Qigong for the Lungs and Large Intestines
The Lungs are the first organs in the meridian system, so we’ll begin the Qigong practices with one that focuses on them. I learned this practice from Master Hong Liu in 2000, as part of his Awakening Healing Energy Qigong set. Master Hong is uniquely qualified to teach healing Qigong practices. He is an acknowledged Qigong Grandmaster, having studied for over thirty years with many of the highest level Daoist and Shaolin masters in China; is an MD (China) specializing in oncology; and has advanced degrees in Chinese herbal medicine, working with the NIH National Cancer Institute in formulating Chinese herbal adjunctive cancer treatments.
While a wide range of healing benefits will result from learning the whole Awakening Healing Energy set, this practice works well as a stand-alone Lung and Large Intestine Qigong. Master Hong recounted the story of one of his elderly students, a woman who only remembered how to do this first practice from the entire Awakening Healing Energy system. She practiced it for twenty minutes every day, and in one year, she cured herself of liver tumors and back pain and improved the appearance of her skin and hair.
Preparation: The Tiger’s Claw
In this practice, your hands will frequently be in a Tiger’s Claw position. You make a Tiger’s Claw by spreading your fingers wide and then curling them like hooks, like you are trying to hold a large hockey puck (Figure 17.1 on next page). Your wrist should be held straight, not bent forward or backward. (Note: A backward-bent wrist creates a Dragon’s Claw, which is useful but with its own purpose and not a part of this practice.)
The Tiger’s Claw restrains the Yin Qi. In this exercise it pushes energy from the fingers to the internal organs related to each finger. At different times throughout this Qigong, the claw either opens or closes the organs related to the fingers. Breathing will also be used to influence the opening and closing of those meridian endpoints and related internal organs.
Figure 17.1 (Tiger’s Claw)
The thumb contains the Lung meridian endpoint, but the entire thumb also influences and reflects the Spleen (Earth) anatomically/energetically in a Five Element context. The finger area is different from the meridian. The index finger contains the Large Intestine meridian endpoint but reflects the Liver (Wood) anatomically/energetically in a Five Element context. The middle finger contains the Pericardium meridian endpoint and reflects the Heart (Fire) anatomically/energetically. The ring finger contains the Sanjiao meridian endpoint but reflects the Lungs (Metal) anatomically/energetically. The little finger contains the Heart and Small Intestine meridian endpoints but reflects the Kidneys (Water) anatomically/energetically.
Using the Tiger’s Claw, the meridian endpoints and finger areas can balance the whole body. Toes have similar correspondences to the finger areas, although those will not be directly addressed in this practice.
Stand in a Side Channel Stance, following the instructions in Chapter 16. Your eyes can be closed or kept “soft” (open but relaxed, slightly downcast, and with no specific focus). Throughout the first few instructions, your hands are kept open and relaxed with your fingertips pointing to the ground.
Inhaling, roll your shoulders forward so that your shoulder blades spread from your spine, while slightly rotating your arms so that the backs of your hands come together in front of you on your midline. Keep your shoulders’ nests relaxed and soft. Feel for a moderate stretch in the area between shoulder blades. This opens the backs of your lungs horizontally (Figure 17.2).
Figure 17.2 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Continuing your inhalation, sequentially raise your shoulders as high as possible, followed by raising your elbows as high as possible. Next, keeping your fingertips pointing toward the ground for as long as you can, raise your hands (Figure 17.3 on next page). Somewhere around the height of your forehead your hands will gradually rotate so that your fingertips ultimately point toward the sky directly above your head with your palms facing out toward your sides (Figure 17.4). The backs of your hands remain together throughout. Keep your fingers relaxed, especially the thumb and index finger. (A modification to Master Hong’s original instructions: While your arms are rising, slightly shift your weight to the balls of your feet without lifting your heels from the ground. This will stimulate K 1, Yongquan, near the ball of your foot and biomechanically facilitate the rising of Qi.)
Figure 17.3 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Figure 17.4 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Exhaling, spread your arms and palms out laterally, slowly lowering your arms to your sides. Your palms face outward and then down as your arms lower farther down the sides of your body (Figure 17.5 on next page). Just before your fingertips once again point toward the ground, draw your shoulder blades together while moving your arms slightly rearward, bringing the backs of your hands to rest at the top of your buttocks with your fingertips down (Figure 17.6). (A modification to Master Hong’s original instructions: While your arms are lowering, slightly shift your weight to your heels without lifting your toes from the ground. This will stimulate the Shimian point near the center of your heel and biomechanically facilitate the descending of Qi.)
Figure 17.5 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Figure 17.6 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Inhaling, slightly shift your weight to the balls of your feet, and slide the backs of your hands straight up your back to just above your kidneys. Your shoulders remain down, not hunched, while you gradually increase the bend in your elbows out to your sides as your hands rise up your back. Once above your kidneys, move the backs of your hands up to your armpits, led by your wrists. With your hands curled, wrists in your armpits (or as near as you can get) with fingertips pointing rearward, bring your elbows toward one another, as though they were magnetically attracted behind your back (Figure. 17.7). This opens the front of the chest and lungs horizontally.
Figure 17.7 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Figure 17.8 (Qigong for Lungs and Large Intestines)
Exhaling, draw your wrists forward from under armpits, and extend your arms forward, palms up. At full arm extension, your elbows should be slightly bent, not locked, and your pectoral muscles (across the top of your chest and inner shoulders) should be relaxed. That is, your shoulder’s nests should remain soft and open. Then turn your palms down and form a Tiger’s Claw as described earlier (Figure 17.8 on previous page). There should be some tension in your fingers and hands at this point, securely holding in the Yin Qi. Be sure to keep your wrists flat, not bent in either direction. The line from your forearm to your hand should be completely straight.
