In our qigong and dao yoga classes, and when I’m doing personal Qi (acupressure) sessions, I often encourage and remind people to notice, feel, or experience their energy–their Qi (life force). How this happens is individual, however, since Qi is real, how it happens is also quite physiological. In this short (12 min.) and inspiring video, “Feel the Qi,” the wonderful teacher Roger Jahnke, OMD, explains how Qi interacts with the systems of the body and why and how qigong (which includes dao yoga and acupressure massage) are so effective. (Thank you to my Qi friend and acupuncturist Edward Sanderson of PR Healthworks for alerting me to this video.)
The list of benefits derived from doing a regular practice of Swimming Dragon is very long, especially for women. In fact, this used to be a woman-specific qigong movement known as Three Circles Around the Moon when it was taught by and to women in the Daoist tradition. Today both men and women do the movement and it is better known as the Swimming Dragon.
Here are just some of the many benefits:
Moves energy around the three dantians
Circulates Qi in the belt, thrusting (core), and central channels
Moves energy up to the pituitary and pineal glands
Increases flexibility, especially of the spine
Stretches thyroid and thymus glands, pancreas, kidneys, and adrenal glands
Opens the lungs and diaphragm, bringing more oxygen and energy to body
Cleanses and warms the uterus and stretches the ovaries in women
Stimulates kidneys resulting in balance of Jing (original essence)
Stimulates yang functions of the body, including digestion
Regulates digestion and increases health of intestines, including the bowels
Increases overall vitality
Helps to unite heart (fire) and kidneys (water) to balance yin and yang in the body
Triggers weight loss
Because this movement is such a deep stretch and opening for the spine, and because all of the internal organs are connected to the spinal column, the entire organ network is positively affected.
If you swim your dragon regularly, you will discover even more benefits through the practice on your own. Do not underestimate its power. It’s helpful to notice and acknowledge the shifts that the Swimming Dragon will bring to your energy, body, and life.
This week we flow from our water (winter) element to our wood (spring) element. Just as in nature right now, the body naturally wants to wash away and cleanse any stagnation or toxicity from our months of cold and stillness and comes back into balance.
When the liver is not balanced and healthy, we may experience problems with finger and toenails and have blurry vision. Emotionally, blocked liver Qi may cause intense feelings of anger (including rage), frustration and irritation, jealousy, and depression.
When the gallbladder is not balanced and healthy, we may experience early morning insomnia, problems with the eyes, including night blindness, a stiff neck, dizziness, or ringing in the ears or head. Emotionally, we may experience indecision, resentment, or become easily discouraged.
A balanced liver allows us to experience the energies and expressions of kindness, compassion, and generosity. A balanced gallbladder and liver allow us to experience sound sleep; good planning, decision-making, and judgement; and healthy expression of creativity.
To help our body and energy we will use the best Qi self-massage acupoints for cleansing and detoxifying. In our qigong class we’ll practice the wonderful Earth Qigong, which balances the wood element; the tree stance, since the liver in Qigong philosophy is the tree of life; and we’ll begin to work with the dragon, the shamanic animal of the liver. In our Dao Yoga class we’ll also work with the dragon and move deeply into stretches for the side body to open the flow of Qi in the liver and gallbladder meridians.
Spring is a powerful time to practice qigong—to work with life force Qi as nature’s energy ascends and returns rested from the winter’s stillness.
Breath with mindfulness and posture = qigong. All three, together, help to bring about the state in which we can improve digestion, remove energy blocks, and move stagnant energy, allowing Qi—life force energy—to flow. When Qi flows, we are healthy and can digest our food and our life experiences as nature intended.
Without proper digestion, a cascade of health imbalances result, including allergies and food sensitivities, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, autointoxication, blood sugar imbalance and on and on and on. Digestion literally affects everything. Just as poor digestion affects the whole body, good digestion also affects the whole body—cultivating amazingly good health and energy.
Qigong’s approach to digestive function is through the stomach (yang) and spleen (yin) organs, which are associated with the Earth element and govern the process of digestion. Energetically, the stomach and spleen are where the body holds anxiety, over-thinking, and worry, all of which interfere with Qi flow and balance and, therefore, digestion. The natural energies of the stomach and spleen—the counter balance to anxiety, over-thinking, and worry—include trust, centredness, and balance itself. When we activate these energies within us and bring them in from the Earth, we can find the healthy Qi flow we need for relaxing and optimum digestion.
In addition, the gallbladder (yang) and liver (yin) organs, help to keep things moving smoothly and the intestines, small and large, take in nutrients and remove wastes. In qigong the gut is the location of the lower dantian (energy centre) and is considered the second brain, the only energy centre where energy can be stored. Master Mantak Chia teaches that the structure of the intestines is like a battery and it can charge energy. This is where we can recharge the body with Qi, including food Qi, and the Qi we breathe in from our environment. Taking steps to nourish and strengthen these organs, and move Qi through their meridians (energy pathways) helps to address digestion on many levels, including physical, emotional, energetic, and even spiritual.
If you’d like to join me for this important and empowering workshop, Saturday, April 6, 2-4 pm at Cran Hall, please email me to register as space is limited. The $40 workshop fee includes a take-home booklet of all learned to support a home practice.
Following nature’s lead, this series of Dao Yoga classes will embrace the power and depth of cleansing and new growth. Now is the time to cleanse the old and set sights on a new vision to foster growth and flow in body and in life. The yin organs that resonates with this fresh, new season are the liver (yin organ) and the gallbladder (yang organ). The element that resonates with spring is wood and the animal is the powerful dragon.
Dao yogic movements and postures include a focus on the body’s energy pathways (meridians), as well as healing sounds, breath work, and Qi Self-massage (acupressure points). We move, breathe, and rest in the postures (all on the mat, no standing) to allow for deep release—a safe and relaxing opening of the body so that healing and balancing Qi can flow. Enjoy a deep release of tension and incredibly relaxing flow of life force energy.
