Winter is the season of regeneration and repair, so it is the perfect time to tone the yin and to call on the wisdom of the Water element. This is the most Yin season, energy is now stored deeply down solid in the roots in nature. Winter is the season to nourish and support the kidneys, a time to nurture the most vital structures of the body, to focus on restoring kidney vitality so that when spring comes we have enough energy to grow and to function well.
During winter the body changes from weak Yin to extreme Yin, qi deficiency occurs in the Kidneys and Wei Qi (protective qi) shrinks to the centre of the body. The Kidneys are associated with the emotion of fear and during this season the spirit can sink and depression increases. Winter is the time to let go of fear, a time to find acceptance for the changes in your life and to cultivate your ability to adapt and flow as we move into a deep resting and hush of the season.
In addition to the Kidneys during winter there is a focus on the paired organ; the Urinary Bladder, as well as the Adrenal Glands, Ears, and Hair. During this season our Qi retracts from the outer area of the body and settles in the Bones, Kidneys, and Lower Dantian which can leave our protective Qi vulnerable to germs and viruses. This is a time for mild - moderate physical exercise, it is recommended to shed just a little sweat, not too much, otherwise it hurts the yang energy of the body. Its a wonderful time for Qigong, Taiji, Yoga and Walking. You can strengthen the Wei Qi energy through stimulating and massaging the ears, kidneys and balls of the feet.
Winter is also a time to conserve energy spiritually, to recollect your thoughts, do sitting meditation, rest more, and cut down on overstimulation and busyness. If possible don’t stay up too late during this period, try to go to bed earlier, 9 or 10 o’clock and rise a little later, after the sun comes up. Not conserving energy in winter is certain to lead to illness in the coming spring.
During winter people with heart and lung problems should take extra care to keep warm, the coldness contracts the blood vessels and can exacerbate conditions such as asthma and other respiratory issues.
The foods of the winter season are Salty with an emphasis on warming foods such as soups and stews, root vegetables, beans, miso, seaweed, garlic and ginger, as well as herbs; coriander, fresh peppercorns, marjoram, oregano, thyme and fennel. Salty foods include crab, crayfish, clams, oysters, mussels, sardines, pork, pork kidney, flake, squid, soy sauce, millet and barley. The Chinese tradition is to eat turnips in winter, which can help to clear up excessive heat. It is also essential to drink plenty of fluids, especially warm fluids such as warm water or tea.
Join me in my Winter Solstice Seasonal Qigong Workshop to explore gentle stretches, stimulation and massage, flowing movements and standing postures complementary to the season. We will look inward, strengthen our kidney essence, release stored fears, increase wisdom and stimulate the removal of toxins from the body.
Winter Qigong Workshop - Kundalini House - Saturday June 20th, 2015 - more details HERE
Autumn marks the end of the growing season, having provided the harvest, nature now makes everything bare. In this season nature lets go of its abundant creation of the past year in a grand final display.
Just like in nature, our bodies transition through ‘seasons’ with different organs, physiology and aspects of ourselves in focus at different times of the year. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the season of autumn is the element of Metal, which relates to the yin organ of the Lungs, paired with the yang organ the Large Intestine.
In nature autumn is a time of falling away, the release of outer-directed energy; leaves turn colour, drop and return back to the earth, enriching it to promote the coming of new leaves and new growth.
We can learn more about ourselves by observing the cycles of nature. Trees in autumn don’t stubbornly hold onto their leaves because they might need them next year. The energy of this season, more than any other, supports our letting go of the old and stale in our lives, leaving us receptive to the pure and new, encouraging us to eliminate what we no longer need and creating space and vision for the future.
Emotionally the element of Metal is associated with grief, loss and sadness, grief cleanses us of what is no longer needed in our lives. The element of Metal is also associated to the positive emotions of inspiration and courage. When we align ourselves with nature and the cycles of the seasons, when we embrace ‘letting go’ and separation in the same way that autumn embraces releasing the harvest we have the opportunity to transform grief, loss, sadness and depression into inspiration and courage.