Inhaling, shift your weight toward your heels while keeping your arms fully extended with Tiger’s Claw, and squat as low as you comfortably can—but not below where your thighs are parallel to the ground!—without losing your balance or hurting your knees. In Master Hong’s original instructions, it’s okay to move your knees forward and your butt rearward while squatting. If you already know how to do a kwa squat, I’d recommend doing that, as I’ve found it to be even more beneficial in my practice.
Exhaling, slightly shift your weight to the balls of your feet and relax your fingers, releasing the Tiger’s Claw as you rise from your squat.
Repeat the squat two more times, following the instructions in the previous two paragraphs from where you form the Tiger’s Claw. After rising from the third squat, continue to exhale as you lower your arms and hands in front of you until they are relaxed at your sides.
Inhalations and exhalations are included in the physical instructions above. Also follow the general breathing guidelines included in Chapter 16.
The first inhalation and exhalation facilitates opening the lower and upper Lung meridian and muscle-tendon regions upward vertically. When your hands slide up the back of your body, with elbows moving backward, the inhalation facilitates opening the lung region horizontally. Additional breathing aspects are included next.
There are two primary components addressed here. The first is that Qi is directed by the physical and breathing practices, and the second involves specific mental focus on Qi sensations, acupoints, and meridians.
When raising your shoulders in the opening movement, Qi is released down the Lung and Large Intestine channels of the arms. When the arms are extended above your head, Qi is released down the flanks. Breath is used to increase Qi flow here.
The moderate tension in the Tiger’s Claw locks the Yin Qi in at the fingers, while the squat presses Qi to the Large Intestine. When rising from the squat, the relaxing and opening of the Tiger’s Claw releases stagnant Qi. The simultaneous exhalation facilitates that release. If you are performing a Kwa squat, the opening of the Kwa further increases the release. The tension and relaxation need to be appropriate during each phase of the exercise in order to promote the most beneficial Qi flows.
In addition to the energetics of Yongquan and Shimian, in acupressure different areas of the bottom of feet represent different organs. Putting pressure at the bottom of the feet influences those organs, whether you maintain even pressure or shift your weight if performing the modified version of this practice. Either way, don’t let your heels or toes rise off the floor when doing the squat. Inhale when squatting. Exhale when rising.
As a useful place to start, keep some of your mental focus on your hands. Notice what feelings and sensations you may have on the surface of arms and hands. Over time, accurate practice will cause sensations of cold, heat, tenderness, numbness, tingling, electricity, a watery or wind-like flowing sensation, or other possible sensations. Once you are comfortable with that, if you want deeper benefits, focus on the acupoints Lu 1, Lu 7, and LI 4. (See Figures 13.1, 13.3, A1, A2, A3, and A8.) Feel for the same or similar sensations you had generally in your hands and arms. Finally, if you are a Chinese physician, focus on the length of the Lung and Large Intestine meridians. As this is more mentally demanding, it should only be attempted after the physical and breathing aspects have become second nature, no longer requiring much thought. Even if you limit yourself to Qi regulation through physical movement and breath, you will get substantial benefits.
Conclude your practice with Qi storage at the Dantian.
If you are trying to heal a significant illness, the best time to practice this is at Lung or Large Intestine time, between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., when the energy of those organs is ascendant.
Qigong for the Spleen and Stomach
I learned this practice from Dr. Deguang He as part of the Organ Harmony Qigong set he developed. (That set is available on DVD directly from him.) Dr. He is the first person in China to earn master’s degrees in both medical Qigong and acupuncture. He practiced as a medical doctor in China and has over twenty-five years of clinical experience. Currently, he practices acupuncture at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, is on the faculty of the New England School of Acupuncture, and has a private office called Gold Living Acupuncture in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he offers medical Qigong treatments.
Preparation: The Horse Stance
In order to do this Qigong, you’ll need to learn Horse Stance. Horse Stance is commonly used in Taiji and some forms of Qigong, with a few slight variations. Here is the version we’ll use for this Qigong.
To begin, stand with your heels together and toes slightly apart, forming an angle between 20 and 30 degrees. Your arms can remain at your sides. Shift all your weight to your right leg, keep your body perpendicular to the ground, and move your left leg directly to the left. Try to keep all your weight on your right leg while you do this, so that when you place your left foot down, it feels like a normal step and not like you are falling onto your left leg. Your left foot should be angled slightly outward as it was when your heels were together, with your left toes slightly farther left than your heel. You will step into and out of Horse Stance in this way during this practice. In Horse Stance your feet are wider apart than shoulder or hip width by whatever distance is a comfortable and secure sideways step for you. Once you’ve placed your left foot down, return your weight to the center, so that you are evenly double weighted (both feet are bearing equal amounts of your total body weight). Keep your back straight and squat just a bit, dropping your tailbone closer to the ground without letting your knees move forward. This is a basic Horse Stance (Figure 17.9).
Stand as in the preparation for Horse Stance, with your heels together and toes slightly apart. Raise your arms in front of you, with your palms facing your shoulders’ nests, as though encircling a large ball (Figure 17.10 on page 302). Turn your body slightly to the right, facing the same direction as your right foot, and hold the ball to the right.
Figure 17.9 (Basic Horse Stance)
Inhaling, shift all your weight to your right leg. Lift your left leg in front of you, bending it at the knee and hip, so that your upper leg is parallel to the ground while your lower leg is perpendicular to the ground (Figure 17.11). Hold it there for one or two seconds.
Figures 17.10 and 17.11 (Qigong for the Spleen and Stomach)
Swing your left leg wide to the left and place your left foot on the ground in a Horse Stance. Simultaneously turn your body straight forward, hold the ball directly in front of you, and double weight your legs.
