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Thoughts, Emotions and Wellbeing – Part III

As the final part of this series of posts, i’m going to talk about an understanding that i’ve found to be highly effective for  generating profound and lasting insights into the nature of how we experience the world. This understanding is called the 3 Principles, and was uncovered by the late Sydney Banks in the 1970s. It has since been introduced in hospitals, correctional institutions, social services, juvenile justice programs, community housing, drug and alcohol prevention and treatment programs, schools, and multi-national corporations throughout the world.

I was introduced to the understanding by two friends, Jenny and Rudi Kennard, who have developed an incredible resource for learning about the 3 Principle via their website Three Principles Movies. They are also fantastic facilitators of the understanding, offering training via their company Innate Wellbeing. I won’t say too much here about the details of the 3 Principles, as there are far more eloquent speakers and facilitators that you can listen to for free on their site, but I will at least highlight some of what I currently understand.

What appeals to me about this understanding is that it is free of any ‘baggage’, it doesn’t require any particular faith or religion and can be embraced by anybody regardless of belief system. It doesn’t teach any complex techniques or theory, in essence, it simply talks about how we are creating our experience of life from the inside-out – with our thoughts being the lens via which we perceive quite literally everything. Our thoughts are intimately connected with our feeling state, indeed this simple yet profound statement offers a huge amount of wisdom – “our feelings are always coming from thought in any given moment”. We don’t need to try and control or manage our thoughts, we simply recognise that whatever we are thinking, even though it can seem to be the absolute truth in that moment, is really just a perception, one of many possibilities. So by not getting caught up in thought as being so substantial, we allow for new perceptions to arise. A simple example of this is the intuitive notion that it may be more beneficial when annoyed with someone to sleep on it rather than act straight away- in the morning we often find that our perceptions have shifted. Fundamental to this understanding is the notion that we all have psychological wellbeing as our default setting; the implication being that no one is psychologically broken beyond repair. Our state of wellbeing can certainly be lowered by negative thoughts, but these are like clouds in the sky, obscuring the sun; the sun is still there, just as our innate wellbeing is everpresent behind any negative thinking. This may seem fanciful until you take a look at the transformations that this understanding has generated in correctional institutions and mental health services.

The real key to getting what is being talked about here is through personal insight. For a long time I thought I ‘got’ what was being described, but it wasn’t until I had an internal insight that went beyond an intellectual comprehension that I really started to appreciate how this understanding can radically change perceptions, behaviours and sense of wellbeing without needing to employ specific techniques. For me, sharing this understanding, together with providing acupuncture and Qigong, is a wonderful way to correct imbalances that have arisen via mental, emotional and physical stress and offers a path to maintaining health and harmony at all levels of our being.

Thoughts, Emotions and Wellbeing – Part II

Hand in hand with the positive effects of acupuncture, there are many other ways to improve one’s emotional and mental balance. Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise that uses slow, meditative movements and mindfulness to gain awareness of the inner state of one’s body and mind and can help to clear the body of biochemicals associated with chronic stress by increasing blood and lymphatic flow and reducing muscular tension. The Chinese have dedicated a huge amount of research into the therapeutic effects of qigong, and exercises are routinely prescribed for patients with a variety of conditions, including cancer, as an adjucnt to standard treatment.

There is a bewildering array of information available regarding qigong exercises, and this can seem overwhelming for somebody who wants to start learning. Undoubtedly, practical tuition with an experienced practitioner is the best way to go, and a Google search will often find a class in your local area. If qigong isn’t explicitly available, a tai chi class will often include qigong exercises as the two practices are very similar.

Failing all that, from my own experience I have found both Bruce Frantzis’ Dragon and Tiger Qigong and Lam Kam Chuen’s teaching of his version of Zhan Zhuang (or ‘standing like a tree’ posture) to be easy to learn and very effective. Both practices can be learned from the books: ‘Dragon and Tiger Qigong’ and ‘The Way of Energy’ (the latter being out of print but available second-hand at quite reasonable prices on Abebooks or Amazon. The Dragon and Tiger system also has a DVD available, and there are probably clips floating about on YouTube. Zhan Zhuang instructions are certainly widely available on YouTube. For those in the vicinity of Colne Engaine, Earls Colne, Halstead. Colchester or Sudbury, Nick and Liz Cahill offer Dragon and Tiger Qigong tuition (see www.nextsteptaichi.com)

Despite the gentle movements, qigong practice isn’t easy; it takes dedication and perseverance to see results. Zhan Zhuang practice, from the outside, simply looks like you are standing still. Yet with the correct alignments and mindfulness it becomes incredibly challenging. Try following this routine  and see how you find it.

