Qigong – Low Back, Knees, & Hips

570_feel_the_qiQigong supports the whole body even when we focus on specific areas. The previous two blogs addressed the upper body and back. Though those were addressed our whole body benefits. Blood flow increases and Qi moves better as we practice regularly promoting overall well-being.  The side benefits embrace so many, senses, balance,  mental clarity, circulation, bodily functions, and overall awareness to name a few.  It’s like we move and function with our complete body rather than one specific area. 

Think about it.  When we walk, our brain sends messages to our legs and feet to engage propelling us forward, backward, up, down, fast, or slow.  walking_person_silhouette_clip_art_15563Without noting anything else within ourselves or our surroundings, our legs and feet simply continue, doing our bidding, until… we hit a patch of ice in the winter, a root on the path, or a branch, then, then the rest of the body gets involved with a flinch like reaction to the unexpected followed by gyrations, that may put a contortionist to shame, just to keep our balance, which often subsequently fails.  We then find ourselves in a face plant, on our butt, or some other pretzel like configuration, because we weren’t engaging our whole being in the process of simply walking.  mfu0014I’m not saying we’ll never stumble, trip, or fall again, but when these interruptions of movement come along we’ll be more prepared, because we learned to involve our whole being in our movements.  Qigong teaches us to move from our core, our Dantian, our energy center.

In this next section the Low Back, Hips, and Legs will be the focus of our training.  As we train, however, think about initiating your movement from the Dantian.  The torso of the body has upper, middle, and lower Dantian areas, but a primary Dantian location resides about two finger widths below the navel. This may also be referenced as the Hara.  So, as we move, think of initiating or engaging the movement first from that point.  This series of movements may help with disc problems, low back muscle degeneration, stress, or strain, hip joint and associated soft tissues in that region, chronic structural or muscular issues, recovery from injuries, and arthritis.  Other disharmonies may be addressed as well, these are just some examples.

As I’ve stated before, Qigong is one of the less demanding forms of exercise and movement, yet any physical activity should be approached to work within your own abilities and limitations. If you cannot get the full range of motion at first, make it a goal and go as far as you can. If you have any health issues, concerns, or limited mobility consult with your doctor first before exerting yourself more than you should.  The practice of Qigong has been known to improve overall health and personal well-being.  Also, though not mentioned before, the instructions for this series recommend a certain number of reps.  These may be increased or decreased according to your own needs.  If you feel stiff or sore in a given area  couple hours following additional reps, then too many have been done and you should reduce the number of reps.  This is especially true in cases of arthritic conditions or recovery.  Listen to your body.

If you have questions, you may direct them to me through either this blog or through my websitehttp://www.eastwesthealingarts.org.  If you live in the Portland, Maine area, you’re invited to join in for not only Qigong classes, but also Taiji at the Maine Center for Taijiquan & Qigong.  The link is added here http://www.mainetaiji.com/, so you may visit the website for the class schedule and details on our studio.

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Lets begin with the knees.  Before the actual movement, keep in mind the importance of maintaining healthy knees.  The knees and shoulders are the two most common areas for injury and strain because they have more range of motion than other joints in the human body.  We should do all we can to care for these areas.  Let’s begin!

Therapeutic Qigong – Part Three

Position 13 – Knee Rotation

Begin with Feet together.

Place both hands slightly on your hands.

  1. Slowly circle knees clockwise, 4 times
  2. Repeat the knee circles, counter clockwise, 4 times

Important – As you circle your knees, you are also exercising your hips, knees, and ankles.  Don’t forget to breathe evenly.

Position 14 – Side Lunge Turn

Body Opposite 45

Take a big step to the left and place both hands on your waist.

  1. Exhale as you slowly bend left leg and turn your body to the right at a 45 degree angle.
  2. Inhale as you slowly turn your body back to the center position, straightening both legs and shifting your weight to your center.
  3. Exhale as you slowly bend right leg and turn your body to the left at a 45 degree angle.
  4. Inhale as you slowly turn your body back to the center position, straightening both legs and shifting your weight to your center.