Figure 17.12 (Qigong for the Spleen and Stomach)
Exhaling, turn your palms to face the ground and squat deeply, pushing the ball down as you squat. Try to not let your knees move forward while you squat, and do not let your knees bend more than 90 degrees so that your thigh does not lower past parallel to the ground (Figure 17.12). It’s fine if you are unable to get that low; just squat as deeply as you comfortably can with minimal forward movement of your knees.
While rising from the squat, shift your weight to your left leg and bring your right foot to the left so that your heels are once again touching and your toes are angled out. While rising, simultaneously circle your arms outward while rotating them outward so that your palms face outward slightly; continue to circle your arms upward while rotating them inward so that your palms face down; and then circle your arms inward, continually rotating them inward so that your palms face your shoulders’ nests as you are once again holding a large ball in front of you. Turn your body and the ball to face slightly to your left, in line with your left foot.
Inhaling, lift your right leg in front of you, bending it at the knee and hip so that your upper leg is parallel to the ground while your lower leg is perpendicular to the ground. Hold it there for one or two seconds.
Swing your right leg wide to the right and place your right foot on the ground in a Horse Stance. Simultaneously turn your body straight forward, hold the ball directly in front of you, and double weight your legs.
Exhaling, turn your palms to face the ground and squat deeply, pushing the ball down as you squat. Follow the instructions for the squat above.
While rising from the squat, shift your weight to your right leg and bring your left foot to the right so that your heels are once again touching and your toes are angled out. Follow the earlier instructions for raising your arms until you are once again holding a large ball in front of you.
Follow the breathing pattern provided in the physical instructions and the general breathing guidelines given at the beginning of Chapter 16. Parts of the breathing strongly link with the mental guidance of Qi, and they are described below.
Qi is moved biomechanically from one physical part of this Qigong. As you continually shift your weight from side to side, the weighted leg is full of weight, and the other leg is full of Qi. This back-and-forth alternation harmonizes the Qi of your entire body.
Inhalation brings Qi into the body and is often used to increase the drawing in of Qi through mental guidance. At the beginning of this movement, with weight shifted right and the left leg raised, the weighted right leg anchors Qi through it to ground and provide stability (grounding is a function of the Spleen and Stomach, as Earth element organs), while Qi is bought in through the left leg, guided by the mind and facilitated by the breath. With palms facing the side channels at the shoulders’ nests, the side channels are most directly affected and opened here. The spleen is entirely on the left channel, and most of the stomach is also on the left channel. Qi is most strongly brought in through the left side channel during the opening movement, energizing the Spleen and Stomach and setting the stage for the most significant Qi flows in this Spleen Qigong.
When squatting, palms face downward and push Qi down near the centerline, enhancing the Stomach’s function of descending Qi while also clearing out stagnant Stomach Qi. This is facilitated by the simultaneous exhalation. Use your mind to guide the Qi down your centerline here. A broad swath of two to three inches on either side of your midline is fine. The deep squat works the thigh muscles, some of the largest muscles in the body. The Spleen dominates the muscles. A strong Spleen creates strong and supple muscles, and anything that strengthens the muscles, such as this squat, will likewise benefit the Spleen.
When rising from the squat, the way in which the arms raise further opens the side channels, moving more Qi through them, and physically moves the spleen, gently massaging it. The liver receives a secondary benefit here too. Use your mind to guide your Qi up through the side channels here.
After your last repetition, remember to store your Qi at your Dantian to close your session.
If you are trying to heal a Spleen or Stomach problem, the best time to practice this exercise is between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., when the energy of those organs is ascendant.
Qigong for the Heart: Tiger Separates Her Cubs
Dragon and Tiger is a comprehensive, extremely versatile medical Qigong set of seven movements. Although 1,500 years old, it was first introduced to the United States in the 1980s by my primary Qigong teacher, Master B. K. Frantzis. As a full Qigong system, Dragon and Tiger may be practiced to greatest advantage by performing all seven movements. However, each movement provides its own unique benefits, and the fourth movement, Tiger Separates Her Cubs, is specific for the Heart.
The version presented here is simplified just enough so that it can be effectively learned from a book yet will substantially improve Heart functioning. If you enjoy this movement and feel its results, I encourage you to learn the full Dragon and Tiger set from a qualified instructor. It will be time well spent.
To begin, there are two new considerations that must first be learned in order to optimize your practice. These are shoulder blade awareness and movement, and Beak Hands. The Side Channel Stance is also essential to this Qigong.
Shoulder Blade Awareness and Movement
Most people have little awareness of their shoulder blades. B. K. Frantzis has referred to them as “the forgotten joint”; people tend to disregard things that are not directly in front of them, literally or figuratively. In the case of the shoulder blades, this is a crucial oversight.
On both physical and energetic levels, the region between the shoulder blades contains important structures specific to heart health and the health of the Upper Jiao in general. At the level of the fifth thoracic vertebra, the spinal nerve that innervates the heart exits the spine. About one and one-half inches on either side of that vertebra are the back Shu (transporting) acupoints that strengthen Heart functions. At about three inches on either side, practically at the inner border of the shoulder blades, are acupoints related to the heart on an emotional level. At the level of the fourth thoracic vertebra, there are identical structures related to the Pericardium, which protects the heart.
Other Upper Jiao correspondences include related structures for the Lungs at the level of the third thoracic vertebra and for the diaphragm at the level of the seventh thoracic vertebra. The seventh thoracic is at the same level as the apex of the shoulder blades, its lowest tip. It’s extremely important to keep the region between the shoulder blades soft and supple so that both Qi and nerve energy can move freely and abundantly to the Heart and its allied organs.
