Sunday, March 11, 2007

Eight Pieces Brocade – Baduanjin – qigong relieves physical and emotional stress

I know what you're looking for in stress relief…something that will make you happy and healthy! Something that is fast, easy, low cost, something you can use anywhere, anytime without fancy, expensive equipment.

Baduanjin qigong is your answer! Here's why.

The physical impact of emotional stress.

The emotions we usually associate with stress, anger, fear, worry, grief, all cause not only mental anxiety but muscular tension as well. We know this as "body language." A single glance at another person will usually tell you if that person is mad, sad, scared, or worried not only by facial expression, but by how the body is held – what parts of the body are tensed or contracted. Likewise, when you are feeling any of those emotions, your muscles react by tensing-up as well.

If you experience a short-term emotion that causes tension, your muscles return to normal fairly quickly. The damage occurs when you are frequently angry, fearful, or worried, or you experience these emotions over long periods of time as sometimes happens with grief over the loss of a loved one. Your muscles reflect that stress and remain tense.

Muscles have their own sort of memory. Every time you experience anger, fear, or sadness, or any other stressful emotion, your muscles react by becoming tight and compressed in the unique way you react to that emotion.

If anger makes you clench your fists, every time you become angry, your hand and arm muscles will respond by tightening. If sadness makes you curl up and breathe shallowly, when you are sad, your body language will show you hunched over. It doesn't have to be a dramatic change in posture. Some of these changes are very subtle and seem as though they would not cause a lot of damage.

However, over time, your mind becomes entrained in this reactive mind/body pattern and associates these physical postures and tensions with the emotions that caused them thereby evoking the emotions as well as stressing your muscles and restricting your energy flow and movement. These damaging tensions become automatic responses; like pedaling when you get onto a bicycle, you do it without thinking. For example, when your hand and arm tense, your muscles send the electrical signal to your brain that says, "Anger!" and your brain responds by evoking feelings of anger.

Eventually stress and tension become a severe problem and can cause other physical distortions as well as illness due to the nature of how you use your body. If one part of your body is injured or tense, you adapt your movement to work around the injured area to relieve tension and pain there. However, this puts more strain on other areas of the body. Say you sprained your hand but your job requires you to continually lift and carry moderately heavy items. You juggle these objects into position in the crook of your elbow, but that throws off the alignment of your shoulder and will eventually cause shoulder damage. The tensions caused by the automatic responses to stress can do the same thing but not just with muscles and the alignment of joints; it also adversely affects organs and body systems. This is why we see so many chronic health conditions which surgical or pharmaceutical medicine cannot cure.

Constantly tense muscles particularly afflict the function of the lymph system and the circulatory system, leaving you vulnerable to all sorts of debilitating conditions from arthritis to cancer. If toxins are not removed from your body, they collect and create illness. If nutrients are not carried to the cells in your body due to poor circulation, you become malnourished and experience illness. Muscular tension delivers that old "double-whammy" of allowing both these conditions to occur: the collection of toxins and the malnourishment of the body. This is certain to cause illness.

The physical relief of emotional stress

I'm sure you can already see what the cure is: move and stretch!

Practicing the movements and stretches offered in the Eight Pieces of Brocade qigong will break the cycle of tension and disease from this body/mind entrainment. You practice movements that relieve muscular tension which allows your muscular cells to forget the stress-memory that sent the message to your brain and evoked emotional tension. These stretches also restore function to your lymph system which requires movement to work properly, and tone the muscles needed for proper function of your circulatory system.

In Baduanjin, there is a movement called "Shaking the Body Wards off All Illnesses," and is practiced by gently bouncing without taking your feet off the floor. Bouncing activates your lymphatic system and helps to remove toxins from your body. Just like one of those watches that operate because you move it around, your lymph system depends on your movement to stimulate the pumping action of the glands so the lymph fluid can distribute fresh nutrients throughout your body and carry off waste products.

Lymph fluid surrounds most of the cells in your body. When you are at rest, it moves sluggishly, and cannot deliver nutrients or remove toxins as quickly as it should to keep you feeling energized and healthy. Leading a sedentary lifestyle amounts to surrounding your cells with old and stale lymph fluid, and would be like plunging yourself into a bathtub full of tepid, dirty water every day!

When you jump or bounce, your lymphatic system revs-up into high gear and gets the lymph fluid flowing at a rate that is ten to thirty times faster than when you are at rest. When not in this "overdrive" mode, your lymph system is stimulated to work through muscle tone, arterial pulsation, and even by self-massage.

Several of the Baduanjin qigong positions support the proper oxygenation of blood and the circulatory system, including one called "Supporting Heaven With Both Hands" which was the topic of a very early post to this blog, "Stand up and stretch!"

Many people who are physically ill or mentally exhausted cannot at first perform the exercises as they are presented. That is no reason to avoid them. In fact, the opposite is true. Even if you can't do the stretches as they are usually shown, do what you can (though never do anything that causes pain). Not only will it help a lot at first by making you more flexible, the benefits do radiate outward, and improve damaged areas like muscles and joints, as well as provide the opportunity for mental focus and relaxation.

The excerpt below is from page 156 of a book called Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis by James L Oschman. These two paragraphs offer the perfect explanation of how the Eight Pieces of Brocade can improve not only your body but relieve your mental stress as well.
"Just as strain in one are of the body affects the whole body, an improvement in flexibility in one area will have effects that radiate outward, particularly along the fascial 'trains' (muscular connective tissues)…. While a therapist may focus attention on a particular region that is stiff or inflexible or painful, beneficial effects can, and do, spread to other areas. Moreover, the modern bodyworker is aware that problems in areas too painful to be touched can nonetheless benefit from work done in nearby areas. The success of such approaches is due to tensional continuity, and to the fact that the living tensegrity system is a continuous semiconductor vibratory network. This can be demonstrated with a tensegrity model by plucking one of the tendons, which causes the entire network to vibrate.

"Since the tensegrity network is simultaneously a mechanical and a vibratory continuum, restrictions on one part have both structural and energetic consequences for the entire organism. Structural integrity and vibratory, or energetic, or informational integrity g hand in hand – one cannot influence the structural system without influencing the energetic/informational system, and vice versa."

Here is my own experience with Baduanjin and carpal tunnel syndrome: I type a lot. It used to be that I typed a lot on a keyboard sitting on a table that was too high, and my wrists took exception to that repetitive abuse by hurting…a Lot! I have a friend who is a massage therapist, and she helped my condition immensely. She massaged my back, shoulders, arms, at first avoiding the most painful areas of my hands and wrists. Improvement came after each massage treatment, and she was able to work closer and closer to the most painful, affected area. After a few weeks, my hands and wrists had improved to the point where she could actually massage the lower hand and wrist, thereby speeding my recovery.

In order to completely recover from a repetitive-stress injury, one must stop repeating the stress that caused it! I can't stop typing, but I've made sure my keyboard is at the right height, and I have proper support for my hands and wrists. Over the past year I have found that the stretches in the Eight Pieces of Brocade qigong keep my hands and wrists pain-free and stiffness-free, as well as help me maintain excellent physical health and stress-free wellness.

It doesn't matter who you are, where you are, or what physical shape you are in, the easy and gentle movements in the Eight Pieces of Brocade qigong are a great practice I very highly recommend. (You can even do them sitting down…they will still be very beneficial for you!)
There are two qigong books that contain instructions for Baduanjin, Eight Simple Qigong Exercises For Health - The 8 Pieces of Brocade and The Way of Energy: A Gaia Original

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