class blog

TREE QI

From a qigong perspective, trees are considered guardians of the earth—they transform environmental toxins into clean, fresh air. In short, they are the filters of the planet. Also, as with everything from a Daoist viewpoint, trees contain and radiate energy. If you’ve ever spent an afternoon in the shade of a tree, leaned your back up against one for a rest, walked through a forest, or even gazed at a tree out a window, you’ve probably experienced the distinctly rejuvenating and healing energy of trees.

When we engage with trees in a conscious way, with intention and awareness, we open to a powerful vibration and exchange of energy.

Qigong with pine trees is traditionally said to be extremely cleansing, especially if the tree is higher up on a hill or a mountain. Willow trees are grounding, poplars vibrate with the metal (lungs) element, apple trees are thought to be helpful for balancing the fire (heart) element. We have abundant opportunity to practice qigong with the wonderful cedar tree—long known by First Nations to have healing power.

Since June is late spring and early summer we will work with a tree focus. In qigong the liver, the yin organ associated with the spring season and the element wood, is known as the Tree of Life—rooting into the earth (yin) at the same time it reaches for the sky (yang). A lovely balance, like the balance of yin and yang energies in spring, grounding and balancing our energy before we move into the warmer, more active, yang energies of summer.

I invite you to come out and experience some Tree Qi. We will work with the Tree of Life (liver) meridian or energy pathway, to open up energy blocks and move stagnant energy, allowing life to flow through us. In addition to using the tree as a focus and reflecting their nourishment in our mindful movements, in each class we will also do qigong with the energy of trees—a traditional and absolutely peaceful, rejuvenating, and soothing practice.

Root down into what nourishes and supports you and reach for the sky to grow and blossom in whatever way feels absolutely perfect for you on this natural and incredible journey. When life seems to get busy, it is even more important to commit to your practice—to move and breathe with the natural flow of your deepest self.

Lao Tzu said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

I’ll see you outside to create some natural, flowing space in your body and your life.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

EFFORTLESS EFFORT

The Daoist teaching of “wu wei” is extremely helpful for relaxing into the flow—of your energy and your life. In class, I usually define “wu wei” as “effortless effort.” This doesn’t mean doing nothing or being limp or lazy. In fact, in the Daoist teachings, wu wei is also described as the act of “effortless action.” It’s acting, but in a way that goes with the flow of nature, including our own nature, which is energy. Wu wei is getting out of our own way so energy and life can flow. It is being aligned with ourselves, instead of resisting what is flowing through our body and our life.

For example, perhaps instead of putting so much effort into a project or relationship or routine that drains your energy, you might instead do less, or follow through on a feeling or inspiration you normally wouldn’t. A different outcome is guaranteed and you may be surprised at the unfolding of the experience.

Maybe instead of trying everything possible to heal an injury or ailment or disease you will, just for something different, do one thing that feels exactly right—something nourishing, timely, loving, simple, easy.

Instead of working too much, maybe you’ll work less, but dive in deeper and find that your work and your life change.

Maybe, instead of wishing for the end of a yoga posture, you will not judge the experience as good or bad, or comfortable or uncomfortable, but will instead soften, don’t try so hard, and simply experience it in that way.

These are a lot of words to describe something so simple and logical. Simple, however, isn’t always easy when we’ve built actions and patterns and behaviours on the idea of “no pain, no gain,” and “hold on tight.” I am challenged not just every day, but often every hour and sometimes minute to minute to let go of the idea and habit that more effort and harder effort is the way to create my best life. This goes against nature, which goes against myself.

Lao Tzu said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them—that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

I invite you to join me in opening to the idea and shifting to the reality of wu wei—effortless effort. To float and swim and ride with the river instead of pushing upstream. This takes exploration, awareness, acceptance, courage, kindness to self, breath, posture, and flow. For me, it takes qigong.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

DETOXIFICATION with QIGONG

We’ve been told by countless magazine articles and books that detoxification is an uncomfortable process, usually involving an extreme remedy of eating a lot of one food (rice? cabbage?) or drinking a disgusting concoction (olive oil and lemon with cayenne pepper?) or taking a lot of expensive supplements.

From a qigong perspective, detoxification is not just a purging of the digestive tract, and need not be painful or extreme. A spring detox can happen as naturally as spring itself.

Since each of us is a microcosm of the universe—since we are nature—it makes sense that spring is our time to move and go with the flow. Part of this movement is detoxifying the body. In spring the seasons are in balance—yin and yang. If our bodies are not reflecting or matching this harmony, one thing we can do is look to our liver, the organ that is at its peak in spring and, physically, the body’s most important detoxifying organ.