The easiest way to develop shoulder blade awareness is to enlist the aid of a friend, who will place their hands on your shoulder blades so you can tangibly feel them. Then, move both shoulder blades as close to your spine as you can. Ask your friend to report your shoulder blade movement to make sure you are objectively doing what you think you are doing. Next, move both shoulder blades as far away from your spine as you can. This should be wider apart than your neutral, natural starting posture and may be more difficult than moving your shoulder blades toward your spine.
Once you are able to do both of those movements repeatably well, try moving just one shoulder blade toward, and then away from, your spine. Have your friend report your progress. Then repeat with the other shoulder.
The last and most challenging step is to move your left shoulder blade toward your spine while simultaneously moving your right shoulder blade away from your spine. Then reverse, moving your right shoulder blade toward your spine and your left away. Do not get discouraged if this does not come easily. It really is more challenging than most people think at first, especially if the muscles between and beneath your shoulder blades are tighter than you know. It also takes a level of muscular control to which most people are unaccustomed.
If you do not have a friend to practice with, you can do these initial exercises most easily by yourself if you stand with your back very close to a wall so that your shoulder blades touch the wall. Do all of the shoulder blade awareness exercises and feel for the movement of your shoulder blades across the wall. If needed, to further loosen your shoulder blades and related muscles, practice all of the shoulder exercises in my book Chinese Healing Exercises. With practice over time, your shoulder blade movement will increase and feel more comfortable.
Beak Hands is so named because when formed properly, it resembles a bird’s beak. If you practice Taiji, this is identical to the Whip Hand, the hand posture used in Single Whip.
Beak Hand is formed by wrapping the tips of all four fingers around the tip of the thumb (Figure 17.13 on next page). This requires a little suppleness in your hands and fingers, which allows for unimpeded Qi flow through your hands. This is important because there are two separate yet parallel energetic constructs that come into play.
At the tips of each finger are the end points of six of the twelve main acupuncture meridians. From thumb to little finger, these include the Lungs, Large Intestine, Pericardium, Sanjiao, and both the Heart and Small Intestine in the little finger. When your fingertips touch, there is a small yet distinct energetic impulse generated through those meridians, and as you can see, they largely coincide with the Yin organs influenced by the region between the shoulder blades. The additional affected organs are the Yang partners of the Heart (the Small Intestine), the Pericardium (the Sanjiao), and the Lungs (the Large Intestine).
Figure 17.13 (Beak Hand)
Each finger also has a Five Element correspondence. From thumb to little finger, these are Earth, Wood, Fire, Metal, and Water. The Beak Hand unifies the energies of the Five Elements, balancing the body in a different way than the acupuncture end points do. Since all of the Five Elements are represented here, this harmonizes their energies throughout your entire body.
Once you are reasonably comfortable with the Side Channel Stance, shoulder blade awareness and movement, and Beak Hands, you are ready to begin this Qigong practice for the Heart. Don’t worry if you are not “perfect” in these preparatory steps.
Begin by standing in a Side Channel Stance, facing forward and with weight distributed evenly between both legs. Raise your arms out to your sides, both palms facing outward with elbows slightly bent and their tips pointed toward the ground. Do your best to keep your shoulders relaxed, not hunched, and feel the weight of your arms gently pull your shoulder blades away from your spine. This is your starting posture.
You can begin the movement from either side of your body; it really makes no difference. For the sake of this description, we’ll start by moving the body from the left to the right. Turn your head to face your left hand and focus your eyes on the tips of your left fingers (Figure 17.14 on next page). Next, five things happen simultaneously:
1. Keeping your torso completely perpendicular to the ground (no leaning) and always facing straight forward (no turning or twisting at the waist or shoulders), shift your body weight entirely to your right leg. When all your weight is on your right leg, lift your left heel slightly off the ground (less than one inch) while keeping the ball of your left foot firmly in contact with the ground.
2. Gradually form a Beak Hand with your left hand while allowing your left elbow to sink closer to the ground, bending your arm about 70 percent of its full capacity to bend. This draws your left wrist closer to your left shoulder. Your wrist should stay at the same height throughout the bend of your left arm, somewhere between the height of the top of your shoulder and your shoulder’s nest. Ideally, your wrist should comfortably bend enough so that the tips of your Beak Hand fingers point to the ground. If your wrists are too tight to allow this, it’s okay if your beak fingers point outward. The fingers of your Beak Hand should only fully touch at the instant all your weight is shifted to your right leg.
Figure 17.14 (Qigong for the Heart)
3. Your right arm extends slightly farther to the right, palm still facing outward. Your right elbow should not fully straighten but only straighten to about 70 percent of its full capacity.
4. While performing steps 2 and 3, your left shoulder blade should move as close to your spine as possible. Simultaneously, your right shoulder blade should move as far away from your spine as possible. In fact, the movements of each arm should feel as though they are initiated by the movements of the shoulder blades. This single part of the practice provides the greatest physical benefits of the entire movement, as it frees up all the muscles between the shoulder blades, allowing the heart to be innervated by both the nervous system and the acupoint energies located there.
5. As you shift your weight and move your shoulder blades, hands, and arms, turn your head from the left to the right. Your eyes should trace an imaginary line as your head turns, approximately twelve to eighteen inches in front of your body. The imaginary line should stay at the height level of your left fingertips, moving to the left shoulder’s nest, heart, right shoulder’s nest, and right fingertips. Your gaze ends at your right fingertips once your weight is fully shifted and your left hand has formed a Beak Hand.
Now you’ve completed one repetition (Figure 17.15 on next page). From that position, repeat the movement in exactly the same way, this time moving from right to left. Place your left heel back on the ground, shift your weight fully from your right leg to your left, open your left Beak Hand while forming one with your right hand, move both shoulder blades to the left, turn your head left while tracing the imaginary line with your eyes back to your left fingertips, and raise your right heel slightly off the ground.
