John Aguilar, Jr, MSTCM, LAc, Dipl Ac & CH

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Meditating on Snowfall

In General on January 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I did my morning yoga practice in front of the window, this morning, while the snow was falling outside. During some of the more meditative postures, I allowed the pose to gently ease the movements of my mind to a dull roar, and I just peacefully gazed out the window.

It came to me that, in a way, there was a basic choice of how to watch the snow fall. You could either track individual flakes, one at a time, as they slowly swirled around and then floated down out of sight, at which point you pick out another to follow. The other option is to be perceptive of the snow coming down, but to not pick out any individual flake… It proved to be kind of difficult.

I found myself almost automatically latching on to a specific flake and following its individual path. I couldn’t just see the snow falling; it was always one flake at a time. There was almost a need to grab onto a specific flake, as if that was the only way to watch what was happening in front of me.

This struck me as a bit odd and, somehow, important, instructional even. With a bit of reflection on it, I came to realize there was a basic choice in approach to life arising, here. It’s very difficult to see flow or movement, maybe impossible. Think of looking at a river… It’s hard to not follow a certain current down the river. It’s a challenge to actually look at the river, itself, and not some smaller piece of it. It’s hard to truly see the river.

I think we do this in life a lot, and I think it’s what so many sages of so many traditions warn against. We are rarely part of the movement, or flow, of life; we usually latch on to specific events, like they were the snowflakes falling through the sky.

Something new and exciting arises, we give it our attention and get excited, “tracking” its movement through our life . When the excitement starts to wear off, we look for another new and exciting thing. Just as I sat there and had trouble simply watching the snowfall, getting caught up in individual pieces of snow falling, we too often get caught up in the events in life, perhaps missing the grand movement of life, itself.

You could argue, and I would agree, and I believe the sages would, as well, that the fun in life is in riding the waves of these individual events; that’s where the excitement is. Doing otherwise would be like watching a football game, but not rooting for either team. Where’s the fun in that?

Truly, emotions are products of the interaction between you and those things you watch, believe, root for, or invest in. Happiness, joy, loss, anger, worry, they are all generated by the interaction between you and the snowflake. When it first shows, you get excited. When it gets caught in a sudden gust of wind, you panic a little, maybe worry that it’ll blow away. Then, when it slips out of the wind’s grip, your anxiety eases and you feel a little peace. When it reaches the ground and melts, you feel a little sad. The ride is over.

Many would argue that this is what life is about, that this is life. Here’s where I believe the sages would suggest a slightly different take on things.

It is agreed that this is, quite typically, how life does play out. It is, indeed, very common. However, there is another way, another experience of life. That other way is, of course, watching the snowfall, and not just the snow fall.

The problem, if you examine closely, with the typical ride of life, is that for every joy experienced, there is a trade off. The emotional excitement always comes at a certain cost.

For example, imagine something you find truly fun. Now, imagine actually doing it. Keep doing it. Keep on doing it. Keep it up. More, more, more… Gets kind of exhausting doesn’t it?

Fun is fun, but you need a break. And you need that break because these things we typically consider fun and exciting come at a cost of energy. They, in very tangible ways, drain you of energy.

All of a sudden, then, “fun” loses some of its shine and glamor. We’re not questioning that it is fun, but we’re discovering more about it. Fun and excitement seem to convey a certain promise. That’s why we always go for it. But, if you stop and pay a little closer attention, well, it doesn’t fulfill that promise.

There’s that enticement that something will feel good. And it does, but it never lasts. And it always comes at a cost. The easiest, if not extreme, example is drug abuse. It feels good, but is fleeting, takes a toll, and constantly draws you back again and again, slowly creating a viscous downward cycle.

It seems life could so easily be lost to simply running around searching for bits and moments of feel good. They’re always, ultimately, empty, at best, and downright destructive, at worst.

Now, most of us don’t suffer quite that much, but does that difference in degree change anything? If what you’re holding onto, what you’re emotionally investing in, gives only limited, shallow “joy”, and if it is guaranteed to cause outright suffering through inevitable, eventual loss… If you’re honest with yourself and acknowledge the greater reality of the process, why not let go?

Though not rhetorical, the question does not require an answer, but perhaps it needs to be asked sincerely, that road traveled down, that inquiry, self investigation effected in earnest.

There were moments where I could step back from any isolated, individual snow flake. There were moments where there wasn’t pieces of snow falling, but, instead, simple snowfall… I wouldn’t call it exciting or exhilarating in any way, but there was something beautiful about it, something beautiful, simple, real, something beyond words… Of course, one is always left only ever able to point at that which is truly great and beautiful, and, today, I point out the window. ;)

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Yoga in Your Daily Life

In Mind & Meditation, Yoga on January 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm

In teaching yoga classes these last couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded that a yoga class is, really, just an opportunity to focus on yoga. It’s a time you set aside to dedicate to just practice.

Ultimately, yoga is something you can incorporate into everything you do. Every moment could be yoga. And it would only improve the quality and efficiency of whatever (else) you’re doing.

This may sound weird, but it makes sense – perfect sense. Yoga is a system, a comprehensive collection of diverse practices, designed to facilitate self-realization (or, as I like to think of it, perfect health). At the core of all yogic practices is presence of mind – powerful, unwavering, well-honed presence of mind.

Yoga is, ultimately, about training the mind. All the many, many practices are designed to clear and calm the mind, and to increase your ability to attain and maintain perfect concentration. It’s all about developing perfect presence of mind, and this is something that we can do every single moment.

