Quit Netflix – Strengthen your Mind

 

Quit Netflix Strengthen your Mind

Originally, I wrote this article a few weeks prior to the Great Corona Pandemic of 2019-2020. I was planning to publish it sometime in March 2019, but with the population of Western countries held in a prison-like lockdown, it seemed quite pointless to write about why we should quit netflix or any other kind of TV watching as a time when everyone is literally ordered to stay at home. During this time, watching TV may the one thing keeping people sane, providing a kind of story-time soma.

Perhaps there was a reason why so many hours of TV series have been produced in the last ten years. As though in preparation for this moment. And certainly, with this amount of internet streaming, we would need a faster internet like 5*G. I still remember as a kid having to wait a week for the next 30 minute episode of a favourite drama. But now these days you can binge watch an entire 3 or 4 seasons in one go.

However, as the lockdown draws to a close, I think it is time to publish my original article. It will be time to break this new habit of sitting in front a screen. And not just any the TV screen, also our smartphones.

It may come across as irresponsible, but I want to talk about how we are, by our nature, a social species. It is unnatural to keep humans caged up all day, jus as it is unnatural to keep battery chickens caged up. Without exposure to dirt, to people and even to viruses or bacteria, our immune systems have no chance to be strengthened. It is not viruses or bacteria we should fear. It is the overall condition of our immune system that decides whether we flourish or wilter and die.

Stockholm Syndrome

Some of us have possibly enjoyed our captivity. Able to indulge in exercise, play video games and binge watch TV or even just carry on as normal speaking on the phone with friends. Others have not fared so well. Anxiety, worry, lack of human contact, unable or unwilling to seek medical care for longstanding health problems (which have absolutely nothing to do with corona), but are equally as troublesome if not more.

There are even people in poorer countries who are literally starving to death because they are forbidden to go to work. Does that not seem ironic?

Anyway, I want to iterate my point – that all these streaming services, these entertainment resources, this 24/7 mainstream media, thumping out its negativity and panic mongering with stories of millions of people dropping dead; is not good for us as humans.

This period may have made many of us addicted to these streaming services. Soon will be time to break these addictions. Get out in the sun, meet people, touch people, stand next to people without fear of an invisible danger. Don’t wash your hands except for after going to the toilet or when handling food. And consider your fear of death. It is by fear that we are controlled. It is by the stimulation of any of our emotions and desires (or sins, to be Bibilical), that we are controlled.

Here is my original article:


Quit Netflix, Strengthen your Mind

A couple of years ago, I took out a subscription to Netflix. For a long time, I was impressed with the massive range of TV dramas and movies for such a small amount to pay each month. What’s the catch? I wondered.

The catch is you. It is not the TV drama that is the product. It is you. Or more precisely, your attention. Your focus. Your mind. Your very life force is sucked in by Netflix.

Netflix is designed to have you glued to the box. Why? Netflix is another form of bread and circuses. Keep the masses content with full stomachs and entertainment, and they won’t read the writing on the wall.

In this day and age, all tech companies are vying with each other to grab your attention. You are the product. Facebook, Disney, Apple, Netflix… they all want You!

They don’t want you sitting quietly and reading a book or meditating. They certainly don’t want you thinking. There’s nothing in it for them if you do that. Your mind has got to be occupied all the time.

Fortunately, my generation has had less conditioning than the current. I grew up in a time where there were only 4 TV channels, and most of the day, there was nothing of interest on for young eyes. Saturday afternoon was the golden time, where they showed The A Team. Most of the time, there wasn’t much on, so we just went out and played in the sunlight, fresh air and dirt. And we didn’t wash our hands all that often. When we got a fifth channel – imaginatively named – ‘Channel 5’, we thought we were living the good times. That was until we watched it and realised it was the same as the other Channels.

And then came satellite and the internet and streaming services and now, I can watch anything I want, anytime I want. No more impatiently waiting each week for the next episode to come out. Nowadays, you can binge watch an entire batch of seasons.  However, even though I had less conditioning (brainwashing), it still affected my generation pretty hard.

My father’s generation came from the stone ages. He still listens to the wireless (radio). He’s never ever owned a TV. Must be great to tell the TV licence people to “Go Away! – I don’t have a TV, what are you going to do?!”

Not that he would use that tone, but just as an example of how intrusive the BBC license gestapo are, he had to show one of them into his home to prove he didn’t have a TV, otherwise they just kept keep bugging him.  My TV is not even connected to an aerial. I use it for DVDs and connect it to the internet, but I still have to pay a license even though I haven’t watched the BBC for years. Some people even go to prison for not paying a TV license.

Philosophically, how can anyone support the BBC when they imprison more women than men, especially single moms or over 70s for not paying a licence. If it’s so important to them, then design a TV that won’t let you stream the BBC or terrestrial TV if a person doesn’t pay their license… and then listen to the great gushing sound as they lose money each year as TV-watching demographics reduce.

So anyway, the choice of having millions of TV dramas and movies to pick from sounds great, but in reality, it’s not. For example, there was this recent release of what the office worker of the future will look like. Hunchback, varicose veins and pasty skin.

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Source: Daily Mail – Scientists create model of how office workers could look in 20 years time.

If this picture is true, then the office worker of the future will likely spend their evenings watching nonstop Netflix dramas after spending 8 hours in front of a screen at work.

But it is not just the physical effects of non-stop watching TV. We forget the effects this all has on our minds.

Firstly, it dissipates out attention, focus and concentration.  A sluggish body makes a sluggish mind. Thinking requires energy, and if your body is not running at optimum, that energy is in a shortfall.

Additionally, too much entertainment makes for gluttony. You don’t appreciate or enjoy what you have, because you have too much of it.

I found that when I watched Netflix. I could not find anything to watch. I would flick through film after film, after film, unable to decide what to watch. I would start a movie, and within minutes grow bored and start watching another one.

Basically too much choice is bad for you.

It also makes us less decisive, less focused, more easily manipulated by the media and basically dull and zombie like. And when you watch a TV drama, you want to eat snacks and junk. Junk and a cool movie is a great combination. As a treat it’s fine to do sometimes, but every day – Trouble.

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TV good…. More TV better…

Hence why you need  to focus on strengthening the mind.

And here is the person, who can teach you how – Koichi Tohei

Tohei was a Japanese Aikido instructor who specialised in a system of Ki-Aikido. He wrote a great book called the Book of Ki: Co-ordinating Mind and Body in Daily Life.

Book fo Ki

Here is one section where Koichi Tohei talks about why we should learn to focus our mind and not let it be dissipated by various distractions:

Unify your mind

Diffuse sunlight can be concentrated by a lense to create a flame. Dissipated by a search light, however, even the strongest light becomes weak. Concentration is power. The mind is no different. Instead of acknowledging and acting on this simple fact, most people weaken the power of their minds daily doing things like trying to eat while reading the newspaper or studying while listening to music…

Tohei recommends we practice strengthening the mind by sitting in Zazen (a meditative pose) every day and keep the mind focused on one point in the lower abdomen. This is meditation and if you have not practiced it, you will find it incredibly difficult to do. Your mind will go crazy. ‘It is too quiet, how can sitting doing nothing be so hard? Quick reach for the control’.

But it is the problem of having too much entertainment. It actually weakens our minds and our focus. Concentration is a skill. it needs to be developed and practiced.

Tohei recommends the following sitting exercise:

Keep one point

I practiced Zazen with great enthusiasm under a priest in Kyoto during my college years. I tried to keep mind and body unified at all times whether at school or on the train.

A basic precept of Zazen is “Stretch the spine, put the nose and naval in line, line up the ear and shoulder, and sit like a rock… also Keep one point in the lower abdomen. (italics mine)

Book of Ki. Koichi Tohei

keep one point

Even just sitting like this helps strengthens your spine and posture meaning that the hunched back office-look of the future won’t happen to you. Give it a go.

I decided to cancel my Netflix – after I watched everything I wanted to watch. There’s only so much TV I can take. By the way, if you do get a subscription, I recommend the anime – ‘The Disastrous Life of Saiki K’. I also highly recommend the movie Okja, by the Korean director Bong Joon-ho. It will make you think about battery farms and our relationship with animals.

Netflix to Prime

Next, I might write an article about Amazon Prime. My one year old kid keeps buying it. How? You simply just have to get your hands on the Amazon Firestick control and if you press the buttons enough time, you’ll subscribe to Amazon Prime. No need to enter passwords or anything. He’s also bought Rambo 3 the same way, which I still can’t bring myself to watch, even though I used to be a Sylvester Stallone fan. Eventually, I got so tired of repeatedly cancelling my Amazon Prime subscription, I just kept it. Though if you buy lots of stuff from Amazon, it works out as good value.

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References and Images

Book of Ki: Co-ordinating Mind and Body in Daily Life. By Koichi Tohei. Japan Publications Inc. Tokyo 1976.

Images from 123RF.com

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REVOLUTION in the PlayGrounds

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It is recognised that coronavirus is low risk for children. The highest risk groups are the over 70’s especially those with underlying health issues. It may have made sense for these highest risk groups to have undertaken a self-quarantine for the duration of the peak of the virus, and then gradually get back to being in the world again, socialising and seeing grandkids once the peak was over and enjoying their twilight years.

The UK government actually downgraded the coronavirus on 19th March 2020, but that news was largely ignored by the mainstream media. It was no longer considered a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID).

It is curious that Japan had a death rate of 1000  due to coronavirus and the UK had one of around 40,000. Japan has double the population of the UK making this discrepancy in figures even more curious. They also have a very large number of elderly. Japan didn’t do a lockdown by the way and kept many businesses open. Though they did go full-on with the mask wearing and they did close the schools quite early on as well as being more stricter with flights into their country. Perhaps if we had adopted a similar approach, we could have avoided destroying our economy and had a similar outcome. Consider also that despite locking down – the ‘death rate’ attributed to coronavirus still seemed to rise and rise.

Despite this, in its wisdom to save us all, our politak-crats placed everyone under house arrest, ordered all schools and shops closed. It also made life more challenging for families with small children by closing all soft play areas, zoos and museums. This I can understand, but it went further and shut all the playgrounds.

So I wondered, just what exactly are families with small children supposed to do? Especially if they live in an inner city flat with no private garden.

By doing so, they took away one of the few safe spaces for children to play in – ie playgrounds. For toddler-age children in inner cities, who do not have the luxury of private gardens, local playgrounds are invaluable. Playgrounds are usually gated, so parents can relax while their small toddlers can run around, use the climbing frames, slide, swing and not disappear off out of sight or be at risk of cars on the many roads.

Here are some photos of our local playground:

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Interesting slogan: “Together…”

And just to make sure the message is clear, the local Kouncil placed chains around the gates.

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The message is clear: Playgrounds are DANGEROUS. They must be closed.

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Everything is always “For your Safety”.

By the way, it is summer time, the death rate due to corona is dropping and there doesnt seem to be any flu-like illnesses going around – coronavirus or even the regular flu (if you can remember that it still exists), and yet the parks are still closed.

I have noticed two side effects of this policy. Firstly, with no playgrounds, nurserys or pre-schools and no friends or elderly relatives allowed to help out (lockdown rules), young babies, and toddlers are watching more TV than is healthy.

This lockdown also places more strain on already tired parents who now have to entertain their smaller kids without a break when they are bored of watching TV, and are somehow supposed to do home schooling for older kids. Lest they end up playing video games all day long.

Secondly, when you did go out for your one time/one hour of allowed ‘exercise time’, kids now have to play on the streets and local grassy areas which have not been closed off. There are some downsides to this. On grassy areas, you have to watch out for dog poo constantly because many idiot dog owners let their dogs crap everywhere and just leave it.

Also ‘social distancing’ becomes a joke, when you have a small toddler who wants to run where he wants to. You have to constantly keep your child away from other people. You can see the mental and physical tiredness in other parents with toddlers who don’t want to have to police their child’s movements, but are obligated by the social distancing rule to keep their child away from others (lest lives are lost).

You also have to watch out for cars. As there is less traffic on the roads, people are speeding more. I wonder if traffic accidents have increased?

I wondered if by forcing this lockdown and social distancing rules, other problems have occurred as a result. Like how in the Chinese revolution, Mao ordered the killing of the sparrows that were eating all the crops in order to increase grain production. However, this led to an increase in the numbers of locusts, which ate all the crops anyway, as they lacked a natural predator (the sparrows apparently), causing an even worse grain shortage.  The law of unintended consequences.

Fun alert

My local Kouncil went crazy in the way they closed off the playgrounds. They were not taking any chances. In one park, they actually put large fences around all the fun areas. Here are some photos:

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This is a large metal fence around the zipliner. Behind, there are fences around the swings. I assume this is because touching the swings and zipliner can spread the virus and hence is DANGEROUS. Unlike pin card machines, door handles, the poles in buses or even shared computers at work. It appears that Coronavirus likes metal surfaces or rope exposed to sunlight and ultraviolet rays.

Here is another zipliner chained up. The Kouncil really hates zipliners.

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Then there are the slides. Deadly harborers of infection. This fencing took some creative effort. Our glorious Kouncil actually put a fence all the way around this slide, which is on a slope:

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They also fenced off the skateboard park and chained up the tennis courts. We hereby declare that PLAYTIME is BANNED! Get back to your CELLS for your LOCKDOWN Small little prisoner people. Go and watch some more TV and eat your sugar.

And the tire on a rope chain. Alas no more swinging:

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Fortunately, in their compassion, our glorious Kouncil left the children this medium-sized rock to play with. Ah bles-sed are the small mercies. This rock was not fenced off. Though, I  do wonder if the Kouncil had thought about putting one around it.

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Perhaps this means that coronavirus cannot survive on rocks.

However, the kids had had enough. Lacking the regularity of school, haircuts and fun for several week, the children eventually went feral. They organised themselves into gangs and roamed wildly across the land. And then a few weeks later…

They tore down the fences!

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Anarchy in the Playground!

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The skatepark and tennis courts had also been un-officially re-opened. However, I didn’t take any pictures of it because there were lots of teenagers in there, skating, playing tennis and roller skating and I didn’t want to incriminate any of them. Particularly as none of them seemed to be practicing social distancing.

As far as I could tell they were having fun in the sunshine instead of being at home watching Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel and eating sugary snacks, where they would be safe.

But, do you know what…?

No one died!

