Category Archives: exercise

Summer – Fire Element

Seasonal Qigong

Seasonal Qigong – ‘Living in tune with nature’s changes’

Sue_Wood_Qigong

Seasonal Living is something that would never have been talked about 250 years ago. We got up when it was light, went to bed when it was dark, ate local produce when it was in season and joined in with the energy and the festivals of the local community. So that we were totally in tune with the energy within ourselves and it’s relationship to natural cycles.

However, now we can shop, eat, bank and sit in front of our computers 24 hours a day. We pay no attention to our energy fluctuations and, through the use of electric light, continue to work till late into the night, and at the same pace throughout the year. Often in high rise buildings far removed from the natural world.

For thousands of years, ancient cultures have studied the two-way communication between man and nature cycles and how natural laws work in relationship to human physiology. For example, the phases of the moon and its influence on the fluids of the body, and how the cycles of day and night influence activity and rest. The changes of the seasons also affect our internal conditions and mental and emotional needs. We are a part of nature and therefore part of its changes and once we cultivate an awareness of these changes and work in harmony with them, we can see how vital and strong they really are and how this can influence our well-being and motivation on every level, and are the essence of personal development and healing.

As we open our minds and look at how the world works, we can see that the body also has homeostatic mechanisms for internal balancing, just as nature does. With too much internal (personal) and external (social) tensions we can damage and create imbalances in these systems, thus draining our vital energy and working against natural energy flows

Most of us are affected by these ever-present individual and social pressures, yet we don’t necessarily know how to properly re-establish a balance, and how to work with these cycles in order to put energy back into our systems. So we just become more depleted or victims of fatigue and tensions. So rather than getting caught up in complicated scientific solutions, it can be simple changes in exercise, diet and lifestyle that can have the most profound effect on our health, self-esteem and well-being.

Ancient peoples have understood and used the concepts of the five seasons for thousands of years not only for maintaining health but for making the most on the different qualities of energy within and around themselves. In so doing continually balanced and maximized their vital life force.

Seasonal Qigong: “Summer”

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The energy of summer likes to be more spontaneous, vibrant, active, and expressive and loves disperse its energy. The linked organs are the Heart and small intestine so this class should focus on supporting and balances the cardiovascular system.

The Fire Element: the element of vitality and movement; so we can sharpen our responses with martial art training or faster moves, while at the same time working on training the mind and maintaining a sense of inner calm. (This is depicted in the black and white Yin Yang symbol where there is the black dot within the area of light, symbolising the power of stillness within activity)

An ideal warm in summer should assist in balancing the flow of the Heart and Small Intestine Meridians and include the following:

Particular focus on the following the Heart and Small Intestine
Opening and energizing their associated meridians
Massaging the organs themselves
Performing a movement that restores energy flow to the muscles associated to the relative acupuncture meridians.
Opening and closing the Mu points (points used for testing and balancing specific organs)
The point for the heart is Juque (Great Palace Gate) located on the Ren channel (number 14) on the anterior midline of the body 6 cun (about a hands width) above the navel at the end of the breast bone.

The point for the small intestine is Guanyuan – (Gate to the original) (Ren/CV3) on the midline 3 thumb widths below umbilicus.
(You can also gently massage these points with the tips of the thumb, index and middle fingers)

A simple summer Qigong exercise sequence

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A1. Inhale while placing your left hand over your heart point drawing a circle over your head with your right hand – turn the palm outwards as the right hand passes in front of the face by rotating the little finger.

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B1. Inhale as you raise your right arm in front of you and stepping the left foot forwards to rest the left heel on the ground (the weight stays in the right leg). Place your left hand behind your back just below the waist, resting on the Yu point for the Small Intestine on the sacrum just above the buttock crease and place the knuckle of your bent right little finger in the indentation in front of your right ear (found when you open your jaw).

B2. Exhale and bend forwards bringing your right elbow down and across towards your left knee (the extended leg).

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B3. Step the left foot back and repeat by bringing the left arm around the head and stepping the right foot forwards.

A stretch to open the heart and small intestine meridians

C1. Inhale, draw your right hand above your head, bend the elbow and hold the elbow with your left hand, do not let the head drop forwards. Then extend the left arm out to the left and rotate the left thumb forwards and backward so the whole arm spirals into the shoulder. Then draw the left arm behind you and slide the back of the left hand up between your shoulder blades till the right and left hand meet. (If this is difficult use a tie or a band)

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Wild Goose flexes its wings

Research has shown that the health of the heart is dependent on the mobility of the Thoracic spine, this exercise massages the heart and lungs and increases flexibility in the thoracic spine. Focus on the little fingers where the heart and small intestine meridians begin and end.

D2. Exhale while moving the centre of the chest backwards and rounding the upper back bringing your chin towards your chest and rotating the wrists in order to bring the backs of your hands and the little fingers together in front of the navel. Repeat these backward and forward movements several times.

Please note: should particular Organs, systems or areas of the body need support you can you a particular seasonal session at any time of the year.

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The source material for this retreat comes from a book and trainings inspired by Sue Woodd and Julie Hanson who first met in the mid 90’s Sue a Chi Kung teacher, Shiatsu lecturer and also a lecturer in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Julie has been a fitness teacher and presenter since the early 80’s. Their journey together led them to look deeper into traditional Chinese Medicine and its seasonal approach to life. combining Yoga, Tai C’hiChi Kung (Qigong) and energy of the seasons, diet and psychological advice make up the energy in season approach to living. Together to date they have written 6 books which they have been working on for several years, and run seasonal flow teacher training courses in Scotland and London and have presented at the London Yoga Show for the past four years.

