Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Try this today - Ancient Chinese Self-Maintenance...

The simplest Qi Gong, or "Energy/Breathing practice" there is: 

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and the inner edges of the feet parallel. 
  • Very gently grasp the ground with the toes- imagine that the feet are like suction cups, not eagle talons. 
  • Soften and bend the knees (don't allow the knee to protrude in front of the toes, keep it back a little). 
  • Gently, ever so gently, tuck the tailbone forward to lengthen the lower spine- and ever so gently lengthen the upper spine, extending the back of the neck. This has the effect of turning the normal S of the spine into a flattish C shape. 
  • Breathe softly through the nose, continuously (allowing for the tiny pause that naturally occurs between inhale and exhale) and without forcing either the inhale or the exhale. Think of the breath as continuing beyond the actual lungs and into the body, and beyond the actual inhale/exhale - think about breathing in while still breathing out and vice versa. 
  • Ensure that the tip of the tongue is in contact with the roof of your mouth, but keep the mouth and jaw relaxed. 
  • On an inhale, slowly raise the arms to a 'tree-hugging' or 'book-reading' position. The elbows should be slightly below the shoulders, the wrists soft, and the palms facing your face. Allow the fingers to 'fall' slightly apart from each other, while thinking of the whole shoulder/arm/hand complex as 'long and relaxed'. 
  • Maintain a little space under the arm, as though you're keeping an egg warm in there...
  • Direct the breath into the lower belly - if you get the chance, watch how a newborn breathes: the chest doesn't move, all the breath goes down into the belly. This is what you want. 
  • With your awareness focused in the lower belly, focus the eyes on a point on the ground about 20 feet away. If you're inside, focus on an analogous point on the wall, or on a picture - it's quite important to have the eyes focused while practicing Qi Gong. You don't need a 'Thousand Yard Stare' but you do need focus.
  • On each inhale, imagine the energy from the breath moving down the inside of the front of the body to the lower belly
  • On each exhale, imagine the energy from the breath moving up the inside of the spine, back through the head and from the roof of the mouth back to the tongue to complete a 'circuit' of energy- this is known as the Microcosmic Orbit in some circles. Other (less pretentious) people just call it a loop that circulates the body's energy. With every breath, the circuit becomes a little stronger. 

This is where you'll be for two thirds of this practice - aim for maybe 3 minutes here to begin with.. There was a time I used to stand here for 100 breaths, but this takes far too much time out of my day... about 25 minutes.. Start with a small amount of time and get the details right, then you can go for longer.

After a while, your legs, shoulders, arms or back may start to hurt- don't become involved in the 'human drama' of whatever hurts, instead allow the area to soften more and lengthen more... to breathe more...

  • After your 'two thirds of the time' you've allotted, and on an exhale, allow the arms to sink to a 'basket-carrying' position- so the palms are facing the lower belly, where you've been directing the breath for this whole time. 
  • Keep the shoulder/arm/hand complex nice and open and long- there should still be enough space for an egg in your armpit. 
  • Don't allow yourself to come back up yet - if uncomfortable, wriggle a little bit (slowly, more a wobble than a wriggle) to allow the joints, connective tissue and muscles some circulation and to spread their lubricating fluids around. 
  • Keep reviewing the body so that there's no excess tension creeping in. 
  • Maintain awareness in the lower body and keep the 'energy circulation' going.

After 'one third of your allotted time', slowly do two things: 
  • Place your hands one over the other at the small of the back, with the back of the hands facing forward. (The comfortable way- not the other way). 
  • Bring one foot to the other, without falling over or rising all the way up. 

The last part of your Qi Gong practice is to 'seal in' the energy you've collected/raised/cultivated.

