Our mentally and emotionally-induced unnatural resistance to adjust our basic routines together with the seasons causes a clash between our internal environment (our physiology) and the external environment.
Each morning for the past week, I have found myself to be a bit more tired than usual. There were nights when I went to bed a little late and nights I went to bed early, but it didn't make a difference. Some mornings I even felt a little tickle in my throat and others I noticed a slightly runny nose and little extra saliva in my mouth. Too much detail? Well there's a reason.
When the seasons change, our bodies do the same. When the physical environment, and even the emotional environment, begin to change around us, our bodies, being the pros they are, automatically make an effort to change with them. If they didn't, we would enter an unfortunate state of dis-ease. Our mentally and emotionally-induced unnatural resistance to adjust our basic routines together with the seasons causes a clash between our internal environment (our physiology) and the external environment.
This is the reason I personally prescribe the art and exercise of Tai Chi during these times of the year. Although there are numerous styles of this exercise, its overall gentle movements and calming nature provide one important element in this time of seasonal transition; Movement.
A consistent Tai Chi practice during any seasonal transition, especially from summer to fall, will allow for a healthy experience of movement from one season to the next, no matter the type of climate. Whether you live in the northern or southern hemispheres, on the equator, or in Antarctica, there is always a transition in the environment, which has an inevitable effect on your body's physiology.
The main reason why practicing during the summer to fall transition is so important is due to the overall nature of the seasons. What I mean is, during summer exists the peak temperatures of the year in the external environment, which create physiological changes that lead to the release of heat (sweating) from our bodies. Or it can lead to something we refer to as warm diseases (think heat exhaustion) because our bodies are unable to release the heat inside of us leading to dangerous and sometimes life-threatening conditions. Additionally, as you may already be aware, there is a large amount of breathing occurring during the practice of Tai Chi. This breathing is a constant exchange of air and its contents between the external and internal environments which allow is to more rapidly create a level of balance between the two ultimately guided by a mindful approach to practice.
After summer, we transition towards the colder seasons, first moving through fall; a season of dryness, chilly temperatures, and less and less movement in the outdoors (e.g. the beginnings of hibernation). So as you can see, if we live in these environments, then our bodies are certainly affected by them, and we must take appropriate action to adjust in parallel with them.
What action is that? The action is Tai Chi. Which I believe, as a Licensed Acupuncturist, to be the single most effective form of exercise that offers and guarantees (with your consistent practice and close observation of your physiological changes) the opportunity for a healthy transition through any season change.
So, if you usually struggle during these times of year, particularly from summer into fall and then into winter, start your Tai Chi practice as soon as you notice the seasons beginning to change. Don't wait! Unless of course you prefer to catch a cold, get the flu, dine on throat lozengers, suffer from sinus infections, and yell at the top of your fluid-filled lungs "I hate this season!"
Last October, our health clinic was blessed with the presence of a Buddhist monk by the name of Bhante Dhammawansha. He visited our clinic to deliver a talk on the practice of mindfulness and how we can use it to reduce stress in our busy lives. His talk encompassed a variety of lessons, all of which were designed to free us from creating our own suffering. This blog is about these lessons. I hope they serve you and inspire you to join us on March 4 for a Mini-Meditation Retreat led by Bhante himself!
Lesson #1: A Full or Empty Mind Does Not Equal Mindfulness
Lesson #2: Respond. Don't React
Lesson #3: Mindfulness Leads to Happiness
Lesson #4: Don't Make Yourself Blind (or Anyone Else)
"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." - Mahatma Gandhi
Lesson #5: Lead By Example
If you found these lessons to be valuable, we hope you can join us on Saturday, March 4 for a Mini-Meditation Retreat led by Bhante himself. Details can be found here. (Registration is required.)
Justin Flinner is the owner of My Metro Medicine and has worked in the exercise and health industries for nearly 20 years. He is a licensed medical practitioner, university professor, and national champion in Chinese martial arts. He has worked for numerous government and financial institutions in the nation's capital delivering programs, seminars, and classes on countless health topics. Please send any inquiries you have for Justin to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Respond. Don’t React.”
It has been four days since the election, and most of our jaws have yet to lift off the floor in what has been the most stunning election in the history of this country. Protestors have begun gathering across a nation bleeding from its heart while dragging their disgust across the blood-soaked election floor in order to sling insults, cast blame, and reopen wounds that many thought had already healed. Others are reveling in the power of the masses for which they contributed to miraculously shaking the foundation of the most powerful country in the world. “How did this happen?” and “How did we get here?” are the questions reverberating across the globe.
