with thyme tea can reduce swelling and pus formation in tonsillitis.

It is also effective for hooping cough in babies. The thyme can be put in the bath and the babies bathed in it.

Recipe for Thyme Tea:

Take a hand full of fresh thyme, dried is better, cut finely and boil in a saucepan with water (approx. 3 mugs) for 15mins. After drain into a teacup it should be a brown colour, add half a fresh squeezed lemon and honey to taste. Manuka honey with a high factor is great if you have sore throat or throat infection.

image.php           images     thymeOur bodies have a huge self-healing capacity and through self-awareness and understanding we can bring about a more balanced and harmonious attitude to ourselves and the environment in which we live.

What’s really important is to listen to yourself so that we don’t have to get ill in order to make changes in our lives. Keep the body and mind open and clear; this makes way for positive thoughts and actions. It clears the way for self-realization and an awareness of our true self and nature. This way we can become conscious of who we are, what we are doing here and to actually do it. There is nothing else, nowhere else, only here and now. So Enjoy and breathe in this moment.

Enjoy the transition into autumn.

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Acupunctures helps to Treat Skin Complaints!

15 May

•Before Treatment

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Main Complaint:Very itchy, hot and weeping eczema on hands, they were deeply cracked  and would bleed. Patient has had complaint for 3 years

Treatment:I always start every treatment with a detailed consultation to check underlying conditions and to determine the patients constitutional imbalances.

In  this particular case the patient had mixed conditions of damp and heat, combined with Yin and Blood Xu and was also a Water CF.

Therefore a number of points where chosen accordingly, also local points were  used like HT7, PC7 ,LI 11 and Lu5. I also used combinations of Lu5 and SP9 to regulate the Tai Yin. CF points included Kid 3 +BL64- yuan & Bl23 &+ BL28 & Kid10 + Bl66 (water points to help nourish and clear heat)

•Only 5 sessions later

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Results:As we can see there was a clear improvement after only 5 sessions. He explained the itching had reduced and the layers of the skin where not peeling off so much. Also sleep had improved not getting up to pee at night and his back pain had completely gone.

It seemed that very week we treated him he slowly started to become more balanced and feeling more like himself. The skin was healing gradually and he had more energy.  The patient is continuing to have weekly treatments and soon will be spaced to to monthly sessions.

Most practitioners understand that skin complaints are very difficult to treat but this is what the amazing results of acupuncture can produce and its all early days yet.

Acupuncture is know to treat many different conditions, if you like to find out more about how acupuncture can help you contact me on 07962 905 979 and will be happy to talk about your complaint or health issues.

Or you can visits my website at http://www.naturalelementshealth.co.uk

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