There has been no outbreak of coronavirus in the kids in the local area. No teams of hazmat wearing doctors brought into my local area setting up field hospitals with helicopters whirring above. No people dropping dead in the street like those videos from China. No mass graves being dug on the football field nearby. Although there were some other visitors there.

No none of that. Just kids having fun.

BUT WHO DID IT?

I investigated and discovered that a small gang of local teenagers was responsible for breaking the lockdown and tearing down the fences. Here is a picture of the local gang from the Guardian newspaper:

lord of the flies

I met with one of the local gangs of kids who were responsible for tearing down this fence and  interviewed their leader Ralph.

Me: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed Ralph. Can I ask, why did you tear down the fences around the playground?

Ralph: The fence around the playground was symbolic. We tore down the fence because, it represented a prison. It sent a message to young children to get used to living in a mental and physical prison state from now on.

Me: But what about the risk of the virus. Isn’t there a risk of infection when kids are touching the swings and slide, or when kids are breaking the social distancing rules?

Ralph: What infection? I don’t see anyone around me coughing or sneezing. Do you? I haven’t seen anyone sick for weeks and it is the middle of summer. Besides I thought that is what our immune systems are for – fighting off viruses.

Me: But the rules are there for a reason, if anyone started breaking down fences, or breaking the rules of the lockdown and social distancing when they felt like it, there would be anarchy. Society could not function. Is that what you want?

Ralph: We do not want anarchy. But there needs to be a balance of risk. No one can live in a bubble for ever. Eventually, we must face difficult things. If we spend our lives fearful of all viruses, disease and death, we end up losing the point of living or damaging ourselves in other ways.

Me: Thank you Ralph.

DISCLAIMER: The views of Ralph and his gang are not shared by the author of this blog and website. The interview is presented for informational purposes only.

Update (June 2020): The fences were put back up. I feel there is a metaphor here.

The Grand Orbit Qigong Exercise with Shaun Sutton

Thanks to Shaun Sutton for this short video where he demonstrates a qigong exercise called – The Grand Orbit. This is part of a set which he practices very day.

Shuan Sutton is an acupuncturist, herbalist and qigong practitioner based in Germany and the UK. Visit his website – www.ShaunSutton.co.uk for more information.

I have also included a link for Shaun’s book below – ‘How Toxic are my Trousers: A guide on refining the senses to navigate the world of materials‘,

‘How Toxic are my Trousers?’ is available on several online market places. Shaun’s book is a personal exploration and experimentation on the effects of man-made and synthetic materials on the energy system of his own body.

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I’m very grateful to Shaun for sharing this qigong video and allowing me to use it. Shaun has a wealth of experience in Traditional medicine and healing.


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Please… No more Panic this Pandemic

Don't panic Corporal Jones

Panic during an epidemic harms the spirit and mind, which in turn weakens the body and causes more harm to the individual. Panic itself can make a person sick, or sicker then they would normally have been. Here is a quote:

The mind or “spirit” of an individual often reacts on his body. It is a commonplace of medicine that the patient must not be allowed to become despondent. An epidemic associated with a panic will do considerably more harm than an epidemic without a panic. It would be a good thing during an epidemic if all melancholic forecasts could be prevented. Medicine has often great value in such a case if the patient has faith in it, and quite apart from its real curative value.

W. M. Strong, Government Anthropologist and Chief Medical Officer. 1923

This quote taken from the introduction of the book ‘The Vailala Madness and the Destruction of Native Ceremonies in the Gulf Division, was written almost 100 years ago. I find it ironic, that this short quote I came across in this book whilst researching a different topic, has so much relevance today in April 2020, whilst we are in the midst of this media-driven fear ‘pandemic’.

Every single day, every mainstream media outlet in this globalised planet throws out fear and panic with shock headlines and inflated death figures due to the corona virus.

We hear how every day, hundreds of corona patients are dying. How they are burying bodies en-mass by men in hazmat suits in mass graves. We hear of how family members are not allowed to attend funerals and how trucks are lining up outside hospitals ready to take away the piles of dead. PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC PANIC NOW.

Stop.

We don’t seem to hear much of the details on these deaths – about the  autopsies, which seem to be carried out very quickly, if at all, or any details of the actual testing.  Most deaths are being recorded as corona virus I assume are based on ‘clinical observation’ – that is, if a person presented with any symptoms of corona virus (e.g. cough, flu, shortness of breath), then they can receive a corona virus diagnosis. But I would have thought, that these symptoms need to be differentially diagnosed from other similar diseases. For example – was it the corona or was it a pneumococcus infection responsible for the flu like symptoms – especially if it occurred before a person’s death?

It seems that if corona virus is interpreted as being present during a person’s death (or at least as a factor), then corona can be put on the death certificate as the cause. So even if a person had stage 4 cancer, in theory it was the corona virus that killed them. At least one doctor has come out and argued that this is a growing practice in the USA as guided by the CDC to do this. Other doctors are arguing –  that a person dying ‘with‘ corona, is not necessarily the same as dying ‘because of’ the corona virus.

Other scientists question the accuracy of the varous tests, particularly as it seems that it tests for the presence of corona virues (a family of viruses) in general, as opposed to the specific ‘covid 19’ strain. And then some scientists even suggest there are different strains of ‘covid 19’.

So then this leads to another question – how can an accurate va*ccine possibly be developed for ‘covid 19’ if it cannot be distinguished from other less harmful corona viruses? Consider that as yet, there is no cure or vaccine for the common cold. The common cold is a member of the corona virus family. And say, Covid-19 mutates each year? Covid-20, Covid-21 etc…. Then in theory, a vacc*ine would become quickly obsolete, meaning that the whole world could be stuck down by pandemic and lockdowns every few years.

Or is this the plan?

So then we should get used to lockdowns. As well as doing all our shopping online because all the other shops and businesses around us are boarded up, long shut down. And kiss goodbye to Easter. Or holding hands with your new girlfriend. Unless you like the feel of latex.

I suspect we are seeing massively inflated death figures being reported in the news. This in turn creates fear and panic in the general public, who for the most, trust the mainstream media.

We should ask, that if the pandemic is so deadly, why has it been downgraded by the UK government. It is now no longer a “high consequence infectious disease”:

As of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious diseases (HCID) in the UK…  in particular, more information is available about mortality rates (low overall)…

Source: Guidance – High Consequence Infectious Disease. Gov.UK Website

Squeeze Me…?

So is it a deadly killer disease or isn’t it? Which is it? If it isn’t, why are the media absolutely terrifying the population with headlines of high death rates and collapsing hospitals with a steady stream of celebrities getting it, and aged celebrities dying from it? What is going on?

All of this over-reporting of death figures due to corona, has one effect. It creates fear and panic in the population; It causes stress, which suppresses our immune systems; It creates irritation which leads to arguments with family members, even worse – violence; It leads to depression and mental health issues leading to self harm or even suicide. These are some real dangers and consequences of this prolonged lockdown. (By the way, the word ‘lockdown’ is a prison expression – Think on that).

In 1923, W. M Strong wrote about the importance of avoiding panic during an epidemic. Panic can cause considerably more harm. In 1923, epidemics were more widespread with TB, Small pox, scarlet fever, dypyheria and many others. They had a much closer contact with infectious and harmful illnesses. 100 years ago, the world was arguably more dangerous and medicine not as developed, and yet a rational and measured mindset was encouraged by the Chief Medical Officer in the face of epidemics. Bear in mind this was  written in 1923, just a few years after the Spanish Flu.

Panic freezes the brain. It creates a fear state. It stops rational thought and discourse.  It leads to knee-jerk reactions. Shutting down an economy, will have consequences. Strange how that today, panic is the most prominent emotion being pushed on us.

Placebo and Panic

Consider the placebo effect. Placebo is a clinically observed effect, where the mind can heal the body (like magic) simply by believing so.

For example, a person with an identifiable disease is given a sugar pill and told by a doctor that this pill is a new breakthrough medicine which will completely cure the patient of his ailments. The person believes completely in the doctor’s assertions and takes the pill. And then as if by magic, his symptoms and disease disappears. Even if examined under an X-Ray, there will be no more signs of the disease. It is like a kind of miracle. The pill had no active medical qualities in it; it was simple a sugar pill. It was the persons own mind and belief that healed him.

This is a very simplistic example, but it is well recognised that placebo needs to be accounted for when testing new drugs. In fact, scientific studies have to create control groups when testing drugs. For example, one group of patients takes the fake (sugar pill) drug. Another group takes the actual drug and none of the patients are allowed to know which group they are in. This way scientists know whether any curative effects of the drug they are testing is due to the actual drug itself, or whether it is the placebo (i.e. the patients own mind) that is healing him.

However, what should be considered is that the placebo effect can work in reverse.

If the mind can make a person heal, it can also make a person sick It can make a disease much worse than it would normally be. It may even in most extreme cases cause premature death.

And this is why panic during this pandemic is harmful. If you read daily shock reports (which I find to be quite questionable in their accuracy), then it creates an intense fear state in the individual.

If in this fear state, you were to get a simple cold, or regular flu or your asthma was to start playing up due to the change in seasons and pollen as we enter spring; this fear state can play absolute havoc with your mental and physical state.

For example, say that in the back of your mind, you had that pernicious thought – ‘what if I have the deadly corona virus? Am I going to dieeeeeee?“. This is not good for anybody’s healing. Your mental state is an important factor in health and wellbeing. Our thoughts have great power over our mental state and physical body.

Even if you do get sick at this time, keep a positive and optimistic mindset. Avoid despondency (giving up). And if you can stomach it, eat a fresh orange, daily for your vitamin C. Keep your windows open to get fresh air. And absolutely do switch off the TV and avoid reading the news.

Do not fear. Do not listen to the mainstream media. Some of their actions should be considered evil.

In fact, read my book instead – The Genki Health Guide. And consider that we are entering into a new age, where we should be taking more responsibility for our own health and bodies.

Fear will be the new normal unless we learn to accept that death is one stage of our physial life, just as birth is.  And that the unknown is a part of our spirtual journey. These are deeper questions that modern life hides under the rug.

Fear of the virus is paralysing our minds. And we are not seeing the bigger picture. Especially all the other monkey games going on around us – much bigger things. Stay Awake.

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Ulcerative Colitis: Healing Steps – Podcast 1

Body care, pregnancy or diet concept, female hands forming heart shape on the stomach

Here is a YouTube Video I made, on my newly named YouTube Channel: ‘JohnDixonAcu’:

The subject is about Ulcerative Colitis – an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which I suffered from in my 20s and which I have learnt natural ways of managing. Apologies for any background noises in the recording. This is something I will be aware of in future recordings.

Please like and subscribe. Video below:

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Mike Chang: How Often Should I Stretch to Get Flexible?

Mike Chang Stretching thumbnail

I really like this video made by Micheal Chang on stretching for flexibility.

I was debating with myself over whether I should promote a Mike Chang video.

He is a YouTube star, and merchant, who made a fortune, with the promoting of his exercise programs including building a six pack.

On a plus, he motivated a lot of young people to get into fitness. On the other hand, he got criticism for being very salesy and money orientated. Selling various products and promoting hard a typical – ‘buy my products and you will get 6-pack abs in weeks!’ – kind of thing. However, he seems to have changed now and matured.

I think that self-improvement is a good thing. Though we are far more obsessed with how we look compared to earlier generations. The idea of taking photos of yourself and posting it in public, is completely alien to my father’s generation, who grew up during the 1940s. Hence the massive increase of instagram models, which has just exploded in the last ten years. There was never this kind of thing before. A new kind of narcissism.

The other thing is this constant drive to make the ‘dollar’. It’s permeated in our culture and is to our detriment. As though we are a species of Ferengi (from the Star Trek Universe). Though what can you do when you live in such a money (is debt) orientated society? And no one, absolutely no one, looks up to the Ferengi.

Anyway, this was a good video by Mike Chang with a really simple approach to stretching and gaining flexibility.

And he really looks so much better now, than when he was younger, bigger and salesy.


Mike Chang: How Often Should I Stretch to Get Flexible


Summary Points

Here are some points that Mike Chang mentioned in the video:

  • Stretch throughout the entre day, anytime you feel tightness, stretch.
  • Stretching is nothing fancy. You are just stretching out your body. But you can’t leave your body constantly feeling tense.
  • Don’t worry about how far you can go. Even after 10 minutes of stetching, you will find you will be able to further than 10 minutes ago. Your body will start letting go more.
  • It’s all about progression, and letting the body let go of tension and relax. As we let go of tension, we let go of stress, trapped in areas of the body that are tense.
  • If we are constantly stressed, then we need to stretch more to let go of tension. We don’t want it in the body. It is bad for the body.
  • We all have time to stretch. We all have 24 hours a day. We all have the same amount of time. But some people complain they don’t have time and others do a lot with the time they have. We all have just 5 or 10 minutes to stretch.
  • Stretch anywhere – on the train, when travelling. You don’t need to be in a studio or working out. You can do it anywhere. Whenever you feel tense or tight.
  • You don’t need to sit or lie to strech. You can stretch standing up like with a standing forward bend. Open your chest, stretch out your hamstrings. You can do all sorts of stretches.
  • We get so used to not taking care of the body, that stretching becomes some kind of special event. And when the body doesn’t feel good, you don’t want to use it. It becomes easier to just lay around. So you have to start small. Work your way up. Do whatever is comfortable, then stretching becomes normal. It becomes habit.
  • Change the way your body feels. Lift up your perception of your body. Start stretching throughout the day, so that stretching and letting go becomes a habit.
  • You dont need permission to start stretching. Just go ahead and do what your body wants. Anytime you feel tightness, stretch.
  • When we are constantly tense, it fires the flight or flight nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. We are always tense. If our body is tense, so too is our mind. Stretching activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • When you are in tune with your body, you will become aware of any areas of tension and stress. When we let go of tension, we let go of stress and we let go of the negative emotions that stay in the areas of the body which are tense.
  • Do it throughout the day.

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Stretching your Way to Beauty

Young woman in paschimottanasana pose, home interior background,

Regular physical activity can help keep a person young. Our bodies are designed by nature to be used. As my father says – “What we need is a good sweat”.

However, ‘civilised’ modern living moves us moving us further and further from this. A lot of the more desirable and higher income jobs are also some of the more sedentary. Office jobs and professional occupations expend lots of mental energy, but little physical. Even jobs that do require activity don’t necessarily make for healthy people.

