The Art of Qigong A Healthy Lifestyle Home Study Part IV
Qigong begins with a healthy lifestyle. It is not just practical daily exercise, but a conscious, healthy style of living. The main goal of Qigong is to produce a state of Qi harmony and a stability that embraces spirit and body. You should live consciously and continuously according to Qi principles. In everything you do–reading, walking, eating, speaking, working, etc.–you should pay attention to your body, attempt to improve your posture, and move and breathe harmoniously. This alone can bring positive results because the Qi is activated and harmonized.
Some say: “I live well because I don’t eat meat,” or “I no longer eat sugar and salt,” or “I’m dieting.” It is true that the kinds of foods you eat play an important role in health. However, many people remain healthy even if they do not observe the rules of nutrition, while others, despite diet and precautions, get ill.
The body naturally knows exactly what it needs or does not need in order to be in good condition. Even if the food is not as “healthy” as it should be, the body can choose and absorb important nutrients and eliminate the unnecessary. However, if the body no longer functions correctly, it is hardly worth eating only healthy foods. Even the most wholesome nutrients will no longer be assimilated by a sick body.
The lesson is that you should not live a “one-sided” healthy life, but a completely healthy life. For example, eat what you want, but not too much and not just that food. The art of healthy living consists of finding the golden mean and living in harmony so that the body and the spirit function smoothly.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), you should never overdo anything, even if it is fun or necessary for life. For example, you should not eat too much, dress too warmly, sleep too much, or have too much sex. Moreover, you should limit psychological stresses such as worry, anxiety, sadness, annoyance, and even joy. Avoid desires, entanglements, bad thoughts, and hatred. Excessively loud speaking and laughing are as harmful as unbridled curiosity.
For example, annoyance damages the liver system. How can you avoid annoyance? By showing understanding, being generous, and developing a philosophy that teaches acceptance and forgiveness rather than punishment. The more knowledge and experience you have, the more you can understand, and the fewer reasons there are to be annoyed. If you are less irritable, it is easier to be kinder to others. The more your appearance is positive, such as an open, friendly face, the more other people will respond positively to you. Thus, some irritations that you would otherwise have to combat do not even occur, and your liver is spared!
The exercise connection
By means of Qigong exercises you can learn about yourself, and find your own needs and limits. No longer do that which is in fashion or what some magazine recommends according to current research. These “theories” could be out of date tomorrow.
On the contrary, a healthy lifestyle, according to the principles of Qigong, is based on the observation of bodily reactions that have proven to be true over thousands of years. As long as the human body does not change, human beings can learn and understand Qigong and use it for further development and discoveries.
Once you have learned some Qigong exercises, you should live according to the Qigong principles. For example, just by drawing the shoulder blades apart in a relaxed manner, and keeping the armpits free, you can remove tension and pain in the back. In this way, you are continually practicing Qigong. Pay attention when telephoning or typing whether you are inclined to stretch your stomach or draw up your shoulders. If so, relax your posture. When driving, check your breathing now and then to determine if you are anxious or agitated. By breathing calmly, you will not become nervous or aggressive while driving and thus can avoid accidents.
Eight Figures for every day
The Eight Figures are very well known in China. Almost all employees and students in the cities practice these figures every day. Daily at 10 a.m. and at 4 p.m., the Chinese central broadcasting station sends out an announcement (with accompanying music) of the Eight Figures.
I remember well the time when I studied medicine in Beijing. At 10 a.m. every day, a long break was taken. Almost everywhere I saw students practicing the Eight Figures for every day. It lasted about a quarter of an hour and was a very pleasant change in student activity. Simultaneously, a break was taken in factories and businesses, giving everyone a chance to practice this sequence.
The movements of these figures were developed from classical Chinese health exercises, and partly from the art of self-defense (exercises for body and mind).
The goal is to train your body every day. If you want to do something for your health, you will find in these Eight Figures exercises that are suitable to activate meridians and joints, to stretch the tendons and sinews, and to train the muscles. These exercises are especially appropriate if you cannot regularly find much time for sport. With five to 10 minutes daily, you can improve your health and prevent “getting rusty” from a lack of movement.
These exercises are not only effective on the physical body; through their specific movements, they affect the flow of Qi. These exercises are also appropriate for warming up for other Qigong exercises.
You can perform them slowly and meditatively, or with music. If practiced in a group to music, then follow the beat of a Viennese waltz. Count for all figures from 1 to 8. For the seventh figure count more slowly, and in the eighth figure count double-time.