From a qigong perspective, which comes from following the Dao (the way of nature), bringing the liver to its highest level of functioning, and the body to harmony, means going with the flow of nature. Presently, nature is letting go of the still, cold, and silent ways of winter, and starting to move. Ice is melting and water is flowing. Trees are budding and sap is running. Early flowers are blooming. New growth and new life is being created.

In our spring qigong classes, we are spending some time purging stale, sluggish, or stagnant liver Qi and inviting in new, fresh, healing Qi. Our movements and breath work in “Punching with a Steady Gaze,” is a safe, but powerful way to transform.

We can also help the liver to detoxify by working with our lymph system. In comprehensive report on the physiological effects of a regular qigong practice, Qigong Institute’s Roger Jahnke, OMD, says, “Breath, movement, and posture all have specific effects on the production and circulation of the lymph.”1

Jahnke also concludes that a regular qigong practice helps the body to effectively metabolize oxygen and eliminate both environmental and dietary toxins from the body. In class this week we will help the detoxification process with the safe, but effective practice of “Hitting the Detox Points,” and also by massaging the body’s main acupressure detoxification points. We will also continue to cultivate a smooth flow of Qi through the body—another of the liver’s many jobs—by working with our tendons.

Just because qigong feels so good, and is so accessible and gentle, don’t make the mistake of dismissing the powerful impact it can have on our physical and energetic bodies. In fact, original research published in the medical journal Alternative Therapies (Li, Chen, and Zhixian, 2002) suggests that qigong is so effective for detoxification it may be successfully used to help heroin addicts, and without side effects.2 The study results showed a reduction in withdrawal symptoms in the qigong group occurred more rapidly compared to other groups and that from day one the qigong group had significantly less symptoms and lower anxiety.

Qigong is powerful. Qi is powerful. Qi is our life force. Let’s flow with it, detoxify, renew, blossom, and grow.

Namaste,
Sandra

  1. Jahnke, Roger. Physiological Effects of Qigong. Qigong Institute. Retrieved from: https://qigonginstitute.org/docs/Article___Physiological_Effects_of_Qigong.pdf
  2. Li, Ming, Kevin Chen, and Zhixian Mo. “Use of Qigong Therapy in the Detoxification of Heroin Addicts.” Alternative Therapies, 8(1), Jan/Feb 2002. Retrieved from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e0d2/bde35ca84e299df6ec818ce7d0ce0955de0e.pdf

© Sandra Tonn

THE WOOD ELEMENT

Matching an element to a season and an organ is a pretty foreign concept for us in the West, but the longer I practice and study qigong the more natural it seems to embrace this traditional Chinese concept. The more time I spend in nature, the more awareness and curiosity I have for it and myself. The more I feel the energy of nature, including my own, the more the five elements theory makes sense to me and becomes a means of understanding myself and nature.

Spring is the first season in the cycle of nature and wood is a good representation of this beginning. This season has the energy, the Qi or life force, of wood—like a tree rooting into the earth at the same time it reaches for the sky. A lovely balance, like the balance of yin and yang energies in spring.

In the five elements theory, wood is said to regulate our vision, both physically and spiritually, as well as our ability to adapt to the changes and possible obstacles that this fresh new season brings. If the energy we need to act on our vision and adapt to changes is blocked or stagnant, we may instead experience the energy of anger and frustration.

I know a woman who quits her spiritual practice in the spring and summer because she feels she is too busy with company coming and going. Instead of committing to the practice that keeps her grounded and honours her deepest calling for creativity, balance, and meaningful growth, she endures panic attacks and visitors and waits for the rains of the fall and winter to then recover before beginning the cycle all over again.

Instead of feeling the pressures of mainstream society’s spring season—more commitments, company coming, and gardening to catch up on—spring can be a time to match nature and be inspired, energized, and supported by the balanced energies of wood.

Working with the liver and its meridians—the wood element’s yin organ—can help to get our wood Qi flowing. When we have strong wood energy we can clearly see our opportunities for new growth, new beginnings, fresh and new ways of being. With the help of the wood element’s yang organ—the gallbladder—we can be decisive about our goals and act on them with calm confidence and wu wei, effortless effort.

Root down into what nourishes and supports you and reach for the sky to grow and blossom naturally in whatever way feels absolutely perfect for you on this natural and incredible journey. When life seems to get busy, it is even more important to commit to your practice—to move and breathe with the natural rhythm of your deepest self.

