Qi Gong exercises by the sea

Qi Gong …10 things you didn’t know

If you are looking for an exercise regime that addresses mind, body and soul, then Qi Gong is ideal! I run a weekly class in Southend, just give me a call if you would like to know more.

What is Qi Gong?

Qi Gong literally translates as ‘Breath Work’ or ‘Cultivating Breath’. It concentrates on posture (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques and mental focus. Qi Gong can be soft, like Tai Chi, or it can be more vigorous, like kung fu, so it is suitable for all levels of fitness and can be practiced by all age groups.

What is the History?

The documented history of qigong goes back approximately 2,500 years. However Chinese archaeologists and historians have found references to qigong-like techniques at least five thousand years old.

How does it help?

Frequent practice harmonizes and strengthens the body, and has a healing effect on the functioning of all the internal organs and bodily systems.

It increases the flow of blood and energy, which helps to fully nourish all parts of the body. Initially many movements focus on gently opening and stretching the joints and muscles of the body, releasing tension that could have been there for years.

As the energy relating to the internal organs flows around the extremities of the body (hands and feet), stretching the arms and legs in specific movements also improves the health of the internal organs.

Qi Gong is not just postures and movement, but also includes self-massage, breathing techniques and meditation. It can also be performed standing, seated or supine.

There is no need for special equipment or a large workout space.

Anyone can practice Qi Gong. There are techniques suitable for every age and physical condition.

People who exercise a lot and whose bodies are externally strong are not necessarily healthier or happier than the average person. In order to have true good health you must have a healthy body, a healthy mind, and also smooth and balanced Qi circulation. Qi Gong addresses mind and body!


How important to your health is the place you live?

I was chatting to a client the other day who happened to mention how only the poor people lived on the shady side of Sugarloaf mountain in Cape Town, while only the rich could afford to live on the sunny side.

Ignoring the sociopolitical reasons for why this might be, and how true it is (!)…anyway, it got me thinking: Chinese Medicine tells us that where we live has an affect on our health, so surely always being in the shade can’t be healthy. And I suppose being in the shade is equally true on an emotional level too. And what does it say about a person who prefers to live on the shady side of the street?

Yin and Yang

To understand this, we need to look at Yin and Yang theory. Put simply, we need both to survive. The sunny side of the mountain is Yang, while the shady side is Yin, and as the sun moves across the sky throughout the day, the degrees of Yin and Yang on each side of the mountain increase and decrease. And this is the same in every aspect of nature, including what goes on inside of us. But if this balance is disturbed, then problems will ensue. On a global scale we see global warming and the consequences of climate change, and in the human body we see illness.

We need sunshine to flourish. However, too much and we dry out, and too little and we become Vitamin D deficient. In Chinese Medicine another result of this imbalance could be Dampness. In fact, low mood and weight gain, both signs of Vitamin D deficiency, are also symptoms of Dampness.

​The Acupuncturist said I’m Damp!

If you’ve had Acupuncture before, you might have heard this! Like the Yang of sunshine, we need the Yin of moisture. But too much and we can become Damp.
Dampness is basically the impairment of fluid metabolism in the body as a result of an internal imbalance. This could be caused by overthinking or overeating (which puts pressure on the bodily processes), or working/living in an overly damp environment. And once you have Damp it can affect every part of the body. It is sticky and heavy, it infuses downwards and it causes repeated attacks.
It is like sugar; a little is ok, perhaps even good for you, but the more you have, the more you crave it, and it does more and more damage, but you just can’t stop eating it!

Cold and Damp

Cold often goes hand in hand with Dampness. Cold causes stiffness and pain. So we need the heat (either from the Sun, but most probably in the UK, artificial heat) to keep the cold and the damp out. This is of course not a new idea. It is a primal need. The Yang must stay in balance with the Yin.

How can Acupuncture help?

Acupuncture, like other therapies, can be very powerful. But sometimes it can be frustratingly slow to take affect. Why is this? Well, the following case study shows how just a little bit of understanding of where the client lives can greatly increase the potency of the treatment.

It reminds me of a client who came to see me for acupuncture when I was working in London. I will call her Jane, although this is not her real name. Jane complained of a low mood and weight gain, as well as lower back pain. Observing her, she always wore black and dark clothes, and she looked tired. She had moved to London from overseas because of her husband’s work, and now found herself feeling bored and homesick. Jane tried to eat properly and exercise, but found herself unable to exercise because of her low energy and back pain, and as a consequence her diet suffered too.

She was in a vicious circle, and this is the nature of Dampness – it pulls you down and clouds the Mind, classic symptoms of Dampness….like mental quicksand. We began an acupuncture programme, but frustratingly every time she showed progress, she would slump back into her mire. But one day she just happened to mention that she was living in a basement flat that had constant damp issues filtering up from the earth. The landlord was doing very little to help and a dehumidifier was sucking the moisture from the air 24 hours a day. So this, I believe, coupled with the fact that she was lonely, bored and homesick, was the cause of much of her distress.

