Contemplating the Cycles of Time

We’ve been on a long-planned vacation, including two weeks at Priscilla Beach which is south of Plymouth, Mass. We dropped off our son at Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) for his 11-day orientation, which is part orientation, part boot camp. If he successfully completes orientation, he will graduate along with his fellow cadet candidates and be officially appointed to the Academy.

During orientation, the cadet candidates turn in their phones and are not allowed to call their parents. It’s a full immersion, full team-building experience. For many of these young adults, including our son, this may well be the first time they have not had any interaction with their parents for such an extensive period of time.

I must admit: it’s been hard! It’s been so weird not to speak with my son, feel his energy, joke around with him, or do something together. It’s also been hard because this is the first step to letting go and allowing him to move forward into this next chapter of life. He doesn’t need Mom all the time anymore. He will have to figure things out on his own, or with the help of his fellow cadets, cadre, academic advisors, and professors. All we can do is make sure he knows he is loved and supported and we are all (by all I mean our entire family) rooting for him.

Now it’s up to him to grasp this opportunity and begin to fulfill his potential.

And it’s incumbent upon me – Mom – to relax and let go.

Thinking about how fast the years have passed has been especially poignant these past few weeks at the beach. During most years as my son grew up, we anchored each summer with our annual family beach trip. This is the first year we have been at the beach without him! (Although we will have him for five days around Labor Day weekend and he will get in some beach time then.) It’s made me think about the cyclicality of time. Each year cycles through the full set of seasons; the work, school, sports, and family obligations; the rhythms of family life; the amazing growth and development as our kids get older.

When you’re in the middle of it, you can easily lose perspective on just how much they are changing and developing.

And when you look back, you can only wonder, “Where did the time go? “.

Time Is Cyclical

If you can relate to the angst I have been feeling, here is a thought that may comfort you: Time does not run out. It doesn’t move from left to right.

As the round clock tells us, time keeps coming ’round. The seasons keep cycling ’round. Time enjoyed in the past is still there. Our achievements and our good deeds still exist. The present is real and precious, regardless of how short or long our future may be. So enjoy it!

If you can view time this way – appreciating that it cycles, it doesn’t just run out – you can live in a more relaxed, integrated, and connected way.

Relaxed because time gone is not time used up. More integrated with life and more connected with others because we can focus on the present. We appreciate the wonderful gift of life TODAY to be enjoyed and used as we choose.

Each moment of life has the quality of eternity. Our memories live on in our hearts and minds. The impact we have made on others – such as our kids – lives on in theirs.

My Medical Qigong lineage is a Taoist one, and we Taoists believe that we are each an integrated part of God’s creation. As such, we are happiest and healthiest when we follow and align with nature’s laws.

So, as we move from late summer (at least here in New England) to Fall, I will follow nature’s cycle, not fight it. I will allow this bittersweet feeling – a combination of pride in my son and readiness for him to take the next step, along with the sadness of letting him go off into the world – to wash over me, permeate me, and somehow comfort me. Which perfectly aligns with the five elements as we enter Fall and the Metal / Lung phase – a phase which includes inspiration and new hope…integrating what we have experienced and learned…and letting go of the past so we can move forward in our journey.

I will cherish the memories of the past, look forward to the new adventures that are coming, yet remain fully present in THIS moment and THIS time, so I can take it all in.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen


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

Qigong and What Else?

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.

In addition to moving forms, such as the Ba Duan Jin (Eight Pieces of Brocade) and Yi Jin Jing (Muscle-Tendon Changing Classic), standing practices also improve our strength and flexibility. In fact, as you progress in your Qigong, you will find that your standing practice, coupled with the internal work (Neigong) that you do while standing, becomes the more important and profound aspect of your practice and development.

Having said that, I also feel it critical to point out the following: Qigong practice alone is not enough!

This may go against the grain of some purists, but it’s true.

You must also include other types of strength and aerobic capacity-building exercise to help ensure you stay fit and strong, as well as help recover from or prevent the common injuries and complaints many people experience as they get older. We’re talking resilience against back problems, knee problems, osteoporosis, diabetes, early aging, etc., etc., etc. We’re talking improving your capacity to adapt. We’re talking quicker, easier recovery if you do become injured or ill.

Dynamic Energy Exercise

This is so important that, years ago, I developed an approach to fitness for myself that included the major components that help develop resilience, capacity, and improved health and energy. I called it “Dynamic Energy Exercise” and it proved so effective for me and my clients and students, that I actually registered it with the US Patent Office.

Dynamic Energy Exercise™ is an approach to exercise and wellbeing that integrates your body, mind, and spirit through the focal point of your breath. It leverages time-tested principles and techniques from Qigong and other energy disciplines, breathing methods and practices, and traditional martial arts. It’s grounded in years of study and teaching, rigorous and ongoing education in Medical Qigong and Classical Chinese Medicine, and continued practice and evolution. It’s extremely effective yet easy to learn and accessible to anyone.

If you’re interested in learning more about it, visit my other website,

Anyways, I mention this because I’ve learned from first-hand experience that following a well-rounded program is key to avoiding injuries, getting stronger and fitter, and staying younger and more energetic. Qigong and breathwork are at the heart of this type of program, of course. Then you want to add the other components. AND be efficient in your program so you’re not tasking yourself with having to work out all the time.

