Each each of the year’s seasons in qigong has an associated yin organ, yang organ, element, colour, and body tissue. In our winter practice we’ve been working with the kidneys, bladder, the element of water, a deep blue colour, bones, and body fluids.
Each season’s organ also resonates with a body sense. For winter/kidney the sense organ is ears. I always remember this because ears are sort of kidney shaped, and also because I love the silence that comes with a deep, restorative winter practice. Lao Tzu said, “Silence is a source of great strength.”
This week we will listen in to the kidney to find deep inner peace through silence, sound, and strength. We will delve deeper into Ming Men, the gate of life located between the kidneys. We will also make good use of all the reverse (kidney) breathing we’ve been practicing when I introduce you to the Golden Turtle.
The Golden Turtle posture is from the Iron Shirt Qigong practice and is extremely nourishing and strengthening for the kidneys and adrenal glands. It is also a very grounding (rooting) posture and will energize the fascia of the legs and back and strengthen the spine. When I do the Golden Turtle, which I do most mornings, I feel my vitality. I feel like a strong and powerful person—physically, energetically, and emotionally. I feel aligned with the longevity and peacefulness of the silent turtle.
There are many ways qigong can help us work with, ease, and shift stress and anxiety. Not only that, qigong can help us replace that energy with grounded peace, calm, trust, and gratitude. In qigong we are working with Qi—life force energy. Such energy is calming and energizing at the same time. Qigong gives you a chance to close the door on old stress, work positively with current stress, and start a new, fresh chapter in your body and your life—one that offers tools to cultivate true calm and deep peace.
In this workshop you will learn specific breathing techniques, sound healing, mind power, Qi self-massage, and energy flow to create a simple daily practice to support, soothe, and uplift both body and energy.
Saturday, March 17, 2018, 10 am-noon. Cranberry Community Hall (6828 Cranberry St., Powell River)
$40 (price includes an original, 14-page printed resource for your home practice)
Sometimes in qigong class I refer to the “Triple Heater,” such as when we’re tapping our way through all the meridians (energy pathways). Also, near the end of each qigong class, we do the Triple Heater’s sound and action, which is the sixth of the Six Healing Sounds. But what the heck is the Triple Heater, anyway? A very good question, but not quickly answered or explained in the middle of a class, so I thought I’d do so in this week’s blog post.
First of all, it may help to know that the Triple Heater is also sometimes called the “Triple Warmer,” the “Triple Energizer,” the Triple Burner,” and “San Jiao,” in its traditional Chinese. I always call it the Triple Heater, simply because that’s how I learned it form my teacher.
The Triple Heater has a meridian and a Six Healing Sound just like the physical organs we work with, but it isn’t an organ and has no associated colour, emotions, virtues, element, or season. The Triple Heater refers to the three energy centres of the body—basically the upper, middle, and lower sections of the torso, but including the head. The Triple Heater’s function is to regulate water and energy within these areas.
The upper energy centre (or Heater) of the Triple Heater includes the chest area and organs and is considered “hot,” in temperature. The middle energy centre of the Triple Heater covers the area and organs between the diaphragm and the navel and is considered “warm,” in temperature. The lower energy centre of the Triple Heater includes the area and organs below the navel, and is considered “cool,” in temperature.
This knowledge isn’t required information for an effective qigong practice, but for those of you who are curious, it helps to explain why sometimes in the Inner Smile Meditation we breath into the sexual organs (a cool, pink energy comprised of the red from blood-building energy and the white of the female egg or male sperm energy). We bring that cool, pink energy up through the heart and to the brain where a bit of cooling energy can be beneficial.
Knowing the above may also help you to understand why, in class, I say that when doing the Triple Heater sound (“Heee”) and action, we are balancing out hot and cold in the energy body. We are guiding and allowing warmth to be brought to the lower body, and fresh, calm, cool energy to rise up to the chest and head. I also have recommended doing the Triple Heater Six Healing Sound and action (even if the action is just in your mind) when you have insomnia, because balancing the temperature of the three energy centres (or areas) helps to release stress and bring a deep and relaxing sleep.
In short, the Triple Heater helps us bring balance to our energy, and that is a positive thing for our whole body, physical and energetic.
