Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Qigong practice: Summer into Fall

Throughout the summer just past I kept up a qigong practice several mornings a week before work. I settled on a routine of a warmup and four or five forms that takes about 10-12 minutes to complete.

I think it was in July that I finally got myself to go outside for my practice. I have read that qigong should be practiced outside, and it makes sense, since the practitioner is interacting with the qi in the natural world. I am a creature of habit, though, and moving my practice out of the comfort of my house, was some resistance I needed to break through. I am so glad I did, though. Moving out of doors really increased my enjoyment of the practice, in ways that I hadn't anticipated.

I found myself noticing little things about my surroundings.  Insects flitting around the stems of grass, making them quiver as if they fluttered in a breeze. A spider navigating around the tip of a blade of grass near my feet. Small spider webs glinting in the sun. Farther away, fog glowing in early morning sunlight and bales of hay drying in a field. The red orb of the sun, rising over the row of trees at the other end of the field.

Out of doors, too, it was easier to feel that I joined heaven and earth with my movements. It was easier to use my imagination, and later feeling, to pull qi from nature into my body.

Now, though, with the cooler temperatures, and especially darker mornings, I have had to quit my outdoor morning qigong routine. I have brought the qigong inside. I can also do some at lunch, if I have a free lunch period. But I definitely miss the sunrise qigong.

However, I have noticed a really nice change in my qigong practice in the past month.  I have started be able to really feel the energy/qi move as I am doing the qigong movements. Lifting my arms up to my head, I feel an opening in my head. Moving my arms out in a circle, I sense the qi move with my hands, like smoke or ripples in water. It is beautiful and amazingly cool.  

I think the change has been prompted by a new hormone balancing treatment that has been added to my regular acupuncture treatments. As it has been explained to me, the balancing attempts to bring one's yin and yang into balance. The fact that I am now able to feel the qi move means that I am becoming able to balance the qi on my own. I am thrilled by this development! I plan to use this new understanding to deepen my practice and continue to improve my health as well as my spiritual understanding.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moon-bathed walk

Yesterday morning, I took my 6am walk in bright light of the harvest moon. I followed this by a 10 minute qigong practice looking west, my face bathed in the moon's light. I generally squeeze in a morning qigong practice a couple of times a week. I usually I stand in the yard facing east, looking at the rising sun. Friday morning, though, I walked around to the west side of the house so my face would be bathed in the light of the setting moon. Splendid.

I probably won't want to continue my morning walks for very much longer. Soon it will be either too dark or too cold at 6am. I'll probably switch back to taking my walks during my lunch break.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Meditating with color

Recently I have been working with color in my meditations and self-healing work. Mostly blue and green to calm and relax. Green is supposed to help cleanse and move ill and stuck chi from old wounds. Blue soothes and calms inflamation. I have used both colors, often green followed by blue, on the chronically tight muscles in my back. The method I use is to visualize the color flowing into the area I am working on, where I feel tight. As I gain more practice this becomes easier. In my inner eye, the colors swirl and flow more easily through my body now than they once did.

My meditation class is also working with colors right now. Last week my meditation teacher challenged us to figure out what colors we have around us most and which the least. Blue and green have been my favorite colors for years, long before I knew to use them in healing work. I surround myself with lots of green and blue: several rooms in my house are painted either green or both green and blue. Next prevalent I think is red, then yellow and orange. I also have a number of earth tones around me: tans and browns. But almost nothing around me is purple, save a few shirts that I wear, and I have no fuchsia in my life.

Her challenge to the class was to find ways to increase those colors around us. I took a fun shopping trip to World Market (one of my favorite stores) and picked up a few glass candle holders in purple and fuchsia, and a pillow containing both colors. They make me happy. Perhaps now I'll be more conscious of those colors and try to bring them into my life more.

From a healing perspective it interested me to learn from the book we've been using that purple is a very strong healing color and can be used anywhere blue is used for healing. I had read this before, but I think I may have been intimidated by the strength of the healing qualities of the color. Reluctant to grab that for myself. Interesting.

In the meditation we did at the end of the class, I sent purple throughout my body. I had a lovely meditation and felt fantastic after ward. The purple was not difficult to visualize. In fact, it swirled through my body in a gentle, lovely fashion.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Solid foundation

Wow, it’s been two month since I wrote anything here! I guess that's because things are pretty much going on fairly well. I have settled into a very comfortable exercise routine made up of physical therapy exercises for the low back, qigong, and yoga. It takes about 45 or 50 minutes to do all the exercises that I like. During the week I do about 30 to 35 minutes twice a day. On weekends I usually spend an hour exercising and stretching. I usually like to try a new qigong exercise at the end of my routine on the weekends, and do some meditating as well.

I have been getting stronger. I can do Warrior 1 now, at least on my more energetic days. The feeling of strength in my legs and core that I feel when doing that pose really lift me. It makes me feel solid and grounded.

