Want to Live Longer? Live Near Green Spaces…

...AND make friends with a tree

The Washington Post published an article yesterday titled, “Living Near Green Spaces Could Add 2.5 Years to Your Life, New Research Finds” (you can read the article here).

They go on to discuss an article in the journal Science Advances which suggests long-term exposure to more greenery where you live can add an average of 2.5 years to your life. The study looked at long-term exposure to surrounding green spaces among a group of more than 900 people in four U.S. cities. They found that being near green space causes “biological or molecular changes that can be detected in our blood”.

Well, I’m happy that modern science continues to catch up with ancient medical wisdom. For centuries, our Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) paradigm has educated us on the importance of staying close to nature. Taoist practices have had a major influence on CCM and Taoism is all about simplicity, staying close to nature, and following nature’s rhythms and cycles.

In CCM, we teach that the blood and the Qi are synonymous and how important it is that both flow without obstruction or stagnation. Blood and Qi are energy, information, communication, and alimentation (i.e., nourishment) for every structure in our bodies and brains. One of the wonderful benefits of our Qigong practice is an increase in the circulation of blood and qi along with a concurrent decrease in stagnation or blockages. So it’s interesting to hear of a study that identifies actual markers in the blood that indicate a younger biological age due to living closer to green spaces.

When I teach Qigong, I make sure that the participants and I center and ground in every single session. It’s such an important skill, not just in our energetic work – it’s an essential life skill too! As the students in my group and private classes will tell you, I often encourage them to go outside in their bare feet and engage in a few minutes of conscious breathing, centering, and grounding. It’s much easier to feel or become aware of the Yin energy coming up from the earth and to get into a grounded state when you connect directly with the ground. It’s such a pleasant, wonderful feeling too!

Say Hello to Your Big Friend

To turbo-charge your practice, choose a spot close to a tree. Stand with feet about shoulder width apart or in your Wuji posture and follow your

process of breathing, focusing inside, centering into the lower abdomen (or heart center if you prefer), and ground via the Kidney 1 (Bubbling Well) point in the bottom of each foot. Imagine your feet are projecting a tap root down into the earth, so you feel fully rooted. And see or sense your tap roots are becoming intertwined with the roots of the tree.

Feel the energies of your root system commingle with the energies of the tree’s root system. Then inhale deeply into your lower abdomen. At the same time, allow the Yin energy of the earth to come up through your roots and your Kidney 1 point, up through your legs, and into your lower abdomen (lower dan tien or energy center). Gently “fill up the bathtub” in your lower abdomen.

With each exhale, allow the energy to drop back down through Kidney 1 into the earth. As the energy drops, release and purge any unwanted stagnation, stiffness, tightness, blockages, emotional content, or thoughts that are not serving you well. Let it all drop into the earth.

Then take a fresh breath and repeat the cycle.

Obviously, there are some subtleties and finer points to doing this. But don’t worry about that for now. Keep things simple.

As you repeat cycles of inhalation and exhalation, pulling energy in and allowing energy to drop and release, you may get into a profound state of grounding. You are also sharing or cycling energy with your new friend, the tree. This results in profound physical, mental, and emotional benefits, which we will discuss in our next post.

In the meantime, get back to nature, find a new friend – er, tree – and allow yourself the pleasure of interacting in a whole new way.

Can Better Posture Improve Your Health? Part 2

Posture doesn’t receive enough attention. Some years ago, I began to attend to my posture more consistently. I’m still not perfect, but I constantly work on it!

When I was in college, I was hit by a car. Unfortunately, the car won. I had a lingering back injury that forced me to pay attention to how I stand and sit.  Later, when I began to explore various causes and solutions for my adult-onset asthma, I realized that my posture had a huge impact on how well I was able to breathe.

Today, I always pay attention to how people carry themselves when they are exercising. To my dismay, I see a lot of hunching and rounded backs when people are walking, jogging, or lifting weights. Not good!

Your posture is one of the master keys to abundant health and energy

Keeping an upright posture with good spinal alignment is key to avoiding injury, performing well, and getting reliable results from exercise. It also helps you feel more powerful and in control – not only when exercising, but in all areas of your life. And possessing an enhanced sense of power and control is something we can all appreciate.

The spinal cord is a critical communications channel. It’s not just a passive channel for transmitting information – it’s actively involved in transposing and making sense of the information and sensations coming in from our nervous system, as well as other sensory organs.

Your posture has a direct effect on your spine’s ability to conduct and intelligently monitor that information.

In addition, the way you hold your head directly impacts your brain’s ability to think. The poor habitual posture we may develop over the years leads to our head slumping forward. And when you lose this base postural support, you impede the flow of blood, lymph, and nerve impulses to and from your brain – resulting in brain fog, low energy, and even chronic headaches.

