How to Leverage Structural Tension

There is a wonderful framework used by artistic creators called “Structural Tension”.

Within this framework, the artist or writer or other creator focuses on two ends of the creative spectrum or process.

The first point of focus is the vision for what they wish to create.

The second point of focus is on where they are now, or the starting point.

Creative tension results from the dissonance or distance between where the creator wants to go – their vision of their finished creation – and the beginning of the creative process.

As long as the artist or creator stays focused on their vision or goal, they maintain the creative tension. And by tension, I don’t mean something negative. It’s more like a “pulling toward” feeling, by which the creator invests emotional, mental, and sometimes physical energy into the process, so they stay on track and, bit by bit, chip away at what they are working on.

Each of us can use this Structural Tension framework as we approach our own goals, dreams, and vision for our lives.

Medium to longer-term goals may require that you operate on a lower but more constant level of creative tension or energy. You feel the dissonance between where you are now and where you want to go or what you want to manifest in your life. And at times, you may lose the feeling as you focus on shorter-term goals or current life problems or challenges.

Eventually, you will come back to that goal or dream. It’s always there, percolating under the surface.

Get back in gear by renewing the creative tension. Allow yourself to feel the pull of the goal and the emotions of wanting to achieve it. Bask in the feelings you will experience once you have it. Then begin. Take a small step today from where you are today.

As Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Creative Tension in Our Practice

We practice within this Creative Tension framework every time we do our Qigong and related dynamic exercises.

In fact, our standing practice helps us to develop structural tension and stability – what’s known as “tensegrity” – so we feel more stable and grounded and can stand for extended periods of time. This in turn strengthens the supporting structures and allows the body to open so the energy can flow.

We strive to stay relaxed… yet we also learn to focus our mind and intention. We stand still in our Wuji stance… yet the energy flows and tingles throughout our body.

In many of our forms (such as the Yi Jin Jing or Muscle-Tendon Changing Classic), we stretch to create structural tension on our ligaments, tendons, fasciae, bones, and muscles…then we release that tension into relaxation or into movement in another plane or direction.

Tension, relaxation, tension, relaxation…stretch, relax, stretch, relax…inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…rhythmic cycle after cycle after cycle.

These instances of “micro” structural tension – relaxation cycles help condition us and improve our abilities to leverage creative tension in all areas of life, helping us bring into being the person we want to be and the contributions we want to make.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Plucking Your Strings

When we think about Qigong or Breathwork, we often focus on the internal benefits we derive from the induction of vital energy, or qi, caused by the combination of movement, breathing, and focused intention. But there is an additional benefit from doing Qigong or related Dynamic Energy Exercise that we may forget about or not even be aware of.

In Classical Chinese Medicine, we recognize three levels of qi: wei qi, ying qi, and yuan qi. The most superficial of these is our wei qi (pronounced “way chee”), or “guardian qi”, which helps protect us from external pathogens. Wei qi includes not only our immune system, but also our mental and emotional resilience.

You see, “pathogens” or “pathogenic factors” refer to things like bacteria and viruses (a lot of people get a cold in winter), infectious agents or situations (remember COVID anyone?), and even dramatic changes in the weather which can impact folks in any season. They also refer to negative emotional content stemming from uncomfortable or stressful environments or situations, and/or from negative people or unpleasant interactions – in other words, psycho-emotional factors that can reduce the robustness of our immune system.

Your wei qi is akin to your armor. Anything you can do to enhance it is important to maintaining your health AND longevity. When you can set up a strong energetic barrier or bubble around you, you feel safer and more confident. Your wei qi is also associated with involuntary, autonomic processes, such as your heart rate, sweating, and even the peristaltic activity within your digestive system. Pretty important stuff!

One of the fundamental Qigong practices I teach is to “build your bubble” using breathing and intention to build the strength of the wei qi. This powerful practice includes two components that I teach in my course, “Breathing & Qigong for Health and Energy“.

The Other Way to Build Wei Qi

We also build wei qi by exercising. The sinew channels, which include muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and skin (and the smooth muscles of the gut), are conduits of wei qi.

