Blog Post No. 56
2nd March 2018
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018
Renata’s Coaching and counselling Blog:
Millions of Chinese people can’t be wrong! Why practising Chi Kung will keep you away from the doctor’s surgery
Keeping fit by doing lots of exercise is good for you, isn’t it? There is lots of talk these days about the importance of keeping fit, and of avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.
However, there are certain drawbacks with some types of exercise, which I want to tell you about, because you may not be aware of them.
Not all exercise is automatically good for your body. A lot depends on the type of exercise you do. A good deal of injury to muscles and joints is common in the most widely practised systems of exercise in the West.
In this blog I’m going to outline some of the differences between Eastern and Western types of exercise – and describe the benefits of Eastern exercise, and some of the disadvantages of Western exercise, which are not widely known.
It’s important that you know the effects of different types of exercise, so that you can make an informed choice, if you decide that you want to improve your health by exercising.
Why is this important? Firstly, because you will want a good return on the investment of your valuable time and money. And secondly, because you will want to avoid physical damage to your body.
‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ exercise
In his book, ‘The Tao of Detox’, by Daniel Reid (2003), Reid makes a distinction between ‘Hard’ exercise and ‘Soft’ exercise, and he explains the different effects these two types of exercise have on the body.
Here’s what ‘Hard’ exercise includes:
And now for some ‘Soft’ exercise systems:
The effects of ‘hard ‘exercise on the body
There are lots of benefits from active sports, but there is also a downside to them. Here are some of the effects on the body of hard systems of exercise:
As you can see, the effects on the body aren’t all beneficial, and if there is also a competitive element to the sport, then this can act as a source of stress throughout the body-brain-mind.
The effects of ‘soft’ exercise on the body
The Eastern approach to exercise (which we’ve called a ‘soft’ approach) is that the exercise must be therapeutic for the body. So let us look at some evidence of the value of soft exercise. And this will help us to understand why millions of Chinese have practised it continuously for thousands of years.
Here are some of the benefits:
# One of the top rewards of doing this type of exercise is that it switches your body into the ‘rest and digest’ (or healing) mode of functioning. When you do ‘Soft’ exercise (which involves slow, rhythmic movements, combined with deep breathing), this shifts the autonomic (or automatic) nervous system into the calming, healing branch of your nervous system and keeps it there throughout the exercise.
This enhances the immune system and stimulates the production of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow.
# It also stimulates the thymus (the immune system’s master gland) and other glands, to release the full range of immune system protection factors; and at the same time it stops the release of the stress hormones which are part of the ‘Fight or flight’ response – (which have powerful immune-system inhibiting effects).
# “Chi-gong also stimulates the increase in secretions of natural steroids”, states Daniel Reid (2003) “thereby relieving arthritis without the need to resort to the toxic synthetic steroids which most doctors prescribe for this condition.” (Page 114)
# Furthermore, apparently when we stretch our muscles, this squeezes stagnant blood from our body tissues and then the relaxation part allows fresh arterial blood to flow in. And stretching also stimulates lymphatic drainage, which we need to stimulate through body movement each day, so that wastes (e.g. toxic waste products, infectious microorganisms, etc), can be destroyed by our white blood cells, as they pass through the lymph nodes.
Because these soft exercises are always done in a relaxed, smooth and slow manner, with the smallest amount of effort, this means that no lactic acid is produced in the body tissues, which is a side effect of ‘hard’ exercise.
The benefits to the body (continued)…
# Doing these soft exercises slowly ensures that the heart doesn’t race, and the breath isn’t reduced.
# Apparently twenty minutes of Chi Kung practice slows down the pulse by an average of 15%, while increasing the overall amount of blood circulating in the body, and this effect lasts for several hours afterwards.
This increase in the flow of blood around the body results from the way soft exercise alters the workload of circulation from the heart, over to the diaphragm.
And one of the implications is this: High blood pressure, which is a life-threatening condition all over the world, can be controlled without effort by doing daily Chi Kung practice, without the need for drugs.
Research findings on how Chi Kung reduces blood pressure
At the Shanghai Research Institute for Hypertension, one hundred people who were suffering from chronic high blood pressure and hypertension, took part in a research project to test whether Chi Kung exercise could help them.
