BREATH, Qi & CHINESE MEDICINE
You will often hear Chinese medicine practitioners talking about something we call qi (pronounced “chee”) or functional energy in the body.
There are many sub-types of this qi that drive all the processes of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual functioning.
For example, we may say someone who gets frustrated and angry easily has a tendency for their Liver Qi to get stuck and hence comes unstuck in little (or big!) outbursts. And someone who gets tired easily and craves carbohydrates and sugar has a tendency to weak Spleen Qi in their digestive system.
Without adequate qi, there is no force driving things along, everything stops and at the extreme there is no life.
Qi can be found outside the body too – and there it can be seen to drive all the processes of our societies, our environments, and our universe. Some even say that the Big Bang that created the world was a big burst of qi!
So how do we get more of this qi?
The two main sources of qi for human beings is from breathing, and of course from the food and nutrients we ingest. It may be quite obvious to us that if we don’t eat enough we feel weak, tired, listless and grumpy as our energy levels drop. What is less obvious is the link between how much, or little, we breathe and how that impacts our energy.
In fact, the Chinese character for qi can be more accurately translated into English as ‘air’. We know through modern science that the air we breathe is made up of vital oxygen and other trace elements and plays a huge role in our ability to sustain life.
The Chinese exercises of Tai Chi and Qi Gong are centred around harnessing this elemental air into our bodies and achieving its smooth flow around the body. There are also other practices that focus on breath and energy such as yogic Pranayama exercises, Buteyko breathing, and Breathwork.
The first step in harnessing the breath is to bring in awareness. Awareness of your own breath, in your own body; how it enters, where it goes, how it lingers, how it leaves, and how that makes us feel. At first we may not even realise that our breath has such an effect. We can breathe unconsciously which is a survival breath, and it is an automatic process controlled by deep reptilian parts of our brain. Or, we can breathe consciously to increase energy, magnetise our cells, cleanse the body, clear emotional blockages and baggages, and reach our full human potential.
A simple exercise to assess and correct your own breathing is this:
- Lie down on your back, or be seated if that is more comfortable, and take a relaxed position. Nothing too fancy. Just lie down.
- Place one hand on your chest, and the other hand over your navel.
- Bring your awareness to your breath. How do you do that? By just noticing. Notice that you can breathe, and know that you are breathing. Pretty cool huh?! Now notice your inhale, and your exhale, and any pauses in-between.
- Notice as you inhale which hand moves first? Which hand rises as your breath fills your body? This can be subtle so take a few moments to really notice.
If it is the bottom hand: You are breathing with your diaphragm. This is correct breathing! Your body is for the most part relaxed, functioning well, and able to restore and elevate your health and wellbeing.
Both hands move at the same time: You are also breathing correctly! You may be feeling quite centred and content in yourself in this moment.
If it is the top hand:
You are chest breathing. You may be feeling a bit nervous, tense, anxious, stressed, panicky, struggling for air, rushed, or even scared. This is a fear-based way of breathing and it is not wrong! It simply means that there are things you could be doing to improve your health and wellbeing. If you are breathing like this the majority of the time it is difficult for your body to function at its best.
Some tips are:
– get up and do 1 minute of star jumps to get your heart beating and give your lungs a jump-start (Warn people in your office that they may get a flying arm if they come too close!)
– avoiding eating meals that are too big and squash your stomach up into your chest
– listen to a meditation or relaxation app such as ‘Stop, Breathe & Think’, ‘Smiling Mind’, ‘Mind the Bump’ or ‘Bhuddify’
– dance around your house listening to some funky music and annoying your co-habitants
– book yourself in for a local yoga class
– have an osteopathic, chiropractic or other bodywork session where they will assess your ribcage, spine, breathing muscles and how that might be impacting on your breathing mechanism
– join the oldies and goldies at tai chi. Silk Chinese-pyjamas optional 😉
– get acupuncture!!! This will help to re-set your nervous system control, alleviate or better cope with stresses, improve sleep & digestion, and give you a ‘zing’ in your step!
– practice this breath awareness exercise every, especially before going to sleep
Now here’s a super quick and easy Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Grain Free, Vegan, wintery recipe to warm and energise your body even more 😀
Chickpea, Lentil & Bean Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp turmeric, ground (omit if pregnant)
1 tsp sweet paprika, ground
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed & drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed & drained
1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed
1.25L stock – any kind
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 bunch mint leaves, chopped
1 bunch English spinach, chopped
*Or 500g frozen spinach.
Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onion, garlic and spice and stir until onion is soft.
Stir in the peas, beans, lentils, stock, juice and mint and simmer, covered, about 20mins stirring occasionally.
Once lentils are tender stir in spinach, and simmer uncovered about 5 minutes or until spinach is just wilted.
Suitable to freeze. Recipe can be made the day before.
Serves 4 hungry people. Add crusty bread or a scoop of cooked rice/quinoa if desired.
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