As a counterbalance, we have to incorporate regular activity, exercises, training or gym-work into our daily lives. Even cleaning your home with vigour (a practice of George Ohsawa) can make a difference. But first the habit to do so has to be made and then maintained. If not, it is so easy, to go the path of least resistance – of doing nothing physical and gradually becoming unfit as the years progress. Eventually when you get old, it catches up with you.

Regular practice of any sports or exercise is what is needed. It doesn’t matter whether it is tai chi, yoga, martial arts, dancing or gardening. It is the activity that keeps you young and mobile.

An old English proverb:

A rolling stone gathers no moss

Movement keeps us clear of Ki-energy stagnation and muscular restrictions. It keeps us loose and supple.

Here is an quote from the Yoga teacher Richard Hittleman from his book – Be Young with Yoga:

Flexibility and Grace; Stretching your Way to Beauty

Usually the first physical characteristics of which we become aware when we see someone is his or her movements and posture. The way in which a person moves, gestures, walks, sits and stands actually makes a strong impression upon us.

Isn’t it true that if a person, regardless of age, moves with a certain sprint and agility that he appears youthful and alive? Is there not something magnetic and radiant about the man or woman who walks, stands and sits with natural grace and poise? And on the other hand how quickly we will regard as “old” those people who have allowed their spines and limbs to grow stiff. Stiffness and tightness will always lead to varying degrees of immobility, slumping, stooping and awkwardness and we seem to be instinctively repelled by those characteristics which detract from what should be the natural beauty of the body.

Flexibility, balance and poise are not characteristics which can be “faked”. That is, you cannot force a good posture or move with grace and agility if you don’t really feel these naturally. But in reality the body is the temple of the spirit; therefore, it is the natural condition of the human body to have the attributes of youth and beauty and it is only through neglect that they are lost. We can regain them as we stimulate and increase the vital force through the Yoga exercises.

The major offenders from the standpoint of stiffness, tightness and resulting lack of agility and poise are the spine and back. The joints also play a major role… The Yogi will tell you that you feel and look as young as your spine is elastic. You have only to look at the people around you to determine the truth of this idea. Your friends and relatives who may be young in years will appear to be “aging” as their spines and joints stiffen and they find it increasingly difficult to accomplish the necessary tasks of everyday life, let alone moving their body with agility and poise.

On the other hand you will find a certain “ageless” quality in that person who regardless of age in years, has maintained the elasticity of his spine. He walks, moves and bends with ease and grace; he appears poised and agile and as such is bound to radiate the characteristics of youth, health and even optimism, attributes which we find so positive and attractive.

Be Young With Yoga, by Richard L. Hittleman. Pages 155-156

 


Be Young, even if you’re Old

Some examples of how daily exercises over a lifetime (in any discipline) can help you ‘Be Young’:

Screenshot 2020-01-17 at 08.53.32

Madam Suzelle Poole – Started ballet at 7 years old and was still dancing at age 77. (YouTube Video BBC3)

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Screenshot 2020-01-17 at 08.58.06

Tao Porchon-Lynn, 93 year old yoga instructor, and listed in the Guinness Book of Records. (YouTube Video)

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And…

Screenshot 2020-01-17 at 09.12.48 copy

Jack Lalanne (YouTube Video), The American Exercise guru – age 95


Obviously, these people have made physicality a major part of their life, far more than the average person. But we all have the potential to maintain some level of youth-ness. And I would argue that we have a duty to do so for the betterment of society and to enjoy and help our families.

The challenge is how to add more activity into our daily lives.

Maintain the basics

I think, simple daily exercises can be a good starting point. As Richard Hittleman said – a supple and loose spine is a sign of youth and health. For example, something like the basic forward bend can help stretch and loosen the muscles around the spine. This is one of the basic exercises promoted by Richard Hittleman in his book – Be Young with Yoga.

Here is the exercise as taught in Richard Hittleman’s book:

Preliminary Leg Pull – Technique No. 1

preliminary leg pull picture

preliminary leg pull picture
Images from ‘Be Young With Yoga’ by Richard Hittleman

The Preliminary Leg Pull:

  • Encourages elasticity in the spine through a concave stretching movement. Also reduces stiffness.
  • Helps relieve tension in back.
  • Strengthens and stretches the legs.
  • Makes leg muscles and skin more firm and taut.

Instructions

  1. Sit on the floor. Extend your legs in front of you. Bring your feet together and make sure the back of the knees touch the floor.
  2. Extend your arms in front of you, kepp arms at eye level.
  3. Very slowly stretch forward, as far as you can aim to reach the furthest point of your legs.
  4. Grasp the furthest point of your legs, which you are able to hold without strain. For exmple, the knee, calves, ankles, feet or toes.
  5. Gently and slowly, bend your elbows and pull yourself further, beyond the point where you can longer stretch confortably. Stop when the movement becomes difficult.
  6. Do not strain. Never jerk or fight to go further. Hold the movement motionless for 10 seconds.
  7. When finished, slowly raise your trunk upright and and rest for a few moments. Then repeat the exercise again.
  8. Gradually increase the exercises by a few seconds each week until you can hold for 20 seconds. Practice 3 times a day either in the morning,  afternoon or evening

Advisory

Make sure legs are straight and knees not bent. When you pull forward, do so by bending the elbows.

Never jerk or force yourself to go further and never strain. Hold the pose in a relaxed way. Over time, your will find your spine will automatically and naturally gain in elasticity and flexibility.

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My note: This book was written in the 1960s. However these-days  it is more common practice to carry out the forward bend with a straight spine, head more upright and to ensure the bend comes from the hips. In these photos, it looks like that the model is bending her neck and head downwards. This may not be the best form.

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Richard Hittleman also advises:

Important things to know about the Preliminary Leg Pull

This technique will be an indication as to how stiff and tight you may have grown in ‘Key’ areas throughout your back and legs. The PRELIMINARY LEG PULL will begin to loosen these tense and cramped spots and provide you with elasticity of the spine. By following the directions exactly as given and holding your extreme position without movement for the number of seconds indicated, you will soon be able to place your forehead very close to, if not actually on your knees.

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BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE: Paschimottanasana – The Yogic Forward Fold


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References and Images

Be Young With Yoga, by Richard L. Hittleman. Thorsons Publishers Ltd. London 1962

Featured Image from http://www.123RF.com

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Physical Toil, Not Whole Foods will give you a Long Life

We have a Whole Foods close to where we live. They’ve got a great selection of foods and products, but generally we avoid shopping there, because at the prices they charge, I’d need to take out a bank loan.

There is this old joke: –

Only sick people shop in health food stores.

Is it true? Possibly. The first time I ever went into a health food shop was after I got sick with a digestive illness in my 20s and I started to learn about diet.

I tried out all sorts of foods and supplements. Things like: Quinoa – made me vomit, Udo’s oil – too oily for me, Spirulina – gave me a boost of energy when I first started taking it, but then the effects stopped, Rescue Remedy – like those fresh-breath sprays from the 90s, and various organic fruits and vegetables for juicing – definitely needed to take out a bank loan to buy those.

I don’t mean to criticise health food shops. I think they are a great alternative to the awful and exploitative conglomerates/corporations like Tescos and the rest. Though I do sometimes feel we get better value and food quality from some of the smaller businesses by non-British, which sell simple ingredients for cooking staple foods. The kind of stuff our ancestors have been cooking for centuries.

Recently, I discovered Polish bread sold in a local off-license food store. It tastes a lot better than the standard bread from supermarkets and is much cheaper than bread from the health food shops, which I understand is called ‘artisan bread’. As though bread is a piece of architecture.

I think that a lot of the foods and products they sell at Wholefoods are ego items. It’s a way to feel more healthier and wholesome by spending more money on products that have a ‘healthy’ label.

On the other hand, there are things you can buy  in health food shops that you can’t get in regular shops – like flouride-free toothpaste. So I am grateful for them to give us a choice. Isn’t it curious why Tescos can stock 5 or so different brands of fluoridated toothpaste, but not one single non-fluoride option? Or is that my conspiracy mind kicking off? Perhaps it depends on the store.

Organic Fried Chicken

I wonder what would happen if Macdonalds sold an Organic Big Mac for £1 more. Would people be tempted to buy it, telling themselves that it is healthier? Or if KFC sold battery free organic fried chicken? Maybe not. I wonder why they haven’t attempted it yet.

It wouldn’t be difficult for KFC to fence off a section in their factory farms, cram it full of chickens allowed to run around on their short stumpy legs, (hence free range) and throw organic chicken feed at them. They could even inject them with organically derived antibiotics and organic growth hormones so they plump up just great.

It’s not so far fetched. If Burger King can make the so called vegetarian – ‘Impossible Burger’ (and get sued (ironically) by vegetarians because they are cooked on the same grill as meat – yes that did happen), then organic Big Mac’s are quite possible. By the way, there will come a time in the future where Macdonalds and Burger King will have to display disclaimers on their menu boards to stop themselves getting sued.

Burger King Products are manufactured in a place that processes and handles MEAT.  Vegetarian options may contain TRACE amounts of MEAT!

If you are a true vegetarian, you have no place philosophically, stepping foot in a Burger King. Certainly not giving them any money to fuel their animal-killing empire. Perhaps an exception can be made if you just want to use their restroom, but even then it’s still pretty questionable. I mean, you’d have to be close to pissing yourself in the street to accept that it is justified to use, hence justify, the existence of a Burger King or Macdonalds.

Physical Toil

Anyway, the point of my article is that whether you buy the best and healthiest food’ or not, the most important component to robust health and a longer life is physical work, toil and activity. In fact, a combination of an active physical life and simple foods are key factors in reaching an old age. Certainly junk foods and snacks are not good for us, but I also think that the so called ‘health foods’ don’t matter as much as we think.

You can eat all the organic mung beans and soya you want, but if you don’t use your bodies the way nature intended them to be used, good health is not guaranteed. And our bodies are meant to be used. Conversely, you can eat a less than optimal diet, but if you are active throughout your life, you can maintain a good level of health.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from the octogenarian Qigong master Geoff Pike. He passed away a few years ago after a very long life. He also survived cancer in his 40s.

Cauliflower Sid

I once worked with a lumberjack named Cauliflower Sid, who ate little but tinned cauliflower, as the ever growing mountain of tins outside his tent testified. But he also felled more timber than men half his age. He was seventy-two and died at eighty two after falling from a galloping horse. I have shared the dubious delicacies taken from fly-blown saddle bags with men who are sixty and as lusty as nineteen year olds. The fact is, the average lumberjack, cattlehand, seaman, soldier or labourer will often out-work, out-play and out last his diet-conscious brother because his daily existence keeps him fit. With the greatest respect for health foods, such men have probably never heard of ‘we are what we eat’, otherwise they would all have gone to an untimely grave under a monument of empty cans, bacon grease, dried meat, hard tack and bangers ‘n mash… not to mention the hard liquor.

Consider the huge work force of the Third World. Throughout the East you will find middle-aged to old Chinese women trotting up and down the planks of building sites all day balancing baskets of sand and cement; Indians, Indonesians, Filipinos and Malays labouring ten to sixteen hour days – all on a bowl of rice, a chunk of dried fish or meat and a spoonful of green vegetables if they’re lucky. They smoke cheap cheroots, drink cheap booze, gamble half the night, bear many children and usually call it a day in their eighties, with a roomful of respectful great-grandchildren paying for a festive send-off.

All this should indicate that physical toil is nature’s exercise which all of us were built to perform, and it helps greatly when it comes to avoiding the results of inadequate or unwise diet. How does this knowledge help us in our own situation, surrounded as most of us are, by a convenient variety of highly refined processed, frozen, dehydrated supermarket edibles?

If we are honest with ourselves, we probably accept that a dramatic change in our eating habits is unlikely to last. If there are certain things you really enjoy eating and that you have always eaten, giving them up altogether may not seem worth the sacrifice. Perhaps it isn’t. With the tremendous research and millions of words written on the subject of ‘eating for health’, we all have a fair idea of what we should and shouldn’t put into our stomach.

If we are not prepared to take a course in mathematics in order to compute the exact measurements and balance accurate combinations, there is always a simple formula.

  • Eat less meat and more fish and fowl.
  • Eat less carbohydrate and more protein and grain.
  • Eat less processed food and more raw vegetables.
  • Eat less animal fats and more vegetable oil.
  • Eat less white sugar and sweets and more honey and raw sugar.
  • Eat less white flour and biscuits and more fresh fruit.
  • Eat less refined cereals and more roughage.

The Power of Ch’i, Geoff Pike

Geoff makes some interesting points in this extract. However, there are some statements which I would question. When he describes the lifestyle of the Third World workers of drinking, gambling all night and living to their 80s, I don’t think this applies to everyone. Because even with a life of physical toil and labour,  if you don’t look after your body and diet, you can wear it out quicker. Bear in mind, these are countries lacking in medical care. Also, I am not sure about his advice of eating more vegetable oil rather than animal fat. I think that there is some research to show that animal fats are actually more healthier than processed vegetable oils. But either way, I think the quantity of fats in general needs to be reduced. Other then these points, I think his writing is pretty valid.

A personal example

For example, my father who has recently reached his 80’s has spent his entire life doing physical work as a farmer, brickie, and then as a gardener for the last 40 years, along with various other jobs here and there. He still works as a gardener at the time of writing this article. I worked with him for a few years, and can say, I didn’t enjoy the work as I am much more suited to working indoors and prefer wearing clean clothes (yes I’m soft), but I totally respect him for being able to do what he does, especially in the winter and rainy weather. And England does rain a lot.

I also see that it is this lifetime of physical toil that has conditioned him this way and has enabled him to get to the age. He has a simple diet of his own grown vegetables, store-bought porridge oats for breakfast (a favourite of Rupert Murdock, so I’ve heard), and some fish or meat bought from a local butchers or fishmonger. He is not fussy where he shops as long as they have the simple foods he wants at reasonable prices.

My father never eats sugar, biscuits, crips or chocolate and definitely not Macdonalds though occasionally he will eat from a fish and chip shop. He has no taste for those foods. He also happily drinks regular tap water.  Not filtered, – just regular tap water.