In contrast to Western exercises, a fundamental principle of qigong is to use less effort to bring about greater results. When doing the Zhan Zhuang standing practice and other qigong forms, you aim to continually try to let go of unnecessary tension held in the body and mind. As you practice, within the stillness, all the built up mental and emotional stress will start to manifest, often with sudden feelings of irritation and restlessness; ‘what is the point of doing this?’ ‘I’m probably doing it wrong anyway’ types of internal dialogue frequently occur. Take all this as a symptom of how much nervous tension you have been carrying around unaware; it is a clear sign that you really need to be doing qigong to clear it out. After a few weeks of daily practice for 10 or 15 minutes that physical, emotional and mental tension will have begun to dissipate and your energy and wellbeing will be greatly enhanced.

Finding 10 spare minutes a day isn’t all that difficult considering the potential benefits of qigong exercise, though I appreciate it might not seem worth it without any proof of its positive effects beyond taking my word for it. So I guess to start with you could do Zhan Zhuang while doing other routine activities such as watching TV, listening to the radio or to music, and then you haven’t lost any time and you can begin to see if it is useful to you.

Acupuncture and qigong can both do wonders for enhancing wellbeing; however, I generally find that the most long-lasting transformations for patients occur when they have an insight into the patterns of thought and emotion that have contributed to the manifestation of their health complaint. While there is no failsafe way to provide such an insight, there are certainly ways in which it can be facilitated. In the final part of this blog post, I will discuss one such method, which doesn’t require learning any techniques, but instead offers an understanding of the mechanism by which we perceive and interact with the world.

Thoughts, Emotions and Wellbeing – Part I

As my first post, I thought I would say a little about the link between emotional and mental wellbeing and physical health. Most people have an appreciation of the many negative influences that result from ‘stress’,  but how many of us really consider the potential impact of our day-to-day fluctuating emotional states on our health? Chinese Medicine recognises that our emotional state plays a major role in determining both our physical and mental wellbeing. Excessive or supressed emotional responses, such as fear, anger and worry, over a prolonged period cause significant physiological imbalances that may eventually lead to disease. This notion is one of growing acceptance in the West, with fields such as psychoneuroimmunology demonstrating a clear physiological link between our emotional and mental states and the health of our body.

While this concept may be interesting, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical advice for managing one’s thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, there are several things that we can do to help achieve this and thereby lead a happier, healthier life. Obviously, as an acupuncturist, my first recommendation would be acupuncture! However, the reason that this is my chosen profession is that I have seen its effectiveness time and time again in transforming people’s lives, sometimes dramatically, other times more slowly and subtly but, nonetheless, significantly.

So how does the seemingly mechanical act of acupuncture influence someone’s emotional and mental wellbeing? We know that the organs of the body contain the same neurotransmitters as found in the brain, in particular the gut. We also know that stress hormones are released from thoughts of fear, stress, worry etc. If these thoughts are habitual these stress biochemicals may lead to a chronic feeling of insecurity, edginess or irritability. Over time blood flow to the organs can be restricted by muscular tension so that, for example, the liver is less able to remove stress hormones from the blood efficiently.

By releasing muscle tension and increasing blood flow acupuncture can help to restore a sense of wellbeing by helping to naturally correct biochemical imbalances. In addition, this can help resolve physical complaints that may have been caused by these same chemicals. As the person’s health improves, their mental wellbeing rises and they are better able to see how their thoughts and emotions have contributed to their condition. They can then make healthier choices, both in terms of physical activities like work, diet and exercise, but also in terms of their responses to stressful situations and their inner outlook on life.

In Part II, I’ll be talking about some of the other interventions that I’ve found effective for improving mental and emotional wellbeing alongside acupuncture.