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Breathing the Qi Gong Way

How are you all feeling?  These are difficult times, especially if you are prone to feeling anxious anyway.   It’s  the uncertainty of what lies ahead that makes me feel a bit anxious.  The trick is to stay in the moment, by which I mean, trying not to dwell on the past or the future – the past is gone and the future hasn’t happened, it’s just a dream.

When we feel anxious, the first thing that is affected is our breathing.  The breath becomes shallow and this starts a domino affect throughout the rest of the body.   In this short video I explain and demonstrate the breathing used in Qi Gong.  Breath is one of the most important aspects of Qi Gong, along with the Mind (or your intent).  In Qi gong we use our breath not only to build up the Qi, but also to focus the Mind and help move the Qi around the body, especially to where it is most needed.

Breathing to Connect Mind and Body

The Mind aspect of this type of breathing is what gives it depth, without which it would just be ‘breathing’ which we all need to do otherwise we would die!  Breathing abdominally is very grounding.  It draws down our energy, rooting us to the Earth, stopping us from floating away in our dream worlds that often do not represent reality.  So great if you are suffering from anxiety, now or at any time.

Grounding Meditation

I also include in the video a simple but effective grounding technique which can also be used as a meditation.  Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated to be affective, you just need to learn how to be in the moment.  This technique will help you get there.

If you have any questions, just let me know.  I am still open for consultations and advice, and Qi Gong lessons, just not in the traditional sense.  But I’m still working via Skype and FaceTime, and of course on the old fashioned telephone and email 🙂

 

 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

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What day is it? Acupuncture under Lockdown

Is it week 3 or week 4 of lockdown? I’ve lost track of time.  As an Acupuncturist who works evenings and weekends it’s difficult keeping track of the days anyway.  When I was younger and working in the city, the structure of the week was very rigid. Monday was the start of the week; I was tired and invariably recovering from the weekend.  Wednesday was the middle of the week and always a dull sort of day, being stuck in the middle of the week; but it was also my training night at the kung fu club, so not such a bad day after all.  Thursday was the start of the weekend (well, for me anyway).  There was definitely a more relaxed feeling at work and I always felt a lot happier.  Friday was technically still a workday, but it felt like the weekend to me.  And then finally, it was the actual weekend.

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Insurance days

The Bad old days

Back then I structured my whole working week to make work more bearable and to get me to the weekend.  If I had anything difficult to do or a bit taxing, if I was able to I would schedule this for a Tuesday or a Wednesday.  Monday was always a day that I tucked myself away and kept my head down, trying not to catch anyone’s eye.  I called it my ‘colouring-in day’.  Thursday and Friday were days that I tried to keep free too; for me these were weekend days.  If I couldn’t manage to dodge work on these days, then I made sure it was scheduled for the morning.  Don’t get me wrong, although I didn’t like my job (which I’m sure you realise by now) I wasn’t that bad at it either.  I did it for 17 years and it was quite demanding at times, so I’m sure in all that time I would have been sacked if I wasn’t up to scratch.

Steve Coster Qi Gong Acupuncture Southend

The five elements of the week

Looking back (and knowing what I know now) I can see that my whole week was a microcosm of nature and the seasons, according to Chinese medicine and the five elements.  Monday was the most yin day; it represented the ‘winter’ of my week, when it was the quietest and I just wanted to hide away.  By Tuesday I was slowly emerging and expanding, like the Spring, ready for new growth.  (I make this sound more exciting than the reality of it – we are talking about Insurance here, after all).  By Wednesday and Thursday I was totally yang as I go into the ‘fire’ phase, or the ‘summer’ of my week.  Now I have recovered my energy and I’m at my most productive, literally firing on all cylinders, ready for the weekend, which is Friday and Saturday.  Now I was in the ‘earth’ phase, or the ‘late-summer’, reaping in the ‘harvest’ of my efforts earlier in the week.  (I make this sound quite dramatic, but remember we’re talking about insurance here).  And finally, we reach the ‘metal’ stage, or the ‘autumn’, which for me was Sunday; a time when we meditate on the past seasons and make preparations for the winter.

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These were not happy times for me.  But now I take solace knowing that, even in the most challenging and unhappy times in our lives, the seasons do change and we do move on.  The trick, I suppose, is tuning in to your ‘self’, knowing how you feel and what you want from life.  For me, I did this by practicing Wing Chun kung fu and Qi Gong.  The two most important aspects of Qi Gong are breathing and the Mind.  In Qi Gong we use Mind to move the Qi around the body, to nourish the organs, the bones, muscles, sinews, tendons, blood and fluids.  Without focusing the Mind, Qi Gong loses it’s depth and becomes ‘mindless’ exercise.  Practised with ‘mind’ then, Qi Gong can be so powerful that you can get a full workout without even moving.

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Being true to nature in the lockdown

We are actually in the wood phase of the year, the time of expansion and new growth.  The yang energy is picking up; the weather is getting warmer and we all want to be outside moving our Qi and making things happen.  Obviously, the lockdown poses a bit of a problem in that we can’t be as ‘expansive’ as we would like, but there is still much that can be done at home.  We can make plans, work on projects and ready ourselves for the summer and the fire phase, coming out of Lockdown like rockets!  And, of course, we can practice Qi Gong.

I am still doing treatments during the lockdown, although not in the traditional sense. Due to social distancing measures I can’t do acupuncture or tui na, but I am doing Skype and FaceTime sessions. Talking through your situation with me will allow me to tailor my advice to what would be most relevant for you as an individual. I can also show you Qi Gong techniques, acupoints and self-tui na, specifically for you. Although more limited in scope than face to face practice, there is good evidence that this sort of approach can benefit your health and help you self-manage your symptoms at home. Just call or drop me an email and we can go from there.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Steve Coster Earth Acupuncture Chewing

Connecting with the earth & the art of chewing

Over the Easter weekend I was getting my hands dirty digging the veg patch and planting seeds.  The weather has been so clement that my courgettes are shooting up already!  In this week’s blog I explore our relationship with the earth and food we grow in it.  Acupuncture isn’t just about needles, a few simple lifestyle changes (such as how we eat) can make a big difference.

Connecting with the Earth

Steve Coster planting acupunctureSteve Coster Digging Acupuncture

It’s really important that we connect with nature; in fact it’s vital to our health.  Spending time in nature is becoming a big thing in health care all around the world. In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.  Nature therapy, as it is called elsewhere, helps to free us from the distractions from the modern world.  Not a particularly new idea I guess, but whatever way the holistic health ideal gets out there is great.  In other parts of the world it is called garden therapy, horticultural therapy, Kneipp therapy or even ocean therapy.  Whatever you call it, connecting with nature has to be good for us.

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My courgettes!

Becoming grounded

The concept of Earth and grounding is fundamental to Chinese Medicine.  It is central to everything.  It is a pivotal time of year between the Yang and Yin when the summer is waning, around September, when fruits are at their ripest and sweetest.  Earth is also important in Qi Gong as Man is the connection between Heaven and Earth.  We need to be grounded, not only metaphorically but literally.  Gravity helps of course, but we all know people who have their heads in the clouds and are ungrounded, flitting from one thing to the next.  It’s important to have the creativity and freedom that comes with an attachment with the heavens, but it’s equally important to have our feet firmly planted on the ground.

In Wing Chun emphasis is put on the development of the horse stance, a stance used to ground oneself to generate power and stability.  It’s about being as solid and immoveable as a mountain, but not totally rigid and inanimate.  Mountains move, the whole Earth does in fact, we are just unaware of it!  By becoming connected to the Earth one is not only able to absorb power from it, but also transfer force into it, just like the roots of a tree.

The importance of proper digestion

We can also ground ourselves with food, by touching it, smelling it and tasting it.  Take a moment to really connect with what is in your mouth when you are eating.  Chew your food really well.  I am really adverse to food being liquidized before eating it, as I believe chewing is important to the digestive process.   Digestion starts in the mouth.  The action of chewing stimulates the release of saliva which contains digestive enzymes that break down starches into simple sugars.  Saliva also contains some fat digesting enzymes that begin the process of breaking down fats in our food.  Not only chewing, but smell and taste receptors also trigger the production of stomach acid and pancreatic juices 

In Chinese Medicine the whole digestive system is compared to a machine that mulches and heats the food to obtain the essences which are then converted into Qi and Blood.  By chewing we are breaking down the food into more manageable pieces but also heating it up.  If this doesn’t occur then vital energy is wasted in doing the heating which can result in Spleen deficiency and its related problems.  Without adequate chewing you will feel heavy and dull, develop gas, and be undernourished.  

The art of chewing 

Chewing ones food is again nothing new, but it became a big thing in the 19th century when nutritionist Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) developed into a real art.  He believed that you can eat whatever you like, but you must only eat when you are hungry and every mouthful should be chewed until it had lost its flavour.  Fletcher himself used to ‘Fletcherize’ each mouthful of food up to 100 times!  He famously said “Nature will castigate those who do not masticate”! 

His message to humanity – to have an excellent overall health – was to have a holistic approach involving three steps:

  1. Eat only when you have a good appetite
  2. Chew the food like pulp and drink that pulp. Do not swallow food.
  3. Drink all the liquids and liquid food sip by sip. Do not drink in gulps.

It sounds horrible! 

Eating the Chinese way

In Chinese Medicine the way we eat is important too, but unlike Fletcherism there has to an element of joy to it.  Who wants to be like a cow chewing the cud all day? However, there are still plenty of do’s and don’ts when eating.  These are just a few:

  • If you want something badly enough it’s probably more healthy just to eat it.  The mental anguish in suppressing the desire will probably do you more harm.
  • Eat in a nice environment.  
  • Avoid arguing or emotionally charged conversations.  
  • Don’t be too hot or too cold.  
  • Turn the tv off. 
  • Don’t read.  
  • Don’t eat before a bath (or in the bath!). 
  • Take time to self-reflect – eating is a time to nurture not only the body but the mind also.
  • Relax after food, but don’t rush off to bed.
  • Give thanks before and after eating.
  • Try to eat locally, organically, and seasonally.

So I hope this week’s blog has given you food for thought.  Remember, we are of the materials of the Earth so it’s important to respect what it offers. Be compassionate towards animals and plants and only consume what is needed.  We should feel the same aversion to polluting our bodies as we do the environment.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Steve Coster Warrior Acupuncture

Be a Warrior, not a worrier.

Who isn’t worried?  It affects everyone, because that’s the kind of world we live in now.  But why do some people worry more than others?  In Chinese Medicine worry can be caused by an underlying weakness of the Spleen, Heart or Lungs, or a combination of all three.  Worrying can therefore be a symptom of an internal imbalance.  Over time it can create an imbalance which leads to, you’ve guessed it, more worrying.  And on and on it goes.

Some people are more susceptible to worry

According to Chinese Medicine a person with a more earthy constitution will be more prone to this sort of problem than others.  This might include people who choose (or are forced) to be overly involved in other people’s stories and therefore not listening to their own heart’s voice.  I see this a lot in my clinic: people who have all the time the world to care for others, but no time for themselves.  

Steve Coster Earth Element Acupuncture

Exhaustion, eating disorders, food abuse, excess sugar and long-term strain are also factors.  Food abuse includes over-focusing on what we eat, dieting and fasting, which can be ways to distract ourselves. 

Worry knots Qi, which stops it from moving.  

The Lungs are affected because worry causes shallow breathing, and the Spleen because it is responsible for thinking and ideas.  So, when a bit of Qi stagnation is added to the mix, these ideas and thoughts, instead of free flowing and healthy, become obsessive and destructive.   Eventually the Heart will also be affected by the stagnation of Qi. 

Worry is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.  

The more energy we spend on useless worrying, the less energy we have to take the steps to create the life we really want to live.  Stagnated Qi eventually transforms into denser Qi which manifests as physical symptoms: chronic muscle spasms, digestive problems, abdominal pain and bloating, and fatigue.  Over time it will also affect the Heart and Lungs causing stress related symptoms – insomnia, palpitations, breathing difficulties and chest tightness.

Worry also includes the seldom used word pensiveness, which consists of brooding, constantly thinking about certain events or people, nostalgic hankering after the past and generally thinking intensely about life rather than living it.   This could also include excessive mental work or study, so students are particularly prone to a Spleen imbalance.  So don’t be too hard on yourself if you crave a KitKat while doing your tax return.

How can this cycle be broken?

It is said that action must follow thought as constant brooding and worry will stagnate the Qi. The positive aspect to over-thinking is quiet contemplation, so  meditation is one way to break this cycle.  This might be with meditative movement such as qi gong or yoga, or just going jogging or dancing.  Any movement in fact will help quiet the mind and allow the qi to flow more efficiently.  

Qi Gong and Tai Chi to direct the flow of Qi

Acupuncture can also be used to break the worry cycle by nourishing the organs involved, the Spleen, Lungs and Heart.  Once these organs are operating more efficiently, the Qi is able to move more freely.

Here are are a few more tips:

Avoid clutter so their is room to think.

Take care of yourself: Take time to rest, to walk, to just be quiet.

Do what you say you are going to do: so be careful not to over commit.

Learn to say ‘NO’ without giving any explanation.

 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.