Additionally, my father has never once stepped foot in a Whole Foods store. Perhaps I should encourage him to go. I’d love to see his reaction when he saw the prices. The shelves of a Whole food store with its packaged products are a far cry from the homegrown veggies of a London allotment. Which one is really healthy?

I think also the nature of processed food has changed. Cauliflower Sid survived on tinned cauliflower. It may have been lacking in vitamins and nutrients, but it is still better than some of the processed and junk foods, he would have been able to choose today, which contains all sorts of additives, chemicals, especially appetite-inducing substances like MSG. It’s ok as a treat here or there, but this stuff is bad for you in large doses.

Changing habits

The problem is that I, like many other people of my generation and younger, have been adulterated by snacks, sugar, junk and convenience. I wouldn’t even know personally how to grow my own veggies. These processed snacks and foods are very addictive like a drug. It takes willpower to break these addictions. They are comfort foods as well as stress-dealing foods.

The risk of them is that the more stress you have, for example due to a shitty job – the more of these foods you will eat, and the more damage you will gain whether it is weight-gain, or disruptions to your hormonal system. It becomes a kind of vicious circle, because you start feeling worse about yourself and so keep on eating more of these foods in order to lift your mood, but it only makes the problem worse.

When Macdonalds is better value than health food…

We have more junk food available. It’s the only thing that is not affected by inflation. Doesn’t that seem strange? Whereas everything else is becoming expensive – bills, living costs, rentals, and salaries are stuck. Additionally, we work more than previous generations, with more women and men in the workplace, more stress and more pressure. Consequently we have more obesity and increases in diseases. General health is on the decline.

Bread and circuses anyone? Keep people’s bellies full, then they won’t get too upset that they are getting a raw deal.

Antidote

I think one thing that can help us all is by getting into physical activity. Be-it sports, or regular training of some sort. Because when we learn to appreciate and respect our bodies, we also care more about what we put in them. It becomes not a vicious circle, but instead a ‘splendid’ circle, because as you feel better about yourself, you feel more encouraged to live and eat more healthier.

In other words, “We Eat to Live. Not Live to Eat”, as my dad has sometimes quoted to me.

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Longevity and Yoga


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References and Images

Featured Image from 123rf.com (Nadejda Panina)

The Power of Ch’i. Geoff Pike. 1981 Outlet

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Longevity and Yoga

Fit and strong woman doing push ups

The one thing I have learnt about having two young kids in my 40s, is that the earlier in life you can have them, the better.

Children… even just one of them takes a lot of energy on a daily basis. With my first kid, more of my hairs went grey. With my second, kid, I started losing hair.

I have found I have less time, and that I tend to focus a lot more of my energy on my family than on work, travel, entertainment or other projects.

As we enter the new decade, I would like to focus more on my own long-term health and longevity. As my kids grow older, I assume their demands on me will remain high, although what they require from me will change.

I would like to keep myself relatively healthy for as long as I can, to be able to support them and at the very least, teach them some good habits and educate them the way I want them to be educated.

The direction of this blog will reflect my drive to focus on health and longevity. I will write more on health and fitness, and share what I do and learn with anyone else who is interested.

Longevity Through Yoga

I found an old book called The Manual of Yoga by the author Desmond Dunne, written in 1956. In one chapter, he talks about how we can attain longevity through the practice of yoga. Here is a passage:

If you would live to a ripe old age, then you must take Yoga seriously. Yogis, particularly those of India, have succeeded in prolonging this earthly existence for an incredible while. They can preserve their vigour and youthful appearance till far beyond the normal span of life. Naturally we in the West cannot expect to obtain exactly the same results as they do, for they devote the whole of their time to this aim of remaining young, but we may emulate them to some purpose. Despite the difference in their environment and mode of existence, we can, provided we are prepared to make sufficient effort, in some measure retain youthfulness and add to the length of our years.

We generally appreciate but little what we have gained with ease, and are so apt to lose it; and once it is gone, we would have it back and cannot recover it. One can fritter aways one’s opportunities to survive to eighty or more, waste one’s health as if its supply were an inexhaustible pitcher. But even if one had unwisely done so, Yoga will enable one to make good the loss.

Follow its instructions regularly and with fervour, carrying our its exercises, rhythmic breathing, relaxation, and keeping to a sensible choice of diet, and you will have a good chance of adding many years to your span your life. But make no mistake, you will have to sacrifice a considerable amount of your leisure, and put out a great deal of effort, to win this coveted prize. Too many people expect to do so without lifting so much as a little finger. However, not being so fortunate as to possess an Aladdin’s lamp, which if they did they might not have sufficient energy to rub, they are bound to remain disappointed. Yoga, like any other pursuits which are worth striving after, cannot be achieved without prolonged and persistent application.

The Manual of Yoga, (p94) 

 

The Coveted Prize

I think the same advice can apply to other health practices and disciplines such as tai chi, qigong, dancing, even bodybuilding, as we can see from Jack LaLanne, who was in his 90s and still exercising. Better health and a degree of longevity can be attained, but we have to work to gain it.

We are spiritual beings occupying physical bodies. Our bodies are designed to be used regularly, but modern living (supposedly civilised), actually discourages it. So many jobs these days don’t require a lot of physical activity. Additionally, many of us consume a lot more food than we need. I think that many of us can get to our 50’s or 60’s without too many complaints, but then the kind of life we have led will then start to catch up with us then and affect our bodies.

As Desmond writes, ‘make no mistake, it takes a great deal of effort to achieve longevity and we have to sacrifice leisure to attain it’. I think the process can and should be enjoyable and is definitely worth it. And that sacrifice is daily activity or exercise and regular healthy habits.

Starter Steps

Here are some simple starter points.

  • Set a goal every morning that one of the first things you do is some gentle stretching, callisthenics , qigong or any kind of exercise, even if just for 10 minutes.
  • When watching TV or Youtube videos or reading a book or blog (like this one), get on the floor and do some gentle stretching at the same time.
  • Also whilst sitting at home when watching TV or reading, try and adopt the half lotus, Japanese seiza or cross legged pose (if you cannot do the first two). It will help open up your hips and improve your posture.
  • Eat smaller portions of food. And consume higher nutrient dense foods – veggies, rice and some protein.
  • Go for a walk every day and walk at a moderate to fast pace.
  • Finally, read a chapter of The Genki Self Health Guide every day and leave a positive review on Amazon for me.🙂

These are all ideas I aim to do every day. They are also all ideas from my Genki book. Simple approaches for better health!

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BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE: Paschimottanasana – The Yogic Forward Fold


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References

The Manual of Yoga. Desmond Dunne. 1956 W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd, London.

Picture Accreditation

Woman doing push ups from 123rf.com (Yes, it has nothing to do with yoga, but I liked the picture)

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Geoff Pike’s Pa Tuan Tsin: The Eight Precious Sets of Exercise

Geoff Pike the Power of Chi Pa Tuan Tsin

This article shows a version of the Eight Precious Sets of Exercise, also known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade, from Qigong Master Geoff Pike. I have written a couple of articles about Geoff Pike here and here.

I am grateful to Paul H., a qigong, meditation and yoga teacher who shared with me pages of the out-of-print Geoff Pike qigong book called – The Power of Ch’i. This article gives a brief explanation of the exercises with some model pictures.

The Eight Precious Sets of Exercise are a simple form of eight different qigong exercises, which take around 10-15 minutes to carry out. If practiced daily, they will help develop a smoother flow of Ki/Qi (energy) in the body, gently strengthen your joints and muscles, and have a positive impact on your health.

Over the centuries, different variations  of the exercise have been developed and practiced, but fundamentally, the exercises are all very based on 8 specific movements.

Usually the exercises are carried out in a gentle manner with an awareness of energy flow in the body, making it ideal for people of all ages and states of health. But some versions can be carried out in a more physical way with emphasis on stretching the muscles and tendons. Here are the movements along with extracts from Geoff Pike’s Book – ‘The Power of Ch’i’:

Geoff Pike’s Eight Precious Sets of Exercise

001

Preparation

We are ready to begin Pa Tuan Tsin. You have chosen the spot in which you feel most natural and where the air is at its best. You are dressed in loose-fitting, comfortable clothing with ample leg room, your footwear is light and flat bottomed, the sash around your waist is soft and not tied too tightly. You are stripped of metal accessories, your bladder and bowels are empty, you have eaten nothing for at least two hours and taken no alcohol for at least six. There is a pitcher of cool to warm boiled water or hot green tea nearby in case you need it. You remember that all inhalation and exhalation must always be through the nose, never through the mouth (unless exhalation is so instructed). All breathing should be concentrated on the slow, silent and deep. The words patience, discipline, fortitude and faith are firmly in mind.

(Page 97, Geoff Pike’s The Power of Ch’i)

 


Exercise One: Scoop the Stream

Geoff Pike Chi gong Scoop the Stream
Exercise One: Scoop the Stream

The first exercise is one of the simplest and most pleasant to perform. Is is so named because the second movement gives the impression of scooping the water from a stream and drinking from the cupped hands.

The Benefit

It is excellent for expanding the lungs and stretching the ribcage. It also circulates the dormant Chi from the lower abdomen to the tip of the spinal column and to the forehead. It gives you a general lift and generates immediate alertness. A good way to wake up and get started

Page 98, Geoff Pike’s The Power of Ch’i?

Scoop the Stream: Instructions

Geoff Pike Qigong page 99
1. Scoop the Stream: Movement One
Geoff Pike Qigong page 100
1. Scoop the Steam: Movement Two

The Exercises

  1. Relax. Take up your position standing with feet together and hands loosely at sides, fix your eyes on a chosen object.
  2. Empty the lungs. Inhale as slowly as you can while raising the hands (palms down) until the fingertips touch above the head (palms now up). The time required for the movement should coincide with the length of your breath. Stretch the body upward to its fullest extent without raising the heels. Imagine that you are supporting a great weight with your two palms. Hold for the silent count of three. Exhale slowly and steadily while reversing the movement and lowering the hands in time with the exhalation until they are gently back at your sides and the lungs are drained of air. Pause for the silent count of three.
  3. Intertwine the fingers, forming a scoop, palms uppermost. Inhale slowly and deeply while raising ‘the scoop’ to the lips, bent arm in line with shoulders, elbows raised as high as possible.
  4. To the silent count of three, turn the scoop over (palms down) and exhale steadily while reversing the movement.
  5. Stretch the arm downward to their fullest extent as though pressing the palms down on a spring-loaded weight. Hold for the silent count of three. Return the relaxed hands to the sides and repeat both movements eight times.

Geoff Pike’s The Power of Ch’i, page 99 and 100

Demonstration

Here is a YouTube Video of Exercise One: ‘Scoop the Stream’, performed by Geoff Pike


Exercise Two: Press the Sky

 

Geoff Pike Press the Sky page 101
Exercise Two: Press the Sky

The second exercise is so-called because of its ultimate stretching power. The uppermost hand and flattened palm really seem to be supporting the sky.

The Benefit

A variation of Scoop the Stream, in which the active points are the liver and the shoulders. Chi is circulated from the liver to the shoulders alternatively, conditioning the liver, stimulating its function while relieving the shoulders of strain, and stretching the entire body to its fullest extent.

Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, page 101

Press the Sky: Instructions

Geoff Pike Chi gong page 102
Press the Sky: Movements 1-4
Press the Sky Geoff Pike Chi gong
Press the Sky: Movements 5-6

The Execution

Relax. Remain in position with feet together.

  1. Reach behind with the left hand and firmly clasp the back of the thigh just below the left buttock.
  2. Drain the lungs of air. Form a ‘cup’ with the right hand hooked at the wrist.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply while raising the cup to the lips, elbow in line with shoulder.
  4. Without pause, turn the cup outward and over, rise on your toes and continue inhaling until the right arm is ‘pressing the sky’. From toes to upturned palm, your body is stretched to its absolute utmost and full of air. Hold for a count of three.
  5. 6. and 7. Exhale slowly and steadily and reverse the action exactly: lower the upturned palm to the lips while lowering the heels. Form the cup at the lips, lower to the groin, relax with both hands at the sides. Reach behind with the right hand to grasp the right back thigh below the buttock. Repeat the movements exactly with the left hand. Complete four times with each arm.

Geoff Pike – The Power of Ch’i, Page 103

Press the Sky: Video


Exercise Three: The Shaolin Archer

Geoff Pike The Shaolin Archer

The third and much revered exercise is perhaps the most ‘beautiful jewel in the crown of the Precious Eight’… at least that is how it was once described by a Shaolin priest. Its quite classical performance is reminiscent of a Chinese opera, where all sets, props and even weapons are imaginary. It is best described as the drawing of a longbow hewn from the oldest yew or blackwood or forged of the finest steel. It is a bow that takes the strength, artistry and skill of the true archer to bend.

The Benefit

This exercise can be used alone when time does not permit the full sequence, it being considered the most benefical of the set. Its primary purpose, because of its separate (left and right) stretching, is to exercise alternate lung power. At the same time its twisting motion under pressure relieves and strengthens the liver. Executed from the Half-horse (or full Horse, if you feel like it), it also brings into play the leg, hip and spinal exercise explained under Horse Stance, plus the stretching and strengthening of sinew and joint in the arm, developing unexpected power.

Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, Page 104

3. The Shaolin Archer: Instructions

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The Execution

Relax. Drop into a Half-horse stance (high seated, knees half-bent. Settle comfortably, checking your stance for perfect balance; move your foot a centimetre or two to find it.

