Qigong is the practice and study of regulating the body and mind through specific methods like active movements (Qigong forms), static postures (Zhan Zhuang) and meditation (Breath work). When practiced in harmony with the seasons and cycles of life, we can create a strong, resilient and efficient body and mind that allows us to grow spiritually and discover our true self that often becomes lost along the way. When we have balance, we experience life with less stress, less pain and have more physical energy. Feeling ‘youthful’ is not just for the young!
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
TCM is based on the theory that the activity of the body and mind move in specific pathways or vessels. They are often described as oceans, rivers and streams. These pathways carry blood, fluids and nerve messages to maintain the functions of the organs, tissues, muscles and bones. When the system is functioning efficiently, we have good health, less illness and feel a sense of well-being.
Much like the rivers and streams in life, if they become restricted or blocked the flow can become weak, over-bearing and reduced. Circulation is affected and the messages do not move freely. When this happens we can feel pain in the physical body and our mind can present us with emotions that help us to take action and restore the imbalance. It’s a very natural process, yet one that often feels uncomfortable.
I find the easiest way to see our energy system is this. We are like self-charging batteries that rely on the sun, water, good food, physical movement and the representations of love. When these are in steady supply, we are healthy, happy and feel connected. When we lack these needs health can suffer and the battery becomes weak.
How does TCM work with the seasons?
In TCM each season relates to a specific organ system, body part and its elemental quality. Within each season certain organs are more vulnerable to the changes in weather, emotions and climate. In spring our liver is more susceptible to unforeseen changes like the winds of emotions that can change rapidly and stir inside. Spring is related to wood, a time of growth and transformation. In weakness we can feel frustrated and angry and the body will feel tight and restricted. Alcohol, processed foods and heavy meats can be reduced now. Getting treatment for emotional health is good at this time.
Summer is our earth phase of the seasons, a time for building health and healing the physical body. It’s a time to be grounded and create foundations for future things to come. Energy around us become abundant now and we naturally feel active and alive with life. In weakness we can worry and feel anxious, the muscles will ache and lose strength. Damp can easily reside in the body at this time bringing feelings of muzziness, heavy joints and poor digestion. Getting treatment for digestive problems is good at this time.
High Summer or Summer heat is a phase between summer and autumn where the heat is higher. Sometimes this is referred to as ‘Indian summer’. This phase relates to fire and our heart. This is our last reprise, a time to express our full energy and release the excess or cultivate this additional energy for self-healing. In weakness we feel exhausted and hot. There may be problems with blood and its harmony of flow. Dryness can easily upset the balance and we have thirst, heat and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Getting treatment for physical pain is good at this time.
In Autumn we move into the metal phase and the lungs are vulnerable. Metal can be hard, reflective and very much to the point. It is a time of certainty and there is work to be done! This is a time of reflection, realising what we have built over the year so far, where have we invested our time and energy. It’s a time to decide what has been useful and what we wish to hold onto and work with in the future. Its also a time of letting go of the things that do not serve our journey forward.
Our lungs relate to sadness, grief and a sense of loss. The leaves on the trees are falling and with it goes the activity of nature’s magical array. The animals begin to store foods and create warm homes in preparation. It’s time to get affairs in order and prepare for the cold and stillness of winter. In weakness our immune system is low, we feel vulnerable and sometimes low in spirit. The lungs bring us fresh Qi for the body and mind so being mindful of efficient, relaxed and deep breathing is paramount at this time of change.
The lungs help to build our Wei Qi (protective energy). The skin is regarded as ‘the third lung’, our first line our defence to the outside world around us. Not only does a strong wei qi protect us from the season’s changes and illnesses, it also helps to protect us from the imbalances of others and their emotions. In weakness we absorb others problems and lose our courage to protect ourselves.
The lungs require a clear passage for the best response to new energy so reducing the dampness of dairy and cold foods can help maintain health and energy. Ultimately, we are building strength and resistance to help see us through the dormancy of winter when there is a lack of active energy for health. We are storing energy, so we have reserves for health if we need it should illness come our way. It’s a very important phase of the year.