Another way of looking at it is that yoga is about mindfulness. Most of the practices we mentally associate with yoga, such as the postures, the breathing practices, and the chanting, etc. are designed to clear the mind. Postures and breathing practices work directly to open and clean the energy channels of the body, which allows for a calm mind, and practices such as chanting work directly to clam the mind and bring it to a point of focus and peace.

But those are only tools to get you to the goal – a pristine state of mind. Really, we could use anything to help us get there; we can turn any activity into a yogic tool to still the ceaseless fluctuations of the mind. And the odd thing is that the trick to do this is to simply focus more on whatever you’re doing. It’s that simple (as simple as that is…)

Whatever you find yourself doing through out the day, try to empty your mind of any extraneous thoughts or wanderings. Use the activity, the task at hand, as an anchor, grounding you in the moment. When the mind drifts off to something else, bring it back. Train yourself to laser-like concentration on whatever is before you.

You can also use your work to cleanse your mind of useless, meaningless worries and thoughts. Burn through those incessant, but purposeless mental flutterings with the fire of unwavering focus and attention.

Likely, whatever you’re doing has parameters within which it must be accomplished. Use those as you would alignment cues in a yoga posture. Adhere to them, not because your boss said to, but because it makes great practice for disciplining the mind.

Practice staying on task – especially when you don’t want to. If a required activity bores you, great! Consider it a challenge, the surmounting of which will make you all that much more powerful and better able to control that monkey mind of yours! (No more being bossed around, controlled by, at the mercy of every whimsy of the ever-meandering mind – Freedom is yours!!! :D )

None of this will be easy, but, seriously, consider it training. Think of it as a workout, not for bigger or more toned muscles, but to cleanse the mind, allowing it to find that peace you usually only feel after a really good yoga class.

;)

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If you would like to read more about yoga and when small-group classes are offered through my private practice, please visit:
www.DenverChineseMedicine.com
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Acupuncture Research – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In Research on January 4, 2011 at 7:04 pm

An article was brought to my attention by Tamara Hutchins, L.Ac., MSTCM, CMT, of the Zen Redhead Acupuncture Clinic, from the NY Times, about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) (Exhausted by Illness, and Doubts by David Tuller).

The article discusses the challenge CFS presents to modern biomedicine. There are still many in the Western medical field that believe it to be psychosomatic, if not outright imaginary. Slowly, this is changing, but that system of medicine is still a ways away from coming to a solid understanding of this illness.

Out of curiosity, I did a quick check to see what modern scientific research is available on acupuncture and CFS, and I was quite happy with the results :).

As with so much of the research on acupuncture, more needs to be done. We’re still pretty early in the investigative process of Chinese medicine via modern science, but there is research indicating acupuncture can be effective in treating CFS.

I found three Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs), which are, generally, of higher scientific quality, one meta-analysis (where several individual trials were reviewed), and one systematic review of 70 controlled clinical trials. All were positive.

One of the RCTs involved 70 cases and used the World Health Organization Quality of Life (WHOQOL-BREF) scale to determine that acupuncture improves a patient’s quality of life (Wang, J. et. al. (2009). Randomized controlled study on influence of acupuncture for life quality of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu, 29 (10), 780-4. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19873911.)

Another RCT randomized seventy CFS patients into treatment and control groups to determine the effect of acupuncture on the physical and mental fatigue aspect of the syndrome. The authors concluded that:

“Acupuncture can relieve CFS patients’ physical and mental fatigue and the therapeutic effect of acupuncture of acupoints is relatively better than that of non-acupoints in reducing mental fatigue.” (Wang, J. et. al. (2009). Randomized controlled clinical trials of acupuncture treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, 34(2),120-4. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19685727.)

The other RCT involved 90 patients and demonstrated acupuncture’s effect in reducing fatigue. (Chen, X. et. al. (2010). Randomized controlled study on acupuncture treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu, 30(7), 533-6. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20862932. )

The meta-analysis reviewed 28 papers and concluded that acupuncture is effective for CFS and that more quality research is needed. (Wang, J. et. al. (2009). A meta analysis on randomized controlled trials of acupuncture treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu, 34(6), 421-8. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20209981.)

The systematic review, coming out of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, included 70 controlled clinical trials and concluded that “acupuncture and several types of meditative practice show the most promise for future scientific investigation.” (Porter, N. et al. (2010). Alternative medical interventions used in the treatment and management of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(3), 235-49. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20192908.)

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Please note – The above is not intended as a scholarly review of the respective studies. For full details follow the reference links.

*** No individual study constitutes ‘proof’ of the effectiveness of any therapy, and no guarantee of treatment outcome can be made. Please seek an individual consultation with a qualified practitioner for information on a personal health issue.

A Friend in Need

In General on January 3, 2011 at 8:39 am

I’ve just learned a friend from my yoga class has had a death in her life. Her daughter’s father passed away two weeks ago and the family is very poor and in need of funds to, one, get the body back home to Chicago, and then for funeral services.

Sarah’s one of the most genuinely and unreservedly happy women I’ve ever met. During our training together, she became known as the unquenchable laugher and smiler. She would just burst out in laughter and, even if we didn’t know why, we all would end up smiling and laughing with her.

She found something joyful and exciting in so many things in life… The thought of her grieving so heavily with this loss is difficult to bear. I owe her so many smiles and moments of happiness, I would like to ask, if anyone is able, to please contribute to help with the financial burden. Contributions can be sent to:

A Friend in Need
c/o John Aguilar, Jr
930 Logan St #102
Denver, Co 80203

Contributions via Visa or MasterCard are also welcome. You can email me or call (720-284-1374) for details and to make arrangements.

Thanks everybody and be well!

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