In qigong’s Five Element Theory, spring is the time to cleanse and detoxify with the help of the spring yin organ (the liver) and spring yang organ (the gallbladder). Just as in nature, our energy is ascending, out of the cold, still winter months, to start fresh, with new clarity, vision, decision, growth and flow. We work with the spring element of wood and the spring animal, the dragon, to move out anything old, stale, or stagnant, including the emotions we hold in the liver—anger, resentment, and impatience. We activate kindness, compassion, and the power of creativity. Join me for the inspiring and transforming practice of qigong, including Qi massage, Dao yoga, and guided meditation, with all the fresh new life force Qi of spring as our teacher.
I’ve designed the spring series of qigong classes to do the following:
Gently but powerfully cleanse and detoxify body, mind, and energy, and balance metabolism and hormones.
Transform the stuck—no longer useful—anger that causes blocks and stagnation in the flow of the human electrical energy system.
Activate and cultivate the natural, virtuous energies of the liver and gallbladder—compassion, kindness, clarity, new spiritual vision/perspective, decision-making power, the ability to act on one’s vision—to support new growth.
Cultivate strength, resiliency and flexibility (in life and in the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and fascia) so that energy in the body and in one’s life and new vision will flow smoothly.
The first three classes are for cleansing and detoxifying, the next three classes to empower a new vision or perspective, the next three classes to ensure that vision and one’s life can flow smoothly, and the last class to bring it all together. In addition to meditation, Qi self-massage, and Dao yin yogic postures and movements, we will practice the wonderful, ancient Swimming Dragon Qigong—a form that offers a wealth of benefits when done regularly, including weight loss, improved digestion, balancing of endocrine system, relaxation of nervous system, increase of healing Qi, and transformation of conscious energy. The practice is so beneficial it is called the “Qigong of Longevity.”
This week we will review movements 14 and 15 of the Shibashi practice (Punching and Flying like a Wild Goose) then learn movements 16 and 17 to complete the entire Shibashi set. We already know movement 18, the closing form in which we scoop all the Qi we’ve cultivated into the lower dantian.
16. Turning the Wheel: This movement promotes blood circulation, aids in weight loss and relieves pain and tension in the back. Since the movement is initiated from the waist, it stimulates kidney and bladder meridians and is, therefore, deeply calming and releasing, boosting energy levels in a short time. This turning also helps to purify the liver and intestines, eliminating waste and stagnation, so that vital, balance, healthy Qi can flow more freely.
17. Bouncing a Ball: This movement increases coordination, balances left and right brain, improves balance, increases strength in feet and legs, and is very helpful for insomnia and fatigue. Energetically bouncing a ball helps us to balance logic and creativity.
I’m looking forward to practicing the entire Shibashi set with you during our last three weeks of winter practice. Many of you have shared that the set is cultivating calm, peace, and flowing Qi in body, energy, and life. It is a beautiful sight for me to see you practice it and to experience all of us moving together as a qigong community.
Punching: This movement is also known as “Punching with an Steady Gaze to Increase Strength,” as it helps to move the energy/emotion of outdated or stagnant anger out of the liver. We do this, however, softly, with compassion, which is also a liver energy. A healthy release of anger increases inner strength and overall vitality, leaving us with positive change and clarity. This practice also improves conditions related to the lungs and nervous system and is very helpful in the case of insomnia.
Flying like a Wild Goose: In China, wild geese are symbols of yin and yang because they migrate to avoid the yang heat of summer and again to avoid the cold and dark yin of winter. In doing this movement we can imagine our big, wild wings flying with the purpose of finding balance between yin and yang. The gentle, floating practice is very helpful for headaches, mental stress and anxiety and to quiet body and mind.
We’ll also practice Turtle Drinks from Deep Pools for the next three weeks, to further nourish and balance kidneys with the water element.
Playing with Waves: This is probably my favourite movement in the Shibashi practice, not only because I love waves, but also because it generates so much calm but powerful Qi. If you experience insomnia, this is an excellent movement. It is also helpful for conditions related to the spleen, liver and lungs. Of course, working with the water element, playing with waves is also a good fit for our winter practice as it benefits the kidneys. Since pushing a wave is not possible, this movement helps us to practice wu wei (effortless effort) and cultivates ease and grace while strengthening body and energy.
Spreading your Wings: A beautiful movement, this is soothing for the nervous system and conditions the heart and lungs while balancing Qi flow through their meridians. Since this movement gently opens and loosens tension or holding in the chest, it is helpful in the case of depression and low self-esteem. By embodying a sense of natural avian pride as we open our wings, we open up to self-respect and honour of true nature.
This week we will review movements 8 and 9 of the Shibashi practice (Carrying the Moon and Twisting the Waist/Pushing Hands) then learn movements 10 and 11.
Playing with Clouds: This powerful but soft, beautiful practice relaxes the body’s “fight or flight” (sympathetic nervous system) response and switches us to the “rest, digest, heal” mode (parasympathetic nervous system). As a result, it is a very soothing movement that cultivates an alert, but relaxed state for the body and smooth Qi flow. The movement offers significant benefits to the digestive system and nervous system as well as increasing spiritual energy.
Scooping the Sea: Our image with this movement is that we’re scooping up fresh, positive energy from the sea and using it to cleanse our body and energy. This movement is sometimes called “Touch the Sea, Look at the Sky,” lending the image of gathering Qi from both sources, yin and yang. This form brings benefits to the lungs and large intestine, our “taking in” and “letting go” organs, but supports all of the yin organs, helps strengthen the legs and back, and increases spiritual energy while soothing the nervous system.