Here in the Northeast, we typically see four distinct seasons; however, there no longer seems to be any “typical” when it comes to Mother Nature and her proclamations. The daily quandary of what to wear is met with the oft-heard battle cry, “Layers!”
Just as our bodies need protection from the elements, so do our physiological and emotional environments require support during seasonal changes. Medical qigong practices help the mind and body adjust to each season: However, what do you do when Summer and Fall trade places, and Winter barely happens? How does one harmonize with Nature when its course becomes labyrinthian?
FIrst, understand the basic concept of qi circulation within the body: As in a tree, a healthy root and trunk allow for the flow of nutrients to the limbs. Similarly, a strong and flexible spine and neck provide the foundation for the smooth flow of qi throughout the body and mind. Look to spinal flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral bend exercises, in order to ensure the unhampered flow of pranic “nutrition.”
In medical qigong, the All-Seasons (or General) Set provides an answer to how to navigate atypical and unpredictable weather patterns. I take therapeutic license here, in that I will use the underlying concept of the set, and replace the All-Seasons (also known as Triple Burner) Set with one set of movements familiar to many: Cat/Cow (or Cat/Dog), from hatha yoga.
The following Cat/Cow variations are best practiced kneeling on all fours: however, if knee or wrist issues prevent that position for you, the exercises may be performed sitting on a chair, or standing. If you are physically sound, feel free to mix and match levels, in order to challenge (and thus further strengthen) the body. (Here, I provide instructions for the traditional kneeling variations, so you will have to modify the directions if seated or standing.)
1) Begin in a neutral position, fingers pointed forward, wrists in line with shoulders, knees
below hips. (For extra stability, curl your toes; extend them flat if you are comfortable.) Crown of the head points forward, eyes look straight down.
2) Inhale and move your tailbone back and up, let the belly stretch toward the floor, and slightly stretch the front of the neck, so that you look forward. As you exhale, reverse the curse: curl the tail down and under, draw the belly button in, and round your spine toward the ceiling. Allow the neck to release fully, so that the skull feels weighty as it hangs toward the floor. Repeat this arching and rounding 5-8 times, or for about 1 minute.
3) Return to the neutral start position. Begin to move your spine laterally, as if creating a “C” shape (and backward “C”) in your spine. To open the neck as you move back and forth, first keep your eyes on the floor as you shift side to side, bringing your ear close to the same-side shoulder as you bend; do this variation a few times to each side. Then, allow yourself to look over your shoulder toward your hip: Look right as you create a “C” (spine moves laterally to the left), and look left with the backward “C” (spine moves to the right).
4) Return to neutral. Begin to circle the pelvis clockwise (up to 8 times), and then counterclockwise. This is also an aid for digestion, and great for lower back stiffness.
A special note: Movement #5 is a combination of two exercises found in the Winter and Summer/Fall set of Four Seasons Qigong. It continues the emphasis on the spine, while also moving qi through the legs and feet, and out through the arms and hands.
5) Slowly come to standing, feet hip width or slightly wider. Start with hands next to the waist, palms up. Inhale as you draw the hands and arms slightly behind you; exhale as you round the spine, circling the arms out to the side and forward, allowing the backs of the hands to meet. Inhale, turn the palms up, and begin to draw them back to the starting position, as you straighten the spine, pressing first the pelvis, then ribs and chest forward and up.
Next, add slow walks to the torso and arm movement: With the first inhale and exhale portion, slowly step forward, placing the heel down first. As you reach the second inhale part of the movement, the toes meet the floor, and the spine lengthens into upright position. This walk requires and thus enhances focus, balance, and coordination.
Enjoy your day!