“Where there is Qi flow there is no pain”. – Chinese proverb
I thought I’d share some excellent exercises to balance the body by focusing on releasing the meridians one by one.
These stretches come from the Shiatsu tradition which is based on the five element system of medicine. If you already know which meridians (also known as channels) are out of balance you can focus more on those ones. For a general tune-up you can work through the whole sequence. For the entire sequence, the exercises are performed in the order on the flow of energy according to the Five Elements as they are linked below. You can incorporate these stretches into your daily or weekly routine for best results.
Please remember that the effect of these stretches, like acupuncture, is cumulative, meaning that each session builds upon the next so that the energy is building up in each organ system over time. It takes persistence but often one can start to feel the boost in energy after the first session. Intention is important. You can set an intention to increase the flow of energy in the body, to relax the channels, to strengthen the energy of the channels and organs, and the corresponding muscles, tendons and ligaments so that your energy is directed to flow in a smooth and unobstructed way for the relief of pain, to improve mobility and for general health.
Here is a simple Qi Gong exercise that you can do to wake up your cells, invigorate your body, and strengthen your immunity. It’s called “patting” or “slapping”. You’ll really enjoy this exercise and feel the effects quite quickly. Use it any time you feel a bit tired and sluggish and need an energetic “wake-up”. It’s like a mini acupressure treatment you can do on yourself anywhere. You simply use your hands to slap the outside and inside channels of the arms and legs, hands and feet, the buttocks, ribs, face and top of the head. If you have a cold, and especially if you feel like you are just starting to get a cold, apply this technique vigorously to push the cold out completely. I personally know of one guy who had been biking in the cold weather for an hour and started to come down with a bad cold. He did this technique forcefully for one hour and the cold symptoms disappeared that day.
In TCM terms this exercise strengthens the “Wei Qi”, also known as the “Defensive Qi Layer” which is the energetic layer that resides between the skin and the muscles, what’s known as the “Cou Li” in TCM. The Wei Qi is formed by the Lung system, so people who have a Lung weakness will tend to get colds and flus more easily. The Lung system is strengthened by the Spleen system because in the Five Element acupuncture, the Spleen is the “Mother” of the Lungs, meaning the Spleen sends it’s energy to the next phase, or “child” in the 5-phase system, which is the Lungs. The tips in my post Strengthening the Spleen Qi will further build up your Defensive Qi.
According to TCM, all things in the universe are a mixture of Yin and Yang. Yin is moist, dark, cool, quiet, female, still and substantial. Yang is hot, energetic, male, bright, fast, exuberant, and non-substantial. Yin refers more to our solid and substantial aspects such as our form, our bones, muscles and body fluids while Yang refers more to our body heat, energy, and movement. Yin energy allows us to relax, rejuvenate, rest and recuperate. Yang energy gives us energy, speed and drive.
The aging process is a gradual decline of both Yin and Yang. Yin deficiency is very common in our modern society where we have seen an over-emphasis on all things Yang. There is a celebration and fascination for all things loud, fast, flashy, being very fast or being very busy all the time. Since we are not always abounding with Yang, we rely on unnatural ways (caffeine) to be more Yang (energetic) as our modern media dictates. When we push ourselves over our limit our body cannot easily replenish our Yang Qi so it dips in to our savings account, our Yin energy. Over time we burn out of both Yang and Yin. When the Yin (cool, stillness, substance, moisture) is missing we see dryness, heat, restlessness and loss of body mass. In Western medical terms Yin deficiency can appear as attention deficit disorder, diabetes, hot flashes, insomnia, osteoporosis and anxiety to name a few.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the five most important organ of the body are the Yin organs, the Lungs, Kidneys, Liver, Heart, and Spleen. Each organ is said to contain an essential Qi which promotes the smooth harmony and functioning of the corresponding aspects of the body and mind relating to that organ system. Each of the five Yin organs has both a positive energy when it is strong and clear and a negative energy if it is congested, weak or toxic.
Qi Gong is an excellent way to keep the organs healthy and strong . An ancient qi gong set called the “5 Yin Organ Exercises” will do just that. This is a set I’ve done regularly, often daily. The benefits I experienced included a sense of groundedness, better digestion, less tension and positive mind.
