What Are Chinese Healing Exercises?
Chinese Healing Exercises, also known as Chinese Self-Care Exercises, are short; easy to learn; able to be practiced in very little time by just about anyone; can be personalized to your exact needs; and require very little space to perform. As Ben Franklin once famously said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and each exercise is just such an ounce of prevention. That may be the single greatest strength of Chinese Healing Exercises: preventing the onset of many diseases while gradually improving health and promoting longevity. They are also very effective in restoring health once a health problem is present, and equally as effective in maintaining health once it has been restored.
Chinese Self-Care Exercise is a branch of Chinese medicine that is almost never taught as a discrete, separate system of healing. Most often, the exercises are taught along with other, more detailed and complex practices (such as taiji [tai chi]; qigong [chi gung]; or other advanced medical, spiritual, or martial practices) as a way to prepare a student for those more demanding disciplines, or as adjunctive exercises that can make some aspects of those practices ultimately easier to perform. Until now, as presented in Chinese Healing Exercises, you may never have encountered these exercises unless you chose to study one of those more comprehensive practices.
Sometimes Self-Care Exercises are taught as qigong, although that label is rarely accurate (as discussed below). Sometimes, a knowledgeable Chinese (or Chinese-trained) physician will teach them to patients whose condition can benefit from the specific exercise(s) they are prescribed. In a strictly medical setting, many of these exercises were originally part of a therapy that a physician or healer would perform on a patient, who was the passive recipient of the treatment. Those therapies are still commonly used today, and can be considered as the Chinese equivalent to physical therapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, and massage therapy. They were later modified to be a practice that the patient or student could perform as a healing exercise for themselves. I have learned them in all those contexts; have collected them over the decades; and compiled, organized, and expanded on them in ways that make them easy for anyone to understand, practice, and enjoy the many health enhancing benefits they have to offer.
Most Chinese Self-Care Exercises Are Not Qigong
Since qigong is a more familiar type of Chinese self-care practice, it's important to point out some distinctions, and explain how these Self-Care Exercises differ. The simplest translations of the word "qi" are "energy," "vitality," or "life force," while "gong" is most commonly translated as "practice" or "work." So, "qigong" means "energy practice," methods of teaching people to directly work with their qi.
Qigong is not a single practice, but a wonderful constellation of practices, with literally thousands of variations. Each variation has a specific purpose. That purpose can be very deep and sometimes a bit esoteric, such as tuning into celestial and terrestrial energies and circulating them through one's body in very specific yet varied ways, for one example. Almost all fall under the broad headings of medical, martial, Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian qigongs. While many exist as purely one type or another, there is often some overlap among them.
While there are some fairly simple qigongs, in order to be a true qigong they must adhere to the principle of The Three Regulations: the Regulation of Body, Breath, and Mind. With those attended to, even a seemingly simple single movement practice is much more complex than is readily apparent to the inexperienced eye. Some single-movement qigongs can take a full weekend of training to even begin to practice accurately. Because of that level of detail, most reputable teachers assert that qigong can only be taught directly from teacher to student in a live setting. Without personal guidance and correction, there are too many ways a student could do themselves harm, physically (including damage to nerves and internal organs), psychologically, or energetically, if trying to learn these things only from a book or video.
In contrast, Chinese Self-Care Exercises are very simple, and can be learned quickly. Most have a narrow range of focus. As effective as they are, most are not very demanding physically, psychologically, or energetically, and can be performed by anyone, regardless of age, gender, or level of fitness. The majority of them involve the Regulation of the Body alone, although many include relatively simple breathing and/or mind components. Because of that, there is almost no danger of harming oneself, even if practiced incorrectly. They are so gentle that injury is much less likely than the potential harm an overzealous or incautious athletic student may self-inflict when training in running, stretching, lifting weights, and other conventional exercise.
When Self-Care Exercises are taught as qigong, as is sometimes the case, they are being labeled erroneously, since very few of these Chinese Self-Care Exercises are truly qigongs. Calling it qigong may be a marketing strategy in the western world, since people are increasingly familiar with the word qigong, and that label may get those people in the door. That's not a completely bad thing, since Self-Care Exercises are very beneficial and all people should practice them regularly; if it takes calling it qigong to get someone interested enough to learn them, that person has been well-served, even if misled. The main problem as I see it is that there is so much misunderstanding and confusion surrounding almost all Chinese health and medical practices (including acupuncture and herbal medicine) that erroneous or incomplete labels do nothing to dispel or clarify those misconceptions. Consider that conventional western medicine has no concept of qi or any medical equivalent, and of course qi is intrinsic to the practice if qigong and all Chinese medicine, including Chinese Self-Care Exercises. This is a significant obstacle to western understanding.
What Chinese Self-Care Exercises Do, and How They Provide Those Benefits
While you might understandably think that the above distinctions made between qigong and Chinese Self Care exercises imply that qi is not directly influenced by these exercises, that would not be correct. Acupuncture, shiatsu, tuina, and herbal medicines all access qi directly, if in somewhat different ways. Qi is life force, and is responsible for all healthy functionality, animation, vitality, emotional balance, and mental clarity. Chinese Healing Exercises have a positive impact on all those qualities, in its own unique ways. What exactly is it that Chinese Healing Exercises do, and how do their provide their benefits?
They create openness and improve flexibility. Openness and flexibility are two different, although related, things. Openness primarily means increasing internal space, either by opening a joint or expanding a body cavity. Flexibility has more to do with making muscles more supple, limber, and freely moveable. The two are interrelated in a few ways, but the easiest to explain is that if a muscle is tight or inflexible, it will narrow (close) the joint space between the bones to which it is attached. If a joint space or body cavity is closed down, it will restrict the movement of the surrounding muscles. Additionally, if the joint space becomes sufficiently closed down, there will almost always be local inflammation, which will irritate the surrounding muscles, causing reduced flexibility, and creating a downward spiral.
