Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cycles and Preventing Disease: Taoist Insights

The Cycles of Yin and Yang Affect Health

The cycles of yin and yang manifest within and outside the body according to Traditional Chinese medicine theory.  Physical, psychological and spiritual health are affected by the external cycles: the seasons, the time of day and lunar cycles. The effects of these external cycles can be minimized by the Taoist practices of TCM and qigong, methods that help one maintain internal equilibrium.  These practices help clean and nurture the inside of the body to prevent the accumulation of toxic chi that causes imbalance and disease.  Mentioned below are TCM dietary practices and qigong exercises that help maintain the body’s essential jing energy during these cycles.

The Effects of Seasons and Daily Cycles

Each of the seasons affects different areas of the body: in spring, the liver; in summer, the heart, in fall, the lungs and sinuses and in winter, the kidneys.  This cycle is show in the figure to the right that illustrates the five element theory of TCM.  The elements, beginning with the liver and ending with the kidneys are wood, fire, earth, metal and water, respectively.  There outer cycle shows the nurturing cycle, while the dotted lines inside represent insulting cycles.  

Daily cycles.  There is a daily cycle that affects each of these internal yin organs as well.  The peak times are liver (1-3 am),  lungs (3-5 am), spleen ( 9-11 am), heart (11 am to 1 pm) and kidneys (5-7 pm).  Yang energy peaks at noon and yin peaks at midnight.   See this complex pie chart diagram for more information. 

Lunar Cycles and Their Effects

Lunar cycles also affect us as well.  According a Taoist master, Madame Liu He, on the third day of the new moon, good moods prevail and it is generally a good time to start new projects.  When the moon is on the eighth day, half yin and yang, it can cause increased nervousness and excess energy that may manifest as anger.  At 15 days, or the full moon, too much yang energy can cause loss of sleep and excitement.  During this time, it is not recommended to eat too much or to have surgery; it is also said that you can take half the amount of medications during a full moon because it increases their effects.  But, consult your doctor on this piece of advice!

On the waning side of the moon at 18 days moods such as worry and doubt can manifest that can transmute into sadness and inability to reason on the 23rd day.  The new moon is associated with an increase in feelings of fear and more suicidal behavior. 

Independent research on the effects of lunar cycles on men versus women indicates that the moods of men and women are both affected by lunar cycles, but the effects are different.  Men are in rhythm with full moon cycles, while women are affected mostly during new moon cycles.

Gods in the Body and Jing Energy: Taoist Dogma and Cycles

From an ancient book called “The Book of the Yellow Court,” the ancient Taoist concept of the body is described as being made up of a number of gods.  Here are the first two verses of an opening poem in that book:

Lao Tzu at rest made these verses of seven feet
To explain the body and its forms, as well as its gods

The Taoist gods are metaphors for Taoist practices.
These gods represent various manifestations of energies within the body.  There are twenty-four gods in Taoist alchemy related to one’s body.  Introductory exercises help the spirit harness these inner energies and put the body in order. 

As mentioned before, lunar cycles affect our moods and actions.  The first, fifteenth and last day of the moon’s cycle is a time when terrestrial spirits known as p’o can induce kuei , or spiritual corruption, in the body.  The forces of p’o attack the energetic foundation of the body, or jing.

Building up the jing (or ching) energy of the body helps prevent these forces from causing imbalance.  This yin, or nurturing energy reserve is centered in the kidneys.  Jing energy helps fuel all of the body’s energies and thus helps maintain equilibrium within the body.  This energy can be drained by a number of factors, including sexual activity, injury and illness.

Building Up The Jing to Prevent Cyclic Effects

Observe the cycle of the moon in your daily life, but maintain a regular qigong practice to prevent the effect of p’o during critical days.  There are general practices that help reinforce the spirit and body like T’ai chi chuan and the qigong exercises known as Ba Duan Jin and Dragon-Tiger.  Choose one of these as a foundation practice (Dragon-Tiger is shown in the video below).  In addition, there are practices that specifically reinforce the yin energy are:

Healing sounds exercises for all five yin organs
Bear frolics qigong
Breathing exercises that lead the energy to the yin organs

To nurture the yin energy, practicing these exercises in the early morning is strongly recommended.  This helps you start in tune with the rhythm of the time’s energy and it is optimum for accumulating nurturing energy.

Find also a quiet place that will help foster inner tranquility.  Concentrating on one’s inner world through specific noting of internal imbalances and doing dissolving practices for maintaining equilibrium is important during this time.  

Foods For Building and Maintaining the Jing

It is also recommended is to avoid certain foods, particularly cereals like rice or wheat, during cycles which negatively affect jing.   There are many foods that are recommended for building the yin energy of the kidneys:  fruits and melons, seafood, nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables and small amounts of animal protein.  Sufficient water intake is also recommended.  For an extensive listing, read this pdf file on TCM and nutrition.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Qigong and the Principles of T'ai Chi, Part II

This second part of Qigong and the Principles of T'ai Chi covers the mind, posture and movement principles. 

Maintain a calm, alert mind.  The mind is not directed at any particular thing, and as such it is a non-specific or "fuzzy" awareness.  Fuzzy does not mean lazy, of course.  Developing the calm mind that fosters this type of awareness takes practice.  And development of this mind is absolutely necessary to move ch'i with your intention and to sink your ch'i to the dantien.  If all is calm, breathing also smoothly flows in and out of the dantien area.

While moving, let your intention guide your movements, not your strength.  The Taoist arts are not about strength, energy follows intention.  If you are aware of yin and yang extremes (full, empty; open, closed; etc) of the movements as well, you move more gracefully.  

Maintaining your alignments is important in static as in movement exercises.  Bad alignments can drain your energy.  The head should be held up, as it is suspended by a string from the Bai hui point.  Moving the chin downward a little also helps open the occipital area where the spine enters the head.  Maintaining this head posture helps keep the mind clear and calm.  Allow the chest to drop as well, this opens up the upper back and the space between the shoulder blades.

The hips should support the torso evenly on both sides when in a neutral position.  This is where standing practice really helps.  It also allows the pelvis and the tailbone to relax downward.  These lower boy alignments help you sink the ch'i to the lower dantien.  It also helps to gradually open up the lower and upper spine.  Imagine that the weight of the hips is supported by a ball allows the relaxing and dropping down of the tailbone.

In movements, the torso should remain erect, not leaning to the sides, forward or back.  The erect posture allows optimal energy flow up and down the spine.  Movement of the torso should occur within the kwa, or inguinal crease area, making the muscles of the upper thigh twist and the energy spiral through your legs.  Swing movements like those in  Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body are good practice to enable this ability.  Standing meditation will also help relax and open up the hips for improved energy flow.

Lastly, movements of the upper body should be coordinated with the lower body.  Having one half of the body finish movements before the other is a definite no no.  Hone your technique over time and use the help of friends and get critique from a professional instructor.  Sometimes you think you are doing everything perfect when you aren't.  Accurate proprioception is difficult to achieve sometimes.