The following videos demonstrate how to do the warm-up, the exercise for each organ and the closing exercise to gather the Qi inwards.
The virtues of the Lungs are honesty and integrity. When the Lungs are weak or have negative qi, a person can develop sorrow or an overly rigid personality.
The virtues of the Kidneys are will power, wisdom and fearlessness. A person with weak Kidneys may become unmotivated because energy or drive is lacking. There may be fear, confusion or paranoia.
The virtues of the Liver are compassion, creativity and generosity. If the Liver is weak or stagnant the person may develop anger, hostility, impatience, blocked creativity or timidity.
The virtues of the Heart are joy and a sense of order. If the Heart Qi is weak or stagnant, the person may experience chaotic thoughts, mania, or be easily startled or anxious.
The virtues of the Spleen are trust, intellectual thought and empathy. If the Spleen Qi is weak the person may experience mental fatigue, worry, obsessions, or feel disconnected from others.
Like all Qi Gong exercises, it is done at a slow gentle pace with mindfulness of the breath and the dan tien (inner space four finger widths beneath the navel towards the centre of the body) This Qi Gong set can be done each day, 12 or 20 times for each organ exercise.
Here’s a great Qi Gong workout for the winter season. Winter in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a season governed by the Water element. It is a time to be like water and “go with the flow” of life. Water has a downward-moving direction. Similarly we need more “down time”, time to rest and relax when our energy is at it’s lowest.
Still waters run deep. The Water element in TCM is associated with the Kidneys, one of the most deeply set organs in the body. Similarly, the Water season of winter is about going deep inside one’s being to uncover one’s truth. It’s about the inner journey. One’s truths are like treasures which are hidden deep within. Imagine yourself sitting by the fireplace and reflecting on your most deeply held beliefs about life, the universe and your role here on Earth. Meditation is a great way to go on this journey and many Buddhist traditions have meditation retreats scheduled right at this time. So, let’s put on the snorkeling gear and dive in!
The Water element is also associated with the deepest layer of tissue in the body, the bones and joints (Metal rules skin, Wood rules tendons, Fire rules blood vessels, Earth rules muscles). This Qi Gong set called Yi Jin Jing (translated as “Tendon Changing Bone Marrow Washing”) is specifically designed to strengthen the bones and joints. As Raymond Bullock describes in Essential Traditional Chinese Medicine 1, “Marrow Washing uses the water path [the Chong meridian], thereby cooling excessive yang qi after which it nourishes the brain and strengthens the spirit.”These movements develop one’s muscular strength as well as the will, known as the zhi (say “juh”) in Chinese. The will is the spiritual level manifestation of the Water element. As with all Qi Gong, it is done with a suppleness and grace that brings peace to the spirit and harmony to the body. It’s only 6 minutes long so it’s easy to fit into your morning or evening routine.
Have you tried Yi Jin Jing for any bone or joint issues? Love to hear your comments and questions.
1. Bullock, Raymond. Essential Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2003.
I’d like to dispel a big myth about Qi Gong: the idea that Qi Gong is a “soft” exercise that doesn’t really give you a good workout.
During aerobic exercise your energy and blood goes to the periphery of your body (the muscles) to give them fuel to stay active. Many people have the idea that aerobics are necessary to “burn calories/fat” and to bring your heart rate up to keep it strong. The downside is after the workout you have an oxygen debt from all the fast breathing that leaves you tired and over time depletes your body, specifically your inner organs, your liver, kidneys, spleen, pretty important organs, so that when you’re older, like in your sixties, maybe fifties even, you don’t have so much energy for those kinds of workouts anymore and this deficiency is a weakness that leaves the door open to disease.
Now with Qi Gong, you can accomplish the same benefits of aerobic exercise but with many added benefits. Your heart and lungs still get toned but in a deeper way. Breathing slowly and deeply along with the energy movement coming from mental intention allows oxygen to penetrate much deeper into the tissues which helps tonify not only the heart and lungs but also replenishes energy of the liver, kidney, spleen and many other organs. Instead of feeling tired and depleted after exercise, you’re going to have more energy than before!