However, certain types of exercise are more effective than others at strengthening fascia, tendons, and ligaments.

The Daoist expression “Plucking the Strings” refers to the effective exercising of the sinews, especially through our practice of Qigong.

Over the centuries several Qigong forms, such as the Yi Jin Jing (Muscle-Tendon Changing Classic) and the Ba Duan Jin (Eight Pieces of Brocade), were developed to stretch and strengthen tendons, ligaments, and fascia, along with inducing or enhancing the flow of vital energy within the meridians.

Focusing on the tendons and ligaments is the real secret to building and retaining strength and flexibility, which in turn helps us retain our mobility, balance, and vital capacity.

The challenge is this: Much of the exercise we engage in is targeted at building our muscles – which is important, of course. But most people don’t do enough to build and maintain the strength of their tendons and ligaments. As a result, they become less flexible, things get tight, injuries begin to happen. Or they lose the ability to do simple things as their grip strength deteriorates (grip strength is a key marker of aging or, alternatively, relative youthfulness and longevity).

“Plucking the Strings” also infers a sense of play and enjoyment. Practicing Qigong is a fun, wonderful, fulfilling, and minimal impact way to stretch and strengthen without the potential risk of injury from other exercise modalities.

Don’t Get Out of Tune

When I was a child of about eight, my parents gave me my first real guitar. What an awesome gift! I played that thing every day. At first, I imitated popular songs on the radio and figured out the chords and melodies. Soon after, my parents paid for guitar lessons.

I studied classical guitar for about eight years, until I was 17. And I was good. However, I reached an inflection point. My instructor told me that, to get to the next level, I would have to put in even more time practicing and perform with greater frequency in recitals. At this time in my life, however, I was more interested in the high school sports I was playing, keeping up my grades while taking an aggressive course load, hanging out with friends, and beginning to date.

I just didn’t have that burning desire to become a concert guitarist. I came to the decision that I did not have the time to devote to this level of practice or training. I know my instructor was bummed, but he also understood.

So…I stopped taking lessons. Not only that – I also stopped playing, even for fun.

Once in a great while, I would take my guitar out of its case just to play a little. And every time, it would require extensive tuning because the strings would go slack due to the lack of plucking and strumming.

There are several morals to this sad story, but the key message for you, dear reader, is as follows:

Just as a guitar that is not played will gradually go out of tune…so will your body. AND your immune system. AND your vital capacity. So pluck your own strings on a regular basis!

I’ll have more to say on this in my next blog post. Until then, do your Qigong with a playful spirit. Pluck Those Strings!

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Two Keys to Breathing Better

If you want to improve the functioning of your lungs and your ability to pull in more life-giving, energy-stoking oxygen, you need to focus on two major areas.

The first is to develop the muscles and structures that support proper, healthy breathing.

The lungs have no muscles of their own. Their expansion and contraction are completely dependent on the muscles surrounding the rib cage and the diaphragm. You need to build up the strength and coordination of the structures that support proper, full breathing.

The second major area that affects your breathing has to do with what goes on inside your lungs. This includes your vital capacity and the residual air that remains in your lungs when breathing. The size of the lungs varies from person to person. But each of your lungs is about the size of a football.

Isn’t that funny? The first time I heard that, I thought “My lungs aren’t that small!” A football just doesn’t seem that big to me.

Naturally, a larger person will have larger lungs than a smaller person. Men have larger lungs than women. So there are some natural limits to lung capacity.

However, lung size is not as important as the total capacity of your lungs that you can use. This usable portion is called your vital capacity. A well-conditioned person’s vital capacity is about 75 percent of his or her total capacity.

When you exhale, you breathe out all the air you can from your lungs. The remaining air is called the residual volume. This is air that remains fixed in your lungs. You may have heard it referred to as “stale air”.

Too much residual volume is unhealthy. If you are inactive for any length of time, or you have a respiratory condition that is not well-controlled, the unusable portion of your lungs may increase. This physically blocks off more of your airways, which leaves less space for normal breathing – and makes it even more difficult to breathe when exerting yourself. You may get to the point that just climbing a flight of stairs leaves you breathless.