The Large Intestine has the function of eliminating what is unnecessary or toxic from our physical bodies. On a mental and emotional level we can consider the function of this organ as helping us to the release mental patterns and programming that no longer benefits us, eliminating mental garbage, allowing our minds to become less noxious and cluttered. The Lungs are the ‘Commanders of Qi’, the first place the energy enters our body. The air in autumn takes on a new crispness, the opportunity to fill our lungs with that clean, cool autumn air. A time to take in the pure and new and to be inspired by the possibilities of the future. The Lung and Large Intestine work together as a team, one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste.
As nature moves into a period of rest, it is a time that we too can release and rest, being careful not to overexert. The time for 'putting it all out there’ - the summer - has passed. Now is the time to turn inwardly, reflect and release what is no longer needed. It’s a great time to reorganise, clean and donate and to get outside, enjoy and draw in the freshness of the autumn air.
As the heat of the summer passes and we embrace to cooler climate we can also support our physiological and emotional transition by eating the foods of the season. Autumn is associated with dryness so its important to ensure we are drinking enough water, we can move away from the cooling foods of summer and nourish our body and our immune system by embracing warming and moisture rich foods such as garlic, ginger, lotus root, leek, capers, mushroom, pumpkin, sweet potato, nuts and seeds, apple, pear and honey.
My top three tips for embracing the lessons of nature and living aligned the cycles of the seasons this autumn is to:
1. Get outside, go for a walk, breathe in the crisp, fresh air
2. Combat dryness by drinking enough water and eating foods from the season
3. Turn inwardly, reflect and release negative patterns - try letting go of a habit that doesn’t serve you
This Thursday my qigong classes recommence, come and join me as I lead you through a seasonal practice for autumn focusing on Lung movement, breath and flow.
Class recommences Thursday April 23rd, 12:15pm and continue weekly on Wednesday 8:00am and Thursday 12:15pm
Join me for two wonderful Qigong workshops in my new series - Qigong for Self Healing
Awaken your Qi - Friday May 1st, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Buddha Palm - Saturday May 16th, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
371 St Georges Road
Fitzroy North VIC 3068
For class and workshop bookings click HERE
A couple of years ago someone suggested that I should try qigong (pronounced chi gong), they thought I would like it. I didn’t even know what it was so I promptly went off to Google it!
Luckily my first encounter with qigong was with the modern and integrative style of Lee Holden, an American qigong master who has taken all that he has learnt from the traditional masters of the East and distilled it into an engaging style perfect for our modern culture.
After a few months of practicing integrative qigong I was hooked and I wanted to share what I had found so I started teaching classes at some of my local community centres. My knowledge and experience was limited so I enrolled to undertake a Qigong instructor course and through that I received my first taste of traditional qigong. It was a lot different to the integrative style I had been practicing but I enjoyed the experience and there was great value in understanding some of the underpinning fundamentals.
I continued to practice, teach and to explore some of the 2500(!) traditional forms and incorporate into my style various movements and aspects, it was however the integrative style that resonated with me most. Through my experience and teaching of qigong I found my meditation practice and then went on to study mindfulness meditation and began to incorporate different elements of that into my classes and workshops.
am very passionate about my practice and about sharing qigong with others but I was finding there were obstacles in reaching everyday people and popularising qigong as a mainstream wellbeing practice. People either didn’t know what it was (or how to pronounce it!!) or they had some encounter with it but didn’t find it particularly engaging.
Qigong for me was like the experience of Savansana (the final relaxation posture of lying down after a yoga class) except instead of just at the end - all the way through! Also, that wonderful feeling of relaxation and awareness could be achieved through just a few minutes of practice!