  1. Take a long, silent breath while raising the right arm and holding it at shoulder level. The left hand is on the left thigh. The right hand is relaxed from the wrist, the right arm firm but not tensed. Keep your eyes, half-closed, upon the outstretched hand. Think of nothing else but the hand. It is a beautiful thing. It is your hand. It has many times saved you as it moves to your will.
  2. Swing the hand in its gentle state slowly across your body just below eye-level, keeping the arm locked but relaxed. Watch its progress as though it were a bird in flight, until it is across your chest and pointing left. During this flight, you are gently exhaling, emptying your lungs quietly but completely.
  3. Before it has finished travelling, bring up the bow (left hand). Your lungs are now empty and ready to draw breath. Raise the forefinger of the left hand as though its tip were a target (or a gun sight).
  4. Inhale slowly, quietly, steadily, as you push out the bow to full arm’s length, keeping your eyes fixed on the raised finger tip. Straighten the left arm to its fullest extent, locking the elbow until the full breath has been drawn. At the same time, the ‘arrow hand’ has been slowly drawn back to its fullest extent. All motion should cease with the peak of your inhalation. In other words, your movements last as long as your slowest inhalation and exhalation. Hold the pose for the silent count of three. During that period of three seconds, with lungs fully extended, concentrate through willpower your entire bodily strength into your raised fingertip. Stretch that extended right arm to its absolute maximum and a little bit more. The elbow and wrist should tighten like a stretched rope, just the way a cat puts every ounce of power into the awakening stretch of its forelegs.
  5. On three, begin to gently exhale and repeat the exact procedure in reverse, lowering the right hand slowly to the thigh and relaxing the taut left hand at the wrist.
  6. 7. & 8. The left hand has now become the arrow hand and the right will raise the bow. Exhale as the left hand swings slowly into position and draw the bow to the right. This may sound complicated but you will find that it is not. Just imagine the fitting, drawing and releasing of an imaginary bow, drawn first to the right and then to the left. Repeat four time on either side.

Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, pages 105-107

 

Shaolin Archer Video


Exercise Four: Search the Clouds

The power of chi geoff pike search the clouds

The fourth exercise is referred to in Wu Shu circles as ‘a very essential health dose’. This may be an added incentive to practice it correctly as it appears quite awkward to perform and calls for considerable physical application. It is called Search the Clouds because the movements command attention upwards.

The Benefit

Its benefit can be seen after internal injuries such as bruises or contusion caused from heavy sparring or actual combat. This indicates its internal effectiveness. It is also accepted as a pick-up for fatigue and over-exertion ‘especially after sexual intimacy. ‘Sexual exhaustion or tiredness can interfere with bodily functions, in particular the digestive system. Searching the clouds hardly seems a recuperative procedure for a bruised or weary body, but with careful and regular practice you will find it is.

Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, pages 108

4. Search the Clouds Instructions

Geoff Pike Search the Clouds The Power of Ch'i

The Execution

Relax. Remain in the Half-horse Stance (or rest your legs for a moment if you must), then lower into the full Horse Stance.

  1. Place the hands on the thighs, fingers spread inwards
  2. Slowly inhale, while bending the upper body backwards and to the left as far as you can go. The lungs and body should be filled with air by the time you have reached the full extent of your backward bend.
  3. Hold for the silent count of three, pressing back to gain another centimetre. Exhale steadily as you bring the upper body to its central position, by which time the lungs and body are drained of air. Relax. Hold for the count of three.
  4. Repeat the movement to the right. Complete four times on each side. Close the Horse Stance and stand erect.

Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i, page 109

Search the Clouds Video


Exercise Five: Lift the Rock

Geoff Pike Lift the Rock

The fifth exercise is a combination of exercises one and two: scooping and pressing. The basic movement is that of taking the weight of a rock or nearby object in the hands, lifting it to the chin and raising it as high above the head as possible.

The Benefit

It offers all-round internal benefits while bringing about the utmost in upward stretching. We have all observed the animal stretching habits, particularly feline, upon waking or rising. No authority on physical energy control and bodily relaxation could deny that stretching has considerable restorative effects.

Lift the Rock Geoff Pike Qigong

5. Lift the Rock Instructions

The Execution

  1. Relax. Stand erect with feet together. Empty the lungs of air.
  2. Entwine the fingers, palms uppermost (to accept the rock).
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply while raising the joined hands level with the chin.
  4. Continue the upward press without breaking the finger grip, turning the palms outward and upward as you continue to press above the head. Follow the movement of your hands with your eyes until your flat, upturned palms have reached their utmost height. Strain to gain an extra fraction, to the silent count of three. Relax.
  5. Exhale steadily while reversing the movement exactly.
  6. Back to the beginning position. Press down for the silent count of three. Repear eight times.

Geoff Pike. The Power of Ch’i, page 110-111

Lift the Rock Video


Exercise Six: Touch the Sky Press the Earth

Geoff Pike Touch the Sky Press the Earth

The sixth exercise combines maximum upward stretching with maximum forward and downward stretching, hence the name.

The Benefit

Maximum stretching and bending combines arm and shoulder loosening, chest expansion, abdominal, back and leg exercise whilst greatly benefiting the kidneys and spleen.

Geoff Qigong Pike Touch the Sky Press the Earth

6. Touch the Sky Press the Earth Instructions

The Execution

  1. Relax. Stand erect with feet together, hands loose at sides. Empty the lungs of air.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply while raising the hands above the head and continuing a backward bend as far as possible. Hold for the silent count of three.
  3. Exhale steadily while reversing the movement forward and down until the fingertips are pressed on the ground as far ahead of your toes as possible. Pause for the silent count of five.
  4. Inhale slowly and deeply while straightening, drawing the hands up the legs to the thigh.
  5. Hold for the silent count of three.
  6. Repeat eight times.

Geoff Pike. The Power of Ch’i. Pages 112-113

Touch the Sky Press the Earth Video


Exercise Seven: Eye of the Tiger

Eye of the Tiger Geoff Pike

The seventh exercise is perhaps so named because of the tiger’s ability to look directly behind it while keeping its body poised for a frontal spring. We have all seen a cat stalking some unsuspecting prey, only to be disturbed by a sound of movement behind it. It will stop dead in its tracks, front paw raised, every muscle and sinew frozen in the direction of its chosen path, while turning its head to look directly back over its tail. Apparently tigers do this also.

The Benefits

Whatever the origin of its name, this seems as good an explanation as any, for it is just this action that the exercise calls for. It loosens neck sinews, develops neck muscles, exercises the vital organs of the throat and promotes excellent balance while working calves, ankles and feet.

Geoff Pike Chi gong Eye of the Tiger

7. Eye of the Tiger Instructions

The Execution

  1. Relax. Stand erect with feet together, hands loose at sides. Empty the lungs of air.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply while gradually rising on the toes and turning the head as far to the left as possible. Do not turn the shoulders or upper body. When the breath is complete, you should be fully raised on the toes, head twisted as far to the left as possible in an attempt to look behind you. Hold for the silent count of three.
  3. Exhale steadily while reversing the movement back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat movement to the right. Complete four times on either side.

Geoff Pike. The Power of Ch’i. Pages 114-115

7. Eye of the Tiger Video


Exercise Eight: Grip the Swallows egg

Grip the Swallows Egg Geoff Pike Qigong

The name of this eighth exercise is derived from the unique way of closing the fists. Each fist is fully formed yet leaves a hollow in its centre as though protecting a delicate object from being crushed. The fist, tensed to its full power when outstretched, must control the energy that surrounds the inner palm. This exercise develops a formidable hand grip, greatly strengthens the arm while demanding passive control. It is one of the classic restraining movements, which, when released with full speed and impact after long practice, can unleash unbelievable but easily controlled force.

The Benefit

To increase power in the arms, from shoulder to elbow, to wrist, to fingers, is the main purpose; at the same time exercising the legs and lower trunk. It is in fact the slow ‘motion’ performance of the ‘kung fu’ punch with strict control on pressure and the restraint of energy. It is a little difficult to master and should be practiced patiently and diligently from one stance at a time until ready to progress to the next. Pa Tuan Tsin only teaches the frontal punch, but I have included punching from the Right and Left Bow.

Grip the Swallows Egg1 Geoff Pike Qigong

Geoff Pike Chi Grip the Swallows Egg

Geoff Pik Power of Chi Grip the Swallows Egg

Grip the Swallows Egg Instructions

The Execution

  1. Relax. From the Horse Stance, empty the lungs of air.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply while extending the right fist in a frontal punch. The movement should begin from a relaxed shoulder, gradually increasing pressure as it turns and extends. When the fist is fully extended (imaginary swallow’s egg safely shielded inside), tensed as if in a strike, the arm is also locked at the elbow, exerting full pressure. Hold for the silent count of three.
  3. Exhale steadily as you reverse the movement, withdrawing the fist and slackening pressure as it returns to the waist and complete relaxation. Hold for the silent count of three.
  4. Repeat the movement with the left fist. Repeat eight times.
  5. & 6. Without rising from the Horse Stance, twist into the Left Bow position and repeat the exact movement, aiming the restraining punch at an imaginary target on your right. Four punches with each arm.

7. & 8. Twist into the Right Bow position and repeat two punches to the left. Close the Horse Stance, stand erect. Relax and lower the hands to the sides. Inhale. Exhale.

9. Bow to the light that is in you.

The final exercise of the Precious Eight may leave you a little wobbly at the knees, but otherwise feeling fine once you have closed the Horse Stance and straightened up. The temptation to sit down will also be great. Resist it. Ease tired leg muscles by walking about or, if you are practising in a room, just walking on the spot. Keep your legs moving for at least a five minute period.

Sip some water or tea, allow your breathing to settle and become completely normal.

Geoff Pike, The Power of Ch’i. Pages 116-119

Grip the Swallows Egg Video


Advice on Practicing Pa Tuan Tsin

In his book The Power of Ch’i, Geoff Pike gives some basic advice on ways to get the maximum benefit from your practice of the Eight Precious Sets of Exercise. I will summarise these points below:

  • As with learning from a book, and without the guidance of a teacher, there is the risk of dropping out. This can occur with losing faith and confidence in what you are practicing, especially in the early days. How do we avoid the temptation to drop out?
  • Firstly – patience, discipline and will power are the vital ingredients. Unlike many ‘get-fit’ systems, these breathing exercises do not carry a ‘money back guarantee’ or ‘a magnificent body in 7 days’ for five minutes a day of exercise. They do not promise easy effortless easy results with no disruption to your daily life. However, what they do offer is a ‘definite, self-evident improvement in general fitness, increased strength and a degree of immunity from immunity which might otherwise affect a less healthy body’.
  • The various benefits to be had from Pa Tuan Tsin and the time to achieve them is completely up to you, as is the ultimate goal of Ch’i development.
  • There is a yardstick to judge your progress on, and protect against losing your confidence and faith in your practice. The first four weeks are when you are at greatest risk of dropping out. During this time, you will find some of the exercises uncomfortable and awkward to carry out in the beginning. Or conversely, they may seem so easy, you cannot fathom any benefit coming from them. There will be days, when you don’t want to practice, especially in a pair of droopy pyjamas posed in front of a mirror or seen by your neighbours in your garden in bad weather. You may find the co-ordination of breath and the movement difficult. However, it is the first month that is the ‘testing ground’. It is the ‘proving period’ you must pass through no matter how slowly, before you realise that you have only just begun.
  • Be aware of these early stumbling blocks and learn how to deal with them. Firstly, do not hurry in your efforts to immediately follow the routine as laid out. You can leave the extra exercises until you are ready. You do not have to follow the exact sequence of exercises. Instead, you can work on individual exercises – practice the stances or get familiar with the different postures before attempting to coordinate them with your breathing. If a particular muscle or joint is uncomfortable with a specific movement, be patient with it, massage it, coax it and take your time. You will discover your own body’s capabilities and develop your own style.
  • If there is difficulty with co-ordinating breathing and movement, you can practice the breathing separately. Concentrate first on prolonging and controlling the length and depth of your inhalation and exhalation by deep breathing as often as you can. Remember breathing can be practiced at any time – in the car, walking the dog, by the office window, in bed or the bath.
  • You cannot always choose the quality of your air, so restrict deep breathing exercises to when the air is relatively clean. For example, it would be better to take shorter breaths when you are behind a diesel or petrol engine, or on a crowded train. But when you can take deep breaths in a relatively clean area, take the opportunity to do so.
  • Breathe through the nose. You will know when your breathing is improving, because the length and duration of your breaths will be longer and you will find it cooler at the back of your throat, like a cool breeze in the back of your throat, rather than a scarcely noticed rhythm in the nostrils. Also your diaphragm will rise and fall rather than your chest and ribcage.
  • Geoff Pike does recommend that if you have any doubts about your ability to cary out any of these exercises, then you should take this book to your doctor and ask his opinion. This is particularly the case if you have any chronic health complaints or any specific disease. (I would add that if you are elderly, have mobility issues, are at risk of falls, or suffer from any illness affecting your breathing, this advice would be recommended – my note).
  • Feel free to drop any exercises out of the sequence if they are not possible for you or just simply don’t feel right. Chi gong is a personal practice. The wonderful thing about Pa Tuan Tsin is that even if you were to practice just one of these exercises alone and nothing else, you would still reap benefits. For example, the Shaolin archer is a popular favourite. Also the Horse Stance can vary in how low or high you go.
  • Finally, Geoff does make a reference to frequency of practice as being – every day, or at least every other day. However, in the spirit of Geoff Pike’s other advice, I would add that the practice should suit you, your schedule and current state of health. For some people, this might mean that they could only manage once or twice a week. For others, every day. You have to find what suits you at your stage of life. However, it is important to maintain a regular practice and above all, to practice – patience, discipline and will power.

I hope you have found this article helpful. I have quoted heavily from Geoff Pike’s book The Power of Ch’i. Geoff Pike’s version of the Eight Precious Exercises does differ from other more common versions of the Eight Pieces of Brocade that are taught today. In fact, I started practiced this version while working on this article and I immediately noticed improvements to my posture and especially in regards to my forward neck and shoulder habit. I actually prefer this version of qigong.

Geoff’s book is a goldmine of information and I heavily recommend you grab a second hand copy, as it is out of print now (Amazon link here). Again thanks to Paul H. for the copies of the pages.

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Makko Ho (真向法): 4 simple Japanese exercises to regain a loose, flexible, childlike body again


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References

The Power of Ch’i: The Secrets of Oriental Breathing for Health and Longevity. 1980. Geoff Pike. Bell Publishing Company

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The Healing Benefits of Onsen – Hot Spring Baths

onsen health benefits genki

What is an Onsen?

If you ever ask a Japanese person what they did for their holiday, theres a good chance they will mention that they went to an onsen. It’s a popular pastime.

Onsen are hot springs baths. As Japan sits on several active and inactive volcanoes and tectonic plate fault lines, there are plenty of hot spring areas, most of which have been cultivated into public baths.

Throughout Japan, many ryokan (travel inns) provide onsen. There are also large public baths in towns and cities. The temperature of the water in onsen is usually maintained in the range between 37 – 40ºC so they are quite hot.