Repeat steps 1-4

Important – Bend legs as low as you can.  Keep you back straight

Position 15 – Cover Knee and Stretch Leg

Begin with feet together

  1. Place both hands on knees
  2. Slowly bend both knees with good support from feet
  3. Place hands on the tops of the feet, raise hips as you straighten legs
  4. Slowly roll upper body up and let hands relax at your side.
  5. Repeat above one time

Important Note: Normal breath.  Try to keep hands on feet as you raise hips and straighten legs.  This will aid lower back and associated leg muscle tissues.

Position 16 – Cover Opposite Knee,

Alternately Raise Arm

Take a big step to the left

  1. Cover left knee with the right hand, inhale
  2. Raise left arm forward and up over your head, palms up, simultaneously bending both knees, horse riding stance, exhale.
  3. Straighten legs and cover right knee with left hand, hands now on opposite knees, inhale.
  4. Raise right arm forward and up over your head, palms up, simultaneously bending both knees, horse riding stance, exhale.
  5. Straighten legs and cover left knee with right hand, hands now on opposite knees, inhale.
  6. Raise left arm forward and up over your head, palms up, simultaneously bending both knees, horse riding stance, exhale.
  7. Straighten legs and cover right knee with left hand, hands now on opposite knees, inhale.
  8. Raise right arm forward and up over your head, palms up, simultaneously bending both knees, horse riding stance, exhale.

Important – Breathe evenly.  When in horse stance, keep your back straight.

Position 17 – Arm Raise and Knee Hug

Begin with feet together.

  1. Slowly step forward with left foot, putting weight on left foot.  Raise arms above head with arms straight, palms inward, inhale.
  2. Separate arms to side, lift up right knee with both hands as high as you can, exhale.
  3. Step back with right foot and raise arms up again with palms inward, arms straight, weight on left foot.
  4. Circle arms down to your side and step back with left foot.
  5. Slowly step forward with right foot, putting weight on right foot.  Raise arms above head with arms straight, palms inward, inhale.
  6. Separate arms to side, lift up left knee with both hands as high as you can, exhale.
  7. Step back with left foot and raise arms up again with palms inward, arms straight, weight on right foot.
  8. Circle arms down to your side and step back with right foot.

Important Note: Stretch Arms as high as you can.  Breathe deeply, hug your knees as close to your chest as you can.

Position 18 – Slow Walking Forward / Backward

Begin with feet together, place hands on waist and relax shoulders.

  1. Step forward with left foot, lift right heel, weight on left foot.
  2. Shift weight back to right foot (sit back, bend right knee), lift toe up, heel down.
  3.   Step forward with right foot and put weight on right, left heel up
  4. Shift weight to left foot (sit back, bending left knee), right toe up and heel down.
  5. Shift weight to right foot with both legs straight, left heel up.
  6. Again shift weight to left (sit back) and right toe up.
  7. Step back with right foot.
  8. Step back with left foot, bringing feet together.  Repeat above with opposite foot movement.

Important Note: Walk slowly.  When shifting weight, put full weight on one side then the other, keeping back straight.  When stepping back, step with toes first, and the rest of the foot follows (toe, ball of the foot, heel)         

Qigong For The Back

This is the second installment on the series of blogs dedicated to Therapeutic Qigong.  Practicing Qigong and Taiji promotes balance and wellness.  Each part of this series addresses a specific region of the body.  36 movements make up the complete series of Therapeutic Qigong.

Balance of our being is the result of proper nutrition, physical activity, and nurturing of the spirit.  Aside from implementing dietary practices for our physical well being, Qigong provides many levels of sustenance for the body and spirit.  Physically, range of motion and agility can be improved through the daily implementation of movement.  Spiritually, Qigong provides forms of moving meditation feeding the internal just as food provides the needed nutrition for our bodies to function.

