IN BALANCE — Calming the mind in turbulent times

March 1, 2017

By Sue Johnston

If you are like most of us, you have found yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed lately. You have most likely wondered how you can stay calm and centered in the midst of all the chaos surrounding you. First, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Take a deep breath into your belly. Let it out slowly and allow your shoulders to release. You are now relaxed enough to focus and continue reading.

Chinese Medicine directs us to the heart, “the supreme emperor,” to help us calm the mind. The spirit resides in the heart, a fire element. When the heart is not nourished or has been disrupted by a shock or trauma, there is no safe place for the spirit to lie. This leads to fear, panic, insomnia, forgetfulness, and anxiety.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are an excellent way to nourish the heart and bring this fire element back into balance. Many herbal formulas and point prescriptions — groups of acupoints used in a treatment, are geared toward calming and centering the body by balancing the heart.

Food is another way you can nourish the heart. Because the heart is the fire element, which is represented by the color red, eating red foods can nourish it, according to Chinese Medicine. Some foods you may want to include in your diet are tomatoes, cherries, red meat, beans, beets, and strawberries.

Making sure you are doing things in your life that bring you joy also help nourish the heart and spirit. Play a little, give to others, buy yourself that bouquet of flowers. If something fills your heart with joy and makes you smile, it will benefit the heart.

Be sure to express yourself honestly and openly. Speak from the heart in order to keep the heart strong and open.

The heart meridian runs from the axilla, or armpit, along the inside of the arm to the corner of the nail bed on the pinkie finger. This makes arm exercises especially good to stimulate the heart meridian. There are two simple exercises you can do each day to keep your heart open and ready to house your spirit: First, bend over a bit and allow your arms to hang down in a relaxed manner. Then, while breathing slowly and deeply, clench and unclench your fists. Do this about 10-15 times. Second, hold your right wrist with your left hand and take a deep breath while you slowly raise your arms above your head. As you release your breath, let your arms come back down. After 10 repetitions, switch your wrist hold and do 10 more.

If sleep has been an issue for you, a wonderful exercise to practice each night as your lie down in bed is to place one hand on the center of your chest and the other on your navel. Picture your breath coming in from the bottom of your feet, up the back of your legs, and up the spine to the top of your head. Then slowly let the breath out, picturing it moving down the forehead, between the eyes, to the chest center, navel, down the front of the legs and back out the bottom of the feet.

If the mind begins to wander, your can choose a mantra to say while you do this. One of my favorites is from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. “With every breath in, I relax; with every breath out, I smile.”

You can find peace and joy in yourself, even in the most turbulent times. Cultivate these things inside yourself to bring inner peace. Live with wisdom and purpose and find meaningful relationships with those around you. Let your spirit calm you so you are able to act from a place of tranquility.

Susan Johnston, L.Ac., works as an acupuncturist at Milwaukee Community Acupuncture, a local clinic dedicated to providing affordable and accessible acupuncture to those in the community and beyond. For more information about Milwaukee Community Acupuncture, please visit

Disclaimer: the information provided in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care.

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