Benefits of Onsen

Onsen has several benefits. Apart from physically cleansing the body, the higher temperature increases the circulation of blood and lymph and relaxes the muscles. This speeds up metabolism and detoxes the body. The act of immersing yourself in warm comfortable water is like being reborn and creates a state of relaxation. You are in the moment.

Different onsens in areas of Japan also specialise in having baths that are good for specific conditions. For example, some onsen baths have water containing minerals that are good for conditions like arthritis. Others have baths that are good for purifying the skin.

Toru Abo, a Japanese research scientist who specialised in studying the immune system even goes as far to advise the use of onsen as a therapy in cases of cancer because he believes the elevated temperature of the water helps enhance the immune system.

Hot Bath Cure

In Toru Abo’s book – Your Immune Revolution and Healing your Healing Power, a chapter by Kazuko Tatsumura Hillyer, PhD states:

“A Japanese theory that has existed for thousands of years, states that in order to be healthy, our inner body heat must be kept high. We believe that when the inner body temperature is low, cells are deprived of heat, which is energy, and that this prevents the cells and organs from functioning well. Based on this theory, the Japanese have developed many methods for raising heat and body temperature in order to heat the body’s deeper areas.

It’s interesting to learn that Dr Abo recently explained this through his scientific discovery that “a person with low body temperature can’t activate the lymphocytes in his white blood cells; therefore, his immune system can’t function well, even if he has enough lymphocytes and white blood cells.” This is why people with a low body temperature get sick easily.”

In this book, factors that cause low body temperature are identified as being: a lack of exercise, poor diet and eating habits, stress, drugs, smoking, excess coffee consumption, drinking too much water and an irregular lifestyle.

Two methods of increasing the internal body temperature are moxibustion therapy and using an onsen. Tatsumura writes:

“In Japan, we have traditional onsen (hot mineral spring) cures, in which we go to hot spring areas and take multiple hot mineral spring baths for a number of days… This is one of the very best ways to balance the autonomic nervous system.

When you warm your body, you stimulate the elimination of body waste through the skin, stool, and urine; stimulate digestion; relax the muscles; and relieve physiological stress.”

Tatsumura does warn that hot baths (41.6ºC / 107ºF) are not suitable for people with high blood pressure or heart conditions. Although it can be beneficial for people with arthritis.

Reference: Toru Abo. Your Immune Revolution and Healing your Healing Power: Achieve Longevity by Controlling the Hypothermia and Hypoxia!

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Onsen, the Ancient Romans and modern-day Japanese

There is a Japanese movie about onsen called Thermae Romae.

Thermae Romae

In this movie, Abe Hiroshi, a very tall, handsome Japanese actor plays a Roman architect at the height of the Roman Empire who unfortunately is not very successful. His designs are not popular, he is out of work and he comes home to find his wife having an affair with his best friend.

thermae-romae-ii

Whilst consolidating himself in the Roman public bath, he is disturbed by all the wild and unruly Romans jumping and playing about in the water. He only wants to relax and to get over his unfaithful wife and work problems.

He sits underwater to escape the noise

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Suddenly, he finds himself magically transported to an onsen in modern day Japan. He is shocked at first, but as he looks around he is amazed at the quality and the design of the modern day onsen as well as its rules and etiquette.

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Soon after he gets magically transported back to his own time and he sets about using the ideas to design and build more successful public baths back in the Roman period.

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Thermae Romae Clip

It is a very funny movie and highly recommended to watch. Here is a YouTube clip, where Abe discovers the modern Japanese toilet for the first time. Japanese toilets are electric with various functions like automatically lifting the toilet seat and playing background music. (This clip is in Italian dub, but you can still understand what’s going on):

The Ancient Roman’s use of Onsen

From a historical perspective, it was of great importance to the Romans to have public baths. There are still remains of public hot water baths in Scotland such as Bearsden and along Hadrians Wall, where they made the water hot using an underground heating system. The English city of Bath has a natural source of hot spring water and still houses the intact remains of a Roman bath as well as a modern British version.

Ancient Roman soldier stress

Imagine, an army of young to middle-aged Roman soldiers, from warmer climes in Italy, the Middle East, and North Africa marching thousands of miles north to the Scottish hinterlands where the weather is miserably cold, wet and damp.

Their legs are sore from marching. Their shoulders and arms ache from carrying their back packs, food, shields and sword. They have to be alert to the possibility of attack. Their daily work is marching, setting up camp, preparing fires, gathering food and water, removing their camp and marching some more. It is all hard work.

Then at the end of all that they arrive at their camp on the Scottish border. It is wet, damp and cloudy and you are unwelcome by the locals.

If you imagine that this is your life for the next few months or years, then the desire for some comforts like a hot spring bath are very welcome.

For these soldiers, a visit to an onsen in a heated building, to be immersed in hot water, heated by an underground heating system, accompanied perhaps by some local girls and banter with their comrades, can help to dispel those thoughts of mutiny or desertion.

The Roman army recognised the importance of hot baths as a balance to their hard-working lives. There are sulphur hot springs all over Italy and so these may have been the origin of their habit.

If we fast forward to the modern age in Japan, the Japanese also have adopted hot baths into their culture. 

From Ancient Rome to Modern Japan – stress and onsen

In modern age Japan, there are no longer battles with enemies from neighbouring territories or foreign countries. There is no need to train or march thousands of miles or carry supplies. Instead, the nature of work and stress is different.

The Japanese typically work very long hours. Rush hour trains are particularly unpleasant with trains crammed to maximum and long commutes carried out with bodies crushed together armpit to head.

In the 1980s, things were so bad, the train stations had to employ designated ‘pushers’ to literally push excess bodies into the already overpacked trains. There are videos of this available on YouTube, which are worth a look.

With so many bodies crushed close together, sexual harassment has become a social problem in Japan. The phenomenon of ‘chikan densha’, which translates as ‘train pervert’ is very real.

A chikan densha is typically a middle-aged salaryman (company worker) who gropes young women, particularly high school girls in the midst of a packed train. As many Japanese are too embarrassed to kick up a fuss unlike Western women, who tend to be more vocal, they will tend to endure it.

For a woman, being groped on a train is quite common, and on the few occasions that I have asked a young Japanese lady, if she has ever experienced being groped, I was surprised at how often the answer was in the affirmative. Japanese trains have ‘women’s only’ carriages as a result of this problem.


On a side note, some government ministers tried to introduce the ‘woman’s only carriage’ into the UK tube system – no doubt trying to copy the Japanese, which just shows ‘how out of touch / off their heads’ they are.

Obviously, they never use public transport. Because if they did, they would understand that we don’t have the same ‘chikan densha’ problem in the UK. And it would be unworkable given the nature of our trains and platforms and types of people using them.


Japanese work stress

As I mentioned, rush-hour trains in Japan are over-packed and lacking in fresh air and so it is easy to feel sick. Once at the station, you are swallowed up in a sea of black suits all on their way to their workplaces, where they may spend the next 8-12 hours sitting at desks in uncomfortably quiet, open-plan, air-conditioned offices making calls, spreadsheets, replying to emails, getting shouted at by your superiors or shouting at your subordinates or gossiping about your co-workers. Such work and commuting conditions naturally create physical and mental tension.

Often after work, workers are obliged to go drinking with the boss and work colleagues which involves drinking lots of alcohol, eating barbecued meats and complaining some more about work and your co-workers.

Drinking and complaining creates more tension and negative energy which you carry with you. Evening rush hour trains are still busy, albeit not as busy as the morning, but it is still common to not be able to get a seat. After a long day like this, there is no energy for home life or your family and this strains family relationships.

This combination of physical and mental tension has a cumulative harmful effect on the body and creates a risk of depression, family and marital strife, alcoholism and even the dreaded ‘karoshi’ (death by overwork)a real phenomenon.

This is perhaps, one of the reasons why onsen is very popular in Japan. On day’s off or even after work, people can visit special onsens in the country or even pop into a local public bath to help relax and release the tension that they have accumulated from their work day. By this same token, the popularity of ‘karaoke’ – singing popular songs at special karaoke shops helps to de-stress by singing and releasing all that tension.

How to use an Onsen

There is a very specific etiquette to using an onsen. Firstly, some onsens wont allow people with tattoos to enter. This is partly to keep any yakuza (Japanese gangsters) or hoodlums out of them as gang members will often have full body tattoos. For most public onsens, this isn’t usually a problem, as like gangsters all over the world, they will have their own places they frequent.

However, it does pose a problem for Westerners as there is a culture of having tattoos and if you have a tattoo, even a very small one, you can be refused entry even though there are more and more young Japanese people adopting the habit. Depending on the extensity of the tattoos, you can either try to cover it up, if its not too big or you will have to show the receptionist and ask if they will let you in.

Once past the reception, you enter a changing room area and take a locker. You have to strip completely naked but you are allowed to take a very small white towel to cover your private bits. Then you enter a cleaning area. You must shower and shampoo yourself before you are allowed to enter the public baths so that your body is clean. This includes your hair.

This is quite an important part of the process and some people will spend 5 minutes or more cleansing themselves. It is a communal shower area and the showers are low down at little wash stations with little stools. Body wash and shampoo is provided.

Then when you are washed, you can enter the main bathing area, which is usually through a sliding door. Male and female areas are kept separate, although prior to the Meiji area, they would have been mixed.

It is possible to book various ryokan (inns) in the countryside where you may have your own private onsen if you want to share with a partner. A typical onsen may have different large communal bath areas containing different types of water and mineral composition which are supposed to have different benefits for the body.

For Westerners, it takes a little bit of getting used to especially if you are the only foreigner in the baths (and you likely will be). It is natural to feel a little self-aware but actually no one really cares as long as you are following the bathing etiquette. If you dont follow it, you will likely get complained about and maybe even a staff member will come and talk to you, which would be quite embarrassing. In Japan, people don’t like standing out.

Entering the baths

You simply pick a bath and enter it and relax as long as you want. If there are several baths, people will move to and fro between them. There will likely be one bath that contains cold water which you can enter to really get the circulation moving.

Some baths have different temperatures. This may be indicated on the wall. if not, you can test the temperature with your hands before entering. It is highly advisable not to plunge yourself into the hottest one. I attended with a Norwegian friend who immediately jumped into the hottest one too quickly. It was a shock to his system and it made him feel unwell. It is best to pick a bath with a lower temperature and take your time to acclimatise to the heat.

Also, it may not be advisable if you have heart problems or high blood pressure to use onsen. Or if you do, then take time to acclimatise to the temperature properly

Chilling out

Most onsens have relaxed and tranquil atmospheres with people sometimes being quiet and sometimes people talking.

What onsen is not, however, is a place where you can jump in, swim, splash people, make lots of noise and act rowdy like Brits at swimming pools in Spanish resorts. If you disturb others, you will be asked to leave. At the end, you can return to the shower area and many people will shower again to wash away any sweat. In the changing area, there are usually sinks and hairdryers available. Back outside in the reception area, those vending machines, which sell cold beers will suddenly become very attractive.

Onsen refreshes the soul, mind, and body

Onsen is a unique Japanese experience which reinvigorates, refreshes and relaxes the body. It also helps create social cohesion and can bind society together. By entering an area completely naked in the company of complete strangers requires trust and respect for others.

The Japanese identity is very strong probably much like the British used to be. We know this in the way many Japanese use the expression We Japanesewhen talking about their kinsfolk as though they think and all act the same way.  In many ways, they do.

Shared experiences such as onsen helps to build unity and trust between people. Immersing yourself in the hot water of onsen literally melts away tension and hardness from the muscles. In the West, hot spring baths are not so common.

The next best thing is hot baths at home and sometimes using epsom salts. If you are walking around with a hard shell of a body, carrying all of your life, family and work stresses in your musculature, it would be beneficial to take regular hot baths. If you visit Japan, you must also do the onsen experience

The Genki Self Health Guide

This article expands on themes from the book – The Genki Self Health Guide: Improve your Body and Mind with Traditional Oriental Medicine. Available on Amazon.

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Clean your House, Cleanse your Ki Energy: Lessons from George Ohsawa

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References

Toru Abo. Your Immune Revolution and Healing your Healing Power: Achieve Longevity by Controlling the Hypothermia and Hypoxia! Babel Press 2013


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Screenshots from Thermae Romae

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Hans Selye and what the Pink Panther Movies can teach us about Stress and Disease

Hans selye GAS Stress
Our modern day society has too much Stress

According to the UK Office of National Statistics, a report by the Health and Safety Executive issued in 2013, stress, anxiety or depression was listed as a prevalent factor in 487,000 cases of work related illnesses. These figures have been steadily increasing each year. In daily life, more and more of us are being affected by stress.

Some stress can be good for us, but not too much

Stress is an important part of life and it can be positive. The human body is designed to deal with stress. It keeps the body alert and able to avoid danger. Unfortunately, modern day living can be stressful in a peculiarly negative way.

Hans Selye’s GAS – don’t pull his finger

The scientist Hans Selye showed the negative effects of stress with his model called the General Adaptive Syndrome (GAS).

In his work, Selye subjected laboratory rats to stress (by torturing them – nice guy).

Unsurprisingly, many of them became very sick, suffering intestinal ulcers, wasting away of the thymus and enlargement of the adrenal glands. Hans Selye concluded that stress causes sickness. He developed the GAS model to explain the process.

In his theory of the General Adaptive Syndrome (GAS), the body goes through three stages when dealing with stress: Alarm, Resistance and Recovery or Exhaustion. In the ‘alarm’ stage, a stress appears.

Applying the Hans’ Selyes GAS Theory to the Pink Panther Movies

If we apply the theory of GAS to the Pink Panther movies, we can give a basic explanation of how the General Adaptive Syndrome works.

In the Pink Panther, Peter Sellers played a bumbling French detective called Detective Clouseau.

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Clouseau relaxing in his hotel

In these movies Clouseau hired a Chinese martial art-practicing servant called Kato Fong to help keep his senses sharp and his reactions acute by carrying out random surprise attacks on him.

As Clouseau enters his hotel room, Kato would jump out from behind the curtain with a loud scream “Saaaaaaaaah” and attempt to karate-chop his skull.

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Suddenly Kato Fong appears

In this situation, Clouseau’s alarmstage would be activated, immediately triggering his ‘fight or flight’ response. In this, his body would prepare for action by releasing stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine into the blood stream which would put him into an ‘attack’ or ‘run away’ state.

