class blog

WORKING WITH FEAR

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.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

INNER SMILE MEDITATION

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.

Namaste,
Sandra

References:

  1. Abel E. and Kruger M. “Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity,” Psychological Science, 2010: 21, 542–544.
  2. Seaward, Brian Luke. “Managing Stress: Principles and strategies for health and well-being,” Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Massachusetts, 2006.
  3. Lane, Richard DR, et al. Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), CognitiveNeuroscience of Emotion, 2000: 345-370.
  4. Karren KJ, et al. “Mind/Body Health: The effect of attitudes, emotions and relationships,” Benjamin Cummings, New York, New York, 20009.
  5. 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.
  6. Lawrence, E. et al. “Happiness and longevity in the United States,” Social Science & Medicine, 2015: 115-119.
  7. “The Mysteries of the Heart,” HeartMath®Institute, Boulder Creek, California, 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.heartmath.org/resources/infographic/mysteries-of-the-heart/

© Sandra Tonn

WINTER QIGONG SERIES—POWER and PEACE

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…

  1. build up our energy reserves by nourishing the kidneys,
  2. gently but effectively transform the stress and fear that cause blocks and stagnation in the kidney energy,
  3. cleanse and strengthen the bones, which are the tissues influenced by the kidney energy, and
  4. 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.

Limbic System:
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.

I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

QI SELF-MASSAGE

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.

FIVE ELEMENTS

In this week’s qigong class, the last in our six-week series, we will practice with all of the elements together. Through the past five weeks we’ve moved through the elements in the order of what’s know as the control cycle, but this week we will move in tune with the seasons, using the cycle of creation.

There are many ways to move through the inner smile meditation. I always like to begin in the heart, since it is our center and the hub of the other organs and elements. We will also send smiling energy through the digestive and nervous systems.

This week we bring all of the six healing sounds together—the five organs plus the triple warmer. Doing all of the six healing sounds together powerful. When doing all the sounds together we always start with the lungs (metal element) because they are the flywheels for qi. Doing the six sounds before bed is helpful to purge the day and clear the mind and body for a deep, restful sleep. The sounds are also helpful, any time of day, for transforming depression, anxiety, and anger. In his book, The Six Healing Sounds: Taoist techniques for balancing chi (Destiny Books, 2009), Grand Master Mantak Chia says, “When the organ sounds are pronounced, the gas trapped in the organs is released and exchanged. The fresh energy releases or transforms negative emotions into more positive or life-giving energy.”

We’ve been practicing one of the Daoist Five Yin tonifying exercises each week. Now we’ll put them all together and we’ll also add the very simple, but extremely effective, Daoist Five Yang tonifying exercise, which is an excellent practice for filling the lower dantian with Qi, and also for firing up digestive power.

We will revisit some favourite qigong movements from the past five classes, such as Trembling Horse, Dragon Awakens its Spine, Swimming Dragon, and Crane Walking.

I’m amazed at how much of a foundation we’ve created, and how much Qi we’ve cultivated, in this six-week series with the elements—and all the organs, meridians, and emotions that go with them—as our guides. I am so inspired to hear from many of you how the practice is positively affecting you and your life, and I am, as always, so grateful for the power and practice of qigong.

I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

WATER

This week’s qigong class focuses on the element water and its corresponding organs, the kidneys (yin organ), and the bladder (yang organ). The associated sense organ is the ears (hearing). The healing sound is “Choo,” and the energy colour is a deep blue and/or black. The season of water and kidneys is winter.

Water itself is formless and may be still, calm, and strong, just as the ocean’s tide may form a beach or sculpt stone. Just as a stream may freeze and thaw again.  The great Chinese sage Lao Tzu said, “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water.”

Just as a waterfall is uplifting to the spirit, the ocean is expansive and energizing, and a calm lake is calming and meditative, the element water greatly influences our physical and energy bodies.

Physically, the kidneys govern the skeleton, brain, and all the body’s fluids, including water, bone marrow, cerebrospinal fluid, lymph, and joint lubrication, and the kidneys filter 15 gallons of blood every hour. They also control hormones, which are extremely important to the health and function of the body, especially as we age. Work with kidney energy (and that of the liver) is effective for women in the pre-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause transitions.

Both the kidney and bladder meridians (energy pathways) have a connection to the limbic system in the brain, which decides whether to panic or relax in any given situation or life experience. Qigong—breath work, visualization, and meditative movement—can, therefore, strongly influence body-mind connection.

Energetically, the kidneys are our rechargeable batteries and the home of our original qi (life force) or essence, known as Jing. Since this is the storehouse for our vitality, the kidney energy needs to remain strong and in balance for the rest of the body to function well.

The acquired emotions associated with the kidneys include fear, stress, and loneliness. This is also where held or frozen shock or trauma may cause imbalance. Blocks or deficiencies may also show up as brittle bones, low back pain, knee pain, loss of will or personal power, lack of sex drive, and urinary or reproductive issues. An imbalanced lifestyle, such as overworking and anything else that drains life force, will deplete the kidneys precious store of jing, which means we will have to cultivate even more qi from other sources to recharge and bring balance, and to live a healthy life into old age. To build kidney qi we need to find the balance between doing and being.

The balancing and natural virtues of the kidneys include wisdom, self-understanding, will power, determination, calm, peace, and gentleness. Working with kidney energy can be deeply restorative, strengthening, and very peaceful all at once.

Flowing and balanced water/kidney Qi helps us to stand in our power and have healthy ambition, increases our ability to adapt to situations including stress, clear confusing thoughts, improve memory, and give us the energy to pull ourselves out of heaviness. With strong kidney Qi we produce the hormones necessary to transition through life’s changes and to age and live with grace.

This week we will use the inner smile meditation and kidney healing sound to practice the alchemy of transforming held or stuck fear and stress, inviting our natural virtues of wisdom, strength, and calm to expand. Our Qi self-massage will focus on stimulating the kidney meridian and the longest meridian in the body, the bladder meridian.

We will practice Ocean Breathing, the Daoist Five tonifying movement for the Kidney, and we’ll do one of my favourite qigong movements, Turtle Drinks from Deep Pools.

I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

EARTH

This week’s qigong class focusses on the element earth and its corresponding organs, the spleen (yin organ), and the stomach (yang organ). The corresponding sense organ is the mouth (taste). The healing sound is “Whoo” and the energy colour is yellow. The season of earth and spleen is late summer, or is sometimes thought of as the element at the center of all the other elements and their seasons, where life arises.

Our source of nourishment, grounding, gravity, and stability, earth is our mother and she is our home.

Physically, the spleen, which is about the same size as the heart and sits just behind the stomach on the left side of the body, is an important organ of digestion. It governs our food-qi by extracting and converting the pure essence of our food and liquid. It is also the site where white blood cells work to prevent infection, where lymphocytes are produced to destroy and recycle old red blood cells, and where blood is stored for emergencies.

Energetically, the earth provides us with a center, enabling us to balance our lives and live with harmony. Emotionally, earth element helps us to digest, or absorb, our life experiences, and is associated with growing, nourishing, producing (as in a late summer harvest), and change.

The acquired emotions or states of the spleen may include worry, anxiety, nervousness, overthinking, obsession, and self-worth issues. The balancing and natural virtues of the spleen include trust, openness, resolution, centeredness, balance, and equanimity.

Imbalance, blocks, excess or deficiency in the earth energy may show up as mouth sores, digestive ailments, fatigue, weight challenges, allergies, chronic immune disorders, candidiasis, disrupted cycles, and addiction. The classic symptom of earth element imbalance is seen in the person who has difficulty receiving love and support, but is very giving it to others.

As always, the other elements (and organs) play a role in the health of the spleen and balance of earth element. Wood (liver) regulates earth (spleen), just as tree roots hold soil. Also, earth (spleen) generates metal (lungs). Compassion and kindness (liver) can help to regulate worry and imbalance (spleen). The ability to trust, be open and take in nourishment (spleen) can result in the production of integrity and strength (metal).

Flowing and balanced spleen Qi helps us to find our balance, our center, to take in life and to trust in the divine unfolding of our journey.

This week we will use the inner smile meditation and spleen healing sound to practice the alchemy of transforming held or stuck worry and anxiety, inviting our natural virtues of trust and openness to expand. Our Qi self-massage will focus on stimulating the spleen and stomach meridians.

We will practice Earth Qigong, Golden Phoenix, and the Daoist Five tonifying movement for the Spleen, and more.

I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

Will I be able to practice qigong on my own at home?

A very good question from a student recently. It is always, absolutely my wish and intention that anything I share and teach—be it memoir writing, yoga, meditation, or qigong—be brought into one’s personal life outside the class in some way, big or small.

The current qigong series is a whirlwind introduction to qigong to help people get a feel for qigong—literally. Qigong is not something to simply learn by memory, like a dance step, or to know intellectually. You could read ten books about qigong or watch dozens of videos and still not be actually doing or benefiting from qigong. It is something that is experienced, felt and practiced over time. It is the subtle, yet powerful, change in perception and relationship with one’s organs, body, breath, energy, mind, earth, universe, and nature. It is true alchemy and transformation.

My approach to teaching qigong is to offer a simple, fun, and supported means of cultivating change. I like to make things simple, enjoyable and accessible for people. With a foundation, without rushing to a destination, we can build and know our practice in an authentic way, through experience. The current series was not intended to be mastered, memorized or understood on all levels, but rather to begin the exciting practice of cultivating energy and all the benefits of the practice over time. That said, as many of you know, benefits happen immediately—calmer mind and body, better sleep, more energy, and so on.

Further practice, especially when we slow down in the upcoming sessions and spend eight weeks with each element and organ, will build our practice. By the end of the Winter Qigong series, for example, you will know, with full confidence, how and why to do the Bone Marrow Cleansing movements, and how and why to do Kidney Breathing and Packing. Workshops will allow us to go even deeper and give you the details of the practice along with written resources to bring home for self practice.

For now, you do know enough already to practice at home if you choose. You can fashion an inner smile meditation, do whatever Qi self-massage you like or remember, and move energy with some of the standing qigong we do each week, such as swinging and hitting, shaking the body, showering Qi, and moving your Qi ball. Qigong need not be a set or strict routine. It is working with your posture, breath and focus to cultivate flowing, healthy energy. Often, I will simply stop in the middle of my day and stand in qigong stance or do a flowing movement for just one minute.

For those who are practicing with me regularly and do want to practice more seriously at home, I will be offering a workshop on how to create a home practice.

If you don’t choose to practice on your own at home, that’s perfectly fine, too! Showing up to class, practicing with your qigong community and working with your energy will cultivate change and still influence the rest of your life—your breath, body and awareness—even without extra formal practice.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the power of smiling while you do it.  😊

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

WOOD

This week’s qigong class focuses on the element wood and its corresponding organs, the liver (yin organ), and the gallbladder (yang organ). The corresponding sense organ is the eyes (sight). The healing sound is “Shhh” and the energy colour is the fresh, new green of spring. The season of wood and liver is spring, with its energy of renewal, growth and fresh, new life.

In the Daoist philosophy the liver is known as the “tree of life.” The tree symbolized the wood element with its roots reaching deep into the earth and its branches outstretched toward the sun. A tree’s stability and flexibility are also characteristics of the liver. A tree is rooted, but can bend in the wind. The liver meridians maintain the health of the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and connective tissue, including the fascia, helping to keep us resilient and flexible.

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 in charge of how qi flows in the whole body. Spiritually, the liver is said to hold the blueprint of the soul’s purpose and is related to inner spiritual sight.

The acquired emotions or states of the liver may include anger, frustration, irritability, envy, and resentment. The balancing and natural virtues of the liver include generosity, kindness, creativity, adaptability, and compassion.

Blocks or imbalance in the wood element 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.

Since wood (liver) feeds fire (heart), 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.

Because the liver is like a filter, when a woman experiences hormonal shifts and over-activity of the limbic system (stress and emotion), this affects an overloaded liver and manifests as irritability, anger, or even rage. Anger can be a helpful emotion, but not if one is stuck in an excess of it.

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 is our best course. We are able to connect with others and be compassionate, creative, and kind to ourselves and to others.

This week we will use the inner smile meditation and liver healing sound to practice the alchemy of transforming held or stuck anger or frustration, inviting our natural virtues to expand. Our Qi self-massage will focus on stimulating the liver and gallbladder meridians, and our stretching, breath work and qigong flows will move energy and flood the physical and energetic bodies with fresh Qi.

We will practice Dragon Awakens its Spine, Tree Stance, the Daoist Five tonifying movements for the Liver and Lungs, and more.

I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn

METAL

This week’s qigong class focusses on the element of metal and its corresponding organs, the lungs (yin organ), and the large intestine (yang organ). The corresponding body part is the nose (smell) and also the skin. The healing sound is “Sss” and the energy colour is a pure, brilliant white. The season of metal and lungs is fall, which we are experiencing, with all this lovely dry weather, sun and colour, right now.

The lungs, like metal, offer strength, structure, and nourishment. This element, as with both the lungs and large intestine (and nose and skin), govern the ability to take in and let go—of oxygen, nutrition, waste, and energy.

The acquired emotions or states of the lungs may include grief, sadness, sorrow, depression, shame, guilt, and despair, as well as anxiety, which may manifest in many of the organ/energy centers. The balancing and natural virtues of the lungs include integrity, resiliency, courage, strength, honesty, reverence, justice, righteousness, and detachment.

Blocks or imbalance in the metal element, are often related to constipation, diarrhea, headache, lung disorders (such as asthma), sinus congestion, allergies, fatigue, and loss of enthusiasm for life. Unresolved grief, especially from childhood, is often at the core of many lung and colon ailments. We get emotionally stopped up and instead of taking in and letting out, we hold.

When open balanced, metal Qi is experienced as the ability to encounter difficulty with tenacity, a willingness to endure, confidence, and a willingness to release physical and emotional wastes, including old beliefs, habits and behaviours, as well as unhealthy relationships and work. The ability to experience our moments as precious and be present in them, whether they are happy or sad, is the power of lung Qi.

This week we will use the inner smile meditation and lung healing sound to practice the alchemy of transforming held or stuck energy. Our Qi self-massage will focus on stimulating the lung and small intestine meridians to further allow for energetic balance and flow. Our stretching, posture, breath work, and flowing qigong movements will connect us with our lungs, open, purge, tone, and bring loads of fresh and supportive Qi into the physical and energy bodies. The heart (fire element) is a helper to the lungs. Just as fire can melt metal, love from the heart can help to melt grief and sadness in the lungs.

We will practice Ocean Breathing, Tiger Claws, the Daoist Five Tonification for Heart and Lungs, and more.

I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Namaste,
Sandra

© Sandra Tonn