Illness, like life, however, is not simple; Jane couldn’t just up sticks and return to her home country. However, the acupuncture helped with Jane’s back pain and helped clear her Mind enabling her to think more clearly. But I felt the root of her problem was being somewhere she didn’t want to be, and to top it all that place was damp!

I encouraged her to get the damp problem at home sorted out as soon as possible. And slowly, over just a few weeks, her symptoms began to improve. Her back pain was no longer an issue; she was feeling more motivated and she was losing weight. Until finally, wearing a bright summer dress, Jane felt like she had moved on and was her old self again.

If you would like to know more about how Chinese Medicine could help you, please do contact me


How many sessions is enough?

I am often asked how many sessions one might need.

As a general rule, I would say 4 treatments for every year you have had the condition. But this is often difficult to assess because sometimes we are often not aware something is wrong until we feel pain or something isn’t right. For instance, atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries), heart disease, or even diabetes, aren’t apparent until something is drastically wrong. Equally, Transient Ischemic Attacks (a.k.a. TIA, or mini-stroke) can quite often occur in one’s sleep, so we might not realize the extent of the damage until there is a major stroke! But the clues are always there, perhaps years before the fateful day! For example, shortness of breath on exertion, lethargy, palpitations, disturbed sleep, frequent urination, can all be signs of something unpleasant building up over many years.

Nothing happens in isolation

In Chinese Medicine we look for signs and symptoms of disease before it becomes as serious as a heart attack or a stroke. That’s why I ask questions about your bowel movements and sleep patterns. I need to find out where your energies may be stagnating or depleted and put together an appropriate treatment: What channels do I work on? What muscle groups or joints are affected? What organs are under strain and in need of nourishment?

Sticking with atherosclerosis as an example, as the arteries harden, we don’t hear them crystallizing and straining, or even feel it, but you may be feeling lethargic or breathless on exertion – these are the signs and symptoms of things to come…perhaps… but they are years in the making. That pain in the back, for instance, could have taken years to develop, so it’s probably not going to go away over night. Or someone who has been depressed for 20 years may need some time to feel on an even keel again.

So how many sessions might one need?

A good place to start is to commit to 10 sessions. You might not need this many, but it enables us to assess how you are doing and if you are improving. Of course, you might feel better after just a few sessions, but it depends on the individual.

How often should treatments be?

More often than not sessions are weekly, but sometimes more frequent treatment is needed. For example, if after a session you are pain free for a few days before the pain returns, this could be an indicator that treatment should be every few days to start with.

Unfortunately, as humans we have remarkably short memories when it comes to pain! It is very easy for work and life in general to once again take precedence over our health – and ironically it is something within this puzzle of life that is causing the imbalance/pain/illness. This might be related to posture, our emotions (anger/frustration/resentment), diet, and increasingly these days, endurance sports. Or simply too much work and not enough rest. Many times I have treated a client for lower back pain who then informs me they are going to the gym straight after the session!

Chinese Medicine can sometimes have dramatic affects in just one session, but more often than not, it is quite subtle and can take a little time and patience. The acupuncturist Jane Lyttleton offers a great analogy, of how a round table falls ill and develops sharp corners. The table sees a specialist in sharp corners, who says, ‘No problem, we’ll have you round again!’. The operation was performed the next day, and the surgeon cut the corners off with a saw. It was a painful procedure but was over and done with rapidly and efficiently. Unfortunately, he cut a little too close on the fourth corner and the table lost part of one of its legs. The table, however, no longer had sharp corners. But what if the table had gone to see the Chinese doctor instead? After enquiring how this might have come about and thoroughly feeling the table’s corners, top and legs, he would pull out a small file, apply it to one corner and begin to file. He would file and file. And even though it might be tedious and require a lot of patience on the part of both the table and the doctor, and it might take up to one year before the table would be truly its old round self again, eventually it would be beautifully smooth and strong and perfectly round again.

If you would like to know if Acupuncture or Tui Na could help you, please do get in touch.


Moxa and Moxabustion

If you’ve never had an acupuncture treatment with moxa, I’m sure you’ve wondered what that strange smell is when enter my treatment room! That is the smell of Moxa.

What is Moxabustion?

Moxabustion is the burning of a dried herb called moxa, a soft woolly substance prepared from Mugwort leaves (Artemisia vulgaris). Moxa has been used alongside acupuncture for over 3 thousand years, at least as long as we have evidence of the practice of acupuncture.

What does it do?
Moxa is used to strengthen the immune system, to warm the body and to bring more qi and blood flow to an area. Moxa is often cited for its effectiveness in turning breach babies.

In TCM, moxa is often used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and qi. Moxa is especially useful for the treatment of pain.

In Western medicine, moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. Other studies have shown that moxibustion increases the movement of the fetus in pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture.

What happens during a treatment?

There are many methods in the use of moxa, but this is how I generally use it.

I usually place the moxa either directly on the skin or on the acupuncture needle, or hold it just above the skin over specific acupuncture points or meridians. I light the herb with a joss stick and as it smoulders slowly, a therapeutic heat permeates the skin and affects the flow of ‘qi’ (energy) and blood in the area being treated.

