FOUR BASIC QI GONG FOR HEALTH MAINTENANCE
Clicking Teeth, Breathing Deep, Rubbing Belly, Combing Head
Qi gong is an ancient art of China that has tremendous impact on health and has thus become famous world-wide. While it is probably best known for its dynamic exercises that involve moving the limbs or the whole body, there are several quiet exercises that are typically done morning and evening and easily undertaken by all, whether healthy or ill.
Ultimately, the aim of qi gong is to focus the mind. In the ancient book Su Wen (Simple Questions), it is said that “Some great masters in ancient times could marshal heaven and earth, controlling yin and yang; they breathed the essential qi, stood quietly, and concentrated their minds on what they wanted. The spirit and body joined in flawless unity.” There are numerous qi gong practices based on rhythmic movement that stabilize the body in order to make such mental focus possible. As the Han Dynasty physician Hua Tuo has said: “A door hinge will never become insect-riddled [because it is always being moved]. Rhythmic movement regulates qi, promotes digestion and blood flow, and guards against disease.”
Four simple qi gong exercises can be practiced by anyone, almost anytime, and with great benefit. The first of these is clicking the teeth. It will induce the flow of saliva and stimulate the meridians that pass along the mouth. Saliva neutralizes oral acids and helps prevent tooth decay; thus, if done after eating, this practice can maintain oral hygiene. Saliva promotes the digestion of starches, and thus if done just before a meal, it can make the food break down more completely. Saliva also inhibits the growth of oral pathogens that can cause inflammation and discomfort of the mouth and esophagus. Clicking the teeth stimulates the energy meridians that enter the base of the teeth: the practice will prevent infection and deterioration of the tooth nerves, and will improve the energy circulation through the meridians to benefit the internal organs. A folk saying in China is “Tap the teeth together 36 times in early morning and your teeth will not fall out when you are old.”
The practice is done by closing the mouth lightly and gently tapping the teeth together. Generally, the molars are tapped together in one round of exercise, the front teeth in another round, and the canines in another: 36 times each round. Before swallowing the induced saliva, it can be moved around the teeth and gums and inside of the mouth with the tongue. This one exercise, which only takes a minute, is typical of several qi gong practices that focus on making the most of the body’s secretion systems.
The second exercise is deep breathing. Breathing is the natural cycle that is easiest to control, and the control is directly related to mental and emotional focus and restraint. A person who is mentally and emotionally agitated will breathe rapidly and shallowly. In order to breathe slowly and deeply, it is necessary to calm the mind and emotions, and the deep breathing will then reinforce the calmness. A simple breathing exercise is to take a moment and give attention to the breaths, feeling each deep breath go down to the lower abdomen (dan tian). What is actually felt, obviously, is the movement of the muscles and internal organs as one allows the diaphragm to descend to its most relaxed and lowest position; however, the sensation is as if the air moves down to the lower abdomen.
As each breath enters and exits, it can be counted; to count even twenty-four deep breaths, without being distracted by thinking, is a beneficial practice. The beginner may find that after counting just a few breaths the whole exercise has been momentarily forgotten as some train of thought comes through and takes over the awareness. As this happens, one should start over again, counting from the first new breath. Another practice which is sometimes undertaken is to repeat certain words (usually those having a calming or spiritually uplifting meaning) along with each breath. However, the initial practice of simple counting reinforces the awareness of the invasion of thoughts and their ability to disrupt the practice.
Deep breathing gets rid of the stale air at the base of the lungs, it increases the oxygen to all the body (and particularly to the brain), and it massages the internal organs. In particular, it helps to open up the stomach, circulates the energy of the liver, and vitalizes the kidneys and endocrine glands. The calmness attained during the practice of following the breaths can carry over to other times, and frequent practice makes it very easy to recover equilibrium when agitation is caused by some event. In fact, with steady practice, one can maintain a calm attitude through most situations.
The regulated breathing is done either while sitting, standing, or lying down (an upright posture is generally preferred because it is easier to maintain mental alertness); the spine must be extended—not bent—to allow full breathing capacity. The preferred mental focus for qi gong is to imagine the movement of energy to the middle or lower dan tian which is an area of the lower abdomen from the navel to about two inches below the navel. There are many patterns of breathing and visualization of movement of the breath and energy that can be adopted to gain the most from the breathing exercises, and these are described in the numerous books about qi gong.
The breathing practice is one of several rhythmic exercises that yields greater integration of mind and body. Physical exercises, rotating the joints, stretching the muscles, and moving in certain patterns (much as is done in tai chi exercise), also aids this integration. These exercises massage the internal organs, the skeletal and internal muscles, and the connective tissues.
The third practice is a type of self-massage, using the hands to rub the body and stimulate local circulation. The upper abdomen is massaged by placing the palm on the abdomen and circling it with light pressure in a clockwise direction several times (e.g. about 30), covering the area of the stomach, upper intestines, and liver. This exercise will enhance the digestive functions and can be undertaken before and/or after meals. Before meals, it can enhance the appetite if it is weak, or calm the appetite if it is excessive. After meals it will speed up digestion and will alleviate gas and bloating. If a deeper massage is desired, the base of the palm can be rotated over a local area, and then moved to the next spot, a little at a time in a clockwise direction.
As described by the 16th century medical specialist Gao Ling: “Selecting a place to do so that is free of draft, comb your head daily 100–200 times during the summer months, taking care not to injure the scalp. This is a natural method to expel wind and brighten the eyes.” This combing is done with the fingers; the hand is curved and fingers separated to make a comb-like action, moving from the front hairline back (for those who are bald, the same basic pattern of combing the head is used). The breathing is kept steady and attention drawn to the sensation in the palms. All the meridians of the head are thus stimulated, and this especially affects the circulation of the yang qi. The number of strokes is typically about 50 at one time, and that can done two or more times per day.
The four exercises selected here, taken together will help correct many disorders of the gastro-intestinal system, will cam the mind, and brighten the senses. Regular practice (which takes up only about five to ten minutes per day) over a period of several weeks may produce remarkable improvements. Continued practice will help prevent future dysfunctions of the internal organs.