Free Download: Seasonal Qigong

Video “Energy In Season – Summer”

Author: Sue Wood

Images: Sue Wood and Taiji-Europa.eu

Practicing Standing Meditation

Hopefully, you have already read the previous blog on Zhan Zhuang Standing Meditation. Let’s looks at some helpful pointers and instruction.

Here are two aspects that are vital to your practice success: “fix your posture” meaning good alignment, and relax your body. Both are necessary!

Before you begin, place your attention on your feet. Then sink any muscle tension down into them and into the ground below. When you release your muscle tension and sink your energy downward, your feet may feel heavy and possibly like they are glued to the ground. This is a good sign!

Breathe comfortablyquietly, and slowly through your nose. Some practitioners breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. That optional but don’t breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose! Keep your abdominal breathing relaxed and pay attention to what is going on inside your body. With each exhale, let your body relax deeper and deeper.

In Zhan Zhuang, the mind and body work together as one. We learn how to stay both alert and quiet by focusing our attention on our bodies. If intruding thoughts come into our minds, we let them float away as on a cloud passing by.

For beginners, you can let your arms and hands hang loose (but relaxed) at your sides. Once that is comfortable for you, try raising them a bit, perhaps in front of your lower Dantian.When you feel ready, you can move them up to heart level. Don’t force any position! If it causes you tension and/or discomfort, either modify the position or rest and try again at a later time.

If you are working with an instructor or experienced practitioner, basic corrections on the structure should be provided at your first lesson and become progressive. This helps to eliminate bad habits. If you are working on your own, it is a good idea to read through the instructions and pointers. You should also use a mirror to check your posture and alignment.

Remember reading in the last blog, that in Zhan Zhuang you just “stand still”. That sounded simple didn’t it? Well, It isn’t as easy as it sounds. In the same way that Tai Chi and Qigong forms look simple to the untrained eye, a casual observer doesn’t see all the numerous details and practice it takes to make it look “simple”.

Instructions and pointers for this simple posture with many details:

  • Stand with your body weight equally distributed between both feet. Feet are parallel, shoulder-width apart, and flat on the floor or ground, and pointed forward.
  • If you are new to Zhan Zhuang, let your arms relax at your sides, palms facing hips. Leave a small space in the arm pit so that the hands will will be a couple (2-3) inches from your thighs.
  • When you gain more experience, you can hold your arms up as if you are holding a ball or hugging a tree, at heart level. If your arms get tired, you can lower them to your lower Dantian. Don’t force or rush it. Give it time until it feels natural to you.
  • Keep your head erect with the neck relaxed. It should feel like you are suspended from your crown to the sky above.
  • Tucking your chin inward and up towards the top of your head,opens up the space where your spine meets your skull.
  • Place your tongue on the roof (palate) of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Lips closed gently and jaw relaxed.
  • Your gaze should be soft and forward, particularly if you are new to Zhan Zhuang. New students may find closing their eyes makes them feel tense, tired, or unbalanced. Having them wide open can cause distraction. More experienced practitioners may prefer to keep their eyes closed in order to improve their focus and attain a sense of peace and tranquility.
  • Relax your shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. Lowering your shoulders (not necessarily your arms) will make your position more comfortable.
  • Your chest should be relaxed.
  • Relax  your “Kua” (hip folds).
  • Soften, relax your knees, ankles, and feet. Knees should never extend beyond your toes.
  • Relax and lengthen your spine, but don’t arch your back.
  • Allow your hips to slightly sink like you were sitting on a high chair or stool. This will straighten your spine in order to improve the flow of energy. Don’t go too low or force the posture. It will happen over time with regular practice.

When you are finished with your session of Zhan Zhuang, slowly return your arms to the sides of you body. You can cover your Dantian and breathe gently. Relax your shoulders, arms, elbows, and hands. You can also shake, rock, or tap your body (particular meridian points) to release any stagnant energy.

A few more pointers for beginners who are practicing without an instructor:

  • Be sure to practice in front of a mirror (angled if possible) to get a good sense of your body’s position and alignment.
  • If you find that you are having difficulty releasing your tension, try tensing your entire body for a few seconds and then releasing it.
  • You could also shake out your entire body to get rid of the tension.
  • Place your attention on the bottom of your feet to remove some of your energy from your head.
  • Be careful not to sink too low into your posture if you are new to Zhan Zhuang, not feeling well, or physically exhausted.

Once you have achieved proper alignment on a regular basis, you will easily notice tension whenever your body is out of alignment. Once we have truly developed this sense of awareness, we will also notice the most “subtle physical and energetic blockages or tension”.

Sensations you may experience during practice:

You may experience some temporary aching, warmth, coolness, tingling, numbness, or relaxation when you start to practice regularly. This is not something to be alarmed about. These are signs that energy is trying to flow freely through your body. If you pay attention, you may also discover a lot about your internal body.

How long should you practice?

In a perfect world, you would practice Zhan Zhuang a little each day. However, that may not be reasonable or doable for you. If that’s the case, three or four times a week should provide good results. The important thing is not to be a “weekend warrior” doing occasional exhausting long sessions whenever you find the time and/or motivation.

Many instructors and/or practitioners suggest starting with 1-2 minutes of practice at each session. Keeping practice to 2 minutes can calm your mind, provide mental clarity, and improve your level of energy. Two minutes also helps to eliminate or decrease “mind drift”. Once two minutes are comfortable for you, gradually increase to 10 minutes or more. At this level, you will find that Zhan Zhuang can recharge your energy and bring a new perspective to all your daily activities.

Did I mention that Zhan Zhuang has approximately 200 postures with different arm and leg positions. If you don’t like the one you first try, or you just want to experiment, or even if you get bored with the one you have been doing, try a different one!

Bottom Line: Like all Tai Chi and/or Qigong practice, quality, not just quantity, is vital!

Happy “Tree Hugging”!