Posture in Qigong

When we practice our Qigong, we maintain a relaxed but upright posture. When standing, we create a gentle extension of the spine by turning our hips slightly forward and imagining the crown of our head is suspended by a string from the ceiling, and/or gently tucking our chin. This ensures the optimal alignment of spine / back, neck, and head, which not only facilitates the health of the spine, but also helps us maintain the standing posture for time because our frame and weight are aligned and supported.

When moving in Qigong, we typically maintain good posture and a straight line from lower back through torso through neck. With some movements, we perform subtle to more pronounced flexion and extension of the spine, which helps to stretch and strengthen the paravertebral structures supporting the spine as well as open the meridians associated with the spine. Energetically, spinal movements impact the Chong Mai or Thrusting Meridian, Du Mai or Governing Meridian, and Ren Mai or Conception Meridian. The Dai Mai or Belt Channel also gets some excellent work from many of the movements that exercise the spine.

As part of our preparation, we also perform loosening exercises which ensure articulation of the hips, spinal column, and neck.

Each one of these components is important in protecting, strengthening, and enhancing our spine and back and helping ensure the health of this critical communications and structural support component of the body. Not only does this help us move and feel better today…it also helps us stay younger.

As you go about your day, pay attention to your posture as you sit, stand, or walk. Leverage your Qigong to help reinforce specific postural elements and then see if you can carry these over to everyday activities.

And here’s a little secret: attending to your posture – not all the time, but just as a checking in type process – will help you become more mindful.

The Fire Within

Well, we are really into summer now, aren’t we?

Here in Central Texas, we have been experiencing our first set of continuous, 90-plus degree days along with humidity, pushing our heat index to 100-plus. Someone just told me it’s forecast to “feel like” 108 degrees this afternoon. Hot stuff!

This time of year, I do my Qigong and my walking or jogging first thing in the morning, to get ahead of the heat. I prefer to do my Qigong outside, in one of several special or “sacred” spots in my yard or in the woods behind us. The air is much fresher in the morning, in part due to the relative coolness, in part due to the respiration of the trees which is changing, so they are releasing more oxygen and thereby increasing the ionization in the air.

Anyways, back to summer. We started discussing the Five Elements (Wu Xing) a couple of months ago. We hit the highlights of the Spring element, Liver / Wood, and have been practicing our Liver / Wood exercise. It’s past time to dive into summer and begin practicing our Heart / Fire DaoYin. Here is some information on this element to help inform your practice.

Heart / Fire Element

According to Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the Heart is the Emperor of all the organs. All the other organs will sacrifice for the Heart, in other words they will give their energy to the Heart to help maintain its balance. The Heart’s associated yang organ is the Small Intestine.

The Heart is responsible for the circulation of blood as well as lymph. The Heart is also considered to be where the mind resides. So we refer to the “Heart-Mind” in this area, as it is a mental and emotional center. And when you think about it, this makes sense. We know that the Heart has its own nervous system which can function autonomously from the brain and provides information to the brain. We also know that the digestive system, particularly the small intestine, has its own brain, called the enteric nervous system.

Think about how you make decisions, either consciously or unconsciously – typically through a combination of analysis or rational thinking plus a gut feeling or impression. Hence the concept of the Heart – Mind working together.

Physical Aspects of the Heart

The Pericardium protects the Heart. In the Fire / Heart Wu Xing exercise, we work directly through the Pericardium meridian to pull healing energy into our Heart / Middle Dan Tien. We also explore an important healing point, the Laogong point (PC8), which is on our palms.

The tongue is the sensory organ related to the Heart. We use tongue diagnosis in Classical and Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture.

The blood vessels are the tissue associated with the Heart. Because the face has many blood vessels, the complexion can reveal the state of the Heart. A pale complexion can indicate insufficient blood flow, an overly red face can indicate excessive heat or inflammation. As we have learned more about a lot of the chronic diseases that afflict our Western society, we have increased our focus on inflammation (or “heat” in CCM) as a common causal actor, including in heart disease and related conditions. 

Psycho-Emotional Aspects of Heart / Fire

Excessive joy and excitement are the negative emotions associated with the Heart. It’s taking the positive emotion of happiness or joy too far, so it’s like a manic type of feeling or energy. For example, someone with ADD or ADHD who might be super high energy, but also has trouble winding down or calming themselves so they can focus or sleep.

Excessive stress can negatively impact the Heart. As can the lack of self-expression or not being able to share. The heart’s associated organ is the tongue, which is evidence of the its close connection to language, creativity, self-expression, and sharing love.

Positive emotions associated with the Heart are happiness, joy, and love. These emotions can inspire us. They can also lead to a state of peacefulness.

Why is Summer associated with the Heart and Small Intestine? Fire generates light energy, and light is love. Without love, we would wither away from the inside out. Without passion, life would be joyless. And without self-love, we could never blossom into the fullness of all we are meant to be. Love, passion, and enthusiasm inspire creativity and self-expression.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Wu Xing Jing / Five Elements Health Form, click here. Discover the master blueprint for a powerful health practice!