Alternating sides with each repetition, build yourself up to being able to do twenty repetitions, ten on each side, with no sense of strain or fatigue. Practice this for as long as you need in order to be sure you’re following the physical instruction as closely as possible. This may take days or weeks.
Assuming an even number of repetitions, you’ll do your last rep facing left. To end your practice session, bring your weight back to center and face your head forward so that your nose lines up over your navel while simultaneously opening your right Beak Hand and extending your right arm out to your side so that you are once again in your starting posture. At this point in your practice, you can end simply by allowing your arms to lower to your sides.
So far we’ve only addressed the physical movement. Once that becomes comfortable, you can then begin working on the breathing.
Figure 17.15 (Qigong for the Heart)
Follow all the general breathing guidelines from Chapter 16. Once you are clear about that, add the breathing to this practice. Here’s how.
Get in your starting posture, with your arms up and out to the sides of your body. Your gaze is on your left fingertips. As you shift your weight to the right, repeating all the five steps of the physical instructions, inhale into your belly through your nose. At the end of the turn to the right, at the instant your Beak Fingers touch, begin your exhalation again through your nose. Stay in that posture until you’ve completed your exhalation. If you’re a complete beginner, these are the most important breathing aspects and all you need to practice at this point.
For additional benefit, the initial portion of the exhalation should have a bit more strength behind it, followed by a lingering, softer tail. The image you can use is that of an arrow being released by a drawn bow. The arrow initially leaves the bow propelled with apparent speed and power but then gradually arcs to the earth with a more gentle descent. Do your best to pattern your breath after that trajectory, being mindful to use no force or strain.
During the gentle arc of the trailing breath, feel your right arm continuing to extend very slightly and slowly. The physical movement at this point might be so slight as to seem invisible, but as long as you are exhaling, you want to feel your right arm continuing to slightly extend. Remember that you do not want your elbow to straighten fully. It’s best to keep a 20–30 percent bend and a sense of elasticity in your arm even at its fullest extension. Ideally, you also want to move your left shoulder blade slightly closer to your spine, again without using force.
From that position, repeat the movement in exactly the same way in the opposite direction, inhaling as you move from right to left. Place your left heel back on the ground, shift your weight fully from your right leg to your left, open your left Beak Hand while forming one with your right hand, move both shoulder blades to the left, turn your head left while tracing the imaginary line with your eyes back to your left fingertips, and raise your right heel slightly off the ground. As soon as your Beak Fingers touch and your weight is fully shifted to the left, begin your exhalation as above.
Alternating sides with each repetition, build yourself up to being able to do twenty repetitions, ten on each side, with no sense of strain or fatigue. Practice this for as long as you need in order to be sure you’re following the physical and breathing instruction as closely as possible. This may take days or weeks.
With the combined regulation of the body and breath, you are beginning to generate some Qi despite not directly focusing on that aspect yet, so a slightly different ending procedure will serve you better. Assuming an even number of repetitions, you’ll do your last rep facing left. Now bring your weight back to the center, with your head facing forward so that your nose lines up over your navel. While centering your weight, simultaneously inhale and draw your left hand back into a Beak Hand so that you have two Beak Hands. On an exhalation, extend both arms out to your sides, with your palms open and facing outward. Complete the exhalation and then lower your arms, bringing your hands to your Dantian. Conclude your practice with Qi storage at the Dantian.
There is a saying used in both Chinese medicine and Qigong communities that “the Qi moves the body, but the mind moves the Qi.” Until you become adept enough to clearly feel your Qi as a distinct quality, you’ll use your mind to access it by placing your mental focus on the part of the body where you want to direct your Qi. In this Heart practice, you will also be placing some of your mental focus outside your body, moving Qi through the portion of your energy body that relates to and connects with the physical regions we’re addressing.
There are a few Qi flows used in this practice. We’ll include two here. For our purposes, the most important one to begin with involves pulling Qi in through the hand forming the beak and releasing it out of the open palm on the opposite side. This pulling and releasing will exactly coordinate with the physical movement and the breath, which is why you need to be comfortable with those before beginning this final piece. The movement and breath should be able to be performed with little or no distraction, so most of your attention can now be used to mentally guide your Qi.
Get in the starting posture as described above. You can begin the movement from either side of your body, but for consistency with the previous instructions, this description begins with your head facing left as you prepare to shift your weight to the right.
Place your mental focus at the tips of your left fingers. (You can select just one finger if that’s easiest for you.) As you inhale and shift your weight to the right while forming a Beak Hand with your left hand, shift your mental focus to follow along with the rightward motion. Do your best to feel your point of focus move sequentially through your left hand and wrist, along the inner (Yin) surface of your forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder, and shoulder’s nest and through your chest to your heart at about the same time you’ve inhaled half of your breath with your head facing straight forward and the time you are double weighted for the instant before your left heel raises.
As you continue your inhalation and shift to the right, focus your mind sequentially on your right shoulder’s nest, shoulder, along the inner surface of your upper arm, elbow, lower arm, wrist, hand, and palm. At the instant your left hand has fully formed the Beak Hand, exhale and release the Qi that is present at your right palm, allowing your mind to move out beyond your palm and the tips of your right fingers. It doesn’t have to move very far out; anywhere between six and eighteen inches is sufficient. With practice over time, feel for the energetic surge that happens at the instant your left fingertips touch, which travels along the same trajectory through which you just moved your mind. At that time you may also feel an energetic “bump” as the Qi moves through your heart, which has its own very strong energy field.
Because we’ve followed the inner Yin surfaces of the arms in this practice, we’ve activated all the Yin meridians of the arm, including the Heart, Pericardium, and Lungs. This dredges those channels, clearing energetic obstruction and allowing more Qi to flow through them unimpeded, while discharging any harmful pathogenic influences within the channels.