At this time of year, the shoulders can be problematic. Aches, pains, and injuries in the shoulders are most common now. As this is a time to let go, carrying the burdens of emotions can weigh the shoulders down. Maybe you are overwhelmed and unable to ‘reach out’ for help. It could be that you are not ready to let go and you unknowingly squeeze your chest tightly to protect the emotional heart, reducing the lungs ability to breath and causing tension in the shoulders.
The colder, winter months are a time for stillness, restoration and nourishment. This is our water phase and relates to the kidneys, our energy storage. Good foods that bring warmth and supply the body with the essential building blocks that repair and restore the reserves we use through the more active seasons are needed now.
As with water when it is frozen, life becomes less active with less natural flow at this time of year. In weakness, as energy lessens, we can feel a lack of will power and the back and bones may ache. We sit more than we should, and rest more than the body needs so getting out into nature and keeping the lungs and blood moving is needed now. Qigong, walking and Tai Chi are great remedies for winter. Salt and raw foods can be reduced, cold foods and drinks can drain much needed warmth now. Soups, broths, casseroles and foods that require lengthy cooking are recommended now.
Its time to just sit back, relax and wait for the emergence of spring and a new cycle of activity.
Getting treatment for lower back pain, achy bones, fatigue and chronic headaches is good at this time.
Autumn is a time for strengthening the lungs and building resistance to external influences. We must improve respiration through correct breathing, maintain an active physical body without reducing reserves and prepare ourselves for the colder months. Letting go of excess baggage now can make the winter months much easier to navigate. Imagine if a squirrel had to go searching for new food with the added burden of last seasons empty nut shells on his back… exhausting!
Qigong for Autumn Transition
There are three Qigong movements I would prescribe for this season. The first helps to increase lung health. The second strengthens the metal energy vessels and moves blood and the third stimulates the kidneys to build our immune system for winter.
Practice 1. Stand or sit comfortably. Hold the arms out in front of the chest as though holding a large ball against your chest. Now, take a relaxed breath and imagine the ball expanding as you separate the arms to the sides. When your breath has finished, bring the hands back to the start position while breathing in. This helps to exercise the lung cavity and release the shoulders.
Practice 2. Archer Draws His Bow.
This movement is the second posture of the Ba Duan Jin Qigong and helps to strengthen the lungs, stimulate the energy vessels and exercise the shoulders. It is part of an eight movement Qigong system that dates back many centuries.
1. Stand out to the side in a wider than shoulder width stance.
2. Cross the hands in front of your chest with right hand in front, palms facing chest.
3.Sink the weight into the feet and lower the body slightly.
4. Loosely clench the left hand as if grasping the string of a bow.
At the same time the right hand forms a pointing shape with the thumb out, and the index finger straight upward.
5. Raise up the left elbow and pull back as if drawing a bow. Simultaneously move the right arm out to the right until it is fully extended but not locked.
6. Now gather the right hand in an arc at shoulder height and return it to the chest. Relax the left hand back towards the body sinking the elbow to rest in front of the chest. You are now back at the beginning. The left hand should be in front of the right.
7. Grasp the bow with the right hand and turn the left hand into a pointed hand … continue.
8. Repeat 4 times each side.
The third movement is called ‘Carrying the Moon’ and is the sixth movement from the Ba Daun Jin Qigong system.
1. Stand in a central posture with feet around hip width apart.
2.Place hands together in front of the abdomen as if holding a balloon.
3. Carefully, while hinging at the hips, slowly lower the balloon to the floor until you feel a change in the tissue at the back of the legs.
4. Relax the shoulder to lower the ball a little further.
5. When you have reached a comfortable flexion of the waist, begin to raise the arms straight and in an outward arch, maintaining a connection with the rear of the legs.
6. When the arms are level with the ears, begin to raise the head and body in line with the arms.
7. When you have reached an upward posture, open the hands to form a circle between the thumbs and index fingers as if carrying a ball.
8. Separate the hands to the sides, lowering them in an arch and straighten the body.
Repeat 8 times.
For an extra nourishing treat to release the lower back and to stimulate the kidneys further, after each movement you can place the hands on the lower back and gently massage the area to warm the kidneys. This feels really comforting!
You can find out more about Qigong and the Ba Daun Jin in my book ‘What is Qigong?’ A step-by step guide to growing a successful daily practice of Qigong.