I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t practicing qigong or interested in trying it so I decided I needed to find out. I went to every qigong class I could find and there were two things I noticed:
1. Every class was different
2. Most classes were not engaging
Some classes consisted of mostly standing postures, basically where you stand in a particular position for an extended period of time - not very engaging and pretty confronting for a first time experience of the practice. Some classes brought together breath work and a few basic movements - also not very engaging, particularly for someone who is overstimulated and consumed by excessive thinking due of their high pressure career or busy lifestyle. Some classes concentrated on walking qigong, I think its great but if you went to a class for the first time and you spent most of it walking in circles waving your arms up and down I can’t imagine it would resonate deeply. Other classes focused on internal energy, the idea of moving energy around the body - most people have forgotten they have a body and they certainly can’t feel their internal energy!
All of the classes I attended were based on various forms of traditional qigong. Through my experience of these classes I realised why qigong wasn’t a popular or mainstream wellbeing practice. Either the general experience of it wasn’t engaging and stimulating enough or it was too esoteric.
Traditional qigong is beautiful but like many practices steeped in tradition, it is in my opinion; overly choreographed, static and rigid. To really experience the benefits it requires a long term commitment, patience and hours of practice to perfect and master. While there is much to be esteemed about practice, commitment and mastery, in the context of our fast-paced, overstimulated and busy lifestyles not many people have the desire, time, patience or dedication for a practice like traditional qigong.
While I now understand why qigong isn’t a popular and mainstream wellbeing activity I am certainly not deterred from teaching and spreading my integrative qigong style with the world! I have always been pioneering and ready to tackle a challenge so while at times I feel like giving up on my mission to bring integrative qigong to people far and wide. Every day I am reminded as to how much I love practising, I love teaching and I love how it really is something that can help people to improve their health and wellbeing in a time that it is so desperately needed by so many.
If you’d like to try out integrative qigong come to one of my classes or workshops, you’ll find details on my website. I also offer private (health insurance rebates apply in some cases) and Skype sessions. Also check out my ‘About’ page for videos and information on the health benefits.
I hope to see you at a class or workshop soon!
It's not news to anyone that we’re all too busy, we’re time poor, we’re too sedentary, we don’t get enough exercise and many of us don’t get enough sleep or eat well. We’re constantly bombarded with information about what we should and need to do to improve our wellbeing and health but for some reason we’re not doing it.
What is even more interesting to me is that despite the recent reports from PwC and Australian Psychological Society, that clearly indicate the strong financial return on mental health, corporate health and workplace wellbeing programs, employers are still slow on the uptake to make changes in their businesses and make the sound investment of backing their most valuable asset - their people.
The Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2013 indicated that Australian workers had significantly lower levels of wellbeing and significantly higher levels of stress and distress, and depressive and anxiety symptoms than in previous years. More than seven in ten Australians reported that their stress impacts their physical health and working Australians reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction and interest in their jobs.
PwC’s report ‘Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace’ shows that for every $1.00 spent towards improving employee mental health, a company receives on average $2.30 in benefits. Its hard to understand why more companies, especially those where their employees are in high stress roles, are so hesitant to change their culture and to start creating the kind of workplaces that foster health and wellbeing for their employees and in return a better bottom line on the Profit and Loss.
Not only are companies missing out on the return of investing in their people, they’re also exposed to high attrition rates, increased recruitment costs and workplace accidents and injuries that result from workplace stress and unhealthy employees. Medibank Private reports that each employee is absent a total of 3.2 days per year as a result of workplace stress and unhealthy employees are estimated to take on average 9 days more sick leave compared to healthy employees.
I recently approached a major industry body with the idea of providing a short corporate wellness session, that would occur within a ‘Wellness Lunch’ event that they were organising. Their event was hosting several high profile speakers who were talking about wellbeing, the stressful nature of the industry and, I quote how to bring about 'paradigms shifts, strategies and coping mechanisms and more’ in respect to wellness in the Property Management industry.
Interestingly my idea wasn’t embraced with open arms as I anticipated. I had thought an industry event advocating wellness would be the perfect opportunity to practice what they were preaching, to walk the talk…so to speak. The feedback I received was that they didn’t want to make anyone ‘feel uncomfortable’ or place anyone ‘outside their comfort zone’ by presenting a session that may be seen as unconventional or unusual. I wasn’t proposing that we all stand on our heads or break out yoga mats and take to Warrior 1, my sessions bring Mindfulness and Movement together, based on Qigong and Tai chi, combining slow stretches and gentle flowing movements, all of which can comfortably be done in business attire from a standing position. I was informed that the idea of asking everyone to stand and to raise their arms above their heads would be seen as too ‘alternative’ and that they (the industry body) were worried about how they would be perceived and the potential repercussions of advocating something ‘different’ like what I was suggesting.
This would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. What we need is for industry bodies and people in leadership positions to help to lead the way to wellness, by not only advocating for it and talking about it, but by participating and being willing to pioneer new activities, practices and models into the workplace. It is rudimentary to simply talk about wellness, wellness comes from behaviour change and active participation. We need to start thinking about wellness as a verb not just some buzz word to throw around and have high profile speakers talk about at over indulgent lunches.
On a brighter note there are some organisations empowering their employees and teams from a grassroots level. There are self organising groups at Telstra that gather regularly to practice Mindfulness Meditation and corporate giant Ericsson have just partnered with Vimcore, a corporate wellness benefits tool that enables employees to seek wellbeing advice and find healthy local services.
We are spending more time than ever at work and the expectations and demands of our jobs and careers are now taking up the majority of our time. Studies show that bringing health and wellbeing practices into the workplace gives employees a better sense of work/life balance, better equips them to handle stress and helps them to better connect with their colleagues and clients. If companies want to get the best out of their most valuable asset its time to do away with the archaic model of all work and no play in the workday and begin bringing life and health into the everyday workday through approaching wellness as a verb.
Last year I started a daily meditation ritual, I began with 7 minutes and for a long time it was the longest 7 minutes of my day. My mind was like a washing machine, thoughts of what I had planned for that day, what I’d eat for breakfast, what I did the previous day, what I needed to do the coming week and a thousand other things spun around in my mind. It was if I had a flatmate living with me that wouldn’t shut up. Sitting in stillness and attempting to silence my flatmate so I might have a few minute of peace was a frustrating experience.
I persisted, initially I used meditation music to help focus my awareness and I gradually increased the amount of time I sat in stillness each morning. After a few months of practise I found that I didn’t need or want the music and slowly, painfully slowly… I noticed moments of actual stillness come into my practise. Moments when my flatmate had shut the hell up and I wasn’t thinking a million thoughts, moments in between the thoughts. I also noticed that if my flatmate did pipe up, I didn’t get involved in the dialogue, I was able to let the odd rant or chatter pass while maintaining my sense of stillness and awareness of self.
I had been teaching Mindful Movement for around six months when I began my stillness meditation practice, with the idea to train in Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation (MBSM). I felt mindfulness training would compliment my teaching of Mindful Movement and assist me in my own life. Last week I spent the week at the Gawler Foundation Living Centre in the Yarra Valley, in a residential meditation teacher training program and it was a wonderful experience that I could have easily continued for longer than the five days!
I was collected and shuttled into the beautiful Yarra Valley and to the Gawler Foundation property, a retreat set within 40 hectares of natural bushland. Our group for teacher training consisted of 29 women and 1 man, which was no doubt a little daunting for the gentleman now known as Goddess Murray… It was a group of magnificent people from across Australia, from a range of different backgrounds, some of the people had previously attended cancer programs at the Gawler Foundation and were back to learn about teaching what they had learnt so they could help others. It was a truly inspiring group of people to share such a wonderful week with.
Day 1 began with learning and practising mindfulness based meditations that focused on the breath and the sense of awareness before our closed eyes, we learned about the fundamentals of the thinking mind and about the function of our awareness and attention. We were nourished with a delicious plant-based diet and given the opportunity to get to know each other and to explore the property, making friends with the large population of kangaroos that casually roamed the grassy plains.
After breakfast the following day we gathered together for Day 2 of teacher training. It was if the attendees from Queensland had brought the weather with them as the sun shone brightly and I was distracted by the flurry of orange and red leaves falling from the tree outside our training room window. As our teacher Paul Bedson mentioned ‘distraction is resistance to mindfulness’ my attention snapped back to the training and the present moment.
Day 3 started with what was called ’Noble Silence’, we awoke and went about our morning routines in silence, as well avoiding contact and gesturing to our fellow attendees… the only sound at breakfast was the symphony of spoons clanging against the crockery. I didn’t manage to maintain my silence, although I still claim that it wasn’t really my fault as I was startled by a staff member unlocking and entering the bathroom I was standing stark naked in!
As we moved through the training we came to mindfulness of emotions, a process of nurturing the felt sense and placing our awareness on and within our bodies. Day 3 came to a close with a serene mindfulness through music experience, a session of live harp music it was wonderful and relaxing, so relaxing, I took a little nap mid meditation!! After the official schedule of the day was fulfilled our magnificent little group took the music outside under the Full Moon for some more harp, blended with percussion and a little dancing on what felt like almost balmy midsummer night!
Day 4 and 5 expanded on both our teaching knowledge and learning new mediations, including a full body awareness meditation. Over the course of the retreat we meditated between 1-2 hours a day which really deepened my own personal practice and brought several personal insights and opportunities for growth and healing. The retreat finished with an inspiring and touching graduation ceremony and the chance to share our personal insights. We all were able to connect with one another in gratitude and with an amazing sense of openness and vulnerability throughout the week and I felt a real connectedness and bond within our group. We have already planned to remain connected and expand our network through both an alumni social media group and a reunion retreat next year.
I can honestly say that meditation has changed my life, here are the three big things I’ve gained through my practice:
Search meditation in Google images and you'll get a tirade of people sitting in cross legged postures and pictures of pebbles precariously balanced on top of one another. The idea of meditation commonly conjures images of monks, hippies, bare feet and tie-dye; interestingly though, in modern culture it is becoming more commonly associated with business suits and corporate success.
Its time for the business and corporate world to let go of their stereotypical ideas and begin to embrace meditation practices for what they can deliver. Jeff Weiner, founder of LinkedIn claims meditation as his 'single most important productivity tool', Ray Dalio, one of the worlds most successful hedge fund managers says meditation is his secret to success. Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Ford, Russell Simmons, Evan Williams, Larry Brilliant, Tony Schwartz and more recently Rupert Murdoch, all declare that meditation underpins their success in business and in life.
So, what is it and why should you do it. Meditation is in its simplest form, is taking time out from constant engagement, connectivity, appointments, phone calls, emails and social networking to disconnect. Disconnecting can be many things; it might be a simple 60 second thought exercise, it might be a walk or run in the park, it might be a morning mantra and breathing activity, it might be a lunch-time 30 minute session of Mindful Movement. Meditation can be almost anything, anything that enables you to disconnect, to quieten the mind and embrace relaxation. To turn off from the endless thoughts, to do lists, schedules and responsibilities.
Meditation has been declared a game changer, a productivity tool and essential for maximising success by some of the world's most successful people. Meditation can deliver results. People report increased productivity and creativity, lower stress and anxiety, increased clarity and focus, improved physical health and better decision making abilities.
If the recommendation of the worlds most successful people isn't enough, an increasing amount of research shows that meditation and mindfulness techniques effectively lower stress and anxiety and improve memory and cognitive function. A form of ancient Kundalini meditation is even recommended by the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation, the practice decreases stress and increases activity in areas of the brain related to memory.
Some of the biggest and most successful businesses in the world are embracing corporate meditation programs for their teams and leaders. These programs teach people how disconnect so they can achieve more; how to manage their emotions and stressful situations, and better understand the needs of their co-workers.