Repeat the exact same procedure as you move back to the left. The better you are able to coordinate your physical movement and breath with your mental focus, the more Qi you will be able to move. This can take some time (weeks or months) and will continue to improve the more you practice. From now on, always do twenty repetitions, ten on each side. If you want additional benefit, it’s best to do another full set of twenty rather than five or ten more repetitions. You can do another set of twenty at a different time of the day if you’d prefer. Once this has become comfortable, you can add the final part of guiding your Qi.
Your head turns in coordination with your weight shift because you are using your eyes to trace the imaginary line between six and eighteen inches in front of you, along the same Qi trajectory your mind induced through your physical body. That imaginary line is actually the perimeter of your Qi body (your energy body), and your visual focus helps guide Qi through it as well. Now, as you shift your weight and pull Qi from the Beak Hand side and release it though the opposite open palm, you will simultaneously guide Qi through your Qi body, using visual focus to move your mind along that pathway outside your body.
Getting Qi to flow through your Qi body encourages deeper Qi flow within your physical body, amplifying the benefits of the arm Yin trajectory. It also clears the earliest stages of potential pathogenic invasion of the Heart through the Qi body before it can ever manifest physically. To take fullest advantage of this, after you are able to follow the perimeter of your Qi body in front of you, guided by your eyes, feel for Qi moving behind your body along the same trajectory. If you were to look down on your body, the external Qi pathway would look like a football shape from Beak Hand to open palm fingertips. With the combined regulation of the body, breath, and mind, you are generating Qi through the Yin meridians of your arms, through your heart, and more generally throughout your body.
After your last repetition, remember to store your Qi at your Dantian. Perform the same closing physical movements you did at the end of the breathing instructions, bringing your hands to your Dantian. Follow the instructions for storing Qi in the Dantian in Chapter 16.
If you are trying to heal a Heart problem, the best time to practice this exercise is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., when its energy is ascendant.
Qigong for the Kidneys
This simple Qigong is part of an Eight Extraordinary Meridians Qigong set. Chinese physicians who learn and practice this use Sword Fingers, where the thumb, ring, and little finger tips touch to form a circle while the index and middle fingers are extended. Since Sword Fingers requires more precision in tracing the selected meridian line with the extended index and middle fingers, we will use an open hand, which is easier and produces nearly as strong an effect. If you are an acupuncturist or otherwise sufficiently experienced in Chinese medicine or Qigong practices, you may substitute Sword Fingers for the open palm in the following instructions.
The open-palm version is used in Harmonizing the Taiji, a stand-alone Qigong practice having a few variations. This version addresses most aspects related to Kidney function. It traces the Daimai, one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians (see Figure 2.2), and is sometimes included in other Qigong sets that focus on the Daimai or the Kidneys.
The Daimai intersects all twelve of the regular acupuncture meridians, providing a direct avenue of access for the Kidneys to support the rest of the body. Its name translates to “girdling vessel,” since it girds each of the twelve meridians, holding them in place. It intersects the Dantian and the Mingmen, as well as the Kidneys themselves. The Dantian is the energy center that influences the physical health of the entire body, and the Mingmen, the “Life Gate Fire,” is sometimes colloquially called “the rear Dantian” for its wide range of health benefits in ways related to both the Dantian and the Kidneys. The wider swath generated by using open palms also intersects the upper and middle portions of the Urinary Bladder, the Kidneys’ paired Yang organ, for additional direct benefits. As the Daimai is used to treat a variety of gynecological concerns, this Qigong is beneficial in relieving the physical and emotional distresses that often accompany menstruation.
I once heard an anecdote about this Qigong. Among the survivors of a Himalayan plane crash, one passenger knew the practice and taught it to others who were willing to learn. It took weeks for them to be rescued. During that time, some of the survivors died, and many others suffered the effects of extreme hypothermia and frostbite. Among those practicing Qigong, there were no deaths and very few ill effects from the intense cold. While I consider this a credible account, I haven’t been able to verify it with casual research, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt. However, considering the purpose of the practice, it’s certainly plausible.
Stand in a Side Channel Stance. To begin, simply let your arms hang at your sides. The first thing to practice is to shift your weight toward the balls of your feet while remaining completely vertical—that is, without leaning forward. Your heels should remain in complete contact with the ground. Then shift your weight to your heels, without leaning backward. Your toes should remain in complete contact with the ground. Pay attention to how it feels to have your weight fully forward and fully backward. Shift forward and backward a number of times, for as long as it takes to be sure you have it.
Figure 17.16 (Qigong for the Kidneys)
Next, place your arms in front of you, so that your palms are facing your body, at the most comfortable distance between six and eighteen inches from your body. The Laogong point at the center of your palms should be directed toward your Dantian, about two inches below your navel (Figure 17.16). Without shifting your weight, trace your Daimai with your palms, with your left hand moving to the left of your body and your right hand to the right. Try to maintain whatever distance from your body your palms began at. The Daimai rises a couple of inches as it rounds the top of the hips and then goes straight back to your spine, at about the height of your second lumbar vertebra, L2. Your kidneys are located two to three inches to either side of your spine, with the Mingmen between them and right on your spine at the height of L2. Keep Laogong facing toward your Daimai throughout this excursion. The fingertips of each hand should nearly touch as Laogong points to Mingmen.
