In 1989 Western science finally “discovered” something that has been common knowledge in the Asian cultures for thousands of years. Through a huge study (if a study is not huge it does not mean much to Western science) it was discovered and then reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 1989 that moderate, gentle exercise is more effective than conventional agreesive exercise. This suggests that the pumping iron, jogging, jazzercise approach is actually less effective in enhancing fitness levels than was thought. Simple walking is actually a superior fitness generator.
Slow, non-intense, daily practice of moderate exercise, as it has been done in China through Qigong and in India through Yoga for centuries, is now emerging, with scientific authorization as the fitness enhancement practice of choice. While it seems belated in a culture so scientifically evolved, this information is a real miracle in a time of serious crisis in our health care. Already fit who can jog, do aerobics and afford health club membership. Now, especially when we look to how the Asian traditions have refined this idea over time, the unwell, the bedridden, those limited to wheel chairs, elders and even the partially paralyzed can derive significant fitness building through moderate self-applied practices of Qigong and Yoga.
The movement arts of the Asian cultures are profoundly beautiful and extremely extensive. In China there are literally thousands of movements and postures with variations depending on whether they originate in northern or southern China, in specific families, specific monastic traditions or in one of many lineages of a simplified, preliminary approach that is easy to learn and use to support practitioners toward better health.
Beyond these preliminary movements and postures there are the 108 specific gestures in Yang style Chi and there are other short and long Tai Chi forms. There are the Qigong forms that mimic many animals: tiger, crane, bear, deer, eagle, snake and rhinoceros, as well as the mythological dragon and phoenix. There are forms for the seasons, the climates, the elemental forces of the cosmos, the colors, the internal organs, revered immortal masters and particular health disorders. Some forms are just practical and for fitness, others are esoteric and spiritual. All have fitness and health applications.
It must be remembered that in the Asian cultures the Qi, the vitality or energy, is of foremost important in health and fitness. The preliminary methods regarding movement and posture may seen strange or senseless; however, they are focused first on enhancing and moving the Qi. It is an illusion to think that the best way to mobilize the Qi is with vigorous movement. Some of the movements and posture which seem to have the least content or action are actually the most profound methods for generating Qi, circulating Qi and enhancing one’s own awareness of Qi. Use these movements and postures as a seed to grow your own passion and devotion to your personal practice. Look to the martial arts, to ballet, to yoga, to personal self-expression for inspiration. Admire and copy the animals, as did the ancient physician Hua To. They have an inherent sense of nature’s rhythm and law. Borrow from the great masters and the great traditions but also bring your own essence forth as well. Hold to the remembrance that it is the life force, the vitality, the bioenergetic field, the Qi that is your focus.
Basic Movements to Stretch the Body and Release the Bioenergy
Please remember the guidelines for mastering the self-applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM). These movements are meant to be the seeds of your own inventiveness. Please, do not sabotage your mastery by thinking they must be done a certain way. Make it up, make it fun, spread the word. Learn from others, add favorites, steal from the masters; they are always willing to share. Be careful, honor your limits. Bring the breath and relaxation practices together with the effort of the movements, that is the balance. When you have made contact with the extent to which gentle movement has a profound health effect, you have become a part of the solution to the medical crisis. Note on the numbers: The suggested numbers of applications per day and the number of repetitions are present because we love and need guidance. However, everyone is unique, and the numbers are really up to you within the context of the guidelines about fun, limits, the comfort zone, etc. Enjoy!
1. Preliminary Standing Posture
Stand with the feet at shoulders width, toes pointed forward. Allow the shoulders to relax, the neck and head to be perched directly on top of the shoulders, deepen the breath. Allow the knees to be slightly bent. Bring the pelvis into its position as a bowl in which the organs rest by rocking its bottom forward helping the lower back to uncurl and elongate. Soften the gaze. Turn your awareness toward a sensitivity to whatever the body energy or Qi might feel like.
2. Shaking the Whole Body to Release and Circulate the Energy
From the preliminary position begin to wiggle the fingers and bounce, deepen the breath. Increase the bounce and allow the hands to begin to shake. Add shaking of the head and shoulders. Relax the jaw. You will find that this is one of the best exercises to bring immediate sensation of the energy or Qi. Exaggerate the movement, prolong it, shift weight from foot to foot, make sounds, find your own best way to use this exercise.
- Health maintenance: 2 to 3 times per day.
- Health enhancement: 6 to 10 times per day.
- Disease intervention: 10 to 15 time per day.
- Getting started: Take this dose carefully to start. If you have physical limits, 2 to 3 times per day. Once you get the energy going, try to direct it to the organs and glands.
3. Twist from the Waist, Swing the Arms Ringing the Gong
From the preliminary position rotate the torso. The movement should seem to come from the waist, although it is actually initiated at the ground from the feet. The shoulders follow the waist and the arms follow the shoulders, they just dangle and swing. Turn the head completely -as far as it will comfortably go- to look behind. The breath is full and there is a dynamic relationship between action and relaxant. Bring as much relaxant to the movement as possible. Notice that the arms and hands hit the body. This hitting or thumping can become purposeful when aimed at the reflexes of the kidneys, spleen and liver. This will be discussed in the section on self-applied massage.
- Health maintenance: 2 to3 times per day, 20 to 50 repetitions.
- Health enhancement: 6 to 10 times per day, 20 to 50 repetitions.
- Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 to 15 sessions per day, 20 to 50 repetitions.
- Getting started: 2 to 3 sessions per day. This exercise alone has tremendous benefits, and it can be done briefly as a warm up. Explore its effect if done hundreds of times. Honor your limits.
4. Swing the Arms Forward, Rise upon the Toes, Arms Back, Swing Back onto Heels
Tradition claims that this movement alone, with relaxation and deep breathing can help to cure serious diseases. Starting in the preliminary posture rock forward onto the toes and swing the arms forward. Palms may face backward or forward, you decide. Remember to make it up and make it fun. Now, rock back on the heels. Practice will show you how far back you can go. Breath deeply and relax. Repeat. This is not a fancy gesture but it has profound potential. Turn your awareness to the forces of body energy for a lesson in the value of this technique. Remember, patience in your quest for the sensation of elusive life energy, Qi.
- Health maintenance: 2 to 3 sessions per day, 20 to 50 repetitions.
- Health enhancement: 6 to 10 sessions per day, 20 to 50 repetitions
- Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 to 15 sessions per day, 20 to 50 repetitions. It is said that if one does this 100 times per day it will heal many diseases, if done 1000 times per day it can lead to times per day it can lead to immortality.
- Getting started: 2 to 3 sessions per day.