Perhaps, we should focus on a different question instead.
"What needs to happen in order to heal this country and its people?"
One undeniable fact we need to acknowledge before answering any of these questions is that the people of this nation are suffering and have been for a very long time. Certainly, since the foundations of this country were laid, we have been fighting for the impossible by sacrificing our bodies, exploring our minds, and opening our hearts. Our determination for great change has, for centuries, been driven by our growing civil liberties and our patriotic poise that allows us to stand firmly on the elegant message delivered through our nation’s constitution. But, truth be told, when focus is drawn to the needs of a single group, all others are seemingly forgotten. And now, in this moment in time, an unexpected result has driven us to realize that “the forgotten” will now forever be known as “the remembered”. “The remembered”, who have waited for decades to find a single person, atypical or inexperienced as that person might be, who offers willingly to observe and listen to their collective needs, who sympathetically acknowledges their suffering, and who offers support through the promise of change.
Have the protesters in the streets ceased their shouting long enough to hear these voices as well? Have they listened and understood without blame or judgement for how this formerly-forgotten group of American citizens came to their decision for which they so heavily chant against? The voices of the protesters have been heard. And now, it is time to listen to the voices of the unheard, the voices of “the remembered”. And those left shouting, will be the first ones that everyone will forget about.
The people of this nation are suffering and have been for a very long time.
Perhaps "the remembered" are asking us all to do the following:
WE THE PEOPLE must not react. We must listen, understand, and provide support to each other through compassionate comradery.
WE THE PEOPLE must NO LONGER REACT through the deliverance of actions or words driven by hatred, disgust, or a sense of utter despair.
WE THE PEOPLE must RESPOND with effective action by first curbing our upset so we can listen openly to and fully comprehend the cause of suffering brought upon the citizens who live equally together among us. We must reach across the great divide that separates “Us” from “Them”. For if we do not, then this division will only spread further like a contagious disease we thought had once been cured but had only gone into remission. We must deliver a response that shows respect for the democratic process which defines how and why these States of America remain United.
We must reach across the great divide that separates “Us” from “Them”. For if we do not, then this division will only spread further like a contagious disease we thought had once been cured but had only gone into remission.
Regardless of whether you accept the results of this election or not, we must not give in to violent tendencies; we must not desecrate the relics of our great country of which our forefathers fought so hard to create and our ancestors fought so hard to protect; and we must not gloat for the sake of our own pleasure. For when we are defeated, we must humbly retreat, but not into the shadows. We must stand together, but not with our backs turned. We must listen to one another, but not without understanding. We must combine the “Us” with “Them”.
Have you heard about the historic event that happened during the first World War called the “Christmas Truce”? It is a beautiful story about British, French, and German soldiers declaring ceasefires and emerging from their trenches on Christmas Day in the midst of a devastating war so they could sing carols together, exchange gifts with one another, and join together in friendly and unforgotten soccer matches in the center of the battlefield before returning to their trenches to resume fighting against each other.
Today, we have an opportunity to write a different ending, or coda, to this similar tune. And this coda, when sung together, should remind us that we live together on the land of the free and the home of the brave. And when sung in harmony, we can resist changing the tune of our glorious anthem to sound as though we are living on the land of despair and the home of the suffering. So, let us choose to listen to each other's voices and understand where their power comes from so that our melodies can be joined together to bind the wounds of our nation’s bleeding heart. I for one, will be singing loudly with you, with my hand over mine.
Your fellow citizen,
Tai Chi was born as a philosophy, adopted as a martial art, and transformed into a widely-accepted and effective form of self-care and movement therapy for all.
Within the hustle and bustle of today's modern life, we are all searching for ways to escape. Escape the mundane routine we drag ourselves through each day, the unavoidable annoyances we encounter at work, the addictions to technology and social media that have flooded our lives and households, and the constant state of busyness we have inflicted upon ourselves.
Is it too much to ask for just a little break? Absolutely not. For this is the purpose of Tai Chi in today’s society: an ephemeral antidote for all of the above.