Lao Tzu said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

WORKING with the DAO in the SPRING SEASON

Yin organ: liver
Element: wood
Colour: spring green
Sense organ: eyes
Tissues: tendons, ligaments, connective tissue
Acquired emotions: anger, frustration, irritability, resentment, envy
Natural virtues: compassion, patience, generosity, creativity, decisiveness

In the spring, the liver’s energies are at their peak, which is why it’s the perfect time to work with a focus on the liver. In the way of nature (the Dao), it is a time of new life and growth of plants. In the physical and energy bodies, spring is also a time for new growth and expansive energies. It is a time to blossom and express ourselves, including our creativity and our emotions.

In the Daoist philosophy the liver is known as the “tree of life.” The tree symbolizes the wood element with its roots reaching deep into the earth while at the same time its branches stretch toward the sun. A tree’s stability and flexibility are also characteristics of the liver. A tree is rooted, or grounded, but can bend in the wind. The liver’s meridians maintain the health of the body’s tendons, ligaments, muscles, and connective tissue, helping to keep us resilient and flexible and allowing Qi to move within and through us.

Physically, just as trees emit cleansing oxygen, the liver is a major detoxifying organ, and controls the circulation and storage of blood. Energetically, the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi in the whole body. Spiritually, the liver is related to inner spiritual sight.

Blocks or imbalance in the liver and its meridians are often related to headaches, allergies, menstrual irregularities, digestive ailments, high blood pressure, arthritis, muscle weakness or stiffness, uneven emotions, fatigue, resistance, and vision problems. Anger can be a helpful emotion, but not if one is stuck in it or has an excess of it.

The heart benefits from work with the liver because wood is the “mother” of fire (heart/summer) in the creation cycle. In other words, summer is born from spring and wood generates fire, which means liver health is directly related to heart health. The liver’s function is to cool (soothe) the heart, but if there is not enough blood and energy for the liver to do its job, the heart suffers with excess heat resulting in hot emotion and anxiety. For the liver to do its job, its own “mother” the kidneys, our energy batteries, must be nourished and healthy.

Flowing and balanced liver Qi helps us to make sound decisions, put our plans into action without procrastination, and be flexible and able to adapt and change. We have a vision and are able to walk our unique path without blindly following what others think or want. We are able to be compassionate, creative, and kind and patient with ourselves and others.

In our Spring Qigong and Dao Yoga series of classes, we will use meditation, Qi self-massage, Dao yoga and breathing, and flowing movement to gently cleanse and renew the liver and the whole body. We will focus on the health of the sinews and eyes, express and move the energy of anger in a healthy way, and invite in the compassion, kindness, and creativity that this season and organ offer.

Spring is a fresh and exciting time to practice, with so many relaxing and balancing rewards.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

TRANSITIONING from WINTER

As we near the end of our Winter Qigong series, and the end of the winter itself, we can use the silence and stillness we’ve cultivated over the winter to look inward and notice how we are responding—physically, emotionally, and energetically—to the shift in seasons. Are we resisting in any way? Perhaps wishing to stay in a hibernating state? Are we feeling reluctant to give up the nourishing darkness and depth of the winter practice? Or are we perhaps feeling an urgency to rush into the future, into action and get busy?

Hopefully, with some awareness, we are able to relax into and experience the shifts, both subtle and obvious, that the transition from winter to spring offers. Just as the weather can be variable and unpredictable this time of year, so too can our energy and our body’s needs.

We’ve spent a great deal of time filling ourselves up with nourishing yin energy, with peace, calm, and wisdom. We’ve actively worked to transform stress, fear and energy that was frozen, hard, or held. Slowly we are beginning to trust and feel the strength and power we’ve restored in our energy battery. Our practice is still offering nourishment, but we’re also showing our strength in movements such as the Golden Turtle and, this week, with its companion, the Water Buffalo.

In the Water Buffalo we use qigong’s fire breathing, bringing warmth and energy to the kidneys. The deep-breathing Water Buffalo, charges from the water (winter’s element) with natural self-confidence and energy. This movement is also very tonifying for the entire digestive area, helping us to digest both our nourishment and our life experience.

It’s good that spring is coming. It’s been a long winter. But let’s not forget the authentic peace and calm we’ve cultivated over the quiet, dark months. Let’s also remember the work it took to restore our energy battery so we make wise choices, as the earth springs to life, about when and how to express our energy.

Let’s ride a calm wave of winter, and flow gently into spring. Feeling so nourished and powerful, we can slowly, naturally, like the buds slowly appearing as if by magic all around us, open to the new energy of spring. With spring we welcome the wood element and all the new growth in our lives that come with it. Opening to spring means opening to the energies of the liver and to the kindness, creativity, and freshness of life.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

SILENCE and the GOLDEN TURTLE  

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.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

TRIPLE WHAT?

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.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

TURTLE PEACE and POWER

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.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

BONE BREATHING AND SOUND HEALING

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.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn