This is the latest article in our Healthbooks series for late winter 2016. To read more about the project, you can check out the first article. You can also read the second article about combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and the third article about healthful nutrition in the winter months.
Cozy sweaters, warming soups, radiating hearths…
Winter ’tis the season of averting chill with rooted coziness. As we settle into fewer hours of light and warmth, our bodies can gravitate towards stillness and energy stagnation.
While it’s natural to follow the rhythm of this resting season by embodying that rest and restoration in ourselves, maintaining internal warmth through gentle movement is essential. The chilled air and stillness of Winter closes pores and constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to our exterior and slowing processes throughout the body. Through the traditional Chinese practice of Qigong (pronounced “chee gong”) we can stoke our internal warmth, bolstering the immune system and keeping muscles, tendons, and digestion functioning smoothly throughout the winter season.
So what’s Qigong?
It’s a health promoting combination of physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused intentions that’s been around for over 4,000 years. Much like yoga, Qigong comes in myriad forms that all help circulate our energy, blood, and warmth while mindfully connecting us to our bodies. According to the National Qigong Association, regular Qigong practice can reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality, and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions.
The flow of Qigong is perfect for combating winter stillness, and the technique detailed below can be added to your morning routine to wake and warm your body and mind.
QIGONG TECHNIQUE: Stimulating and Cupping the Lungs
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Lungs are closely tied to our immunity and protection from external illness. By stimulating the chest and lung channel, we help maintain circulation that supports our immune system throughout the cold and flu season.
This Qigong movement involves swinging like a pendulum – you swing your arms and body into a forward fold then back up again to standing, hands landing on your chest to create a gentle reverberation.
Step 1: Start by standing with your feet together. Your hands should rest comfortably in front of your lower abdomen in “Diamond Mudra”, which means the fingernails of your right fingertips rest on the finger pads of your left hand. The tips of your thumbs should be touching one another, ultimately forming a kind of rounded diamond shape from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your touching thumbs.
Step 2: Inhale and step your left foot to the side to create a wider stance. From here, separate your hands and create an “OK” symbol with each hand, the tip of your second finger touching the tip of your thumb. With your hands in this position, raise them to touch the angle where your chest meets each arm. Your right hand should be at your right upper chest, your left hand at your left upper chest.
Step 3: Inhale deeply through your nose, look up and feel your chest expand.
Step 4: Exhale forcefully through your mouth, keep your hands in the “OK” symbol while you swing them forward and down towards your feet, bending from the waist to let your torso follow your arms to create a forward fold. Your neck should be relaxed and the top of your head pointed towards the floor. Only bend as far forward as is comfortable, and feel free to bend your knees if your hamstrings are tight.
Step 5: Once you’re fully bent forward, begin to inhale as you continue the arc of your swinging arms back up to standing, your hands landing forceful back where they started on the upper corners of your chest, still in the “OK” hand shape. It should feel like you’re gently beating on your chest and you should hear a soft, hollow thud.
Step 6: Repeat steps three through five 39 times.
Step 7: To conclude, inhale and step your feet back together, placing your hands on your belly to consolidate the energy you just stirred!
Fend off Winter’s chill with the warmth and flow of Qigong, and find yourself refreshed and ready for the expanding daylight of Spring!
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