I can hear what the little voice in your head is saying… Where do I find the time to meditate? It doesn't need to take a huge amounts of your time. To be effective and produce results, it DOES however need to be a regular practice, a new keystone habit in your daily life and you need to make commitment to persistently and patiently develop your skills of consciousness and awareness. Just like physical exercise, if you go to the gym once or twice it's not going to have much of an effect, meditation is the gym for your brain.
If you want to maximise your success, optimise your team or take a step up to the next level in your career then its time to embrace a meditative practice. Forget the idea of hippy fluff and cross legged postures and do what the most successful people and businesses in the world recommend for success - meditation.
When an important situation or event is happening in our lives it can be overwhelming… It might be something that is really super exciting, like the anticipation of a great holiday you’re jetting off on tomorrow or a big day for you, like your wedding or graduation.
Sometimes that overwhelming feeling is filled with anxiety, tension and stress. Maybe you’re waiting to find out if you got that job you really want, passed that exam or maybe its the 2 week wait that Rebecca Hopkins talks about in her 2WW Survival Guide. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to make it through those two weeks where you’re waiting to find out if your IVF round was successful and you’re pregnant!
Being overwhelmed shows up in many forms; excitement, anxiety, sadness, stress, tiredness, depression, even joy. Sometimes I’m so excited by the work I’m doing and the projects and people I’m involved with that I find it difficult to wind down at bedtime, or I’m awake really early and ready for action (not so much a bad thing!).
Whether the sense of being overwhelmed relates to positive or negative emotions, finding a way to disconnect, a way to unpack and release those overwhelming feelings is essential to our personal growth and our sanity. Your self talk can drive you nuts - ‘what if’ this and ‘what if’ that, our minds become like a washing machine whirring constantly and in turn feeding our emotional fires. Finding a way to quieten the incessant flatmate in your head that won’t shut up can be challenging even for the most relaxed of us.
So how can we deal? When we don’t know which way is up, when we are overwhelmed by our work or family commitments, when we’re crazy excited about what tomorrow will bring or we’re enduring a two week wait. How can we regain our equilibrium and a sense of relaxed calmness despite what is happening around us?
Here are my top 3 tips to get you on your way:
1. Embrace a practice
My life has been completely transformed through embracing a practice, by bringing some daily rituals into my life. For me it is practicing Mindful Movement (qigong, tai chi and breathwork) and meditation.
2. Make it a daily ritual
Every morning before breakfast I dedicate some time to these practices, sometimes its a few minutes, sometimes its an hour. I find when I start the day from a relaxed and centred place its easier to deal with the challenges that arise and my practice equips me with go-to during my day if things do get overwhelming. Bringing a ‘practice’ or some ‘rituals’ into your life that help you to maintain or to regain your equilibrium, despite what is going on around you will revolutionise your life. It might be hard at first, to be disciplined, to make the commitment, but it will soon become your saviour.
3. Make it your ‘Go-to’
Having a practice to turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed is a way to release stress and anxiety and to bring calm and centred energy into your life - instantly. When I get too busy, when worry creeps in or I’m feeling confused I take a mini-break and put my Mindful Movement practice to work. A few minutes later I’m feeling calm, clearer and filled with renewed energy.
The Qigong Show - Whole Living Magazine
Click the image to check out some easy movements
While we advocate embracing something into your daily life, a practice doesn’t have to be daily, it just needs to be a go-to for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Maybe its going for a run, maybe its journalling, maybe its a minute of deep breathing. Your practice can be anything, all it needs to be is something that calms and relaxes you, and something that is accessible to you at any time, in any place, when you’re feeling shaken and stirred.
If you’re interested in learning a short Mindful Movement routine that you can adopt as your go-to when you’re feeling overwhelmed, join our next introductory workshop on April 27th.
It's amazing how much energy you have when you’re really excited and passionate about what you do. Last night I was on such a high from holding my first workshop and from discussing some new and wonderful upcoming projects that I just couldn’t go to sleep. I then woke up around 4:00am and my excitement hadn’t dissipated so I spent an hour or so lying awake thinking about the great things to come! At 7:00am I sprang out of bed with gutso and immediately went to work on my to-do list.