From figures 1 to 4, the practice begins on the left side, from 5 to 8 on the right side. Each figure is usually practiced four times, that is, do the first figure four times, then the second figure four times and so on. If you have more time and inclination, you can repeat all the figures, or spend a longer time with each figure. For regular practice, it is wise to maintain the sequence of the exercise, since this activates the body, and thus the Qi, in a gradual, sensible manner and unites the different figures in a harmonious fashion. Finally, you can practice each figure as often as you like and need.
Movement of the Upper Extremities
Movement 1: Move your left foot a step to the side so that your feet are approximately shoulder-width apart, and the weight evenly distributed. At the same time, turn the palms of your hands out, reach up and out with the arms, close the hands into fists, and draw them downwards to the shoulder joints.
Movement 3: Keep your hands closed into fists, and again extend your arms until they are parallel, and then turn your face upwards.
Movement 6: Bring your fists in front of your shoulders and look forward. Angle your wrists so that the fists turn inward, then turn your fists and wrists forward and to the outside, and extend your arms horizontally.
Movement 7: Close your legs and let your arms sink beside the body and open your hands.
Movements 8 to 14: Reverse the beginning movement so that your first step is with the right foot instead of the left. Then continue the exercise as listed above.
All eight movements of this figure are easy to learn and have great benefits. This first figure moves all the upper extremities, from the shoulder blades and head to the shoulder joints and fingertips, so that all possibilities of movement are played out. In the first piece, you turn the palms of your hands outward, and thus move the arms in their shoulder joints. Making a fist involves movement of the finger joints, and pulling down moves the joints of the elbows. In the second piece, the shoulders are raised, and the elbows stretched. In the third piece, the wrists move with the angling and turning of the fists. In the fourth piece, you return to the starting position, and all your extremities relaxed. The complete figure expands and stretches the body in the same way you do naturally when yawning.
Clearing your mind
It is very often said in Qigong instruction: “Concentrate on yourself, and think about nothing.” That is easier said than done. Precisely when you want to think about nothing, you think of a thousand things. However, to think about nothing does not mean that you shouldn’t think about something. Quite the contrary: In order to think about nothing, first direct your attention to something specific. When you concentrate on a specific object, you cannot think about other things. In Chinese it is said: “With one thought, drive away 10,000 other thoughts.” (Yi Nian Dai Wan Nian).
In Qigong there are different methods of focusing on one thought (which sometimes also help against insomnia). For example, in a state of complete concentration, count from 1 to 1,000. Another method is to observe your breathing. Try to make your breathing calm and regular. Gradually you become calmer, and at some point, you have gone so far that you no longer think about anything.
In my opinion, the best method is to concentrate on the body. That means observe the body, improve its posture, and relax it step by step. With increasing concentration you turn away from thousands of thoughts, and with the increasing relaxation that results, fewer thoughts assail you.
Investigations prove that even in a half-conscious or hypnotized state, imagining that you have just lifted a bucket results in the tensing of the corresponding muscular system. Even thinking about a movement increases the muscle tone; and conscious relaxation of the muscles reduces thinking about the corresponding movements. If you think about a tense situation in which you were involved, you are also physically tense. If you are occupied with observation and relaxation of the body, these tense thoughts do not appear. If your concentration leads to an intense relaxation of the body, thoughts no longer have a focus, and you attain a wholly relaxed mood. However, it is important not be so relaxed that you fall asleep when doing a Qigong exercise. Be awake and focused.
Close your eyes
If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you exercise with your eyes closed so that you are not distracted and can concentrate better on the body and exercise more deeply.
In time you can keep your eyes open without disturbing your concentration. You want to be aware of every joint and every muscle in order to see if they are in the right condition and relaxed. If this has your attention, you have no awareness of what is outside of you, and thus, there is no disturbance.
International Qigong instructor Qingshan Liu is the author of Chinese Fitness: A Mind/Body Approach, published by YMAA Publishing, Boston, Mass. (www.ymaa.com) He was educated in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine at Beijing Union Medical College.
Figure 2: Movement of the Fist Jab
Movement 0 through 3: Make a fist of your right hand and hold it at hip level. Move your left foot in a curving fashion to the left side, and at the same time move your left hand in an arc in front of your body. The left-hand palm is upright with the fingertips pointing up. At the end of the arc withdraw the arm, gradually making a fist with the thumb on the outside. In the end both fists are beside your hips, and your feet are parallel and pointing diagonally to the left.
