Bring Mind Body & Spirit Together in Balance
C. Alexander Simpkins Ph.D. & Annellen Simpkins Ph.D.
We weave the cloth
Of our every day
By what we do and give
The fabric of our destiny
Is made of how we live
--C. Alexander Simpkins
Many people strive for optimum fitness. We learn from our training that health and a healthy feeling are a matter of the mind and the spirit working along with the body. In the West, people think of medicine as a way of curing illness and disease. We go to the doctor when we are sick, unhealthy. We have not ever agreed on what health is, exactly. Is health the absence of illness, or is there a kind of optimum, individual healthy state?
Healthy Balance: Mind, Body, Spirit
The yin and yang doctrine presumes a balancing process of dynamic equilibrium. Attuned martial artists learn to be at one with their surroundings, within and without: organism in the environment. This means restoring balance when disharmony is taking place and responding correctly to the interrelationships.
Restoring correct connection between your body-sense and the outer situation is health-giving. What this means in practical terms according to Eastern medicine is that the body is in balance within, yin and yang, with opposites interacting, e.g. light and heavy, cool and warm, acid and base, and so on. Internal equilibrium is balanced with the external forces of nature, such as heat or coolness. Thus, the individual balance for people when they are adapted to living in a warm climate might be very different from their own personal balance in a cold place like Alaska. A visit to a cold climate may be shocking at first, to a person accustomed to the tropics. Vermonters find it warm at temperatures that a Californian might experience as unpleasant. Conversely, a brisk shower may be stimulating, when we feel sluggish and overly warm. When the balance is interrupted, the body tries to return to equilibrium. The doctors role is to make the conditions favorable for the bodys own wisdom to rebalance itself.
This Eastern concept of balance has its counterpart in the concept that is the basis of Western medicine, homeostasis. There is an equilibrium that is optimum within the body, the interior milieu. This equilibrium is relatively stable and allows the body to cope with changing external conditions. An organisms tendency to come back into balance was researched extensively by Claude Bernard in the 1850s. Bernard believed that the phenomena of living beings must be considered as a harmonious whole. He recognized the interdependence of social and behavioral life.
Walter B. Cannon, MD coined the name homeostasis for this natural wisdom of the body. Despite any disturbances, the body finds and maintains its own stability and balance.
Cannon studied and wrote in detail about the bodys many defensive mechanisms that help protect us from harm and keep the body stable. He believed that it was almost miraculous that our bodies, which are made of unstable materials, can persist in health for decades. The reason that this could even be possible is the perfect balance and harmony of homeostasis.
When there is harmony, health prevails, and this harmony is a dynamic harmony, not a static one. Thus, a highly trained, competitive runner requires a different physical adjustment and dynamic balance from a less active office worker; food intake differs radically, amount of exercise is varies greatly, even the amount of inner tissue repair is not the same. Yet both individuals could be in excellent health. There is a fine art to attuning individuals to their own best balance, which might diverge from standardized norms. This is akin to power-tuning a car, timing and setting it to the octane of gas used and conditions regularly encountered, so that there is less ping and better performance.
Inner and outer are not two: as Eastern philosophy teaches us, dualities are to be transcended. But their interrelationship sometimes requires restoring harmony. Disharmony leads to ill health. Harmony results in absence of illness, as a Western doctor might define it; the vitality of the right balance for an individual can lead to a long life. The exercises that follow are designed to help you find your own balance.
Reflection on Balanced Living
In this exercise you will explore the balance in your own life with regard to sleeping, eating, working, resting, and martial art training. Often we go through our days out of balance, pushing in one direction or another without balancing the forces.
Sit however you feel most comfortable. Close your eyes. Think back over the past day. How much sleep did you get the night before? What kind of food did you have at your meals? How often did you eat and in what quantities? Did you enjoy your food? How long and hard did you work? Did you rest at all? Was there any time for exercise? Next think back over the past week--then month and months. Look for patterns over time. If you notice a large imbalance, make note of it along with your feelings. Clear your mind of these thoughts when you have come to terms with them, and wait for any other thoughts or feelings to request attention.
Balanced Living Reflection II
If you have begun to recognize imbalances, think about ways to alter them. Often, balance can be achieved by making very slight changes. Adding a few minutes of meditation each day can begin to correct an imbalance of stressful overwork. Thomas Edison was a firm believer in fifteen minute catnaps to recharge his mental batteries. Then he could return to his continuous inventive endeavors with renewed vigor. Fifteen minutes of exercise will help correct a sedentary lifestyle. In China, a short session of regular, patterned outdoor exercise, at a fixed period during the day has helped many people bear their burden of work more comfortably. Try to be moderate in your change: look for the middle Way. Find what fits into your life. Small corrections may make a big difference over time.