Closing the Gates- 
  • From where you were, bring one knee up to hip height with the knee bent at 90 degrees. You'll do this naturally if you're relaxed. 
  • Move the foot through a vertical circle so it's behind you and gently slide it back beside the other foot. 
  • Repeat on the other side. 
  • Move one foot away from the other, back to shoulder width and bend the knees again. 
  • On an inhale, gently release the hands from behind your back and to your original position (tree-hugging).
  • On the exhale, slowly allow the hands to sink to the second position (basket-carrying)
  • Finish with one last inhale and slowly return to a natural standing posture. 

Give any areas of the body that are sore or tense a little 'love'- rub/tap/lightly massage them, and go about your daily business with a little more Qi. It's best not to eat or drink for an hour or so after Qi Gong, so this extra energy has time to circulate and do you some good before your expend it on digesting anything.

As always, don't damage yourself - and - 



Monday, 15 November 2010

Two things...

Hold yourself up in a pushup (or plank) position and lift up each hand or foot in turn. Turn over so you are facing the sky by threading one leg underneath the other and (slowly) bringing the opposite hand over the body to the ground. Don't allow the body to sag or lift in the middle too much - try to keep the back and hips in a straight line.

Lie down and lift the body using only two points of contact with the ground. The further apart the points of contact are, the more strength will be required (and developed). You can always cheat by putting one foot (or hand) on top of the other, or brace one arm on a leg or the other arm.


Breathe, Move and Relax


Monday, 30 August 2010

Flow finding for Humans

Lie on the floor and try to move each limb as far as you can away from your body. When you reach the limit of each movement, try to return by a different path than the one you took to reach that limit. Try to find new movements each time - and try starting from face up, face down and on each side.

Remember to breathe, and play with the movements that are sticky or tight as well as those that are supple and loose - don't strain or jerk, and don't hurt yourself.


You can always apply more load to your tissues by raising one or more parts of your body off the floor.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Lie down and raise the body so that only one part of the body (usually the buttocks are easiest to begin with) remains in contact with the ground and the rest of the body is raised at least a little bit. Slowly move so that a different part of the body makes contact with the ground and the original part is raised instead. A simple way to begin exploring this idea is to make a circle all the way around the body in one direction and then the other.  Cheat as much as is necessary - assist yourself to do the job, but do it honestly. Try to challenge yourself to practise the work cleanly and recognise when you're cheating because you are being lazy rather than cheating to be capable of doing the work.

Remember to breathe - remember to smile and as always- don't hurt yourself.


Friday, 30 July 2010

Waking up
I don't know about you, but I don't like my alarm much when it goes off in the morning. It's not its fault - I have the rather excellent piano intro from Moscow Art Trio's 'His 33 Years In the Village of Karacharovo' as my alarm sound, it always makes me smile. I hear that some people out there are full of vim and vigour first thing in the morning - I am just not one of them. Here is a practice that helps me to get things rolling in the space of time between the f@#king alarm going off and when I have to get up…
First thing, just lie there breathing for a little bit. It's early, sleep is hard work, it takes time to recover. Feel for any particular areas of tension where maybe the body was squished during the night, maybe you did too many (or not enough) pushups the day before, maybe you just slept funny (or maybe you stayed up too late because of unmentionable extra-curricular activities).

Remembering to continue breathing, start to move just a little bit, bring some ease and relaxation to any of those tight areas you just noticed. After a minute or two, you can move on to something that resembles stretching. You know that first big yawn of the day? That's there to give you some impetus to move, and breathe, and relax. Have a nice big yawn, get some air down into the parts of the lungs that are still asleep. Stretch out the arms, maybe wriggle the hips around a little to ease into the lower back, maybe roll the ankles around a bit… Keep breathing… 

Most of us like to rub the sleep out of the eyes and this is a good thing to do about now. In fact, the same idea applies to the rest of the body, too - particularly any areas that are still a bit tight or sore after the breathing and moving. Give the face and head some attention, remembering there is skin under where your hair is. it's particularly good to also play with the ears a bit - pinch them, rub them, pull on them, wiggle them around some… If you can reach, it's great to wake up the skin all over the body by doing the same all over - rub, tap, pinch or just touch in some way all of the skin you can get your hands on.