It’s important to keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible through this practice. Do your best to keep Laogong facing your body even behind your back (Figure 17.17on next page). If your shoulders are very tight or painful, you may not be able to do that. In that case, as soon as it becomes necessary, rotate your hands so that LI 4, Hegu (Figure 17.18), faces your Daimai, and continue on to Mingmen. After Laogong, Hegu is the most energetically sensitive point on your hands and will provide similar benefit. Then trace your Daimai back to the front of your body, all the way to your Dantian. If using Hegu at your back, rotate your hands as soon as possible so that Laogong faces your Daimai. Remember that the Daimai lowers about two inches as you pass over the crest of your hips moving forward. Repeat this a number of times until it becomes clear and comfortable. With enough repetitions, many shoulder restrictions free up, so you may find you can use Laogong throughout the exercise even if you weren’t able to do so initially.
Next, combine the weight shift with the hand and arm movement. With hands in front of your Dantian, begin with your weight shifted forward. As your hands move rearward, gradually shift your weight toward your heels. Once your hands reach Mingmen, your weight should be fully on your heels. As your hands move forward, gradually shift your weight forward. When your hands reach your Dantian, your weight should once again be fully shifted to the balls of your feet. On your very last repetition, at this point bring your hands to your Dantian to gather Qi and shift your weight back to neutral at the center of your foot.
Figure 17.17 (Qigong for the Kidneys)
Figure 17.18 (Qigong for the Kidneys)
Follow the general breathing guidelines in Chapter 16. With your hands in front of your Dantian, inhale fully without moving. Then exhale slowly and begin the movement, shifting your weight and arms rearward. Your exhalation should be complete by the time your palms face Mingmen. As you inhale, shift your weight and move your arms forward. Your inhalation should be complete by the time your palms face your Dantian.
If you are able to fill your belly with breath at each inhalation, you’ll see that everything moves forward together on the inhalation—belly, hands, and weight—and everything moves rearward on the exhalation. Your belly retracts to its starting position on the exhalation, moving toward your spine.
There are ways Qi is moved purely biomechanically, meaning it happens more or less automatically if you follow the physical instructions well. When you shift your weight to the balls of your feet, you are stimulating Yongquan, or K 1, the first point of the Kidney meridian. Yongquan governs the rising of Qi. In fact, it is a particularly strong revival point used in acupuncture in cases of fainting, as it rapidly and strongly moves Qi up to the head to revive the patient. Here, because your hands trace the Daimai, most of that rising Qi gets shunted into the Daimai to be distributed to the kidneys, Mingmen, and Dantian.
When you shift your weight to your heels, you are stimulating the heel point called Shimian, colloquially known as “the insomnia point.” Shimian governs descending Qi flows. It is used in acupuncture to draw excess Qi down from the head, one of the primary causes of insomnia. Here, most of the downward flow is initiated at the level of the Daimai and is used to release and drain pathogenic Qi that will be softened and dislodged by this practice.
Laogong (with or without Hegu) is used to sense and connect with the Qi of the Daimai, and by extension the Dantian, kidneys, and Mingmen. The instruction to place your hands six to eighteen inches from your body is because that is where you’ll find the perimeter of your Qi body, also known as the etheric body. Because your hands are at the height of the Daimai, you’ll be communicating with the part of the Daimai that extends through your Qi body, and that will connect you with the Daimai within your body.
The exact perimeter varies from person to person. It can vary in any individual daily, based upon the person’s current state of health, how rested they are, how energized they may feel, and other factors, but you will almost always find it within that six-to-eighteen-inch range. You have to assess this by feel. Laogong is the most energetically sensitive spot on your hands, so focus your attention there and feel for some sense of connection, of contact with your Qi body. A number of sensations are possible, including a magnetic attraction or repulsion, an electrical tingling, a feeling like water or wind moving beneath your palm, changes in temperature, and others. If you are unable to feel your Qi body directly at this time, place your hands where they feel the most comfortable. It’s likely that part of your feeling of comfort is due to your connecting with your Qi body.
After you’ve established your comfortable distance, move your hands around your Daimai as instructed above, while maintaining that sense of Qi connection at Laogong, however it feels to you. This may take some time to sense, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right away. It may take days, weeks, or longer. Don’t try to rush it.
Once you’ve accomplished that, the next step is to cup your palms slightly and feel for a drawing in at Laogong. You will not be trying to pull Qi into Laogong but be using Laogong to grab and pull Qi through your Daimai. (If you are using Sword Fingers, curve your index and middle fingers slightly to increase the pull of Qi along the Daimai.) At this point, vary the distance your hands are from your body and see if the sense of grabbing and pulling is stronger slightly closer or farther than where you began. Now when your hands circle your Daimai, feel for both the connection at Laogong and a similar sensation of something being pulled through your Daimai. The sensations will initially be strongest at your Dantian and Mingmen. Your kidneys will wake up next, and eventually you’ll feel an even movement throughout your Daimai.
For our purposes, there’s no need to mentally guide Qi up and down your legs. Simply allow the upward and downward flows to happen naturally through the alternating stimulation of Yongquan and Shimian.
After your last repetition, remember to store your Qi at your Dantian to close your session.
If you are trying to heal a Kidney or Urinary Bladder problem, the best time to practice this exercise is between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when the energy of those organs is ascendant.
Qigong for the Liver
This is another practice I learned from Master Hong Liu. Physically simpler than the Lung Qigong, it is an excellent stand-alone Qigong for the Liver and Gall Bladder.
Stand in a Side Channel Stance. Throughout this exercise, your eyes need to be kept wide open as though you were startled. If you experience any eye soreness or tearing, don’t be alarmed. It’s neither harmful nor an indication that you’re doing something wrong. Since your Liver opens to your eyes, it can mean there is some weakness in either the Liver or in the eyes themselves. As you continue this practice over time and your Liver becomes healthier, your eyes will stop feeling sore or tearing.
Extend your arms in front of you, bend your elbows, point your elbow tips toward the ground (not out to the sides), and face your palms up and toward you at shoulder height, as though you were carrying a large bundle. This is your starting position.
Inhaling, draw your open hands toward your eyes. Make sure your elbows stay pointed toward the ground, and keep your shoulders relaxed. As your hands get closer to your face, focus your left eye on the center of your left palm, and your right eye on the center of your right palm (Figure 17.19). This can be challenging at first, and your eyes may feel crossed, but it will become easier and feel more natural with practice.
Figure 17.19 (Qigong for the Liver)
Figure 17.20 (Qigong for the Liver)
When your hands are just a few inches from your face, part them, and, while keeping your palms facing your head, circle your left hand to the left side of your head, and your right hand to the right side of your head. Once they reach your ears, draw your shoulder blades toward your spine while gradually rotating your hands until your palms face forward. Continue to move your hands slightly rearward and upward while rotating them, until they are just above your ears when your palms become fully forward. Extend your thumbs to touch the sides or your head, just behind the tops of each ear (Figure 17.20).
Keeping your palms forward and thumbs in contact with your head, trace a line with your thumb tips in a semicircle behind your ears until they are just behind the bottoms of your earlobes. That line is a portion of the Gall Bladder meridian, and the light touch helps stimulate Qi flow through it.
Moving your shoulder blades away from your spine, extend your arms straight in front of you, fingers fully extended upward with palms facing forward at eye height. As soon as your hands are far enough in front of you to see, focus your left eye on the center of the back of your left hand, and your right eye on the center of the back of your right hand. Keep your elbow tips pointed toward the ground throughout, arms parallel to the ground. Straighten your arms as much as you can without locking your elbows, as though you were pushing something away from you. You should feel some tension in your arms at this point, as the Qi gathers in your arms and hands.
Figure 17.21 (Qigong for the Liver)
Exhaling, keep your arms extended and elbows not locked, with your wrists remaining bent as close to 90 degrees as possible, and bend forward from your waist. Bend until your palms are just a few inches above the floor, facing the ground. This forward bend gently pressurizes the liver and gall bladder, beginning an internal massage of those organs. In this bent position, circle your wrists, pointing the fingertips of each hand first outward and then down as though sliding them over the surface of a soccer ball, until your palms are facing forward and slightly upward, with the little fingers of each hand just an inch or so apart. Cup your palms as though you are trying to scoop water up from a pond. Relax your arms and hands, releasing any tension that may be present (Figure 17.21).
Inhale. Return to an upright position, keeping your palms cupped and arms extended with a slight bend in your elbows. This rising up opens your waist and decompresses your liver and gall bladder, bringing in fresh Qi and blood. When you are fully upright again, you should be in your starting position, ready to begin another repetition. Continue your inhalation through the beginning of your next repetition.
On your last repetition, as you bring your palms close to your eyes, roll your elbows out to the sides and trace parallel lines down the front of your body with each open palm, approximately below each eye. Your fingertips should be close but not touch. When your hands reach your navel, cross them over your Dantian for Qi storage.
Follow the breathing pattern provided in the physical instructions above. There is only one full inhalation and exhalation through one repetition of this entire practice, which may be challenging for you at first. It will be most practical to learn the physical movements with no particular attention placed on your breathing—that is, just breathe normally, any way that is comfortable for you. That way you can practice as slowly as you need in order to learn it. Once the movement has been learned, then add the breathing component. When including the breathing, you will have to pace your movement to time it to a comfortable breath. If your breath is short, your movement will have to be relatively fast. Now you can work on gradually extending the length of a comfortable breath, which will allow you to slow your movement.
Include the breathing instructions from the general breathing guidelines in Chapter 16. On inhalations, direct your breath to your liver, as it will increase the massaging effect. On your exhalations, feel your liver relax and expand, releasing any toxic accumulation along with your breath.
The Liver opens to the eyes, and the eyes reflect the health of the Liver. The most common example is that of jaundice, where a liver disease will turn the whites of the eyes yellow. Using acupuncture, many eye problems are treated by needling points on the Liver and Gall Bladder meridians. Improving the health of those organs, in specific ways, can improve the health and functioning of the eyes. Using Qigong, you can directly treat the eyes and, through their internal connections, benefit the health of the Liver and Gall Bladder.
When you move your hands toward your eyes while inhaling, actively push Qi from the Laogong point at the center of your palms into your eyes, left palm to left eye, right palm to right eye. Use your inhalation to facilitate drawing Qi into your eyes, your breath and Qi both moving inward.
Circling your thumbs around the backs of your ears traces part of the Gall Bladder meridian, stimulating Qi flow to benefit the eyes, Liver, and Gall Bladder. While this happens biomechanically to some extent, your mental focus, assisted by the Qi you just pushed into your eyes, will tune you in to the Qi there and further amplify its flow, increasing the healing benefits.
Bending forward, you can feel your liver more easily due to the compression caused by the bend. Keep a portion of your mental focus on your Liver throughout the rest of this practice, no matter how many repetitions you do. That focus will keep Qi directed to your Liver and increase its healing. While exhaling on the bend, release any feeling of stuck or bound Qi, which in all cases is pathogenic.
The Gall Bladder meridian ends at the fourth toe, while the Liver meridian begins at the big toe. At the bottom of the bend, as you swirl your hands around the imaginary soccer ball, you are sweeping Qi from your outer toes toward your big toe and simultaneously scooping up Qi from the earth. As you rise up, bring Qi up your Liver meridian—you can just feel for it up the big toe side of your legs—while bringing Qi up directly in front of you in your cupped hands. Your inhalation facilitates that, drawing in Qi while you draw in breath.
After your last repetition, remember to store your Qi at your Dantian to close your session.
If you are trying to heal a Liver or Gall Bladder problem, the best time to practice this exercise is between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., when the energy of those organs is ascendant.