These hormones have amazing effects; his breathing rate would increase, blood would move away from his digestive system into his muscles, his eyesight would sharpen and impulses become quicker as he prepared to deal with the stress. Physiologically, these changes require a lot of energy.

This response continued during the ‘resistance’ stageAClouseau contended with Cato by avoiding his chop and then engaging him in combat or avoiding his attacks for a prolonged period of time. All of his energy is focused on dealing with the danger. It is always better to deal with this danger quickly, as a prolonged conflict can be exhausting.

Film and Television
Fight or Flight – Hans Selye GAS

Finally, when Clouseau escaped from Cato or had thrown him out the window, he would enter the ‘recovery’ stage whereby his body would return to a state of calm. However, if his body was not allowed to recover and instead he experienced continual stress (also known as distress), the ‘exhaustion’ stage occurs. Too much distress can lead to burnout.

Pink Panther
Room Service… Can you send someone to clean the room.

As an attack from Kato could usually be resolved quickly, Clouseau was always able to recover from the effects of stress without harm and as intended, it would probably benefit him by exercising his strength and reactions to danger. Unfortunately, the same stress response occurs almost daily among modern humans in situations that are not life threatening.

Daily life stress is constant and low level

In our modern society, we are exposed to constant low-level stress. We get stress from school exams and keeping up with peers. We have work stress – always having to please our boss, our co-workers, our customers. We have stress simply travelling to work in traffic or on crowded trains.

We have stress with paying bills, and bills, and more bills, and running out of money before running out of month.

We have relationship stresses and we have the stress of keeping up with our peers. Even social media creates low-level stress by making us feel inadequate.

But worse is we don’t have time to stop and reflect and to question it all. We must be busy, busy, busy. Always acting. Never recuperating. Stress is continuous and draining.

In this way, we never fully recover. We are like those animals in Seyle’s experiments who are continually subjected to stress and then they get sick.

It is no wonder that illness and diseases are increasing as we become more modernised and advanced. It is a natural result of an unbalanced world.

Liver Ki Stagnation

In Traditional Oriental Medicine, emotions and moods relate to specific organs. The Liver organ, known as the ‘General’ of the body is usually implicated in stress. Excess stress in our life can overstimulate the Liver causing it to ‘overact’ and negatively affect other organs, or its energy can be weakened leading to a weakening of its other functions – storing the blood and ensuring a smooth flow of Ki in the body.

The Liver is also related to the eyes, and in this modern society it is worth considering the influence that overusing the eyes has on our body and the Liver energy. For example, we constantly overuse the eyes by staring at computer screens, smartphone screens, TV screens and not having enough ‘greenery’ in our daily viewpoint.

In the modern age, our Liver energy is over stimulated, excessive and unbalanced. Modern living, which includes the constant low-level stress we are exposed to on a regular basis is synonymous with Liver disharmony.

Denmei’s Liver stagnation

My friend Miro Baricic told me a story of how he attended a seminar with the Japanese acupuncture master Shudo Denmei in Europe some years ago. At one point during the seminar, Shudo took the pulse of everyone in the group and for person after person he came up with the same pulse diagnosis – “Liver”.

Stress and Tension has become the norm (but it really is not meant to be this way)

We may not be aware of it, but low level stress and tension has become a regular part of daily life and work.

This is the not the stress of bombs falling or where your next meal is coming from. It is the low level and constant stress of deadlines, constant bills to pay, being overworked and underpaid, online account after online account to make, passwords to remember, call centres to call, people to impress, authority, a hundred and one rules to be aware of, customers to placate, family and relationship issues to deal with, and a multitude of minor, seemingly unimportant stresses, that when all added together, make us feel like we are lab rats running in a wheel in a cage. Running and running frantically, and yet unable to see that we are running nowhere despite the truth of our situation being right in front of us.

The antidote – remove the stress

Fortunately, we can do something about this. First, it helps to realise that today we are exposed to unhealthy levels of continuous low-grade stress. More than our ancestors would have been.

And then we should learn ways to counteract these stresses. To do activities that burn off these excess stress hormones in our body. Simple things like walking, contemplation, qigong, changing our eating habits and questioning the meaning of your life.

Also to take steps to remove the stresses that get imprinted in our bodily musculature. This kind of body armour makes us stiff and hinders the flow of Ki energy in our body. We need a smooth flow of Ki-energy in our bodies to be healthy.

There are several suggestions to deal with stress in my book – The Genki Self Health Guide: Improve Your Body and Mind with the Principles of Traditional Oriental Medicine. Available on Amazon.

9692342 - shot of a futuristic young woman.

This article contained extracts from the book: The Genki Self Health Guide.

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7 Reasons Why Walking is Good for You

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References

UK Office of National Statistics. Health and Safety Report 2013/2014

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Screen shots taken from The Pink Panther Movie

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Clean your House, Cleanse your Ki Energy: Lessons from George Ohsawa

George Ohsawa cleaning house
George Ohsawa

One of the most influential Japanese authors on healthcare philosophy, partly attributed his robust health to his love of cleaning.

George Ohsawa was the founder of Macrobiotics – a healthcare philosophy based on Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts such as Yin and Yang and Ki-energy

George Ohsawa travelled and lectured all around the World. He promoted the health benefits of the Macrobiotic Eating plan – Miso soup, vegetables, Japanese pickles and brown rice.

George Ohsawa Loved Cleaning

However, few people are aware that George Ohsawa also had a passion for cleaning. It was a passion that kept him lean, fit and strong. Here is an example from the book – Macrobiotics: Yesterday and Today (1985)

Ohsawa took particular delight in cleaning, dusting and mopping with a vigor that gave him a good daily workout. As a result of this activity and his generally spartan diet of rice and vegetable, Ohsawa was lean and strong.

Once he did a few sessions of judo at a dojo. The teacher, impressed with his leg and lower body strength, asked him how long he had been practicing the martial arts. “Only since I have been coming here” was the reply.

Macrobiotics: Yesterday and Today

Dirt and Clutter causes stagnation

Dirt and clutter stagnates, and can breed negative feelings in whoever lives in a dirty house. This is feng shui at its most basic – the art of spatially arranging objects, furniture, structures or buildings in a way to harmonize the flow of energy around you.

Judging a book by it’s cover

If you take a step into a person’s house or car, the condition it is in tells you far more about its inhabitants than words can do. For example, driving past someone’s house and seeing a broken-down washing machine or toilet in the front yard and an unkempt garden tells us a lot about the inhabitants without even having to knock on the door to meet them. Some people collect clutter over many years.

Hoarding reflects a stagnation of mind

At its most extreme level, some people become hoarders, who collect piles of newspapers and various other things over many years which fill every space inside and out. This creates an extreme stagnation of energy. It is the external manifestation of an internal stagnation.

I saw one of these houses in Japan and occasionally saw reports on TV programs about people who collect so much rubbish that it upsets the neighbours and local council because of the risk to public health. All that garbage attracted rats and cockroaches. Clearly these people have some mental health problems.

Not letting go

Yet, even for people with minimal tendencies towards hoarding – a desire to collect things, to store away, or even to buy the same thing over and over again can indicate that the person is struggling with letting something go – perhaps an emotional hurt.

These people may also suffer from constipation, a physical malady that matches the emotional malady of holding on and not being able to let go.

Reality TV shows about cleaning

These days, there are a lot of reality TV shows in the UK. Some of them are about people who suffer from obesity or with unemployment and life on benefits and in some of the homes of these people, they are often unclean and untidy.

They also suffer from the maladies of lack of motivation, low energy and boredom. I believe that if these people were to start with cleaning their home environment regularly, positive changes will gradually improve their bodies and even their fortunes.

The benefits of daily housework

Housework involves the exercising of your body in ways that mirror going to the gym. To tidy things away, clean windows, vacuum and mop the floor involves bending and straightening up, lifting objects and stretching. For some people, it can really improve the circulation and bring out a sweat. After you finish, it is mentally satisfying to sit and relax with a cup of tea in a clean home and a sense of satisfaction.

So if you don’t have time to go to the gym or you want to save your money – try cleaning instead, just like George Ohsawa enjoyed doing. You will cleanse your external and internal energy. And get a good workout whilst doing it.

The Genki Self-Health Guide

This article contains extracts from my book – The Genki Self Health Guide: Improve your Body and Mind with the Principles of Traditional Oriental Medicine. Available on Amazon


ying yang genki health book japanese 9

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A Good Sweat: Physical Exercise and a Long Life

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References

Macrobiotics: Yesterday and Today.  RE Kotzsch, Ph.D. Japan Publications, Inc. 1985, Tokyo and New York


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Makko Ho (真向法): 4 simple Japanese exercises to regain a loose, flexible, childlike body again

Makko Ho

Makko Ho (真向法) are 4 simple exercises developed in Japan and said to be beneficial for the body. They take 5 minutes to carry out and should be done every day, twice a day.

The story behind Makko Ho (真向法)

These 4 simple exercises are taught in an old, out-of-print book, called ‘Makko Ho’, which was written by Haruka Nagai. Haruka was the son of the creator of the Makko Ho system – Mr Wataru Nagai (1889-1963). This book was originally published in 1972 and was popular in the West in the 1970s. Mr Nagai travelled in America teaching his system.

The Makko Ho exercises was created by Mr Wataru Nagai (長井津). At age 42, he suffered a stroke and half his body was paralysed. His doctors told him he would likely have to spend the rest of his life half paralysed, dependent on support, and probably unable to work. Mr Wataru Nagai did not want this so he resolved himself to find a solution to his health challenges.

Buddhist connections

Wataru Nagai’s father was a Buddhist monk. He developed his ideas for Makko Ho whilst looking at a textbook on Buddhism in his father’s home.  Wataru was interested in two of the sitting postures required to practice in order to attain enlightenment. One of these postures was bowing to show gratitude for his life.

He felt that in all his life, he had never showed gratitude. So he decided that it was time for him to start showing gratitude and he tried to bow. But as his body was so stiff and restricted, it was difficult for him to do it. Yet he persevered. He decided that he would bow and say thank you over and over again. After three years, he was cured. (Source: http://www.stgijodo.blogspot.com).

It was these sitting exercises that were to form the foundation for the Makko Ho series of exercises.

He found these sitting postures difficult, but as he had lots of time, he was able to practice them. Gradually his body got used to these exercises and over a three year period, he gradually restored vigour to his paralysed side of his body by incorporating other exercises. As Haruka Nagai wrote of his father:

His restored health was neither miraculous not coincidental: the process of metabolism had completely replaced the cells composing the blood vessels, nerves, and muscles of the afflicted part of his body and had thus brought about true rehabilitation.

In other words, Mr Wataru Nagai’s body had replaced its damaged parts. This is a principle that is discussed in his book – that our bodies are always in the process of replacing and repairing itself.

Mr Wataru Nagai continued to live a flexible and mobile life until he died in an automobile accident at the age of 78.

The name of Makko Ho (真向法)

The name for these exercises has changed several times. The name of Makko Ho is said to have come from a Buddhist poem, which means – ‘Just worship the spirit of Buddha with a pure heart’.

Makko Ho (真向法) means ‘to have an attitude of doing something, with all of ones’s full effort’.

Makko Ho (真向法) is made up of three kanji -真 (Ma/Shin) = truth,  向 (kou) = direction, and 法 (ho) – method/or way. It can roughly be translated as ‘the way of moving towards truth’. Or in the context of the exercises – ‘the way of moving towards the body’s truth’, or our ‘natural way’.

The purpose of Makko Ho (真向法)

In the West, Makko Ho has been repackaged and is taught according to principles of Traditional Chinese medicine. The exercises are said to open up specific Meridians (energy pathways).

This is not the original purpose of Makko Ho. The original purpose as explained by Nagai’s book is simply to regain the flexibility and looseness of children. It is not about stimulating specific energy pathways.

Sometimes, I think we like to make things more complicated or add a slant on things to sell it, but I believe simplicity is best. As Nagai writes:

The aim and ideal form of Makko-ho is the posture of healthy children.

I have noticed children are naturally flexible. My oldest son was able to stick his toes in his mouth when he was around 2 year old. My youngest son is able to do a full split just like Jean Claude Van Damn at the age of 7 months. This is the natural flexibility of children. It is possible that you or I could once have been able to do the same. One of the reasons is because children use their bodies regularly and often, and as a result their muscles are enlivened and loosened.

To understand just how flexible we once were as children, here is a picture of my 7 month old doing the third Makko Ho exercise:

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And here is my son a few months later, at age 14 months, doing the 2nd Makko Ho exercise – the forward bend:

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With an additional standing variation for good measure:

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The principle of Makko Ho – preventing atrophy

There is a simple English expression – ‘Use it or lose it’. The meaning being that we should continue to practice a skill or movement, because if we don’t, we will lose the ability. This is common in sports, when if a sportsperson stops training, their ability level, flexibility and strength can reduce.

In Makko Ho, there is this quote:

Lack of use leads to aging and functional failure.

Simply put, as people have created more and more labour saving devices, more transportation options and other conveniences, we have started to use our bodies less. As a consequence, our bodies don’t get worked out as much as our ancestors used them. As a result, they become weaker, tighter and less functional.

This is not a criticism of the modern life or a call that we should go back to primitive living. It is merely a reminder to be grateful for these conveniences and that in order to counteract the negative effects of a more convenient lifestyle, we should take steps to regain flexibility and to practice exercises like Makko Ho in order to improve our bodies.

Nagai states that:

Failure to use parts of the body adequately brings on the condition known as ‘atrophy’.

Actually, I touched on the same topic in my book – ‘The Genki Self Health Guide‘ where I discussed how – by not stretching or moving our bodies, a layer of restriction builds up in our fascia layer, which hinders the smooth flow of Ki energy.

Benefits of Makko Ho

Makko Ho helps regenerate the body, and prevent atrophy of the body through misuse or underuse. It also helps improve the circulation – the flow of blood through the limbs, enabling it to remove waste effectively and to keep our blood clean. It improves the nervous system and flow of hormones in the body. It can benefit joints, helping to prevent arthritis. Additionally, as all of these postures are based on opening up the hip joint, it will help with posture and spinal health.

Makko Ho objectives

When Mr Wataru Nagai demonstrates these exercises, he does so with perfect posture. In his pictures, Wataru is a middle aged Japanese man. He does not have a dancer’s or martial artist’s body. He looks more like a regular middle-aged company worker or business man. But when he performs these exercises his does so with perfect posture and great flexibility.