Chi: Internal Energy
Eastern medicine is based on the concept of "Chi", an invisible internal energy which circulates through the body via meridians. According to Eastern medicine, the individual balance involves the free-flow of chi. When illness occurs, the chi has been blocked or stuck, trapped in one area thereby disrupting the natural flow through the body. Too much or too little chi is not healthy. Proper stimulation of key points along the meridian system can unblock or reroute the chi to promote healing. Acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, and massage are all used restore the flow of chi and thereby bring the patient back to health.
Raising Your Chi
Martial artists call upon their inner energy, called Chi, to enhance techniques, adding focus, power, and spirit to every movement. Taoist meditators believe that the lower abdomen is the source of Chi energy. The Chinese call this area, located approximately one and a half inches below the navel and one third of the way through the body, the Dan Tien. Originally nourished through the umbilical chord, the embryos energy is circulated from this lower abdominal area. Taoists believe that you can reclaim this source of energy by raising your chi in your abdomen and then circulating it using your mind.
Raising Chi Meditation
Turn your attention to your lower abdomen and breathing comfortably for several minutes. Bring the air in through your nose, down into the lungs and then out again. Permit your rib cage rise to and fall slightly and your abdomen to expand and contract with each complete breath in and out. Breathe gently, as you focus all your attention on this area. You will eventually begin to feel a slight warmth in the lower abdomen. This is your chi. Taoists say that when the spirit moves, the chi moves. Imagine the warmth beginning to spread around to your back, up through your head and back down to your abdomen, in a circle. Keep your attention moving in this circle through your body. With careful practice, you will feel the warmth, your chi.
Circulating the Chi Meditation
Taoism has long combined meditation with slow, steady movement to increase energy and promote health and longevity. This breathing exercise is drawn from the Taoist, Chuang-tzu, to help you raise your energy level by circulating your chi.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, arms at your sides. Relax your body. Slowly bend your knees, allowing your arms to hang down as you inhale gently. Then slowly and evenly straighten your legs as you raise your arms up over your head, fully extended. Exhale. You can go up on your toes as you stretch upwards if you would like to get more exercise in your legs. Repeat slowly, gently, five or more times. Maintain loose, slow, smooth movements and gentle breathing. Do you feel tingling or warmth in your arms and legs? This is your chi.
Adding Chi to Your Techniques
Do the first two exercises. Once you feel tingling and warmth in your arms and legs, practice a technique, such as the punch. Direct your energy into your fist, focusing all your attention on the moment of focus. Let your energy flow to that point. Do not think about anything except the energy. With practice, you will find that by adding chi to your techniques they can become stronger, more focused and balanced. Experiment with all your techniques.
Dynamic Balance--Poised for Action
The centered attitude, in harmony, with chi flowing freely, is the healthy way to live, according to Eastern wisdom. The center point of interactions is a poised, dynamic balance, which gives an experience of harmony. Health and correct action clearly follows this. When you are centered, you are grounded in your true self, which is at one with your surroundings. Then, the reactions you have to circumstances can be accurate reflections of what is in your environment.
Being centered is no longer a matter of attempting to adjust to a fixed norm. In our constantly changing culture, norms have sometimes changed before we can adjust to them. Instead, the situation or circumstances that you are centered in now becomes the basis for action, an opportunity to express your enlightenment. Then your reactions make sense and become mature responses. You can work things out and come to terms with the situation demands from your inner sense of balance. Any deficit is experienced clearly, as is any plus. Your center gives a reference point from which to judge.
In physics, the stability of an object is enhanced by proper placement of its center of gravity. You can feel this for yourself if you tip a large box slowly on edge. There is a balance point where the box, even a very heavy box, will balance perfectly on its edge. But if you continue pushing further, the center of gravity is too far outside the box and it can be easily tipped over. When throwing an opponent in judo, the inertial balance of the opponent must first be broken in order to complete the throw. If he is stable, a throw of the opponent is difficult. The key to not allowing oneself to be thrown is to return to the center, to the point where the center of gravity is under you. In many martial arts, a small person can thereby overcome a larger. By remaining centered, natural, and not contending, remarkable things can be done.
What does this mean in practical terms? If you return to the central harmony found within of your own center, you have some reference point for your life. Disturbance is real and uncomfortable, but you can return to being centered. Disharmony from illness and conflict will not rock you for long, and it becomes clear how to regain your composure: return to the center. This can affect your business, your relationships, and your health. There is no absolute, standardized norm of what this must be for everyone. An energetic, dynamic individual is in a different harmony than a quiet intellectual. Each of us must learn what our personal Way is.