Tai Chi was born as a philosophy, adopted as a martial art, and transformed into a widely-accepted and effective form of self-care and movement therapy for all. Not to mention, it is frequently prescribed as such by doctors and healthcare practitioners around the world. Don’t just take my word for it; see for yourself. In recent years, the benefits of Tai Chi have been greatly magnified through the lens of scientific research to include the following (NIH, 2015):
Although many more benefits do exist beyond general physiological adaptations, the research lens becomes a bit blurry when attempting to focus in on them. For example, here are a few of my own personal benefits I have experienced over the past almost two decades:
Nowadays, there is more and more talk about the interference of technology in our daily lives and the constant stresses at work that lead to life-threatening conditions that have flooded emergency rooms, filled appointment schedules at health clinics, and generated monstrous wealth for pharmaceutical companies. In fact, “90 percent of visits to primary care physicians are stress-related.” Also, “over 60 percent of American workers say their jobs are a significant source of stress and it’s leading to an increase in heart disease, insomnia, obesity, hypertension, depression, and decreasing your life expectancy.” (Lippe, 2015)
"Non-communicable diseases are the leading causes of death globally, killing more people each year than all other causes combined..."
Tai Chi can be beneficial in helping people with many types of health concerns. More specifically, there exists a category of diseases that could potentially be eradicated by instituting a regular Tai Chi practice in one's day. This category is referred to as non-communicable diseases (NCDs); diseases which are typically preventable by the individual who contracts them. It is known that “NCDs are the leading causes of death globally, killing more people each year than all other causes combined . . . .” (Clements, Coady, Gupta, 2012)
Think about this for a second. Diseases we inflict upon ourselves are killing more people on the planet than any other disease. Look a little further and you may also come to the realization, like I have, that as a result of these NCDs, we are the cause of packed waiting rooms, higher out-of-pocket costs, and an extraordinarily large national debt.
So, I have one question for you. Do you wish to continue to be part of an immensely growing problem or will you choose to step out of these packed waiting rooms, save a vast amount of money, and help turn our nation’s healthcare around by taking responsibility for your own health?
I hope you will join us by answering with a resounding Yes!
If you wish to experience the life-changing benefits of Tai Chi and begin making a difference in your health and ultimately our nation’s healthcare, then join My Metro Medicine for either a private Tai Chi class or keep your eyes peeled for our new Tai Chi group to be announced on our website this week which will start in October 2015!
We look forward to helping you step into this new world of health, balance, and self-empowerment.
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Justin is a licensed and board-certified Acupuncturist, Tai Chi and Qigong instructor, and the owner of My Metro Medicine. He has been practicing and teaching Tai Chi and other martial arts and has been working in the healthcare industry for nearly 20 years. He is a multiple-time national champion in martial arts as well as a renowned teacher in the Washington, DC area. For more information, please see his biography here.
Clements, Benedict; Coady, David; and Gupta, Sanjeev, The Economics of Public Health Care Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies (Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2012), 5.
Lippe, Jordi, "Study says workplace stress is as bad as secondhand smoke: Tips on how to cope," Today, September 10, 2015,
"5 Tips: What You Should Know About Tai Chi for Health", NIH, last modified August 21, 2015, https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/taichi.
Recently, I had the honor of participating in a Tai Chi performance at the Washington National Cathedral's event "Seeing Deeper" with my teacher, Master Nick Gracenin, and other masters across the east coast. The event was created to offer learning opportunities to the public designed to enhance one's awareness of the body, mind, and spirit. The magnificent space of the cathedral was cleared entirely of chairs and benches in order to mimic the vastness of medieval cathedrals, served traditionally as places of gathering and community. The "Seeing Deeper" event also served as just this, a place of gathering, with nearly 100 people performing together the relaxing arts of Tai Chi and Qigong for nearly two hours.
During our practice, my teacher inserted elements of these art forms that trace back thousands of years into their philosophy which was used as the foundation of the healing arts of China, including Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. These elements included the essence of not only health practices and Tai Chi application but also important methods used to enhance one's quality of life.
Traditionally and modernly, we know these elements as Yin and Yang as well as the Five Elements. Unfortunately though, many sources of traditional teachings were lost during the Cultural Revolution that took place in China during the 20th century. Although some of this was safeguarded, many people to this day are constantly excavating and learning through self practice the true essence and meaning of the Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, and simply how to live a life of peacefulness and understanding.
The combination of the five human senses is the foundation of love.
So, what does it mean to be "Seeing Deeper" anyway?
Does the act of "seeing" in fact require the use of the human eye? And does "deeper" refer to the space or ground beneath us?
The human body is known to have (at least) five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. When you remove one of these senses, e.g. close your eyes, does it make it easier or more challenging to "see"? The question is only relative to the situation in which you are attempting to "see". If you were walking ten miles across an unknown landscape, this would make the task challenging and perhaps more dangerous, but not entirely impossible. If you were simply trying to experience the texture of a piece of fruit, removing your ability to see might in fact make it easier.