Flexibility and openness can both be increased through stretching exercises. Stretches may be linear, rotational, or a combination of those. Many of the Chinese stretching exercises strongly influence a particular acupuncture meridian or meridians (energy pathways with well-defined trajectories within the body, each with functional health associations), promoting the flow of qi through those meridians for additional specific health benefits.
Openness can also be increased passively through joint mobilization, range of motion, vibrational, and bouncing types of exercises, and through acupressure and massage techniques. All of those are detailed in Chinese Healing Exercises. For informational purposes only, openness can be increased actively, by directly opening joint spaces and body cavities internally, but that is a neigong practice, outside of the scope of Chinese Self-Care exercises and beyond the basics of qigong as well.
- They can disperse qi stagnation. Qi can become stagnant due to injury, illness, inactivity, prolonged emotional states, inhospitable environments, poor dietary choices, and as a side effect of certain pharmaceutical drugs, among other things. Qi stagnation reduces functionality and causes mild to moderate pain in its earlier stages, and severe pain in the case of some injuries or after it has persisted for some time.
Chinese Self Care Exercises address qi stagnation primarily through acupressure and massage practices, applying direct pressure on pockets of qi stagnation. Such pressure frees up and disperses that localized stagnation. Paidagong, or tapping and patting techniques, direct waves of qi from the surface of the body to the interior, or along meridian pathways, and breaks up qi stagnation in its path. As qi stagnation is often a component of tight, inflexible muscles, the flexibility exercises discussed above will also help to unbind qi.
Qi that is freed up in this way is of two main sorts. It can be normal, healthy qi that has only been restricted for a while. In that case, although you will not have an actual net gain of qi, you will have access to that previously unusable, bound qi, so you will feel energized by having more of your qi available to you. That qi can also be put to use in improving your general health and the functionality of your entire body. If the qi has been stagnant for a longer time, or has been generated by an internal pathology, then the qi itself is pathological. In that case, once it's freed up, it can't be used for healthy purposes, but your body can dispel it so it causes no further harm and allows for more complete healing in the areas where it formerly lodged.
- They normalize the directionality of qi flow. Some illnesses or dysfunctions are caused by qi flowing counter to its normal, healthy direction. One easy-to-understand example is that of Rebellious Stomach Qi. Stomach qi should normally descend, sending digested food downward into your intestines for further processing. If stomach qi rises (rebels) instead, it can cause symptoms ranging from mild belching or hiccups to severe nausea and vomiting. Some of the gentlest exercises, like the Energetic Abdominal Massage, use very light touch and mental focus to encourage the qi to flow in its health-supporting directions, quelling rebellious qi in this example.
- They improve blood flow, both in the major blood vessels, and the microcirculation through tiny capillaries to nourish all the cells in your body. Some of the more vigorous exercises function in part as conventional cardiovascular and aerobic exercises. But, since, "the Qi is the commander of the Blood" (a well-known Chinese medical precept), all of the exercises that benefit qi flow as described above benefit blood flow as well. Blood carries oxygen, nutrients, and qi to all the tissues in your body, and removes the toxic waste products of cellular metabolism and the pyrotoxins of inflammation, the root cause of many chronic diseases. If qi flow is impaired for prolonged periods or if due to acute trauma, it can become quite severe and cause Blood Stasis. Blood Stasis is usually very painful, and sets the stage for many serious illnesses, including most types of cancer. Keeping blood flow strong and free prevents the onset of many diseases, nourishes all body tissues, and moistens the muscles, improving flexibility in a different way than was discussed above.
- They create emotional calm and mental focus. The most obvious methods for that involve focused breathing (which soothe an overactive mind and facilitate the release of tension from the nervous system) and simple meditation practices (which also utilize breathing and mindful awareness). Less obviously, when a body is freer of pain, there is less mental distraction caused by that pain; being free of pain means more qi is able to be utilized by all the body’s organs. In Chinese medicine, it is understood that every organ has a specific emotional correspondence. When the organ is out of balance, upsetting emotions arise. When organs are functioning properly, as they will when supported by more available, freely-flowing qi and blood, the emotions will be appropriate, balanced, and harmonious.
The Advantages of Chinese Self Care Exercises
While personal instruction is always advisable, these exercises may be learned quickly, thoroughly, and safely from a book. While the range of benefits for any individual exercise is nowhere near as extensive as you'd find in taiji or most qigongs, they are targeted to a particular purpose, and work very well for that intended purpose. Because each exercise is short, able to be learned in a few minutes and performed in even less time, it's easy to add more of them to your daily practice as needed. They are gentle enough to be performed by almost everyone, and most are easily modifiable if needed to accommodate special needs or physical restrictions. They're extremely convenient, requiring very little space and no special clothing or equipment. Since you don't need to visit a gym or yoga studio, they're economical as well. Chinese Healing Exercises are associated with practices that have been around for six hundred to more than three thousand years, so you can be sure they've been thoroughly researched, developed, and proven to be very effective.
Chinese Healing Exercises teaches you how to use these exercises to improve your general health, including aid in selecting only the exercises best suited to your personal needs to create a customized daily exercise program, increasing energy, reducing stress, promoting openness and flexibility, and enhancing emotional calm and mental clarity as you may need. It also teaches you how to address many specific health challenges. The Appendix provides an extensive selection of exercise prescriptions, combinations of exercises useful in alleviating many common health conditions.
The wisdom gleaned over thousands of years from the teachings of medical, martial, and spiritual masters will never go out of date. I hope you find Chinese Healing Exercises to be a treasured resource, one that you can consult with confidence and utilize throughout all the years of your life.