B&W Qigong As we execute Qigong movements Four Elements of Qigong require our focus: Body – Breath – Sound – Mind.  Three of the four apply to the 36 movements of Therapeutic Qigong; body, breath, and mind.  Sound, although very important because they address organs as well through Medical Qigong, won’t be included in these movements.  I will address those in another future blog post.  Body training speaks for itself and moves below the surface into to organs, tissues, and circulation.  Improving balance, proper methods of standing, sitting, and even meditation involve the body.  The Breath, also vital, helps retrain our habits of breathing.  It’s been said if you want to know how to breathe, watch a baby breathe while they nap.  They engage their entire lungs and diaphragm, something our fast-paced world caused us to forget.  When we were much younger and unencumbered, we focused on the elements vital to our being. The slow movements of Qigong guide us back to caring for those vital elements.  It encourages slower and deeper breathing, engaging more of our lungs and diaphragm thus reducing stress along with its many negative affects.  Slow movements allow our Minds to integrate more with our bodies.  More oxygen moves through the body and thus more oxygen in the blood stream and on to other parts of the body.  Through our attention to proper breathing, scattered thoughts of the mind reduce and the bodily movements become more fluid, less encumbered. With this proper attention to the Body, Breath, and the Mind, Qi flows naturally with less restriction and balance is encouraged within our being.Qigong washing

Remember, any physical activity should be approached to work within your own abilities and limitations. If you cannot get the full range of motion at first, make it a goal and go as far as you can. If you have any health issues, concerns, or limited mobility consult with your doctor first before exerting yourself more than you should.  The practice of Qigong has been known to improve overall health for those with High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, and Arthritis, among many other ailments.  It’s also effective for all ages and can compliment other sports activities such as Martial Arts, Weight Training, Running, and Aerobic Exercises to name a few.

The second series of six detailed in this blog address the back to help relieve various back problems including chronic issues related to back injuries, contusions, arthritis of the spine, soft tissue degeneration, disc problems, and muscle spasms relating to the back.

If you have questions, you may direct them to me through either this blog or through my websitehttp://www.eastwesthealingarts.org.  If you live in the Portland, Maine area, you’re invited to join in for not only Qigong classes, but also Taiji at the Maine Center for Taijiquan & Qigong.  The link is added here http://www.mainetaiji.com/, so you may visit the website for the class schedule and details on our studio.

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Therapeutic Qi Gong

Position 7 – Holding Sky and Side Swing

  1. Begin with feet shoulder width apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.Interlock fingers in front of your body, inhale, raise hands up above your head as high as you can.  Arms straight.  Palms up.
  2. Exhale while you slowly bend your upper body to the left then return upright.
  3. Repeat step 2 with an inhale before bending to the left.
  4. Exhale while separating hands to side and down, eyes follow left.
  5. Repeat step 1.
  6. Exhale while you slowly been your upper body to the right then return upright.
  7. Repeat step 6 with an inhale before bending to the right.
  8. Exhale while separating hands to side and down, eyes follow right.

Important – Arms straight when fingers are interlocked above your head.  Keep hips still.  Do not swing upper body too fast.  Breathe evenly.  Keep weight in your center.

Position 8 – Tea Pot Push

Begin with feet shoulder width apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.  Put fists on waist with palms up.  Take deep breath.

  1. Exhale and slowly turn your body to the left pushing right palm forward, left hand remains on waist like a “tea pot” shape.  Focus energy in the center of the right palm (Laogong Cavity {P-8}).
  2. Inhale and turn body back to center, bring right hand back to waist (in fist position palm up).
  3. Exhale and slowly turn your body to the right pushing left palm forward, right hand remains on waist.  Focus energy in the center of the left palm (Laogong Cavity {P-8}).
  4. Inhale and turn body back to center, bring left hand back to waist (in fist position palm up).
  5. Repeat above movements 1-4 once.

Important: Keep back straight when turning your waist, push hand with internal energy, exhale as you push, all your negative energy is going out through the exhale and your palm.  Inhale when you bring hand back, bringing back good energy.

Position 9 – Hip Rotation

Begin with feet shoulder width apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.  Place hands on hips.

  1. Slowly circle hips clockwise; left, forward, right, and back 4 times.
  2. Slowly circle hips counter-clockwise; right, forward, left, and back, 4 times 

Important: Legs and back are kept straight.  Breathe evenly

Position 10 – Arm Raise Fly Down

Step to left, with feet shoulder width and 1/2 apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.    