At the same time, would your other four senses be reduced or heightened? If your mind is no longer focusing on the use of your eyes, then your intention required would be sent directly to the senses you are still capable of utilizing allowing for them to be heightened. In the example of the piece of fruit, your sense of smell would be heightened as you would know exactly what piece of fruit it would be without even touching it, you could tap it to determine its density, you could examine its texture by touching it, and lastly, you could experience its deliciousness with your sense of taste.
The art of seeing deeper requires not the skillful ability that is developed over time, but rather the innate ability that reveals itself after years of shedding away the layers of human suffering.
So again, does the act of "seeing" truly require the use of the human eye? It depends on the context in which you are applying the act of "seeing". On a deeper level, when we wish to see within ourselves to understand our purpose as well as the meaning of life, we must first make a connection with our surroundings, both material and immaterial. Then we must use equally and non-judgmentally our five senses in order to experience what life has to offer. The combination of the five human senses is, in fact, the foundation of love.
The art of seeing deeper requires not the skillful ability that is developed over time, but rather the innate ability that reveals itself after years of shedding away the layers of human suffering. This said, we can only discover what is within ourselves by relating it to what is without ourselves (the outside world). Looking within is only possible by looking without.
In the year 2015, practice enhancing your ability to "see deeper" by using your senses in these ways:
Truly experience the textures of the food you eat.
Envelop yourself in the smells of a gorgeous flower garden.
Naturally move your body with the sounds (of music) that surround you.
Take in visually the artistic palette of colors the world has to offer.
Sensually feel the skin of the person you love and adore the most.
In this very moment, take a look at where you are. Take a look at what you are doing. Take a look at who is around you. Take a look at the thoughts going through your mind. Be aware of everything in your external AND your internal surroundings. Now take a deep breath in. As you exhale, breathe out the words Thank you and imagine sending these words as a kind, heart-felt message to everything in your external surroundings. Now do this two more times; once for your internal surroundings, thanking yourself for your breath, your heart beat, your abilities of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, then once more for everything inside and outside of you. ~Now smile!~ You've just completed an exercise in mindfulness and being present.
What does it mean to be present?
What does it mean to be mindful?
What does it mean to just BE?
These are questions that we typically do not focus on from day to day. So, even better than making an attempt to provide an answer of some sort, I invite you to experience what it means to you to be present, be mindful, and just BE. Here are a few tips on how to get started:
Step 1: Atten-Hut!
Sit on the last half or 2/3 of your chair so that you back does not touch the support behind you. Place both feet flat on the floor and directly under your knees. Straighten your back from the bottom of your tailbone to the crown of your head. Finally, rest your hands on your lower abdomen, one on top of the other.
Step 2: Breathe.
Slowly and evenly take a deep breath in and push your belly into your hands and notice your abdomen expanding in all directions. Hold this breath for a brief second and then continue by exhaling out at the same speed you inhaled. Notice your hands and your abdomen returning to their original positions.
Step 3: Close Your Eyes.
Let your eyes relax and slightly lower about 20-30 degrees to look at the ground in front of you. Then close your eyes and begin to focus only on your breath and the natural movement of your abdomen. After you complete a few breaths, you should begin to feel more relaxed. At this point, you should begin to let your breath fill your whole body, almost as if you are breathing with every inch of yourself, not just your lungs.
Bonus Step: Take a Look Around.
Once you feel confident with the first three steps, begin focusing on the bottom of your feet. Feel every inch of your feet relax and spread out on the floor as you continue to feel your breath move throughout your entire body, especially the bottom of your feet. This will help you to feel more grounded and stable in the present moment so that you do not fly away into every thought that enters your mind and attempts to overtake you.
"Always say 'yes' to the present moment... Surrender to what is. Say 'yes' to life - and see how life starts suddenly working for you rather than against you."
To understand what it means to be present, mindful, and just BE, you must experience it first. Practice these steps every day for at least five to ten minutes, and then notice what you feel. Has there been a change after one week? How about even one day? Being present, whether you are a beginner at it or make it look effortless, we must all remember it is not just another exercise to be added to your daily list of things to do. Begin by making it a routine, something you won't forget, and something that is important to you. Then, and only then, will you be closer to remembering what it was like to just be here and now. After all, if you cannot allow yourself to be present, what makes you think everything else around you will be?
If you need more guidance on being present or mindful, please contact us at (202) 505-2805 for a Mindfulness Jump-Start Session to help you on your journey towards a more relaxed and present you.
Enjoy this Video from "60 Minutes" on Mindfulness with Anderson Cooper & Jon Kabat-Zinn
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