This week we dive even deeper into our winter/water/kidney energy and practices. The turtle is the animal for the kidneys and in Traditional Chinese Medicine is a symbol of peace. We’ll follow the peaceful turtle’s wisdom and characteristics to sink deep into stillness and deeper yet into practices for nourishment and restoration. The turtle, more ancient than any other vertebrate animal, also represents longevity and awakening to opportunities. Winter is our opportunity to go inward to embrace stillness and fill up our energy battery for a healthy and long life. We will do this through our Inner Smile Meditation, and by breathing and moving Qi into our kidneys and bones and, also this week, into our blood, which is filtered through the kidneys and carries the Qi that gives us life force.
Pebble in the Pond movement will further help to bring fresh Qi into our lower dantian/kidney area, to build our reserves before the more active seasons of spring and summer are upon us. Turtle Drinks from Deep Pools practice, a favourite of mine and one I do every morning, is a powerful qigong movement to saturate the kidneys with yin Qi and melt any stress or fear with help from the heart.
Lao Tzu said, “Too many words cause exhaustion. Better to abide in stillness.”
So, I’ll say no more for now, but look forward to the stillness and gentle, but powerful, energy we’ll cultivate together, with nature’s turtle as our inspiration.
Nourishing and building up the kidney energy during the winter season means we’re also nourishing the bones. The body’s bones are considered sacred in many indigenous cultures and thought to contain not only spirit (as each of the organs do), but also the spirits of our ancestors. Qigong agrees. Jing, the essential Qi we are born with that is stored in the kidneys, holds the wisdom of our ancestors, our heritage. It also generates bone marrow, which is involved in the production of blood, which then carries Qi through the whole body. We can supplement our overall Qi it by cultivating it from all around us—earth, universe, and nature. Through the practice of bone breathing, specifically, we will increase the Qi in and around the bones.
We often think of bones as dry and lifeless, but the opposite is true. When working with Qi and the bones I love to remind myself that we are the same stuff of the universe—that it’s star dust that makes up the amino acids that make up the proteins that make up us. We are alive down to our bones—born of a beautiful and ancient lineage. Our bones are literally alive with bio-electromagnetic Qi. Because of this, bones are affected by vibration.
Using our ears, the sense organ associated with the kidneys, this week we will open to the healing vibrations of the gong in our Inner Smile Meditation. The tapping and knocking we do in Qi self-massage also stimulates the bones with vibration. Shaking during our initial clearing, is an excellent bone builder. The Bone Marrow Cleanse, which we will continue this week, affects the deepest layer of Qi in the body, the bone marrow. With our bones in mind we’ll also practice “Washing the Spine in the River” and “Gathering Starlight.”
All of this bone work still lends itself to shaking off and releasing held stress and fear in the kidney, adrenal and bladder energy centers. Using the safe and effective tools of qigong—posture, breath, visualization, and intention—we will cleanse, nourish, and vibrate our every cell with calm, fresh, peaceful Qi.
This past week we shook up and off the stress that is often held in the kidneys, transforming it and replacing it with calm and deep peace. This week we will work with good old-fashioned fear, another of the acquired emotions we hold in the kidneys. Fear is not a “bad” emotion, and often one that brings important information to us, but when it does not move through us as we experience it, this energy may become frozen, hard or stagnant, like water when the temperature drops or something blocks its way. To be healthy and to live our best lives, we need our energy flowing, like water. Water is the element that resonates with kidneys and the season of winter. We can use it to inspire us to allow fear to flow through, and for frozen or stagnant fear to be transformed into the natural, virtuous energy of wisdom, gentleness and peace.
The bladder, the yang organ matching winter and water, is intimately related to fear. I’m sure you’ve experienced an amazing amount of bladder action—multiple trips to the washroom to urinate—when fearful or nervous. In this week’s class we will work with our fear. Shine the inner smile light on it, get to know it energetically, and invite it to flow, transform, and melt. Deep wisdom and self-understanding are the rewards of working energetically with fear, as well as the peace that letting go of fear leaves behind.
This week, in addition to the bone marrow cleansing and kidney tonifying, we will revisit the Daoist yin tonifying movement for lungs. The lungs (our fall/metal organ) are the “mother” of the kidneys. Winter is born out of fall. The lungs’ natural virtues of courage and truth can help us in our work with fear. Earth is the element that “controls” or “regulates” the kidneys (earth holds water). A new flowing movement that includes the tree stance will help us to balance the element of earth with winter’s water element.
