The Energy of Meditation

BY Jingduan Yang TIMEFebruary 9, 2022 PRINT

Meditation has become a popular health practice and offers its practitioners a wide range of wellness benefits, including stress reduction, anxiety and depression relief, improved energy, and relief from chronic illnesses.

There are numerous studies that have investigated the impact of meditation practice on human psychology and physiology.

Here we will discuss how we understand the benefits of meditation from an ancient Chinese medicine perspective and provide guidance to essential components of practicing meditation more effectively.

Ancient Chinese Medicine

Let us start with some basic concepts of Ancient Chinese medicine. Modern medicine has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on human anatomy and biochemistry. As a result, pharmaceutical treatments and surgical procedures dominate modern medical practice.

In contrast, ancient Chinese medicine is based on its knowledge of human energetics. The therapeutic modalities in Chinese medicine, like acupuncture and herbal remedies, focus on treating energetic imbalance. That may sound strange unless you already know the many roles electricity plays in the body.


Human energy, known as qi (pronounced chee), is the same as the modern concept of electrical activity in a human body that controls physical and mental activities. It isn’t only neurons (brain cells) that generate a charge, cells use their negative charge as a way to get positively charged ions across the cell membrane for a variety of functions, including signaling. In other words, your whole body relies on a constant flow of tiny electrical charges. Modern medicine measures the human body’s electric activity through tests such as electroencephalograms (EEG), electrocardiograms (EKG), and electromyography (EMG). Chinese medicine evaluates Qi through comprehensive inquiries of physical and mental symptoms, tongue and pulse reading, and observing one’s mental status, and spirit.


Like blood circulating in the blood vessels, human energy moves inside and along the energy channels, known as jing luo, often translated as meridians. Modern medicine focuses on electrical activity in certain areas, like the brain, heart or muscles. Chinese medicine focuses on how human energy channels connect the entire human body through their comprehensive network.

It is important to understand how “light” this energy is. The human body is not like a machine of heavy gears and thick oil. It is a finely tuned energetic system. And that system can be severely impacted by factors you may not immediately expect, even if medical scientists have been warning about these same factors for decades.

Clean Air and Nutritious Food

Chinese medicine talks about different types of energy, including prenatal qi, but we are just focused on the energy that comes after birth. This electrical qi is created from the air we breathe and the food we eat. These are the fuel sources your body uses to create energy. Like a generator that burns gas to create electricity, your respiratory system and digestive systems rely on clean air and nutritionally complete food  to create qi.  We call this type of qi “postnatal qi,” which supports our everyday mental and physical function.

Because our body generates qi from air and food, it is important these fuels are clean and complete. If you are breathing contaminated air and eating unhealthy food, your body will not be able to create the energy it needs to function. Your generators will break down.

Human and Nature Interaction

Besides our food and air, our energy is also affected by constant interactions with the energy of our environment and is sensitive to seasonal changes and local climate.

As one example, consider  just one impact of sunlight on the body. Your skin uses sunlight to create the hormone known as vitamin D, essential to proper immune function and the hundreds of electrochemical reactions that make up your metabolism. Not getting enough sunlight is linked to dozens of medical conditions due to the resulting deficiency of vitamin D, not to mention the effects on mood.

Chinese medicine always emphasizes how we should live in accord  with seasonal changes. For example, when we eat food grown locally, we are more energetically in harmony with our environment. And as the temperature and daylight hours shift, so too should our behaviour and diet.

Just as spring is the time of new growth, spring is also the time we should take up new projects or habits that require more energy. And just as winter is the time when life recedes and sleeps, so too should we take the season to look inside ourselves and conserve our limited energy.

Mind-Body Connection

And finally, this is where meditation becomes important, our human energy is highly sensitive to thoughts and emotional distress. Thoughts and emotions are manifestations of human energy. Modern medical science talks about how chronic stress creates disease, largely because it floods our body in hormones that activate the fight-or-flight response and shut down our rest-and-digest cycle. Ancient Chinese medicine is concerned with this same issue and has learned that emotional distress is the primary threat to human health.

Ancient Chinese medicine connects specific types of emotion with corresponding energetic systems and meridians. For example, anger upsets liver/gallbladder meridians and contributes to conditions such as migraine, IBS, fibromyalgia, insomnia, and depression.

While modern medicine talks about the contending roles of the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous systems, Chinese medicine talks about how emotional distress causes the qi to move in the opposite direction, causing heartburn, nausea, coughing and wheezing. Emotional distress also blocks the flow of qi and constricts meridians, causing pain, blood stasis, and tumor.

Therefore, from the Chinese medicine perspective, maintaining the sufficient, free flow of qi in the right direction is key to health and longevity. And to do that, you need to maintain the right state of mind.

Key Techniques of Meditation

Meditation is one of the best ways you can settle your mind and alleviate the cascade of consequences the mind can trigger throughout the body. There are numerous types of meditation, and they share some standard techniques. Understanding the basic concepts of ancient Chinese medicine, we can appreciate why these practices are essential for effective and efficient meditation.

First, we need to keep our minds present to the moment when meditating. Human beings tend to become emotionally distressed when they think about things beyond their control, things that happened in the past or that may occur in the future. Thinking of what is beyond our control can energize out-of-control thinking. We are more relaxed when we can live in the way we want, and that is only ever possible through the present moment. Our qi also moves most freely in open meridians when free of emotional distress.

Keeping our minds empty sounds easy but is extremely difficult to do. Today’s people have so much on their minds, and it is almost impossible to keep these thoughts away. At times, the more we try to stop thinking, the more thoughts come in. My advice to overcome this challenge is to disown any thoughts you don’t control and stop reacting to or participating in those thoughts.

Second, sitting straight, preferably with legs double-crossed, or standing with arms in certain positions is essential in meditation. By doing so, the body’s energetic networks are best connected. The flow of Qi is most smooth, and the exchange of energy with nature is most effective.

Thirdly, we need to keep the tip of our tongue touching the upper palate of our mouth. In the front of the body there is one extra meridian known as Ren Mai, the  conception vessel,which connects all energy channels from the solid organs, like the kidney, heart, spleen, lungs, and liver. Another meridian in the back, known as Du Mai, the governing vessel, connects all the energy networks from the hollow organs like small intestines, large intestines, stomach, gallbladder, and bladder. These two extra meridians connect in the mouth. By touching the upper palate with the tip of the tongue, the two meridians are better connected, and energy nourishes the body much more efficiently.

Most of the time, we do not need to do anything in particular with our breathing in meditation, except breathe naturally. I find it helpful to focus on my breath when my mind gets carried away with uncontrollable thoughts.

Human beings are energetic beings as much as physical and biochemical beings. When we can maintain vibrant health, our biochemistry and body structure will take care of themselves. By practicing meditation correctly, we can enhance our physical and mental energy, staying younger and more productive.

Dr. Jingduan Yang is a neurologist, psychiatrist, and an expert in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and integrative medicine. He founded Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, Tao Clinic of Acupuncture, and American Institute for Clinical Acupuncture. Dr. Yang has co-authored two books: “Facing East: Ancient Health and Beauty Secrets for the Modern Age” and “Clinical Acupuncture and Ancient Chinese Medicine.”

This article was first published in Radiant Life Magazine. 

Author, teacher and international expert on acupuncture and Chinese medicine, integrative medicine, and psychiatry. Dr. Yang is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You can find out more about Dr. Yang at his website
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