Unless you do something, this breathlessness and chest tightness will keep getting worse and worse. These two key areas – developing the structures that support proper, healthy breathing and improving your vital capacity – are the same areas we work on with the dynamic energy exercises I teach in my classes and through my programs. We’re talking simple, ancient, time-tested breathing and energy exercises that work – AND leave you feeling great!

An effective fitness program can help you improve your ability to breathe, build your vital capacity, and reduce the residual volume. However, many people do not breathe correctly when they exercise. In fact, unless you seek out this information, you likely have not been taught how to breathe to maximize the results you get from exercise.

Increasing the efficiency of your breathing and your ability to allow things to open up in a relaxed manner is a surefire way to target, develop and maximize the work performed by your lungs, as well as the structures that support proper breathing. If you’re serious about improving your physical condition and your health, you should make it a point to focus on expanding your vital capacity and ability to breathe properly. This type of dynamic breathing exercise will help you get fit more quickly. And it provides the foundation for robust health and longevity. AND – key point – it makes you feel great!

If you’ve thought about exploring breathwork…you’re interested in developing your breathing ability…or you’d love to enhance your health and energy levels, try my Introductory Program, “Breathing & Qigong for Health and Energy – 4 Week Introductory Course“.  This program will introduce you to a proven health and energy cultivation method impacting body, mind, and spirit. It’s easy to do and only takes a few minutes per day. I personally send you a new lesson each week, but you can learn and enjoy at your own pace. Click here for more details or to order.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Be In the Moment

Are you present in the moment?

Or are you doing one thing and thinking about something else? Or thinking about what you’ll do next? Or worrying about some future event that may or may not occur?

A fundamental teaching of the major religions – especially Eastern traditions such as Daoism and Buddhism – is to be present in the now. Fully live and experience life by being present with whatever you are doing.

This is wonderful advice if you are looking to improve your performance in any area of your life. Whether at work, developing a new skill, spending time with one of your kids or grandkids, or doing something simple like washing the dishes…being fully present and doing ONE THING AT A TIME is a secret to doing that thing better, AND enjoying it more.

And how many times have you worried or ruminated about someone, something, some event that might occur or that you might have to deal with. Only to find the event or terrible thing did not occur as you had feared. How many wasted minutes and hours have you lost doing this…have I lost doing this?

As Mark Twain famously said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe. I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened.”

Pets Are Great Teachers

I find the best teachers of the principle of being in the moment are our pets. Dogs and cats provide wonderful examples of being fully present, giving unconditional love to those around them, and being fully invested in whatever they are doing. Could be walking, could be playing, could be taking a nap. Doesn’t matter, they are 100% there! And they usually are having a jolly good time too!

We are blessed with two dogs and four cats. Here is our youngest – the baby of the family – Ciara (which means “Dark-Haired One” in the Celtic language):

Here is Miss Ciara on the move in our back yard. She’s practicing her scary face as she, through play, learns her hunting skills. (So far no kills!) She runs and climbs and plays with her sister cats – what experts call “The Zoomies” – for a half hour, hour at a time. Then…

Time for a nap with big sister Stella. And she is OUT for an hour or more.

It’s Even Biblical

Jesus taught the importance of being in the moment and fully present. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus tells us “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.”

Being fully present in the moment is a skill or capability you can develop. When we practice our Qigong, do some deep breathing, or engage in deep prayer or meditation, we focus internally and fully inhabit the present. When we find our thoughts drifting to “What’s next?” or “What should I have for lunch?” or “How the heck am I going to deal with X problem?”…we gently coax our thoughts back to our practice – our breathing, our intention, our movement.

Yes, you can be happy and content TODAY. You can be grateful in this moment. You can inhabit the present and invest your attention and energy in such a way that you feel relaxed, you feel the flow, even as you allow yourself to experience FREEDOM from anticipating and worrying about what’s ahead.