  1. Inhale and overlap, slowly raising hands up above the head with arms straight.
  2. Exhale and separate hands, until arms are straight on both sides at the shoulder level, palms up, eyes follow left.
  3. Slowly bend forward until body is at 90 degree angle to the legs, (arms are still outstretched to the sides). 
  4. Slowly bend more and move hands down, overlap hands.
  5. Keeping arms next to your ears, inhale and raise the body, arms and hands above the head.
  6. Exhale and separate hands, with arms straight at shoulder level and palms up, eyes follow right.
  7. Slowly bend forward until body is at 90 degree angle to the legs.  Move arms down and relax hands.
  8. Slowly roll up the upper body one vertebrae at a time.  Arms and hands are held loosely at your sides.

Important – Keep back straight at step 5.  Arms straight at steps 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7

Position 11

Lunge Position and Stretching to Side 

  1. Exhale, stepping to the left, turn to left bending left knee, and move right hand fingers straight, to left left on waist.  Right leg straight.
  2. Inhale, turn your body back to center, shift weight to center, legs straight, fists on waist.
  3. Exhale, turn your body to the right.  Bend your right leg and stretch left hand straight out to right. 
  4. Inhale, turn your body back to center position with legs straight, fists on waist, and weight on center
  5. Repeat 1, 2, and 3 above 
  6. Bring left foot back to center.

Important – When in the lunge position, remember to stretch hip to the maximum, keeping arms and back straight.  Breathe evenly.  Breathe out as you stretch out.  Breathe in as you shift your weight to center.

Position 12 – Reach Feet

Begin with Feet together

  1. Inhale, interlock fingers in front of the body and raise hands up above your head, palms facing upward, and arms straight
  2. Exhale slowly bending forward , them downward, as close to your feet as you can, arms straight all the way down.
  3. Release hands, and roll up to starting position with your body relaxed.
  4. Repeat 1-3 above

Important – Keep upper back straight when you are bending forward at step 2.  Upper body and arms move together.

Qigong For The Upper Body

This will begin a series of blogs dedicated to Therapeutic Qigong and its practice to promote balance and wellness in the daily life.  Each blog in the series will address a specific region of the body.  There are 36 movements in the form I’ll be sharing.

4331281288_f8405600cdThrough the centuries Qigong has been taught in many various forms.  Some say there are hundreds if not thousands of different movements and styles, but their common thread holds to the Nurturing of Qi, the energy that flows and embraces the life force of every living creature and substance.  The disruption of that Qi through stagnation or excess results in imbalance and ultimately ill-health.  Qigong helps to restore balance through moving Qi throughout the body by a series of movements that specifically target various parts of the body.  Learning basic movements associated with each region of the body will help address either those specific regions or the whole body to maintain wellness and balance.

As with any physical activity, work within your own abilities and limitations. If you cannot get the full range of motion at first, make it a goal and go as far as you can. If you have any health issues, concerns, or limited mobility consult with your doctor first before exerting yourself more than you should.  The practice of Qigong has been known to improve overall health for those with High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, and Arthritis, among many other ailments.  It’s also effective for all ages and can compliment other sports activities such as Martial Arts, Weight Training, Running, and Aerobic Exercises to name a few. QiGong 2

The first six detailed in this blog address the upper body including the neck, arms, chest, upper back, and shoulders. They support these regions to relieve various concerns like neck and shoulder stiffness and pain – ligament and other soft tissue degeneration – bursitis – tendonitis – rotator cuff discomfort – headache relief – stiff or painful upper back – frozen shoulder – pre and post surgical therapy for these zones – limited range of motion for any of these areas.

If you have questions, you may direct them to me through either this blog or through my website http://www.eastwesthealingarts.org.  If you live in the Portland, Maine area, you’re invited to join in for not only Qigong classes, but also Taiji at the Maine Center for Taijiquan & Qigong.  The link is added here, so you may visit the website for the class schedule and details on our studio.

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Therapeutic Qi Gong

Position 1 – Slow Neck Motion

Begin with feet together.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Step slowly to the left equal weight on both legs.  The distance between the feet should be shoulder width.  Place both hands on waist, shoulders relaxed.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.

