Recently one of my patients -a beautiful, strong, and conscious, woman- told me that her qi gong practice has taught her to examine the difference between health and fitness in her life. She went on to explain how some of the things she had been doing to “stay fit” were actually compromising her health. Too much running and biking were causing back pain, knee pain, and fatigue. But in moderation, these same exercises helped her feel great. Listening to her body’s wisdom, she was able to keep herself feeling pain-free and energetic through doing less of what her mind was telling her she needed in order to be fit. Some days that meant a gentle walk rather than a vigorous run.
I could relate. My own internal “should” voice can be very strong. And loud. At times shrill. And I have definite ideas about what I need to be doing in order to be healthy, which don’t always line up with what my body needs. Is it better to force myself to get up and meditate, or get an extra hour of sleep? Green smoothies can be wonderfully healthy, but is my digestive qi up to the challenge of digesting them in the cold, damp, winter? Maybe oatmeal would be a better choice. My intellectual mind doesn’t always know the answers, but my bodymind does. That information is always there when I bother to tune in and ask, rather than let my mind run the show.
Qigong is a practice of turning into the bodymind. But the benefits of the practice are not confined to the half hour of going through the qigong routine: there’s a spillover effect. Tuning into what’s going on inside moment by moment, day by day, we allow the what the Taoists call “right action” to arise by itself, which is the secret to living in harmony with nature, and with one’s own heart. And that’s where the joy lives. Interestingly enough, the 2011 study by Massachusetts General Hospital showed increased grey matter density in brain in areas associated with self-awareness, introspection, compassion, empathy, memory and learning, decision-making (plus decreased size of the region associated with stress) when participants practiced meditation for 30-minutes a day for 8 weeks.
Could you benefit from a practice of tuning in? A new qigong session begins January 4, and another on Feb. 1. I invite you to sign up.
A colleague showed up at my office yesterday and asked “what are you doing tonight at 7:30?” For the first time in weeks, the answer was “I don’t have any plans, actually.” She smiled, presented me with a free ticket to the Aviv String Quartet’s performance that her husband wasn’t able to use, and left.
As I sat in the concert hall, listening, the music worked its magic. It felt as though the sound waves were massaging my brain into a dreamy, peaceful, yet creative and inspiring state. I came out of it feeling deeply rejuvenated, like an especially deep meditation or trip to “acu-land.” While feeling deeply grateful that I was there having this experience, I was reminded of this passage from the Tao Te Ching:
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
–Tao Te Ching interpreted by Stephen Mitchell
If there’s no space, nothing happens. We need yin to engender yang.
It’s so easy for me to see space as simply something that needs to be filled up. This keeps me very busy (usually with things I love!) but doesn’t allow for a whole lot of spontaneity. What would happen if I left a little more space ?
Grab my free ebook: 5 Biohacks to Reduce Stress.