Here is a question answered by the Meiming Qi Gong Cultural Centre:
Q：What is the difference between Qigong and other physical exercises?
A：Most physical exercises, such as running and weight training make people sweat and feel exhausted. These are in principle exhausting exercises, and they only work our body. During a physical workout, our body remains in a very tense condition. The slightest inappropriate movement is likely to cause physical injuries. In addition, this kind of exercise creates exhaustion, leading to a sense of inner emptiness, and inner emptiness makes us eat more and sleep more to feel fulfilled. This process turns our body into a battlefield, caught between exhaustion and over-fulfilling. Our body tends to wear out faster.
On the other hand, Qigong increases our internal fortification as well as improves out physical fitness. With correct breathing control and special body movements, qi travels freely throughout our internal system. It has the same effect as cardiovascular exercises, while our body stays in a very relaxed condition, with little risk of physical injuries. Practicing Qigong has all the benefits of regular physical exercises, but not the bad side effects that regular physical exercises will cause.
You can practice Qi Gong in the back yard, at the office, even in an airport departure lounge (did this once and it really helped fix that icky “just-been-on-the-plane” feeling). And Qi gong has many added benefits.
One of my favourite Qi Gong exercises, called Zhan Zhuang (say “JAN JONG”) literally means “stand like a tree” and is one of the foundation practices of martial arts. It’s benefits are almost innumerable. I have listed a few here to get you started. The benefits you’ll experience will come quickly if you practice daily, if only for 5-10 minutes. What happens is rather unique to each person. One of the first things I noticed was I became a lot more grounded and my ability to handle stress improved dramatically. In spite of not doing any other type of exercise, I kept my strength up and didn’t need the usual push-ups and sit-ups routine I normally do to maintain my strength for shiatsu work. It felt like meditation and exercise all rolled into one with very little discomfort.
Now I’m not saying there’s anything entirely wrong with jogging or swimming. Who doesn’t like a jump in the lake on a hot day? But for simple health maintenance and fitness improvement do you need to hit the gym everyday? No, not at all. 32 Benefits of Zhan Zhuang (say “JAN JONG”)
reduce stress 22. Increases stamina
alleviates pain 23. Calms nerves
promotes blood circulation 24. Slows breathing
lowers blood pressure 25. Increases red and white blood cell count
increases longevity 26. strengthens sinews
become grounded 27. Builds Essence (pre-natal Qi)
develops strong Qi/energy 28. Brings about fitness without oxygen debt
increases mental clarity 29. Heart rate slows and becomes more powerfu
increases vitality 30. Relieves many chronic illnesses
loosens tight muscles 31. Strengthens digestion
increases bone density 32. Strengthens and expands auric
What really blows my mind about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is its’ rootedness in ancient scriptures (dating back between 2000-5000 years ago). What’s even more fascinating (almost to the point of obsession for TCM geeks like me) is the way ancient medical texts such as the Nei Jing (Yellow Emporer’s Classic) and various Taoist and Buddhist texts describe masters and sages with states of health that far surpass what we ourselves experience even at the best of times. In the 16 years since I first discovered TCM, I have been fixated on this one question: What were these ancient people doing back then that made them so unbelievably healthy and why do us modern people, with all our technology and material advancement, not have access to those states?
Following a Chinese Philosophy course this last month, I have distilled a bit of information about what makes this possible. Basically, TCM holds the bar much higher as far as one’s physical and mental health are concerned. Many detailed instructions are given on eating, sleeping, breathing, exercising, even and especially, new ways of thinking. That’s really what it’s about for Westerners discovering ancient teachings from the orient, nothing less than a paradigm shift, a complete shift in our cultural ways of thinking. TCM looks at symptoms that to us as Westerners seem like no big deal and explains them as imbalances that can be corrected, setting us on a journey to health that’s better than what we thought possible. A bit overwhelming at first, but taken from another perspective, the healing tools are often quite simple. The trick is building these new tools into your daily life. The magic number is 21. Do something for 21 days it becomes habit. Once they become habit, you’re on auto-pilot and barely need to think about it anymore. Then after a few months, it’s surprise, better health.