I use direct moxibustion most commonly for specific areas needing treatment. I shape the moxa into a tiny cone and place it directly on to the body before lighting. The lit moxa cone is removed as soon as the patient feels any sensation of heat.

It is also used to great effect on the actual head of the acupuncture needle. In this case I place a small roll of moxa on the head of an acupuncture needle. It burns for about 20-30 seconds until it extinguishes.

What does it feel like?

Well, most importantly, it doesn’t hurt. You often feel a warm, relaxing sensation. If you are concerned about the smoke that emanates from the moxa, I can also use a smokeless variety.

If you would like to know more about Moxa, or anything about Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and how it can help you, please feel free to contact me.


Autumn – the Metal Element

​Always seem to be catching colds? Your Metal may be out of balance!

Don’t you love the autumn? It’s that time of year where once again nature is in transition; it is preparing for the winter, taking stock before the time of renewal in the spring. As the days shorten and the leaves turn a golden brown and fall to the ground, it’s also a time that we should be retreating; a time to gather round the fire with our loved ones (or the central heating for most of us now!) taking stock of all that we have done and achieved throughout the year, but preparing for the long cold nights of Winter and making plans for next year.

About this time of year I see a lot of people who have a cold, and they often tell me that the changing of the seasons affects their health. So why might this be? In Chinese Medicine we associate the Metal element with the autumn, and, on a physical level, the lungs and colon. In our human lifetime, Metal is the time of letting go, a time of tranquility, peace and wisdom. In the autumn of one’s life it is a time of withdrawing from outside involvement and looking for meaning within. We must ‘let go’ to face the limits of life.

So what happens if we don’t (or can’t) let go? Well, if we don’t let go of the summer and continue to wear less, stay up late and eat summer foods, we are more susceptible to viruses and the cold. Or, put another way, if we are not in tune with the changing of the seasons (or nature), our Qi may be weakened and therefore our defenses are down.

Mistiming the transition of the seasons is something we are all prone to, however, and that’s why we all get colds every now and then. But some of us seem to get more colds and worse colds than everyone else. If this is you, it might be because your Metal element is out of balance.

And this is where Acupuncture can help you. When our elements are out of balance, we are ill. This might mean you are more susceptible to weather changes, or it might mean things are just not right. In the case of a Metal imbalance, you may have a dry cough and a sore throat (Lungs) or you could be constipated (Colon). In either case, the ‘letting go’ function is impaired.
Acupuncture is able to stimulate the free flow of the body’s energy and therefore its natural healing response.

If you would like to know more about Acupuncture and how it can help you, please call me on 07909 521847 or at the Therapy Life Centre on 01702 433959.

Steve Coster

southend acupuncture cancer fertility pain

and .. Breathe

​‘As long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee’
Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

On Mondays I run a Qi Gong class at The Therapy Life Centre, every week at 11a.m.
Qi Gong is a wonderful way to exercise the mind and body through movement and breathe, and a great way to start the week!

When we are born the first thing we do in this world is take a breath, and it’s also the last thing we do.

We give the breath of life.

We take a deep breath before taking the plunge, and then have our breath taken away!

We all breathe. It is fundamental to our existence. Every living thing must breathe in one way or another. Trying holding your breath and see how long you last!

But when was the last time you took a breath?

As an Acupuncturist and Qi Gong practitioner I am interested in two aspects of breathing: how we breathe and the quality of the air that we breathe. When I see a new client, I always observe how they are breathing, because the way we breathe says a lot about our health. Some of us are shallow breathers; some of us hold are breath; and nearly all of us are unaware that we are breathing!

In Chinese Medicine mindfulness of breath is extremely important. We see air as Qi, or vital energy, so it is literally the breath of life. Qi Gong (the health exercises synonymous with Chinese Medicine), in fact, translates as ‘breath work’. By being aware of our breath we are connecting with our body. When we are watching TV or reading a magazine we are invariably not aware of our breath. We are therefore disconnected from reality, or put another way, disconnected from self. And before you know it that is when illness creeps up on you.

Try breathing bent over – this is how we breath at our desks…for much of the day!

Don’t go Jogging next to a busy road!

And what about the air we breathe? We know, for instance, that children growing up in the inner city of London are more prone to skin and lung diseases.

The greatest problem is with nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant that inflames the lungs, stunting children’s’ growth and increasing the risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. London has an acute problem with NO2, possibly the worst in the world. Putney high street broke its annual emission limits just eight days into the New Year, with Knightsbridge, Oxford Street, Earls Court and Brixton all following suit before the end of January. Across the country, the government estimates 23,500 people die prematurely from NO2 pollution. Would we care more if we could see the air we breathe?

So it is important where we do our breathing; exercising in the woods is better than next to the A127! Of course we cannot always be in the countryside, but it helps to be somewhere clean when doing our Qi or mindful breathing, in the garden for instance.

If you would like to know more about Qi Gong and my class, or you just have a question about Chinese Medicine, please do contact me.