An example I am super familiar with is studying martial arts, especially more traditional approaches. For years I have studied Uechi-Ryu Karate (a traditional Okinawan style with roots in Southern China) and a traditional form of Tae Kwon Do. (I took some time off from martial arts when I became a mom but have been back in the saddle the past few years.)

My instructor, Grandmaster George Mattson, is considered the “Father of Uechi-Ryu Karate in America”, because he first brought Uechi to the U.S. back in the late 1950s, and over the years has run dojos, online schools, tournaments, and been a wonderful role model and ambassador of the style. Mattson Sensei continually stresses the importance of supplemental training as a complement and support to our Uechi-Ryu. In Uechi we train for fighting, self-defense capabilities, and self-development. We perform body conditioning and special breathing exercises. AND… we supplement this with exercises such as calisthenics, lifting and manipulating weights and weighted tools, and aerobic exercise to help build up our bodies.

Your Body is a Temple

Centuries ago, a wise sage traveled to a reknowned monastery to teach his version of Buddhism. When he arrived, he found the monks to be so focused on their spiritual practices, which involved copious time spent sitting and meditating, that they had allowed their bodies and health to deteriorate. The wise sage knew they would never reach their spiritual goals unless they also built up their physical and mental health and capacities.

And so (it is said), he developed the Yi Jin Jing (Muscle-Tendon Changing Classic) to help the monks build their strength and flexibility, begin to flow internal energy, and gain an appreciation for the physical aspect of their being. (This wise sage is also said to have developed a second classic Qigong practice, which we’ll get into at another time.)

The wise sage knew that the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual are all tied together. In fact, many believe they are all…the same thing.

It would seem to make sense to embrace all three within your own health practice, wouldn’t it?

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

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.

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!

An Easy Way to Nourish the Qi and Blood

When first learning Qigong, you focus quite a bit on relaxing, breathing, and learning the movements of various exercises.

Your initial task is to learn the correct form of each movement while staying relaxed. Then you learn to match the correct breathing pattern (“inhale here, exhale there”) with the movement. Once the movement and breathing become more automatic or “dialed in”, kinda like muscle memory, you can relax more fully and use intention to help improve your awareness of your internal energy, or qi (“chi”).

While we keep in mind the general pattern of energy flow associated with the movements, we never force or guide the energy. The body, in its innate wisdom, knows what to do and how the energy should flow. Instead, as a newer practitioner, you want to open your awareness of the energy centers (the Dan Tien) and the energy flowing within you. It’s often a subtle thing: you slowly become aware of the flow, the feeling of tingling, or heat, or of a heavy, almost magnetic liquid. You may begin to feel a more powerful connection between your hands when you play with your energy ball (or energy pearl). And you begin to feel not only heat, but also movement in your lower dan tien during your standing practice.

These manifestations of Qi are welcome events. But don’t become stuck on them. Enjoy the sensation, be proud of your progress, but don’t dwell on the feeling. Keep practicing and learning, keep relaxing and opening, allow your focus and intention to grow. Be mindful during your practice; gently focus on what you are doing. Your ability to simultaneously relax and focus is one of your most powerful tools in Qigong – AND in life.

Activating Points

With our qigong, we seek to promote the flow of energy through the meridians, or energy pathways. Maintaining this free flow and eliminating any blockages is especially important. However, we sometimes focus on a specific point to help increase the results we can achieve from a particular movement. Or we press or tap on specific points to help balance or regulate their corresponding organ or energy center. Point manipulation should be an important part of your health and wellness practice. This is why we often end our Qigong classes or sessions with some seated work, during which we tap or rub along our meridians and rub specific points.

One of the best points to start out with is the Zusanli, or Stomach 36 (ST36), point. This point is below the knee along the Stomach meridian (see image below). The best way to locate it is to place your four fingers just below and to the outside of your knee cap. Just below your little finger will be the correct level of the point. Then move laterally so you are to the outside of the tibia (shinbone). You should find a small depression in the leg where the point is located (in between the crest of the tibia and the tibialis muscle). Feel around a little, pressing with your thumb or finger, until you get a sense of the point’s location.

ST 36 has a nourishing effect on the Qi and the blood. It’s a commonly used point and a great one to start out with, as it will not have a detrimental effect on any internal condition you may have. You can activate it by massaging or pressing on it with your thumb. Find and rub the point on one leg, then the other. Once you have the feel of the point on each leg, stand up and assume your Wu Ji posture, which we use for standing qigong and meditation.

Once in Wu Ji, bring your awareness down to the ST 36 point in each leg. Use your awareness to activate each point. Breathe into and out of the point. Specifically, focus on your exhale as you maintain intention on the point. After a few minutes, you should start to become aware of an increasing pressure in the area of your ST 36 point. The point may become warm, and you may start to feel energy or tingling. As you continue to keep your awareness at the point and lead your breath, you will move energy into the Stomach meridian.

If you continue, you may feel warmth and tingling move out along the meridian. This is a sign that the Qi and blood have been stimulated. Enjoy the feeling for a few more minutes. If you don’t feel anything, don’t worry about it. It may take a few attempts of finding and pressing or rubbing the point to get the feeling…focusing your awareness and breathing on it…then beginning to feel some pressure or warmth. As long as you are following these steps, you are engaging in a nourishing practice with wonderful benefits to your energy and wellbeing.

Why is the Zusanli point so powerful and nourishing? Why is it one of the key points that Medical Qigong / Classical Chinese Medical doctors have traditionally focused on and worked with, since ancient times? We’ll discuss this and more in our next post.