(Especially if you're not alone?)

Now that even the skin is awake, it's good to get ready to get up. Russian health practice teaches that the accumulated stress of years of 'cold starts' damages the body and this can be avoided if you take the time to wake up as described above before you get up. The last and possibly most important step is very simple, and very effective. I often ask my patients to use this practice when they get up after an acupuncture or bodywork treatment, because it helps with the adaptive stress of going back to the 'real world' after being nice and relaxed.

Breathe comfortably and naturally, then hold one of these normal, natural breaths and hold it for as long as you can -no gulping for extra air, no need to take a huge breath, no need even to look at a clock or anything like that. Just a normal breath, and keep hold of it. No need to even count - in fact, it's better not to try and 'break a record' or compete for time - just take one breath and keep it until you're actually done with it.

You may notice that you feel like you want to move, or pull in some extra air - or even, let some out. Or give up altogether - remember, character is revealed when no-one is watching. The 'uncomfortable' phase of this one held breath is the important part. The uncomfortable phase here is the part that changes the body and psyche the most, and the longer you can enjoy one held breath, the more positive change you get out of it.  If you feel a panicky or truly unpleasant sensation, or the world starts turning black from the bottom up, smile and move more slowly. Of all the ways to cheat here, the least bad is to let a little air out.  If you do manage to pass out, you'll start breathing again when you're unconscious - and you're already lying down…

When you need to, let go of that breath and take a few more to get back to easy, natural breaths. Then-

Get up. Remember to lead the movement with the breath. The breath should start slightly before the movement, and the movement should finish a little before the breath does.

Now you're awake…
And standing up… Go eat something and get ready for the day.

As always, don't hurt yourself -  if you have some kind of lung or heart trouble that means you shouldn't hold your breath - Don't. Remember to relax and smile…


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Fingers and Toes...

Thread your fingers through the gaps between your toes and wriggle your toes around. First wrestle fingers against toes so that fingers win, then toes against fingers so the toes win. 

Play with the sensitivity and strength of individual parts of the hands and feet, and how they change the practice.

Feel for any pulses between the contacts of hands and feet.

Smile -

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Basic Sotai exercise #1

Sotai is a system of bodywork developed in Japan by Keizo Hashimoto, which is kind of like 'Japanese Energetic Physiotherapy'. The goal of this work is to find the body's natural, balanced and comfortable position and use.

The Practice:

Without shoes on and preferably barefoot (or in toe socks), kneel on the floor and raise the body a little so you can switch from resting on the tops of the feet (the insteps) to resting on the balls of the feet and the toes. Spread the toes a little - cheat if you have to and use your hand to spread the toes...

Once in position, rest the 'sitting bones' (ischial tuberosities) in your bum on your heels and relax for a second. Run your awareness over the body to locate and loosen any tight areas or muscles.

Then,  exhale (or inhale) and rock the hips slowly to one side and back to the centre on the next inhale (or exhale). Use natural breathing, not too slow and not too fast- the breath should both lead and contain the movement (start the breath a little before and finish a little after moving). Once back to the centre, switch to the other side.

Continue the breathing and rocking for a minute or so, before relaxing and giving the feet a little massage.

This is pretty much the only case where 'if it hurts, it means you need to do it more'. I find that this practice strengthens the feet and supports their function, and is immensely helpful for back problems (particularly the lower back) - it also seems to have a kind of 'warm-up' effect, preparing the body for activity.

As always, don't hurt yourself - if something feels wrong when you practise this practice, come and ask for some advice, and I'll be happy to advise... (Remember, English is a stupid language that makes no sense...)

One or two minutes a day (morning and night if you think of it) makes a huge difference - eventually you'll probably get all the toes on the floor in this practice, which is a nice sign of progress...

When it hurts - Smile...