As you can see, I have much more flexibility and strength in my low back than I have had in over a year. To help regain that flexibility, Pigeon pose and a modified Cobra pose (always followed by Child’s Pose) have been part of my routine for months.

My favorite qigong exercise for spine flexibility is called Turtle Neck. I sit in Baddha Konasana and scoop my head down and forward, then up, and then back and down. The head basically moves in a forward circle in the air and the spine follows. It’s called Turtle, but the movement seems rather snakelike to me. Doing the movement with the legs stretched forward works the back in a slightly different way, lower down the back.

It’s absolutely essential now for me to listen to the needs and limitations of my body, which can at times vary on a daily basis. Some days I manage only a few seated forward bends and perhaps a side bend or two. Other days I feel much stronger. I have been seeing, though, continual improvement, though at almost a glacial pace. As long as I have patience and don't push, things work out okay.

The chiropractor I was seeing through all last year closed her doors at the beginning of this year. I’ve been seeing a new husband and wife chiropractor team since late March. I like this practice. Bonus: they have massage therapists on staff so I get massages covered by insurance! However, perhaps because of their different adjustment techniques, my mid-back is now unstable and tender. Still, I feel confident the soreness there will work itself out. At least I now have a good foundation in my stronger, more limber lower core.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I've spent the past couple of weeks researching qigong resources. So far I have found:

Simple Qigong Exercises for Back Pain Relief. This is a great DVD. It focuses on a very flowing way of moving, and gives instructions on how to progress as a beginner. I think this will become a cornerstone of my back care.

Qigong Empowerment: A Guide to Medical, Taoist, Buddhist, Wushu Energy Cultivation (Paperback). This book is an amazing resource. 348 pages long it's actually five books in one. Each section focuses on a different school of qigong: medical (for healing ailments), Taoist, Buddhist, martial, and emitting and absorbing qi. I'll be using this book as a reference for many years.

Heal Yourself With Qigong. This one focuses on medical qigong. It's a bit simplistic compared to the tome I mentioned above, but even so I've already gotten some exercise ideas from it. And since it only has 186 pages, I believe it may find a place on my shelf at work. Should be helpful for those mid-day qigong breaks I like to take.

I have been reading and practicing some new exercises; expanding my understanding of qigong. Soaking up the teachings, trying to figure out what works for me, what I'm drawn to. But my study has been a little chaotic, jumping from one practice to another as I try to figure out what I like best. Now that I have an idea of what works for me, and what I feel I need, it's time to start grounding my practice. Only by developing a quiet, steady practice will I be able to delve deeper into the energetics of the movements.

I am already starting to put together a morning routine consisting of some of my favorite exercises and stretches. I find that I would like to do a little more than I have time for in 30 minutes; maybe I'll expand it to a 40 minute practice on days when I have time. I'm still unsure what I would like my evening practice to look like. I think I may pick a few different sets to rotate between.

The weather is getting warmer now, which should help my practice, since qigong is supposed to be best practiced outside. Soon I'll find myself moving outside for my practices. Wouldn't it be lovely to practice qigong while watching the setting sun?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marrow Washing

Several weeks ago I picked up a book on Taoism called Scholar Warrior. My meditation teacher introduced me to the book a few years ago when she was exploring Taoism with us. In it I rediscovered a set of qigong exercises called the Marrow Washing Classic. This is a set of 24 exercises that work and stretch all the body's major muscle groups, joints, and tendons, making it a nice full-body workout.

In her classes, my meditation teacher had us try some of the exercises. At the time, I found it difficult to understand the exercises simply by following the written directions and illustrations provided. But now that I have been doing qigong for a while and I'm more familiar with the movement vocabulary of qigong, I found it much easier to do the exercises. I have to modify some of the forms that include deeper twists (which I still have issues with), and a few of the exercises are too vigorous for me at this point, but I have found I am able to complete about three-fourths of the exercises.

I have really enjoyed the Marrow Washing Classic. I do feel like I get a nice, though gentle, full-body "worked out" feeling. Indeed, I feel cleansed and refreshed after completing the set. The next day I can feel a slight soreness--the "good" kind--especially in my upper back, one of the areas where I am weakest right now. That lets me know this is the right level of exercise for me right now.

It takes me about 45 minutes to complete all the exercises of the Marrow Washing Classic. I'm still learning and have to back up and figure out the instructions every so often, so I am sure it will go more quickly as I gain more familiarity with the exercises. I am trying to do the Marrow Washing twice a week. As I get stronger, I should eventually be able to do all of the exercises in the set.

Monday, February 15, 2010


We're a month and a half into 2010, which means I'm over a month into my New Year's resolutions. Let's see how I'm doing, shall we?

