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

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

010

011

 

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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

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.

genki health japan woman onsen


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

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Related Posts

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
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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This content includes referral or affiliated links to products or services. Visit my disclosure page for more information.

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

George Ohsawa cleaning house
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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This content includes referral or affiliated links to products or services. Visit my disclosure page for more information.

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

IMG_0429

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Model picture of 1st stage:

11261427 - chinese woman sitting on a yoga mat in the bound angle pose.

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

IMG_0430.jpg

2nd stage

IMG_0427

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.

IMG_0440.jpg

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.

Books

Despite this, Westerners will struggle to find a teacher or even an original copy of Nagai’s book. However, an alternative can be found in the book: ‘The Original Makko Ho’, which provides a simple explanation of the exercises and stays close to the original. it can be found on Amazon, all marketplaces:

theoriginalmakkoho-v2-3d copy

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
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. 

Please like, share or subscribe to support The Genki Health Channel. There is also a text summary below.


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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