Movement 4: The right fists jabs forward, and the shoulders turn as much as possible to the left. The fist does a half turn when going forward, so that the back of the fist faces up at the end of the movement.
Movement 5: Jab your left fist forward and simultaneously draw your right fist back to the starting position. Turn your shoulders to the right as much as possible.
Movement 7: Draw the left fist back to move to the starting position–feet together, both fists beside the hips, elbows drawn backwards, and eyes front.
Movements 7 through 14 are the reverse of movements 0 through 6. Make the beginning step with your right foot instead of your left, move the right hand in a circle and in movement 11, the left fist jabs forward.
Figure 3: Expanding the Chest
Movements 0 through 2: Move your left foot forward in a curve step fashion; at the same time, extend both arms forward and then to the sides, so that the chest and inner sides of your arms are stretched. Make your hands into fists.
Movements 3 and 4: Again, bring your arms together and then open them to stretch the chest.
Movement 5: Step back with your left foot, then put both hands on your knees. Bend your knees as far as possible while keeping the heels of your feet on the ground and your back straight.
Movement 6: Stand up again.
Movements 7 through 12: Repeat on the other side so that the curving step is done with your right foot.
Figure 4: Swinging the Legs
Movement 1: Take half a step forward with your left foot and put your body weight on your left leg; at the same time, open both arms to an angle of 60 to 90 degrees.
Movement 2: Swing your right leg out in front of the body. Keep the legs straight, and if possible touch the upper part of your foot with both hands. Keep your back straight and do not lean forward in an attempt to touch your foot.
Movement 3: same as movement 1.
Movement 4: Return to the starting position and bring the arms to the sides of the body.
Movements 5 to 8 are not pictured. Simply reverse the pattern so that you step forward with your right leg and swing your left leg.
Figure 5: Bending the Upper Body
Movements 3 through 6: Repeat the bending and stretching of the body.
Movements 1 and 2: Step far out to your left side with your left foot so that your feet are parallel and your toes point forward. At the same time, lift your left arm in a circular motion sideward until it points directly up. Place your right hand on your right hip. Then, in a continuous motion, bend the upper body to the right so that you feel a stretch in the left side of your body and the inside of your right leg. Your body weight is now mainly on the left leg, and your left knee is bent; your right leg is tense like a bowstring, and your whole upper body inclines to the right.
Movement 7: Return to the starting position.
Movements 8 through 14 are again reversed so that your right foot steps out to the side.
Figure 6: Turning the Upper Body
Movement 1: Take a half step to the left so that your feet are about shoulder-width apart with your body weight distributed evenly between your legs. At the same time, lift your arms horizontally to shoulder height with the palms facing down.
Movement 2: Bend your upper body to the left and down until your right hand reaches the tip of the left foot. At the same time, the left hand goes up as if both arms were fixed to a pole.
Movement 3: Straighten up again, make your hands into fists and turn your upper body back and to the right, raising your right arm diagonally back to the right as far as possible. Your head, eyes, and left arm also turn back to the right in the same movement.
Movement 4: Return to the starting position.
Movements 5 through 8: Reverse the sides and perform the same movements.
Figure 7: Train the Stomach and Back Muscles
Movement 1: Raise your arms above your body so that the palms of your hands face forward, and bend the upper body backwards.
Movement 2: Bend your upper body, keeping the legs straight, and attempt to touch the ground with your fingers.
Movement 3: Straighten your body and open your arms above your head at an angle of 60 to 90 degrees, with the palms of the hands turned towards one another. At the same time, make a forward curving step with your left foot.
Movement 4: Return to the starting position.
Movements 5 through 8 are in reverse, so that in movement 7 the right foot makes the forward curving step.
Figure 8: Jumping Exercise
Movements 1 and 2: Jump up and open your legs so that your feet are parallel and approximately shoulder-width apart; at the same time stretch out your arms horizontally, with the palms of your hands facing down. Keep your arms out when you land.
Movements 3 and 4: Jump again. Close your legs and clap your hands above your head. Keep your hands together when you land.
Movements 5 and 6: Return to movement 1 by jumping up, opening your legs, and dropping your arms to shoulder height, palms facing the ground.
Movements 7 and 8: Return to the starting position by jumping up, then closing your arms and legs when you land.
Movements 9 to 16 are a repetition of the same sequence.
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