My major resolution was to better integrate my spiritual practice into my physical exercise. I know plenty of visualizations, breathing practices, and meditations I could be doing, but it seemed that unless I'm doing a structured practice like yoga, I tend not to integrate them into my exercise. So my goal this year is to really work at forming the habit of better integrating the two practices: physical and spiritual.

So far this year, I've been doing that in three ways. First, during some of my stretches I imagine cleansing energy flowing into the space I am focusing on--mostly my back. In his book Taoist Cosmic Healing, Mantak Chia writes that light green-white will help clear an old injury, so I imagine green-white energy swirling into the painful areas of my back. I imagine the stuck chi in those painful knots being loosened bit by bit. I ask any sick energy to go down into the earth where it will be recycled, telling it, "You will be happier there."

I have also increased the amount of qigong I am doing. Some days I just do a few exercises as breaks during my work day. Other days I have time to spend a half hour doing qigong in the evening. I enjoy this practice, with its focus on moving slowly and consciously, concentrating on the breath. What a change from doing exercises at the physical therapist's office, with a therapist who insisted on chatting with me, and a background of country music.

I am still doing PT exercises once a day at home, usually in the morning. One of my exercises is Dwi Pada Pitham, also known as moving Bridge. I do this exercise 15 times, with a five-second hold in the up position. I have started mentally saying "Sat" on the inhale when I lift my hips up, and "Nam" when I exhale and drop my hips back down--basically adapting a Kundalini yoga kriya to my needs. I'm not sure if I have noticed any effect from this yet, but I figure it can't hurt!

I am doing well in with all of these adaptations, though I have noticed that I sometimes forget --or I'm plain too lazy --to do the cleansing color visualizations. I think that one might really be helping, so I really should try not to get lazy about it. It's much easier to remember when I'm in pain than when I'm not, but if it's working then flagging in the practice will encourage the pain to return! I need to keep at this one.

One practice I would like to do more of is the Six Organ Healing Sounds, a qigong practice for full-body cleansing and healing. I truly think doing this will support the acupuncture work I'm also getting. I have been doing it occasionally, but I would like to make time to do it more often. I'm not sure when, though. The practice takes about 15 minutes to do completely, and I'm already spending at least half an hour twice daily on my practice as it is. Apparently it is better to do the practice in the evening, so I can try to add it to the end of my evening practice on days when I have a bit more time.

Overall, though, I think I'm doing pretty well at keeping my New Year's resolution. My back has definitely been improving, so it seems these practices are having a positive effect.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Where to go from here

I've been trying to figure out what to write here for some time. I want to continue this blog, but it's clear to me that it needs to be taken in a new direction. My back is still healing...yes, over a year after I first started having major problems. I can, and do, some yoga poses--restorative poses, yin yoga, cat and cow--but poses that require a strong back or any twists are beyond me at this point, and probably will be for some time to come.

My physical spiritual practice is now oriented much more heavily towards the Chinese art of qigong. I also maintain a daily routine of physical therapy exercises and stretching. I want to include more pranayama as time permits, and some kundalini yoga as my back gains strength. So while I want to continue to write here, and I think it will be valuable, the focus of this blog will be shifting somewhat to more of a wider focus than just yoga.

But to update since my last post:

My back had a relapse of pain last October, and I've been working steadily to heal it ever since. I had quit getting acupuncture treatments for the back pain after I came back from the vacation in Colorado, and I think that was a mistake.  After the relapse I started getting acupuncture for my back, but I strongly felt that I wasn't going to heal completely if I didn't figure out what was actually causing the pain and find some stretches/exercises to address it. I went to an orthopedist, who gave me a prescription for physical therapy. I went to PT for about a month, but the pain, instead of diminishing, actually increased as a result of the PT.

I believe that the therapy was simply too aggressive for me, but the doc ordered an MRI for me to rule out nerve or disc damage. The MRI was negative, though it did show that I have some mild osteoarthritis in my spine (which I had figured out on my own already).

I quit working with the physical therapist, since their treatment plan wasn't working for me, but I have continued a daily routine of some of the exercises I was given there. I have been writing out a treatment plan for myself each week so that I can track my progress and slowly increase the PT exercises I'm doing.

I also began exploring more qigong exercises and including them in my daily practice. I have found that including this gentle, flowing kind of exercise is much more beneficial to me than western PT exercise alone. Now I do a combination of PT, qigong, energy work, and stretching that seems to be working well for me. My pain levels have been pretty consistently at a 1 or 2, only occasionally spiking at a 3 (which is where I averaged during the month I was going to the physical therapist). I am to listen to my body much more, both the physical signals of pain or tightness, and the intuition that guides me to a particular activity.

In this way, I am gaining understanding not only of my body, but also towards an understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Taoist understanding of energy. I am exciting about the deeper level of learning of these modalities. I hope to start to better use this blog to talk some about what I'm doing and learning. I invite you to read along with me. But if you're more of a yoga person, and qigong isn't your thing, I completely understand if we part ways.