The Faster, Easier Way to Balance Your Energy

What’s a surefire way to turbocharge your Qigong or Breathwork practice? The fastest and easiest way to balance the energies in your body?

It’s what we call “Tree Qigong” (or “Tree-Gong” for fun).

Your overall constitution, which is a huge driver of your health, resilience, outlook, energy levels, and how fast you age (or how young you remain), is a compilation of your three main energy centers or dan tien:

-Lower Dan Tien: Physical

-Middle Dan Tien: Mental and Emotional

-Upper Dan Tien: Spiritual

When you practice your Qigong and Breathwork, you are building up your constitution so you can be healthier, enjoy more energy, have a more positive attitude or outlook on life, and just generally be more adaptable and roll with the inevitable punches and problems of life.

And making Tree Qigong a regular part of your practice or self-cultivation is a wonderful way to fast-track your development. You’ll increase your awareness of energy and improve your ability to remove blockages or stagnation and open the energy channels that flow throughout your body.

When I provide my clients or patients with prescription exercises, I often recommend performing centering, grounding, and basic breathing exercises in the vicinity of trees. (For a wonderful introduction to these practices, as well as several other foundational energy exercises, check out this course. It will help you transform stress, center yourself, and improve your health and energy in four short weeks!)

Better yet, find a tree that resonates with you and get close to it. Standing in the vicinity of its roots and under its canopy helps create an energy capsule of protection and good feelings.

IMPORTANT: Don’t just walk up to a tree and begin doing your thing! Take a little time to “introduce yourself” energetically to the tree and see if you can sense how receptive it is (or is not) to your approach. If it’s not receptive, no worries, just find another tree (or come back another time). If it is receptive, spend a few minutes just sitting or standing with the tree so you can begin to pick up on its energy.

What Type of Tree Works Best?

Depends on what your current needs are. If you’re feeling down, lethargic, a little under the weather or blah…or you just can’t seem to get moving on important projects or work…work with a tree that is more YANG in nature.

Generally, this means trees that are fast-growing. Aspens, Weeping Willows, Poplars, and Cedars are all fast-growing trees. Here in Texas, the Sugar Bush or Hackberry tree is an excellent YANG companion. The Cedar (or Juniper) tree is a close second.

On the other hand, if you need to improve the health and energy of your internal organs, especially due to chronic issues or after surgery, chemo, or radiation…or if you’ve been feeling too scattered or hyper, ungrounded, and/or can’t seem to settle down and focus… work with a tree that is more YIN in nature.

Yin trees include most Oaks, Hickory, and Beech trees. These trees are slow-growing and take years to establish a tap-root and build their root structure before they begin to grow to any significant height. Therefore, any medium to large trees of this type (I’m thinking of the beautiful oaks and live oaks that are prevalent here in the Austin area) will make for an excellent YIN companion.

Here are a couple of MY favorite trees (friends) with whom I share energy and “Tree-Gong” on a regular basis:

This beautiful willow tree lives near Lake Travis in one of our more natural park settings. A stream and wetlands area are just to her left in the photo, so there are always a lot of birds and other critters around. When I’m feeling a little blah or like I need a pick-up, I hang here. The combination of the tree’s YANG energy and proximity to the lake combine to help energize and balance me.

This lovely, stately lady is one of my favorite trees. Her energy is just incredible, you can feel it walking toward her. She exudes calm, cool, healing YIN energy and is very receptive to sharing energy. For many years, she has provided a home and shelter to birds, squirrels, and other critters. I love to hang with her when I’m into serious cultivation or simply need a quiet space for reflection.

I encourage you to find your own tree or trees with which to practice your Qigong. It’s likely to become one of your favorite things to do!

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.

Restore Your Connection

One of the most fundamental aspects of practicing Qigong, as well as working with patients within the Medical Qigong paradigm, is Grounding.

Grounding is the ability to fully connect with the Yin energy of the earth. Through a simple grounding meditation, we center and relax, connect, and allow ourselves to feel the warm, comforting embrace of Mother Earth’s energy. When you are grounded, you feel a sense of stability, of being safe, secure and protected, and of being whole.

