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.