These last 2 years I’ve been incorporating more and more Qi Gong into my life. Admittedly, I can be a bit lazy but what keeps me going is that I keep experiencing the benefits from increased attention span to a less need for sleep to an increase in strength and energy. And overall I haven’t pushed myself very hard to do this. A bit of discipline, yes, straining, no. Some people want to go to Qi Gong classes every week but for me I haven’t always had time for that. And thankfully, what I’ve learned is that Qi Gong is not only physical exercises but also mental attention and intention: where you put your mind, and this is something I can practice anywhere, almost anytime. Because probably like a lot of you, I’m living the busy modern life and squeezing things in where I can. It’s looked more like just taking 5 or 10 minutes here and there in my day while I’m making tea or have a break at work or school. It’s really been a matter of making the decision to do it, the intention. Then when those little windows of time open up, I act on it.
In all these ancient teachings in TCM, Buddhism and Daoism, the same mantra pops up again and again: in order to heal the body we must heal the mind. TCM and Daoism speak about cultivating virtues which bring strength and health to our organ systems: Joy benefits the Heart, Empathy benefits the Spleen, Courage and Integrity benefit the Lungs, Fearlessness benefits the Kidneys and Kindness benefits the Liver. Buddhism speaks a lot to the need to purify one’s mind. There is a space, a big beautiful amazing space underneath all the dramas and stresses and worries that circle around our minds many times a day. We can clear up the negative thoughts and get to the beautiful space, the pure nature of our root mind through purification.
How do we purify our minds? Having just come back from a Buddhist retreat in New York state last week, we received teachings on four nifty little practices that Buddha called “The Four Opponent Powers”. Basically, when we goof up in life, (which, let’s face it, happens daily), there are easy ways to clean up the karma. Fantastic. The Four Opponent Powers are: The Power of Regret, The Power of Reliance, The Power of the Opponent Force and The Power of Promise. Here’s the translation: so I said something dumb to someone yesterday and it hurt their feelings, so Regret means I generate a feeling of wishing I hadn’t hurt someone with my words. It’s NOT guilt, just “oops, that was a mistake”. Like if we accidentally ingested poison we don’t sit around moping about it, we just get ourself to the hospital quick. Reliance means we have faith in holy beings for guidance, protection and blessings. Opponent Force means doing virtuous actions such as apologizing or being more kind and helpful to people to counter our mistake and finally, Promise means we set a period of time such as a day, a week, a month where we promise to avoid some form of negativity. This may sound like something you heard when you were in kindergarden but if you think about it deeply, you’ll realize how relevant these teachings are to our world today and even if we all applied just a bit of this to our lives, what a difference it would make.
What do you think about healing the mind with these ancient teachings? Love to hear your comments and questions.
Thought I’d share a little tip my Qi Gong teacher once said to me:
“100 wall squats a day, never catch a cold”.
Cool I thought. I’m always curious, so I did more research on the benefits of wall squats.
Benefits of Zhineng Qi Gong (AKA Wall squats):
* Wall Squatting is used frequently in China to treat neurological disorders, such as at the Zhineng Qigong Recovery Centre, also called the “medicineless Hospital”
* Activates the kidney meridian (most important system in Traditional Chinese Medicine for increasing vitality and long life) which bring increased health and strength to the kidneys and adrenals
* The kidney system in TCM has a spiritual counterpart, the “Zhi”, one’s will or inner fortitude to accomplish one’s goals. Practicing wall squats will boost your reserves and give strength and fearlessness to face life’s challenges with gusto.
* Balances reproductive hormones
* Increases energy
* Loosens up the back, aligns the spine, opens and clears blockages in the Ren and Du meridians
* In disease, much of our “Qi” or energy gets stuck around the waist and lower abdomen (also called “lower Dan Tien”). Since wall squatting unblocks this, it has great power to heal many health problems.
* Strengthens knees, legs and pelvis
* Increase post-natal qi (in TCM you are born with a certain amount of pre-natal, also called ancestral qi, the rest of your qi comes from post-natal qi with is the energy you gather from how you live your life such as how you eat, how you exercise)
* Wall Squats promotes Qi and blood flow through the whole body, especially good for the lower back and limbs.
Have you tried wall squats for any length of time? What do you think about it? Love to hear your responses:)