An interesting aspect of grounding is that we are connecting through our lower dan tien or energy center, which is in the middle of the lower abdomen. This is our physical center of gravity, our center. It is also related to our essential essence or “Jing”, the life force or vital energy that we are born with. When we ground, we automatically support and enhance our Jing. But we are also connecting with our spiritual side, albeit in a subtler way. When we ground, the energy moves from our lower dan tien, through our root or base (Huiyin point at the perineum), and then up through our heart center and all the way to the crown of our head – the Baihui point, which is analogous to the crown chakra in yoga.

Hence, the feeling of wholeness we enjoy when we are fully grounded is not just physical wholeness or stability, it is also mental and emotional wholeness and stability. In our paradigm, body (physical), heart/mind (emotional and mental), and spirit (higher consciousness) are inextricably connected. When we give ourselves the gift of grounding, we impact our entire being.

When mind, heart and body are in synch, you are grounded. Some wonderful manifestations or signs of being grounded include:

-You feel safe.

-You feel present – your mind is focused on the here and now, not drifting to the past or worried about the future.

-You feel comfortable in your own body.

-Your biorhythms, such as heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure are entrained, stable, and slower.

-Your personality manifests as someone who is stable, reliable, and down-to-earth.

Unfortunately, our modern lives have caused most of us to lose touch with Mother Earth, to lose this connection. We spend more time inside…we are on our screens much of the time…we don’t walk around barefoot like we did as kids.

Simple But Powerful

One of the first things I teach a new patient – and one of the first exercises I teach in my Qigong courses and classes – is a simple grounding meditation. This exercise is powerful. Restoring the connection to the earth can result in dramatic changes and experiences.

A key to grounding is simple awareness. Through your breathing and gentle intention, you relax, center, and get calm inside. This helps open the channel to the earth’s energy.

Another key is to have a direct connection to the ground. Whenever possible, go outside and stand (or sit) with your bare feet solidly on the ground. Or you can sit on the ground with the bottoms of your feet and the palms of your hands touching the ground. If it’s cold out, wear socks or moccasins that don’t have a rubber or synthetic bottom.

A third key is to center your intention gently into your lower abdomen. Breathe in and out of this area. Allow your breath to become longer and fuller. But don’t strain or push. Just gently breathe in and out through your nose (which helps you relax) and be open to the connection with Mother Earth.

I teach an effective (and fun) grounding meditation and have included it in one of my courses, Breathing and Qigong for Health and Energy (click here for more information). This course provides the foundation for a wonderful, effective, and fun Qigong and Breathing practice. It’s taught in a short four weeks and will introduce you to a proven health and energy cultivation method impacting body, mind, and spirit, which hopefully becomes an ongoing, consistent practice you will enjoy and benefit from.

I’ll have more to say about Grounding and its impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health in future posts. In the meantime, give yourself the gift of breathing. And add the power of “plugging in” to Mother Earth through grounding.

You Can Do It!

Be Like the Winter Buddha

“Winter is Coming?” No, Winter Is Here!

Finally, here in Central Texas, we’re experiencing winter weather. Ice, freezing rain, temps in the 30s and 20s. Not much snow, though.

So far it has been a very mild winter for us. When I have my Qigong classes perform exercises to support the Kidney organ system, as we do in Winter, it feels a little funny. However, it’s important that we follow the seasonality inherent in the Five Elements, or Five Elemental Phases, which help support our health AND the prevention of illness or disease.

If you’re not familiar with the Five Element Framework, here’s some background:

The Five Element Framework is ancient and deeply woven into the fabric of Chinese culture. Five Element theory is the foundation of Chinese disciplines such as feng shui, the martial arts, and the I Ching (The Book of Changes); and it provides a comprehensive template that organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns or phases in nature: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. From a health enhancement and medical perspective, the Five Element Framework provides a master blueprint that diagrams how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other, as well as a diagnostic framework to recognize where imbalances in the body, mind, emotions, and spirit lie.

