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

How to Stay Younger Longer

What is the biggest, most major, number one factor in determining
your longevity and quality of life?

According to research over the past 5 to 10 years, it’s your muscle

Your muscle mass is determined not only by the quantity and quality
of your physical activity. It’s also determined by your metabolism.

More than even your genetics, it’s your metabolism that determines
how quickly you age. Metabolism is the sum total of your body’s
processes of converting food and drink into energy for building up
your body, less the breaking down and getting rid of old cells and
waste products.

The greater your metabolic drive – that is, your body’s ability to
rapidly and efficiently repair and rebuild your tissue – the slower
your body ages.

Building up your body’s anabolic capabilities and building up your
strength – through deep breathing, proper exercise, good nutrition,
and adequate rest – is one of the two major factors you control.

The other factor is mental: staying curious, always learning and
doing new things, and being enthusiastic. In other words, keeping
your inner child awake and alive, rather than buried under adult
pressures and responsibilities.

You – yes, you! – have the power to make profound changes in your
body composition, mental clarity, vitality, and sense of personal

In fact, from studies on identical twins, scientists have learned
that aging is about 35% genetics, and 65% how we live.

I remember a great example of this from one of my biology courses
in college. (I was a Psychology and Biology major, and have always
been fascinated by these subjects.)

The professor was discussing the fact that lifestyle and other
external factors, such as life events, have more influence on our
health and aging than do our genetics.

He held up two pictures of two different women. One looked like she
was old enough to be the other woman’s mother.

We were shocked when the professor told us that both women were
exactly the same age, born in the same month in the same year.


As they get older, people tend to allow their level of physical
activity to decline. Or they may avoid activity altogether,
especially if faced with a health challenge.

Then they wonder why they feel so tired, stressed and worn out
all the time, with aching backs and joints. They have forgotten
that our bodies operate under the “move it or lose it” paradigm.

Cultivating energy through dynamic exercises…building and
maintaining muscle mass…and maintaining your range of motion,
particularly through the spine and core, are keys to ensuring
enduring vitality.

Not only will you slow the degenerative processes of aging. You
will also provide yourself with a higher quality of life.

Bottom line: if you haven’t already, begin today to take action to
build yourself up. You have more control than you think in how
well – or poorly – you age. Simple lifestyle choices can make all
the difference.

I’ll have more to share with you on this in coming tips.

You Can Do It!


“Best Breathing Exercises: Transform Body Mind and Spirit with
Dynamic Energy Exercise!”

Copyright, Karen Van Ness, 2011