Since I’ve started consciously creating and living more aligned with my values and the things I bring joy to, my entire life has changed. It doesn’t matter to me what time of the day it is, or which day of the week, work doesn’t feel like work and I can happily pour hours into growing my business, programming classes and workshops and teaching people Mindful Movement and meditation.
Through consciously creating a life I love I’ve realised that my ‘work’ doesn’t have to be limited to one area. I don’t need to only teach Mindful Movement, I don’t only need to be a Holistic Health Coach, I can create my life so that I work and receive an income through being involved in projects that excite me. A portfolio career! All that is really necessary is that I bring joy to and feel excited about what I putting my energy into, and through that my energy becomes boundless and abundant.
Your only ‘job’ in this life is to be in service. To share your gifts with others. To create and live a life you love, to feel excited when you wake up and to feel thankful you’ve been blessed with another day. If you’re not feeling this way about your life then it might be time to create some space, work out why and make some changes.
I was lucky enough that I could create an extended amount of uninterrupted space in my life that gave me a head start on creating a life I love. Not many people have this luxury, there are family responsibilities, financial commitments, schedules, work and a multitude of other demands on our time.
If you can’t just take off for a few months and leave it all behind a good place to start is by consciously creating a little space in your day to day life. Embrace a life practice; here are some ideas to get you on the path to consciously creating a life you love…
The only thing stopping you from creating and living a life you really love, a life you feel passionate about and excited by is you. Do it already.
As we close our eyes we begin to draw our attention inwardly… We stand in 'Bamboo in the wind', a simple and relaxed standing posture, our focus settles on the breath. Observe the inhalation. The sensation of the breath coming in, through the nostrils, feeling it glide past the back of the throat and move down into the chest, the diaphragm expands as the breath pushes further down, deep into the belly, the navel rising. Noticing the moment where the breath transforms into energy, the slight pause before the exhalation, like the pause between a wave rolling into the shore and receding into the ocean.
As the breath settles naturally we enjoy this simple posture for a few moments before our focus and attention turns to the centre line of the body. Scan from the crown, to the brow, to the throat, down to the heart, into the solar plexus, continue down below the navel and into the root area below the tail-bone. We attune our focus to the feeling centre of our body. Allow sensations to rise and fall naturally, just observe and compassionately keeping any feelings and sensations that arise company, no need to judge or change them, just let them be as they are and feel into them.
Once the body and mind feels stillness we begin our mindful movement. Keeping our eyes closed, we start by gently rotating the wrists and hands, first in one direction and then in the other. We then begin to move both the elbows, forearms, wrists and hands in circular motions, again firstly in one direction and then in the other. After a few rotations in both directions we take our hands and place them on our shoulders, our fingers facing forward and thumbs behind, we continue our circling motions, this time with the shoulders and the arms. We inhale circling in one direction, paying particular attention to each part of the movement, while coordinating it with the breath, we then exhale, circling in the opposite direction.
Our Mindful Movement is aligned with our breath, the three fundamental principles of Qigong being body, mind, breath. We are using the movement as our anchor for this mindfulness practice. If the mind wanders (as it is likely to do), just gently bring it back to the movement and breath.
Our warm up continues with circling movements for the head, neck, waist, hips, legs, knees and ankles, warming up each area and allowing our body to lubricate the joints, tendons and muscles.
Each practice of mindful movement and qigong varies, combining gentle stretches, stimulating knocking and accu-tapping and flowing, fluid movements. The focus is on each movement, the flow and coordination of the breath and the complete awareness of the body.
We may start with The Pine Tree, a gentle raising and lowering of firstly the hands and arms, then moving into combination with raising and lowering of the legs. This movement is considered a longevity exercise, the Pine Tree is a symbol for endurance, long life and self discipline and is often associated with god Sau, the god of longevity.