We will also repeat much of what we did last week, integrating the movements in body, mind, and energy body, as we build on our mission to nourish and restore Qi in the kidneys and lower dantain. Now is our time to match nature’s quiet, storing, inward work. With this work we will renew and cultivate the peace and strength necessary for the seasons that follow.
I just saw this amazing heart-monitoring readout, showing the heart-rhythm pattern of someone feeling frustration compared to appreciation, shared by an organization called HearthMath® Institute. They recommend breathing with a focus on the heart area, using the imagination to breathe through the heart, and activating positive feeling–all tools that qigong’s Inner Smile Meditation practice has used for centuries.
We always smile to the heart first in the Inner Smile Meditation, even if our class focus is with another organ. In qigong it is believed that the heart is the leader of all of the other organs and all 12 channel networks.
So, you see, when I ask you in class to smile to your heart, it is a powerful practice I am suggesting–one that science is beginning to measure.
The Inner Smile Meditation is an amazingly simple and powerful practice that will literally change your body, mind, spirit and life. It is a thousands-year-old, traditional Daoist practice for inner alchemy—to transform low-grade energy into flowing, healing high-grade energy. Low energy, when in excess, stuck, or stagnant, negatively affects our Qi, or life force energy, and may contribute to chronic disease. The inner smile, with its energy of love and joy, can transform energy in the organs, glands, muscles, nervous system, bones—the entire body.
The best way to understand the transformative power of this meditation is to experience it, but there is also a growing amount of scientific information today that helps to explain the many benefits and effectiveness of this ancient practice. We now know, for example, through neuroscientific research, that the act of smiling activates neurotransmitters (chemical signals in the brain) that help to counteract stress.1 A smile also triggers the release of the so-called “feel good” neurotransmitters (dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin), which not only makes us feel good, but also can positively affect heart rate and blood pressure.2 Endorphins are also powerful natural pain relievers, and serotonin is a natural antidepressant. 3,4
The science of psychoneuroimmunology has explained that the physical act of smiling boosts immunity. When we smile the brain assumes all is well and that we’re happy, and happy people live longer. 5,6 If you’ve ever felt uplifted, loved, or relieved when someone smiled at you, you’ve experienced the powerful energy of a smile. A smile can literally change our energy.
In the Inner Smile Meditation practice, we open and activate the heart-mind—the heart centre, which emits electromagnetic energy that changes according to our present emotions. The heart also sends more signals to the brain than visa versa, influencing the brains’ perception, emotional experience, and higher mental processes.7
In the practice, we use our intention and visualization to capture the essence or energy of a smile and bring it into the body. The eyes, including the inner eye we use to visualize, are connected to all the organs and glands by way of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates their actions. With focus we move the inner smile energy through the body and do our transforming with the help of each organ’s natural virtues. We use colour, sensations, and our breath. The result is powerful and, when done regularly, cumulative and evolutionary.
I remember doing an hour-long Inner Smile Meditation one day when something incredible happened. I was working in the lungs and had been for many weeks. To be specific, I was working with grief. All of a sudden, the heart was radiating energy of love and the liver sent up some compassion. Instead of just trying to get rid of my grief and the physical symptoms and blocks it had caused, I realized I needed to acknowledge it with the softness and power of love and compassion. I was amazed at the wisdom of my organs and body, and excited to know that the Inner Smile Meditation could help in such a profound way.
Simple but powerful, this technique is natural, easy to do, and so very, very effective. You get to know your body and its organs and other structures in an entirely new way. A friendly, supportive, and loving way. It is a gentle tool that can do heavy work, melting long frozen fear, softening hard anger, and freeing stuck anxiety. Practice regularly and feel how it transforms you, your day, your health, and your life.
At the Inner Smile Meditation workshop we will take the time to dive deeper into this practice, learn and experience the benefits and techniques, and also try the different, even quick, ways to use it in your every day life. Your take-home booklet will provide more information, resources, and instruction.
Abel E. and Kruger M. “Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity,” Psychological Science, 2010: 21, 542–544.
Seaward, Brian Luke. “Managing Stress: Principles and strategies for health and well-being,” Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Massachusetts, 2006.
Lane, Richard DR, et al. Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), CognitiveNeuroscience of Emotion, 2000: 345-370.