This makes it easy for anyone to relate to him. We are not all blessed with model-like physiques. These days, the media throws images of this ‘perfection’ down our throats.  But by seeing Mr Wataru Nagai perform these exercises with grace, teaches us that we all have the potential to achieve this level of childlike flexibility and looseness.

Nagai reminds us not to be led by the ego. Never to force these exercises, and that it can take up 3 to 5 years in order to gain this level of flexibility to carry out these exercises perfectly. This is how long it took Mr Wataru Nagai to achieve this level.

It is accumulative. As we practice every day, gradually we regan vigour and liveliness in the stiff parts of our body. Eventually, our bodies can become loose like a child again. We do not need to rush.

‘Bendy’ People

It reminds me of many times I have attended yoga classes. There are often very flexible, “bendy” people who can carry out all these exercises perfectly. Some of them used to be dancers (in other words – very flexible). But there are always many people who are not as flexible as them. I am such a person. I am extremely inflexible.

Of course, looking at these bendy people,  I feel a little envious and want to be bendy like them. Sometimes I have forced myself into specific yoga stretches to try and hurry up and get quick results. But this always has a negative effect. On a few occasions I have pulled back muscles by over-stretching or pushing myself too much. This is the ego.

I think Nagai’s advice is wise:

People whose muscles are seriously stiffened – no matter whether they are young or old might at first think that the positions of the Makko Ho exercises are impossible… proficency cannot be expected overnight. To restore a seriously atrophied muscular system to original good health takes from three to five years of diligent application.


Makko Ho (真向法) exercises

Without further ado, here are the 4 Makko Ho exercises:

Exercise 1 Makko Ho

IMG_0408
Image from Makko-Ho

Instructions

1st stage

  • First sit as in picture A. This is similar to the seated Buddhist meditation pose. However, the feet are not tucked under the knees, but instead the heels of the feet are brought together and the soles turn upwards as much as possible.
  • Aim to have the heels on a line with the knees. In perfect posture, the knees rest on the floor. This may be difficult at first.
  • Aim to keep the back straight and lower the knees to open up the groin area. You can lightly press the knees down, but NEVER strain or force it.

2nd stage

  • Once you are able to keep the lumber spine straight, lean the upper body forward as in diagram B.
  • The purpose in not to bring the head to the ground. The purpose is to expand and contract the joints in the hips and groin.
  • Repeat the forward bend from ten to twenty times.
  • NEVER force or strain the movement

Demonstration

Here is Mr Waturu Nagai. performing stage 1 of exercise 1 with perfect form:

1st stage

 

2nd stage

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Model picture of 1st stage:

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Here is my colleague Eitaro modelling the second position of Exercise 1:

Makko Ho


Exercise 2 Makko Ho

Makko Ho exercise 2 diagram

Instructions

1st stage

  • Sit with the buttocks flat on the floor and the back straight. Bring the legs together and stretch them in front of you.
  • Extend and contract the joints of the groin.
  • The ankle is to be held at an angle of 60%, to extend and contract the foot.
  • Sit with legs outstretched so that the torso forms a 90% angle (or ‘L’ shape) with the legs.
  • Aim to keep the lumber vertebrae straight and knees not bent.

2nd stage

  • When you can perform the L position, gently lean the torso forward, beginning at the waist and keeping the back in a straight posture.
  • Do not attempt to bring the head tot he knees (which “spoils” the position of the spinal vertebras and angles of the knees and heels.
  • Exhale quietly as you bend forward. Repeat ten to twenty times. in a session.
  • You may only be able to move 1/32 of an inch forward in a single day. That is fine. In 3-5 years it will add to your overall progress.
  • NEVER force or strain into the movement

Demonstration

Exercise 2 is a basic forward bend stretch. Here is Mr. .. demonstrating the exercises:

 

Here is Eitaro performing Exercise 2, stage 2, with great form and flexibility. Do note, that Eitaro is a black belt Aikido practitioner, who has been doing stretching exercises for many years:

Makko Ho exercise 2 demo


Exercise 3

Makko Ho exercise 3 diagram

Instructions

1st stage

  • As with the previous exercise – keep heels at 60%, knees unbent, and back straight.
  • Legs are spread. 80% or 90% is good enough. The optimum level is 160%, but 80% or 90% is fine.
  • Make sure the back remains straight as in Picture A.
  • Beginners often slump in this posture. This is because the muscles of the inner side of the legs are tight. These muscles are also related to the sex organs.

2nd stage

  • From position A, bend the torso forward. Again follow the principles as for the first two exercises. keep the back straight.
  • NEVER force or strain.
  • Repeat the exercise 10 to 20 times. for a session. A movement of 1/32 of an inch is fine.
  • when you have mastered the exercise, your chest and knees will come in contact with the floor WITHOUT feeling pain.

Demonstration

Exercise 3 is a wide leg open forward bend pose. Here is Mr Wataru Nagai demonstrating:

 

Here is Eitaro demonstrating the pose: (note – feet are not quite at a 60% angle)

 


Exercise 4

1st stage

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2nd stage

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Instructions

1st stage

  • Stage 1 is similar to the traditional sitting seiza position used in Japan. But instead the buttocks do not sit on the feet. They sit on the floor between your feet.
  • The thighs and lower legs fold in two.  In position A, the buttocks reach the floor
  • If it is impossible to bring the buttocks to the floor or the back bends, then a cushion under the buttocks can be used. Over time, gradually reduce the size of the cushion, replacing it with a towel or a handkerchief folded thinner and thinner as you gain more flexibility.

Makko Ho cushion exercise 4

2nd stage

  • When position A can be sat in, without pain or discomfort, you can attempt stage 2.
  • Put your hands on the floor behind you and lean your torso backwards.
  • Aim to lean further backwards as much as you can. The edge of a bed or cushions can be used for support.
  • When practicing this exercise, a person may feel a stretching sensation in the muscles of the abdomen and chest.

Demonstration

This diagram only shows the first stage of Exercise 4. The bottom is sitting directly on the floor (not on the feet). The feet are by the side of the bottom. Here is a demonstration of stage 1 and 2 of Exercise 4:

 

Here is me performing exercise 4. It is the only Makko Ho exercise that I can carry out with reasonably  good form. For some reason, I am quite flexible in this position but for the first three exercises, I am extremely inflexible and find it difficult to carry them out… Go figure.

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Other stated benefits of exercise 4

On a side note, the Ki-Aikido practitioner, author and teacher Koichi Tohei states that this particular exercise can “cure” diseases of the digestive system in The Book of Ki.

These days, you have to be wary of making this kind of claim. But it may be that this particular pose can benefit the digestive organs and abdomen as it does stretch and open up this area enabling better circulation and stimulation of the organs in the abdominal region.

However, this exercise does put a bit of strain on the lower back, so I would recommend you follow the guidance in the Makko Ho book in order to carry out this pose safely.

Makko Ho Guidance notes

In Makko Ho, Nagai gives  some basic guide instruction on carrying out these exercises:

  • Perform once in the morning before breakfast and again in the evening for maximum effect.
  • Perform on the floor for best effect, but beginners can do them on a bed.
  • Repeat exercise 1 to 3 ten times for about thirty seconds. This takes 1 minute and 30 seconds. This is ‘one round’. Then carry out another round of the first three exercises. (3 minutes in total)
  • Then when performing exercise 4, lean back and stay in the pose fo 1 minute. (In total 4 minutes. There are some additional variations to make it 5 minutes, but they are not necessary for beginners.
  • If you are pressed for time, only do one round of the first three exercises and thirty seconds in the backward leaning exercise.
  • Perform with family members all together to enjoy the benefits
  • NEVER, NEVER, NEVER attempt to strain, or achieve perfection in any of the poses because you think you can achieve quick progress. This desire for quick results and speed is a reflection of the modern civilised person to pursue speed and efficiency. We should take time to reflect and enjoy the process.
  • Some mild pain and bruises can occur. In this circumstance, slow down and lighten the routine. If there is significant atrophy, this can occur but do not give up. obviously if there is significant pain, then stop, or leave out specific exercises.
  • Pregnant women should avoid exercise 1 and 2. (I would add, that maybe they should avoid exercise 4 at it strains the back a little).

Disclaimer

This article is not an official teaching of the Makko Ho exercises. I am simply introducing you to these exercises, which have fallen out of Western knowledge in the last 40 years. To learn them properly, I would recommend you read the original Makko Ho book, written by Haruka Nagai. (Be warned – the book is out of print and second-hand copies are expensive!)

In order to officially teach Makko Ho, it is necessary to undergo training in Japan and pick up a license. The Japanese are quite strict about this kind of thing, so if someone wants to teaches Makko Ho, it is likely, they will need official authorisation from the official Makko Ho association in Japan. And I understand that to receive the license, the training course is one year long.

There are various teachers around the world who teach an altered version of the Makko Ho exercises, tying it in with the Meridians (energy Channel pathways) of Oriental Medicine as part of shiatsu training. As far as I know this new version is not true to the original teachings.

The creator of the Makko Ho exercises did not teach according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine or shiatsu. He was not a Traditional Chinese doctor. The principle behind these four Makko Ho exercises was far more simple – It is only about regaining the natural flexibility that we would have had as children.

It is true that looking at these exercises, they are essentially basic stretching exercises used commonly in martial art warm ups or yoga. And as such, I don’t believe you can trademark these individual exercises. However, the ‘Makko Ho’ label and set of exercises as a whole, can be trademarked, and should be respected as such.

References

Makko-Ho: Five Minutes Physical Fitness, by Haruka Nagai (English Edition). Japan Publications, Tokyo and San Francisco 1972.

Makko Ho Official Site (In Japanese) – www.makkoho.or.jp

Article by Tomoko Horikawa Morganelli, www.stgidojo.blogspot.com – One of the few officially licensed teachers of Makko Ho in America

YouTube Video Makko Ho demonstration from Japan, from Taninaka T.s YouTube Channel:


It’s incredible to see these middle aged and elderly Japanese stretching with the bodies of children, and shows what is possible if we practice Makko Ho.

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Chizue Rudd gives a good demonstration of the original Makko Ho Exercises on her YouTube Channel:

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Neck Pain! Press these THREE POINTS

acupressure for neck pain 2
Three Acupressure Points for Neck Pain

Here is a YouTube video which shows THREE acupressure points on the arm that can be pressed for NECK PAIN. 

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Stuck flow of Ki-energy through the neck

Traditional Oriental Medicine works on the premise that we have a flow of energy in our body called Ki or Qi, which flows through energy Channel pathways, also called Meridians.

When this Ki energy flows smoothly through the channels, we have good health. Neck pain is a sign that we have a stagnation of Ki energy in the energy channels of our neck, head and upper shoulders.

The Large Intestine Channel (runs through the neck)

To help with neck pain, we work on one of the energy channel pathways that passes through that neck. This channel is called the Large Intestine Channel. 

This energy channel starts on the hand, travels up the arm, passes through the neck and into the head. It is called the Large Intestine Channel, because another branch of the channel also travels deeper and connects to the colon. Therefore, you can also use this point for constipation.

 The Acupressure Points

The three points for neck pain are called L.I. 10, L.I. 11, and L.I. 4. (Large Intestine 10, Large Intestine 11 and Large Intestine 4).

acupressure for neck pain

Large Intestine 4 (L.I.4)
large intestine 4
Image taken from ‘A Manual of Acupuncture’

The Large Intestine 4 point is on the upper part of the hand between the metatarsal bones of the thumb and index finger. There is a small bulge when you press your thumb and index finger together. The point is at the top of this bulge. Feel around for a tender spot.

Contra-indication – If Pregnant

A caution: If you are pregnant, do not massage this point as it causes the energy to descend. Instead use the following two points – LI 11 and LI 10

Press this point with the pad of your thumb and rub in a circular motion 10 times.


Large Intestine 11 (L.I. 11)
acupressure for neck pain large intestine 11
Image taken from “A Manual of Acupuncture’

Next is the LI 11 point. This is close to the elbow on the outer part of the arm. Flex your arm and you can see a tendon. Next find the bone at the elbow. The point lies in the middle of the tendon and this bone. It is on the elbow crease.

Again, rub this point 10 times with your thumb.


Large Intestine 10 (L.I.10)
acupressure for neck pain. Large Intestine 10
Image taken from “A Manual of Acupuncture’

This point is on the outer aspect of the forearm. Imagine a line between L.I. 4 and L.I. 11. The point lies on this line approximately two finger breaths away from L.I. 11.

Again, massage this point 10 times.


Scientific Studies
acupressure for neck pain research
Research

Scientists at Nihon Fukushi University in Japan, researched the effects of acupressure in women with chronic neck pain.

33 female subjects who complained of chronic neck pain participated in the present study.

One of the control groups were instructed to use these three points. They were instructed to massage the three points with the flat of their thumb in a circular motion for 20 to 25 times on both sides of the arm.

 Results

Afterwards, it was found that acupressure in these distal points significantly reduced some of their pain scores.

The scientists wrote:

“Acupuncture at the distal acupuncture points could improve pain conditions in chronic neck pain patients”

acupressure for neck pain
Massaging routine

Two or three times a day is fine. Perhaps, first thing in the morning and last thing at night, or whenever you feel like doing it. You do not need to massage 20 to 25 times, like in the study. 10 times is fine. However, if the pain is severe, try doing it 20 – 25 times, three times a day.

Pressure

You do not need to press hard. Gentle pressure is fine. You are simply opening and warming up the point to allow the energy to move smoothly through the channel.

After you massage these points, you may feel more relaxed. When you finish, take 5 minutes and practice some relaxed breathing. Afterwards you will feel rejuvenated.


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References and Image Accreditation
  • Images taken from A Manual of Acupuncture. P. Deadman, M. Al-Khafaji, K. Baker. 2001. Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications.
  • Comparative Effects of Acupressure at Local and Distal Acupuncture Points on Pain Conditions and Autonomic Function in Females with Chronic Neck Pain. T. Matsubara, Y-C Arai, Y. Shiro, K. Shimo, M. Nishihara, J. Sato, T. Ushida. Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2011.
  • Cover image taken from http://www.Pexels.com (Valeria Boltneva). Thank You!

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