Today more people than ever are looking for ways to improve their health, increase energy, reduce stress, restore or enhance functionality, relieve aches and pains, balance emotions, and sharpen mental focus. Because of the demands of modern life, most people want those ways to be relatively simple and not require much time out of their busy day. If you still haven’t found something to fit your needs, you may want to consider Chinese healing exercises.
Chinese healing exercises make up a branch of Chinese medicine that is almost never taught as a separate system of healing, but is used in many practices you probably recognize. Some are part of the oldest of Chinese medical practices, including acupressure and tuina, a type of Chinese massage therapy. Others have their origins in ancient self-healing or spiritual practices, such as Chinese forms of yoga and meditation. They are routinely taught along with more detailed and complex practices, such as taiji (t’ai chi), qigong (chi gung), and 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 easier to perform. Some sources are less well known in the west, like medical qigong and paidagong, a tapping and patting technique used to break up qi blockages.
With a narrower range of focus than either taiji or qigong, they still provide benefits on an energetic level, affecting qi in their own way, just as acupuncture and herbal medicine access qi directly, though in different ways. Qi is life force, and is responsible for all healthy functionality, animation, vitality, emotional balance, and mental clarity. These exercises have a unique positive impact on all those qualities.
Chinese healing exercises can amplify the benefits from taiji or qigong if you already have such a practice. In that context, they will open targeted areas of physical or energetic restriction, deepen your sensitivity to qi sensations, increase qi flow, and root you more securely, thereby improving your overall performance.
How Chinese Healing Exercises Produce Their Benefits
They create openness and improve flexibility.
Openness and flexibility are two different things. Openness means increasing internal space, by opening a joint or expanding a body cavity. Flexibility has more to do with making muscles more supple, limber, and freely moveable. Both flexibility and openness can be increased through linear or rotational stretching, or a combination of the two. Many of the Chinese stretching exercises strongly influence a particular acupuncture meridian or meridians (well-defined energy pathways with functional health associations), promoting qi flow through them for additional specific health benefits.
Openness can also be increased as a secondary effect of passive joint mobilization, range of motion, and vibrational types of exercises, and through acupressure and self-massage techniques. All these methods are included in Chinese healing exercises.
They 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 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 healing exercises address qi stagnation primarily through acupressure and massage practices, applying direct pressure to pockets of stagnation. Such pressure frees up and disperses that localized stagnation. Paidagong directs waves of qi from the surface of the body to the interior, or along meridian pathways, and breaks up qi stagnation in its path.
If your healthy qi has only been restricted for a while, you will have access to that previously unusable bound qi, so you will feel energized by having it available again. That qi can then be put to use in improving your general health and the functionality of your entire body.
They normalize the directionality of qi flow.
Some health problems are caused by qi flowing counter to its normal 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 use very light touch and mental focus to guide the qi to flow in its health-supporting directions, quelling rebellious qi in this example.
They improve blood flow in the major blood vessels and the microcirculation through tiny capillaries, nourishing all the cells in your body.
Some of the more vigorous exercises can function as conventional cardiovascular/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 organs and tissues in your body, removes the toxic waste products of cellular metabolism, and reduces 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 some types of cancer. Keeping blood flow strong and free prevents the onset of many diseases, nourishes all body tissues, and moistens the muscles, improving their supple flexibility.
They create emotional calm and mental focus.
The most obvious methods to promote calmness involve focused breathing, which soothes an overactive mind and releases tension from the nervous system, and simple meditation practices, which also utilize breathing and mindful awareness. Less obvious, 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 specific emotional correspondences. 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.
Why Include Chinese Healing Exercises in Your Daily Life?
They’re easy to do.
Regardless of your age or level of fitness, anyone can do these exercises. Most are very gentle, and the more challenging ones have easier variations that may suit you better until you’re ready to progress further. Even sticking with just a few of the simplest exercises will provide substantial health benefits.
They take very little time.
Healing exercises can be performed in as little as 1 to 2 minutes, and you’ll get the full benefit specified for each exercise. They really shine where “fast and easy” is desired.
They are completely customizable.
There is no set regimen you have to follow. You choose only the exercises that apply to your needs and create the personalized program that works best for you. If you practice exercises that allow you to feel improvements almost immediately, you’ll be encouraged to be faithful in your practice.
Because they take so little time and space, these are great for break periods at work, school, or home, and can reduce stress, boost energy, or address an ongoing problem whenever you can fit it into your day. You don’t need any special clothes, and you don’t need to go to a gym or yoga studio, so there’s no additional expense.
Most importantly, they work!
These exercises have withstood the test of time, having been developed over thousands of years. With so much research and development, only the best, most practical, and effective exercises have endured, and have created this remarkably effective self-care system.
By Steven Cardoze, MSC, LAc