What the researchers found was that after only five minutes of Chi Kung practice, blood pressure levels in all of the participants began to drop dramatically. And after twenty minutes their blood pressure reached the level it normally would have reached after three hours as a result of taking the kinds of blood-pressure drugs normally prescribed by Western medical practitioners.
Ninety-seven of the participants stayed free of high blood pressure and didn’t have to use the drugs any more, just by continuing to practice Chi Kung at home every day.
And the three patients who decided not to continue their Chi Kung practice quickly relapsed and had to go back on drug therapy.
The benefits of Chi Kung for the brain
# Electroencephalographic (EEG) scans of elderly people in China – who practice Chi Kung daily – show signs of rejuvenation. That is to say, a pattern and frequency of brain waves has been found that are usually found in the brains of young children. This is interpreted as showing that those who regularly practise this type of exercise can bring back the mental skills and abilities they had when they were young.
# Also, Chi Kung infuses the brain with energy, and activates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and enkephalins. The effect of this is that brain functions are balanced. Mental alertness is increased, and pain reduced. And communication is enhanced between the brain and the peripheral nervous system.
Chi Kung benefits for the digestion process
# Indigestion, and acid reflux, are very common for people who are following a Western diet. According to studies in China, the practice of Chi Kung affects the stomach in a beneficial way. For example, fifteen minutes of practise of Chi Kung produces a big increase in the enzymes which are released by the stomach to digest food: pepsin, and other digestive enzymes; plus lysozyme, which is secreted by the salivary glands. Apparently this system of exercise balances the pH level in the stomach (the level of acid and alkalinity) and this helps prevent acid indigestion.
We are socialized in the UK, Europe and America to see sports as a necessarily competitive process, either between different teams (for example the recent Winter Olympics) or competing against one’s own previous performance at a particular sport. But competition causes stress, as nobody wants to lose the race, or to let their team down! And even after your team has won, there is always the anxiety about next time! Next time we might lose! And then who would we be?!
And inevitably there are vast audiences for these competitive sports. And this has become a major form of involvement in sport: A passive, consumerist approach.
But what about the health of the people who are watching these events? Clearly, their health doesn’t get better by watching other people exercising. In fact, we now know that sedentary lifestyle is killing people! (Spectator sport does however make large fortunes for sports-related businesses and TV companies.)
The Eastern approach is very different: The benefits to the body of Chi Kung, (which is one of several Eastern forms of exercise), are many and varied. It’s like a type of medical therapy as well as an exercise system.
I was very fortunate in the 1980s to stumble across Chi Kung, when I joined Penny Ramsden’s Chi Kung class in Hebden Bridge. I found it so helpful, and health-giving, that I am still doing the exercises almost every morning, for over thirty years later!
Illustrating Chi Kung in action
Further down this page, you will see a video clip which illustrates the calming and relaxing movements of Chi Kung exercise, which gently gives the body a full workout – and practitioners feel great afterwards!
The exercise costs nothing, after you’ve learned how to do it. It’s safe and effective and you can practice it anywhere at any time (indoors if the weather is bad. But exercising outside is better, because of all the fresh oxygen [chi] you get into your lungs and bloodstream).
You don’t need special equipment and, if you do it in the morning, it sets you up for the day to deal with the many hassles of life which you will inevitably face.
Here is a video clip of a group practising Chi Kung techniques:
My tutor (Penny Ramsden) told our group that, before she tried Chi Kung, she had been bed-ridden for a significant amount of time with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Now she was fully recovered, after being taught by Michael Tse (pronounced Shay!), who teaches Chi Kung all over the world.
There are many classes where you can learn the movements, which you can then use for your physical and mental benefit for the rest of your life!
This form of exercise is great for developing resilience and managing the stresses of daily life, and if you practice it every day, it will slowly transform and strengthen you and enrich your life.
For many years I have recommended these exercises to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.
In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system. Towards the end of his blog he wrote this: “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”
From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***
So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.
I hope you investigate this system of exercise, and experiment with it. It’s incredible value for money. And it builds up your most precious asset: your physical and mental health.
It feels good right away, once you start to do it! And when you set out to face your day, you can feel the energy flowing through your body! You will also feel resilient in the face of the inevitable hassles of your day!
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‘The Tao of Detox’, by Daniel Reid (2003). London, Simon and Shuster UK Ltd.