  1. Slowly turn head to left and inhale slowly while turning head.
  2. Exhale while turning head back to center
  3. Slowly turn head to right and inhale slowly while turning head.
  4. Exhale while turning head back to center
  5. Tilt head backward and inhale slowly while tilting head
  6. Exhale while moving head back to center
  7. Tilt head downward toward chest and inhale slowly while tilting head
  8. Exhale while moving head back to center

Important – If you have neck problems, you should repeat every day for eight cycles.  Stretch as far as you can, but do not over extend.  Work within your limits.  Keep your head straight while performing this movement.

Position 2 – Horizontal Arm Stretch

Begin with feet together.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Step slowly to the left equal weight on both legs.  The distance between the feet should be shoulder width.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.  Lift arms up in front of you in a slightly elbow bent position at chest level.  Bring index finger and thumb of each hand close enough together to form almost a circle.  Hands should be placed in front as though you are pushing something away from you.

  1. Stretch arms to the side as far as you can, elbows pointing 45 degrees downward (hands moving into a relaxed fist as you stretch), eyes and head turn and follow to left when moving arms.  Inhale as you stretch
  2. Slowly open hands as you bring hands back to front while exhaling, eyes following back to center. 
  3. Repeat above except with eyes following to the right when stretching arms to the side.

Perform this movement four (4) times for one (1) set. 

Important – Remember to stretch arms as wide as possible, and breathe deeply.  Inhale as you stretch, exhale as you move hands back.

Position 3 – Vertical Arm Stretch

Begin with feet shoulder width apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.  Bend both arms with fists up, elbows pointed down, and shoulders relaxed.

  1. Take a deep breath and slowly raise hands up, palms facing forward, eyes following the left hand up.
  2. Breathe out and slowly move hands down with fists up, and facing forward.  Eyes follow the right hand down.
  3. Take a deep breath and slowly raise hands again, palms facing forward, eyes following the right hand up.
  4. Breathe out and slowly move hands down with fists up, and facing forward.  Eyes follow the left hand down.
  5. Repeat above movements two more times. 

Important – Raise hands up as high as you can, with arms straight, breathing deeply and slowly, breathe in as you raise your hands, breathe out as you lower your hands.

Position 4 – Rotational Arm Stretching

Begin with feet shoulder width apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed.  Overlap hands in front of you.   

  1. With arms straight, slowly raise hands until overhead.  As you raise your hands, deep breath inhale and eyes follow hands upward.
  2. Separate your hands.  Slowly move hands down along the side of your body with straight arms, eyes following left hand as arms go down.
  3. Again, overlap hands in front of you and slowly raise hands until overhead.  As you raise your hands, deep breath inhale and eyes follow hands upward.
  4. Separate your hands.  Slowly move hands down along the side of your body with straight arms, eyes following right hand as arms go down.
  5. Repeat items 1-5. 

Important – Straighten and stretch arms as far as you can and breathe deeply

Position 5 – Angel Wings Shoulder Rotation

Begin with feet together.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Step slowly to the left equal weight on both legs.  The distance between the feet should be shoulder width.   Unlock all joints.  Knees and shoulders relaxed. Place both hands behind buttock area, with palms facing inward, but not touching the body.

  1. Inhale while slowly raising shoulders and hands along the spine, lifting shoulders as high as you can, eyes following left side.
  2. Exhale and slowly move hands to front of the body, relax shoulders and press palms downward.
  3. Inhale while slowly raising shoulders and hands along the spine, lifting shoulders as high as you can, eyes following right side.
  4. Exhale and slowly move hands to front of the body, relax shoulders and press palms downward.
  5. Repeat above steps twice for a total of four (4) rotations

Important – Maximum breath in and out, maximum shoulder movement.

Position 6 – Arm Back Stretch

Begin with feet shoulder width apart.  Breathe evenly through the body.  Unlock all joints.  Put right hand on lower back with palm facing out.

