For various reasons, I awoke on this Silent Sunday to a body that is quietly, yet insistently requesting a day of minimal physical activity. My mind, however, feels the need release some restless energy, which I typically do through moving my body. So, like a parent trying to assuage rival needs of two children, I respond with a solution that speaks to both: Fragrance Qigong.
I first learned the Fragrance sets through the certification curriculum of a local qigong school. The movements appealed to me because of their ability to swiftly and directly access each organ system in the Traditional Chinese Medicine element framework; I also enjoyed the immediate sense of effecting the energy around me—the magnetic and auric fields. The movements are easy to learn (although the entire sequence of each of the two primary Fragrance sets is long and memory-challenging), and the body instinctively gravitates toward which ones it needs.
Consequently, today’s selections from the first Fragrance set provides a wonderful movement alternative for a fatigued, over-used, and perhaps acting body. To begin, stand with your feet hip-width apart, a natural, slight bend in the knees. Lightly adjust the tailbone downward, in order to open and lengthen the lower spine. Ease the shoulders down, and adjust the neck with the chin parallel to the ground. Place the palms on the Dan Tien (area 3 finger widths below the navel), and breathe into the palms: 3 full inhales and exhales. Check in with your energy level and physical sensations; ground yourself, and enter the practice.
For the purpose of today’s restorative, revitalizing routine, I have selected the following three Fragrance Qigong moves: To attain the optimal benefits, do each for 1 minute, with three Dan Tien breaths in between each. Then repeat each for another minute, with a two-breath divider. Then again, with only one breath to shift from one exercise to the next: Finally, transition seamlessly from one to the other, so that your final set is 3 minutes total.
Special note: The above timing is my personal suggestion for creating a routine out of a few Fragrance exercises. For your own self-care arsenal, however, you could practice any one of them for a much shorter or longer time (e.g., 6-10 repetitions, or 3-5 minutes each). Whenever you need a quick dose of balance or stimulation, choose one and enjoy the refreshment.
Before any Fragrance session, move the hands through the Opening exercise: With your arms by your sides, bend the elbows so that the palms face each other in front of the mid-torso, about 3 inches apart. Inhale as your move the palms away from each other, opening to about 12 inches apart; exhale back to the starting position. Repeat two more times.
Now you are ready for the first move, called Bird. This is a general qi circulation move, and begins to bring all chakras into alignment. Still in your standing position, bring the palms together in front of your groin region, fingers pointing toward the ground; arms are straight and relaxed. Inhale as you bend the elbows, bringing the touching palms up to just below the chin; fingers now point upward. Exhale back down, then inhale up right away. Find a pace that feels calm and steady, and that suits your personal breathing rate. Continue to move for 1 minute, keeping the suggested timing pattern in mind.
The second exercise, which works with the Lung, Heart, and upper body, is Piano. This movement is excellent for bouts of anxiety or angst; it is also a great addition to whatever practice you may already have to combat sleep troubles. Begin with the elbows bent, forearms parallel to each other at chest level. Palms face down, starting with right palm an inch or two above the left hand.
Inhale as you straighten the arms out to the sides, moving the hands away from each other. Exhale back to the center position, so that the left hand is over the right. Continue opening and closing the arms, alternating the top hand position each time: Move fluidly, as if the two hands are playing gracefully back and forth along the octaves of a piano.
The third piece of today’s set is Boat. This move helps to clear and balance the energy of the Spleen and Liver, both of which greatly affect one’s feeling of overall vitality. The initial arm position is similar to Piano; however, the hands begin in front of the navel point, and the right hand hovers above the left throughout the exercise. (Both palms face the ground.) Inhale as you swing the entire hand and arm “package” up to the left; exhale to swing back through center and up and out to the right. Continue this rocking, or “boat swaying,” movement for a minute, consistent with outlined timing for today’s routine.
This additional move is not part of the Fragrance Qigong routine; however, I find it to be a sure-fire way to ensure that your efforts are completely integrated into your body. Inhale your arms up overhead through the side space as you rise onto the balls of your feet: Exhale, and drop your heels and arms simultaneously; repeat two more times. This movement shakes out any remaining energetic debris or stagnancy, and circulates the fresh qi throughout your entire system.
Finally, just as there is a traditional Opening to Fragrance Qigong, there is a Close. The palms come together in a prayer-like mudra, with the elbows bent and relaxed; fingers point upward just beneath the chin. With eyes closed and gazing upward to the Third Eye, breathe fully for 2-3 minutes. This simple meditation is used to equalize the qi in the left and right sides of the body; be aware of the sensation of energy moving in and between the two palms. When you feel ready, slowly open the eyes: Inhale as you move the hands apart, holding them palms forward in front of the shoulders; exhale as you gently, naturally move the hands down, palms down, ending at your sides in a relaxed position.