The Five Elements align with the five Yin organs (and their corresponding Yang organs) as well as with the seasons, as follows:

-METAL ELEMENT: Lung (Large Intestine), Fall

-WATER ELEMENT: Kidney (Bladder), Winter

-WOOD ELEMENT: Liver (Gall Bladder), Spring

-FIRE ELEMENT: Heart (Small Intestine), Summer (Heart also includes the Pericardium and Triple Warmer)

-EARTH ELEMENT: Spleen (Stomach), Late Summer (Spleen also includes the pancreas)

In our Qigong classes, we practice exercises from an ancient set of Dao Yin exercises (the Wu Xing Jing) which are similar to Qigong exercises. However, they were developed thousands of years ago and are thought to be precursors to Qigong. Certain Dao Yin forms have come down to us from ancient times and are still practiced today, although they may not be as well-known and therefore not taught as widely as Qigong. There is a specific exercise for each of the Yin organs (which therefore also benefits its Yang organ pair). The exercises have physiological benefits and help move internal energy to where it’s needed (or move it away from where it is excessive), help heal or maintain health of the organs, and open the energy pathways of the body. The movements of each exercise stimulate blood and lymphatic flow in a controlled and gentle manner. They bring vitality into the body and help keep us feeling vibrant and healthy.

The Kidney is the repository of our “Jing”, or pre-natal qi or essence. We are each born with a finite amount of Jing and it’s important to safeguard this precious resource. It is the reserve generator of energy in the body and supplies extra Qi to the other organs when necessary.  From a western medical perspective, Jing Qi relates to our cellular DNA and our body’s hormonal reserves that support healthy aging.

The Kidney corresponds to a complex system of organs and structures including the reproductive system, the adrenal glands, the ears, the bones, and the brain.

Fear is the emotion associated with the Kidney. If you often have severe panic attacks, anxiety, and fear, or you’re just afraid to make a decision or go for something, or feel like you lack willpower — your Kidney energy may be running low or be imbalanced.

Balance and harmony in the Kidney manifests as courage or confidence, strong willpower and endurance or persistence. We can draw upon wisdom and our inner knowing to overcome our fears.

Winter is the season associated with the Kidney and its partner organ, the Bladder. During this season, we include specific exercises which focus on our Kidneys when performing our Qigong. We also eat foods that support the Kidneys, as well as adopt a slower pace. In fact, during winter, it’s important to slow down, conserve energy, sleep longer – in other words, go with nature and “hibernate’, renew, and get more rest.

So follow the example of the “Winter Buddha” (see above photo). It’s snowing, it’s cold, yet the Buddha maintains an impervious, quiescent state. But don’t let the apparent stillness or lack of activity fool you! Inside, Jing / Vital Energy is being replenished, old fears are being worked out and transformed, and the important systems such as the central nervous system (brain and spine), bones and marrow, and important hormones, are rebuilding.

This quiescent cycle will help restore your energy and reserves so you are ready to burst forth in the spring.

To learn more about the Five Elements DaoYin (Wu Xing Jing) including the full set of exercises, click here. Discover the master blueprint to a powerful health practice – in 6 short weeks!

The Glue Connecting the Conscious and Unconscious

In our last post I promised to discuss the quickest, most direct way to change your thoughts, emotions, and physicality.

This method does not require any special tools or apps. It’s not a hack. It’s not expensive, nor is it time-consuming. It’s the world’s most advanced anti-aging technology. And it’s accessible to you right here, right now, right where you are.

I’m talking about your breathing, of course!

Many people take breathing for granted. They don’t realize that their breathing can be one of the most powerful stress management, performance-enhancing, and anti-aging tools they will ever find. Many people breathe up in their chests. They rarely experience the wonderful, energizing sensations of taking a full, complete breath, one that fully expands the lower abdomen and back, thoracic area and chest. This type of complete breath feels great! And provides the following benefits (this is just a partial list):

  • Enhances your physical and mental energy by bringing vital oxygen into your bloodstream, as well as ensuring you are exhaling more of the CO2 and other waste products out of your system.
  • Releases negative, toxic emotions, memories, self-doubt, as well as tightness in your body.
  • Helps bring your awareness into the present moment so you can focus better.
  • Provides you with a sense of personal control, especially during difficult situations.
  • Entrains other important autonomic processes, such as lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, slowing your breathing rate, reducing the level of cortisol (stress hormones), and facilitating fuller digestion and elimination.

