Last updated: June 2018

The first acupuncturist I ever saw had the patience of a saint.

Acupuncture and meditation

I have a passion for health and love learning, and this was my first foray into Eastern medicine. Naturally, I had lots of questions.

She patiently explained the concept of Qi (pronounced “chi”), the life force that is in all living things, and how the Chinese had mapped meridians, or channels, in the body where the Qi flowed. Blockages or imbalances in the flow are believed to be the cause of dysfunction, including pain and disease.

As I was laying facedown on her massage table with my back exposed, I felt her palpate different spots on my back. Occasionally, she would ask if one was tender. When she gently pushed on one spot, however, I felt like she had found my back’s equivalent to my funny bone. It didn’t hurt but felt strange, like a mixture between a tickle and a surprise.

“What is that spot for?” I asked.

“That has to do with thinking too much,” she explained.

Oh yes, that’s me. I excel at thinking too much, or ruminating. I wonder if I should have made different decisions, phrased a response differently, or perhaps not said anything at all. I think about how my words or actions might be received, consider possible outcomes to choices I make and how I might handle them.

My “thinking too much” spot frequently needs calming down.

In addition to acupuncture, I’ve found meditation can be helpful. It’s also challenging to convince my over-thinking mind to sit down and do it, but when I do, I feel so much calmer and peaceful.

While some teachers of meditation hold the ideal of being without thought, or clear mind, as the goal, that’s a stretch for me. I may have reached that briefly, for a few seconds, once or twice, but then when it happens, I get so excited, my mind begins chattering again. “I did it! I’ve reached the goal! Yes! This feels amazing! Oh, I’m thinking again.”

Monkey mind

Instead of only going for that perfect without-thought mind, one of my teachers recommends just noticing the thoughts that come through and releasing them. For me, it’s bringing awareness that my brain is doing its chatter again, and then focusing back on my breath or my heartbeat. A few breaths later, I’ll notice my mind is again coming up with ideas and pull my attention back to my breath. Compassion or non-judgment is also important. Getting angry at what in Eastern philosophy is called the ”monkey mind” just seems to make things worse. That monkey is just doing what it is designed for, chattering away, coming up with ideas, and curious about everything. Rather than try to stop it from doing what it does, I use meditation as a practice of focusing. It’s called a practice on purpose, because it requires repetition and commitment. The benefits of the practice of meditation are plentiful: in addition to reducing stress in the body and mind, meditation has been shown to improve physical health by boosting the immune system, relaxing muscles, and reducing pain.

A simple practice

Want to give it a try? Here’s a simple approach. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes (start with an easy, achievable goal). Close your eyes or focus on one spot in the room, and just notice the in flow and outflow of your breath. Bring your attention to how your belly and chest expand with the inhalation and relax on the exhalation. When you notice your mind has begun wandering, as it does, just let it go (or write down the thought if you have to) and bring your attention to your breath again. Afterwards, notice how your body and mind feel.

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