At the end of a
hectic day do you have a twinge in your back, knot in your
stomach, or pounding in your head? The Chinese believe that aches
and pains are the result of a blockage in vital energy, or qi
(pronounced "chee"). That's why they developed qigong ("energy
work"), a series of simple postures and fluid exercises that work
to open up muscles, joints, and tendons so that energy can flow
unimpeded throughout the body.
Qigong was created thousands of years ago--some historians say as
long ago as 17th century B.C.--by Chinese peasants who imitated
the movements of wild animals to counteract the physical effects
of their damp mountain climate. Although the practice has ancient
roots, its slow, meditative movements are increasingly relevant to
our modern lifestyle because of their ability to counteract the
damaging effects of stress. "Qigong is an extraordinary tool for
reducing the harmful effects of stress," explains Kenneth Cohen,
renowned qigong master and author of The Way of Qigong. "The three
pillars of qigong practice are body, breath, and mind. If your
body is relaxed your breathing will slow down. When your breath is
slow, you feel more centered, more calm, and more in touch with
yourself" he explains.
"When we're stressed, qi gets blocked like a dam on a river," says
Lee Holden, L.Ac., founder of Pacific Healing Arts in Santa Cruz,
CA and author of the upcoming book Seven Minutes of Magic.
To experience the restorative effects of qigong for yourself, try
this 10-minute routine that Holden developed. "You don't have to
have any equipment and you don't need to change clothes," Holden
NOTE: All exercises are done standing with the knees soft and feet
Neck circles Bring your palms
together behind your back with your fingers pointing down. Begin
slowly rotating your head in a circle to the right: Lower your
right ear toward your right shoulder, bring your chin toward your
chest, then bring your left ear toward your left shoulder. Move
the head back through the vertical position to start again. "Don't
let your head fall too far backward during the transition, as this
can compress the joints in the spine," Holden cautions. Repeat
5-10 times in each direction.
Low back stretch Place your
thumbs or index finger knuckles on your lower back an inch away
from either side of the spine. As you inhale, press in with your
thumbs and bring your hips forward. As you exhale, bring the hips
back to vertical. Move your thumbs or knuckles half an inch down
and repeat until you've worked your way through the whole lower
back (5-10 times).
Shaking exercise Begin shaking
your wrists and hands. Next, shake your shoulders and elbows. Then
bring movement into the entire body by bouncing up and down on
your heels, "as if you were trying to shake the spine loose,"
Holden says. Keep the head, neck, and shoulders relaxed as you
allow the vibration from the shaking to move throughout your body.
As you bounce, inhale through the nose and exhale through the
mouth, visualizing tension leaving the body. After 1-2 minutes,
stand still and notice if your body feels looser and more vibrant.
"Shaking promotes circulation, clears stress that's stored in the
body, and opens all the joints," Holden explains.
Wave breathing Place one hand
on your lower abdomen and one hand on your chest. On each inhale,
breathe deep into the lower abdomen first, then into ribs, then
all the way up into the chest. Exhale from top to bottom,
releasing the air from your chest, then the ribs, and finally the
abdomen. At the bottom of the exhale, actively squeeze all of the
air out. Continue breathing this way for 1-2 minutes.
Holding up the Earth Bring
your hands in front of your abdomen, palms facing up. As you
inhale deeply, move your hands all the way over your head, keeping
the elbows soft and the palms facing the ceiling. On the exhale,
float your hands back down to the starting position. Continue for
1-2 minutes. This exercise increases your lung capacity, which
becomes hindered by stress.
Learn more about qigong