You may think you don’t have time to breathe. You’re rushing, stressed, busy, on the move. But you can breathe any time and any place. Remember, as the Dalai Lama says, if you think you are too busy to meditate, that’s exactly the situation where you really NEED to meditate.

The same goes for breathing. When you “think you don’t have time” is exactly the time when you really need it! All it takes is a minute or two of full, relaxed, complete breathing, in and out through your nose, to completely change your state.

In fact, all it takes is 16 seconds – the time of the typical cycle of inhalation and exhalation – to transform yourself. Transformation not only at the conscious level, but transformation at the autonomic level…indeed, transformation all the way down to the cellular and sub-cellular level.

A wise karate master once said, “Breathing is the glue connecting the conscious and the unconscious”. Through your breath, you connect and ground your conscious self with your true self – that wonderful, fascinating, full-of-potential YOU. Complete breathing helps you transition from being overly conscious and critical of your performance (i.e., how do I look, how am I doing, do I sound dumb, etc.) to unconscious mental control, which is automatic, accepting, and trusting. Which helps you tap into the innate wisdom, energy, and capabilities inside you.

So give yourself the gift of breathing this holiday season. Leave the rushing, to-do’s, obligations, family issues, etc. aside. Take a little time out to breathe and go inside for a moment or two. Get centered, get relaxed. Consider and appreciate the power and the wonder of the season and the holidays.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! And Best Wishes to you and yours.

Feeling Holiday Stress? Remember This Important Connection

It’s that time of year again! The holiday season is upon us, and whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or some combination of the above, you are likely already into that annual whirlwind of events, parties, shopping, cooking, baking, etc. etc.

This time of year can also be tough emotionally for many of us. We may miss family members and friends who are no longer with us. Or we may feel nostalgia for past holidays, such as Christmases when the kids were still young, or even for our Christmases when WE were young.

In my work with clients, I often discuss the mind-body connection as an important pillar of human performance. It’s real and you can either use it – like helping you get through stressful or tough emotional times – or you can be used BY it.

Merry Christmas wreath

The term “mind-body connection” first came into use in the West during the 1960s and 1970s, which was a period of tremendous social and ideological change. At first, people associated this type of concept with yoga and meditation, which was becoming increasingly popular. It became really publicized through the work of doctors and scientists, such as Herbert Benson MD’s classic work, The Relaxation Response. Through his studies and experiments, Dr. Benson demonstrated that ordinary people could use their breathing and thoughts to cultivate a calm, serene emotional state, which in turn affected physiological processes such as breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure – with significant implications for helping folks stay healthy or even heal faster from surgery or disease.

Dr. Benson’s first book was published way back in 1975. So you think we would all be mind-body experts by now; that mind-body meditation or breathing techniques would be part of the standard school curriculum; and that we would all routinely tune into our physical state and emotions at various times during the day. Unfortunately, some 47 years later, the idea that your state of mind can have significant effects on your physiology, and therefore on your performance, your health – indeed, on how you experience your life – still has not caught on.

Most people ignore this connection. Many numb out to avoid going inside and fully connecting to and feeling what is going on in their bodies. Unfortunately, they are missing out an important fact: your conscious thoughts have a huge influence on your physical state, which in turn influences your thoughts and emotions…all of which affects pretty much everything you do.

There is no neutral or middle ground: your thoughts and emotional state are either positive or negative, which in turn drives your physical state. Wouldn’t you rather spend most of your time in a constructive, positive state? How could this transform your life? Imagine changing from a “getting through the holidays” to an “enjoying and loving the holidays” mentality.

In our next post, I will discuss the quickest, most direct way to change your thoughts, emotions and physicality. So stay tuned…