Stretching movements such as 'Holding one arm aloft' from Ba Duan Jin may follow. This is a gentle stretching of the arms in opposite directions and flexing of the hands, again coordinated with the breath. This movement regulates the spleen and stomach while also providing an opening through the sides of the body. Many of the stretching movements in qigong enable an opening of the meridians that run through the body as well as stimulating and massaging the internal organs.
Flowing and fluid movements help to relax the mind and promote a sense of clarity and calmness, bringing about a meditative state. The 'Fountain' is a simple flowing movement where the backs of the hands come together below the belly and gently rise to the heart with the inhalation. The palms open and the hands and arms float out and down with the exhalation. Many extensions and variations can be incorporated into this simple flowing movement.
Mindful movement is a combination of both modern and traditional qigong and tai chi and makes up 30-45 minutes of each class. Each session begins and ends with meditation, using a selection of intention, attention and inquiry based meditations. Classes may focus on particular paired organs and meridians or they may combine a series of movements which focus several different body areas and movement styles.
Mindful movement promotes balance and the flow of energy in the body, it relaxes the mind and creates a feeling of vitality in the body. We receive benefits to the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our beings and we build our self healing abilities. Through the focus of body, mind and breath we build a connection to the present moment, a connection to our body and through nourishing our emotions and feelings we build compassion, empathy and the ability to connect to others.
There is an old Chinese saying; 'Health is like water in a well: the importance of the water can never be realised until the well is dry'. Propelled by modern lifestyle, career expectations, family commitments, we rush through our constantly busy lives, many of us chronically worried, unable to focus, feeling tired, overworked, stressed and unhappy.
It is said that we prioritise what we value most. Do we value our careers, our smartphones and iPads, our possessions and our relationships more than our own health and wellbeing? Shawn Phillips puts it perfectly:
'Your body, the only one you will ever have, is the foundation of your life. And its either the anchor limiting your freedom and potential or a source of radiant energy, vitality and joy, elevating your life and the lives of those around you'.
The key to enjoyment of life, excelling in your career and having harmony in your relationships is to keep the well full of water. The way to keep the well full of water is to engage in practices and activities that positively affect both your physical and mental wellbeing and to make them a priority, a habit, a focus.
So you hate the gym, thats fine, exercise is optional, movement however is essential. Take a walk, that is movement in its simplest form, do it regularly, make it a habit. You don't believe in the hippy guff like meditation, thats fine too. Lets call it a minute or 5 of mindfulness, simple, wherever you are focus all of your attention on one thing, choose anything, just do it and do it every day, create a habit. There are a multitude of practises and activities you can engage in to increase your health and wellbeing, to fill up the well, to forge strength and enable your body to provide an abundant and energetic contribution to your life.
When you do these things you will improve your health and you will feel happier. You have more enthusiasm and you will feel motivated to accomplish more in your life, to achieve more at work and in your career, and you will have more energy and enjoyment in your relationships and to share with your family.
Modern lifestyle and technology has led us to choosing the wrong priorities and an inability to stay focused. Its time to put your iPhone away, leave work on time, take a lunch-break, turn off the television, stop playing candy crush and choose your health and wellbeing as a priority and make a commitment to yourself.
We have the to ability to create health and wellbeing in our lives, we can train our bodies with physical exercise and movement and we can train our minds with focus, concentration and mindfulness. Developing the skill of mindfulness increases gray matter leading to more positive emotions, emotional stability and heightened focus. When our bodies and minds are aware and conscious we are able to engage with people and tasks effectively, we can increase our productivity, creativity, compassion and memory and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
So how about making a 100% commitment to yourself? A commitment to create a tiny habit. A tiny habit that will change your life. Where we put our hearts, minds and focus is what ends up defining us and defining the lives we live. Make a commitment to prioritising your health and wellbeing.
Nicole L Betts
Nicole Betts is an internationally accredited Qigong & Meditation Teacher, Fitness Instructor and Holistic Health Coach.