Karren KJ, et al. “Mind/Body Health: The effect of attitudes, emotions and relationships,” Benjamin Cummings, New York, New York, 20009.
Beres, A. “Does happiness help healing? Immune response of hospitalized children may change during visits of the Smiling Hospital Foundation’s Artists,” Orvosi Hetilap, 2011.
Lawrence, E. et al. “Happiness and longevity in the United States,” Social Science & Medicine, 2015: 115-119.
“The Mysteries of the Heart,” HeartMath®Institute, Boulder Creek, California, 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.heartmath.org/resources/infographic/mysteries-of-the-heart/
Winter, in qigong’s Five Element Theory, is the time to recharge our energy batteries, the kidneys. I’ve designed our winter series of qigong classes to…
build up our energy reserves by nourishing the kidneys,
gently but effectively transform the stress and fear that cause blocks and stagnation in the kidney energy,
cleanse and strengthen the bones, which are the tissues influenced by the kidney energy, and
grow the natural, virtuous energy of the kidneys—deep peace, calm, wisdom, stillness, gentleness, vitality, determination, will power, and equanimity.
Go with the Flow:
The kidney meridians (energy pathways) regulate all of the fluid in the body, including water, the blood, hormones, bone marrow, cerebrospinal fluid, lymph, and joint lubrication. Water, the element that resonates with winter and the kidneys, will help us and inspire to go with the flow for our winter practice.
Bone Marrow Cleansing:
The kidneys are energetically connected to the body’s skeleton and its marrow, which is why we will spend time with the ancient Bone Marrow Cleansing practice, to energetically cleanse the bones of impurities and bring in fresh Qi. This deeply cleansing practice is not only helpful for increasing strength and density of the bones, but also very powerful for the immune system and any deficiencies or imbalances within it. The Bone Marrow Cleansing also generates an extremely soothing deep peace in body, mind, and spirit. It’s a truly transformative practice.
Qigong work with the kidneys also influences the limbic system in the brain, which decides whether to fight, flee, or relax in any given situation or life experience. This type of work, over the course of our eight weeks together will, therefore, strongly influence body-mind connection and positively influence stress reactions and patterns.
Expect benefits and experiences in the areas of bone and joint health, hormone balance, stress release, authentic vitality and power, true peace, and deep calming rest.
If you’ve been to my qigong classes, you know I consider Qi self-massage an important part of qigong.
Just what is Qi self-massage and how does it work? This massage technique, an ancient, traditional Chinese medicine practice, is a powerful, yet safe and simple, way to clear energy blockages from the body’s meridians (energy pathways) and rejuvenate the body’s senses and organs. In short, it’s a way to help release held tension and stagnation so Qi (life-force energy) can flow in the body. When energy flows, health grows.
There are different techniques to stimulate the flow of energy. Stretching opens the meridians. Massaging, most often by using the fingers to rub small circles on acupressure points along the meridians, releases stagnation and stimulates energy flow in the fascia (connective tissue). Tapping knocks out toxins and causes vibrations from the outside in, deep into the bones. Healing sounds cause vibration from the inside of the body toward the outside. We massage and tap along the natural flow of the meridians—up the kidney, liver, spleen, lungs, pericardium and heart (the yin channels); down the stomach, gall bladder, bladder, small intestine, triple heater and large intestine (the yang channels).
We also work with the organs. In qigong, the organs are associated with both acquired emotions and natural virtues. For example, stuck or stagnant anger or frustration (emotions held in the liver) may cause blockages or depletion in one’s energy and therefore in one’s body and life. By working with the liver meridian—for example, massaging a potent liver point on the top of the foot—the organ and meridian can be stimulated, allowing for Qi to flow, and the liver’s natural virtues of kindness and creativity to expand. Energetically, when a blockage is freed up, so is the organ, the body, and one’s life in this particular instance.
What’s wonderful about Qi self-massage is that you do not need to understand traditional Chinese medicine or be an advanced qigong practitioner to experience significant benefits. This practice is easy and feels good. There is a Chinese proverb, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” Qi self-massage helps us to relax into health, balance and harmony with healing energy flowing to our body, mind and spirit.
If you have not yet registered for the upcoming Qi Self-Massage workshop January 13th and would like to, click here for details.