  1. Inhale.  Slowly raise left hand up from left side until above the head with arm straight and palm facing up.  Follow the left hand with your eyes.
  2. Exhale.  Slowly move left arm down behind lower back placing left hand above the right hand, palm side out.
  3. Inhale.  Slowly raise right hand up from right side until above the head with arm straight and palm facing up.  Follow the right hand with your eyes.
  4. Exhale.  Slowly move right arm down behind lower back placing right hand above the left hand, palm side out.
  5. Repeat above movements 1-4

Important – Breathe deeply and keep your back straight

Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/4331281288″>Garden of Peace</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

This Spring – Take a Natural Break

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Natural Path

We who live in the North Country can honestly say we “survived” the last winter.  Records for snow accumulation and low temperatures were broken.  Now that spring is finally beginning to reveal itself, many of us find ourselves going outside to dig into and work with dirt in various ways while taking a natural break.  There are so many benefits from connecting with the outside natural world.

Have you ever noticed how refreshed you feel after being outside and working with the earth?  How about walking around in a nearby preserve to witness new growth in the surrounding flora?  It’s so refreshing.  There’s actually evidence that identifies positive results from connecting with nature.

In an article published by the American Society of Landscape Architects written by Jared Green, Green identified research that shows taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on “tasks calling for sustained focus.” “Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.” The same article goes on pointing out a fact, Dr. Marc Berman and fellow researchers at the University of Michigan found that “performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20 percent after study subjects paused for a walk through an arboretum. When these people were sent on a break to stroll down a busy street in town, no cognitive boost was detected.”

As a massage therapist, I see many cases of injuries caused from repetitive motion, no matter how insignificant the action may be, including moving a computer mouse or texting on a smart phone, not to mention repetitive heavy labor or work outs.  What’s fascinating is repetitive activities in the office place can also create other forms of stress.  Jared Green cited Michael Posner, professor emeritus at University of Oregon who studies attention, saying that our brains get fatigued after working for long periods of time, “particularly if we have to concentrate intensely or deal with a repetitive task.” Taking a break may or may not help deal with stress during high-pressure times. What’s crucial is the type of break taken: According to The Wall Street Journal, taking a stroll in the park “could do wonders” while drinking lots of coffee will just be further depleting.

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Community Vegetable Garden

A 2008 article on “Gardening as a therapeutic intervention in mental health” in Nursing Times, originally written as a study by Matthew Page, MSc, unveiled the positive results found from gardening.  For example, “quantitative studies have found a significant reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety following gardening-based interventions. Qualitative studies have provided insight into service users’ experiences of gardening-based interventions, with a range of potential benefits highlighted, including enhanced emotional wellbeing, improved social functioning, improved physical health and opportunities for vocational development.”

How can some of these examples be implemented into our lives?  The answers and solutions are quite simple when you think of them.

Have lunch in a natural setting.  Take your lunch in a natural setting wether brown bagged or purchased as a take out.  There are probably more “green areas” than you realize that are much closer to work than you think.

Create a raised bed garden.  Creating a raised bed garden accomplishes so much.  You get to connect with the earth!  You can raise your own veggies.  There’s nothing quite like the faste of food from your own garden.  Connect with family members too by making it a family project.

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Enjoy Nature!

Take the dog for a walk in a park or preserve.  Preserves are popping up nearly everywhere these days, so find one nearby and walk Fido there.  Make sure to take a small plastic bag with you too by the way.  You get exercise outside along with your K-9 companion.  You may even find some new places for the future to relax on your own.

Spend time with your yard, roof top garden, or community garden.  Opportunities to get outside are limitless when you explore the possibilities.  Have you noticed?  Gardens are cropping up everywhere – from prison yards to retirement and veteran homes.  Even apartment dwellers now have alternatives for getting their hands in the dirt through indoor gardening with decorative plants and even growing vegetables.  Raking leaves in your yard takes on a different meaning when it’s viewed as personal time and a way to reduce stress.  Regardless of your own circumstances, get outside!

Taking a walk in a natural setting or gardening as examples of connecting with nature can really  enhance our lives.  It reduces stress, provides exercise, reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and enhances our over all well-being.  So, take a natural break whenever you can for yourself.  Consider it a spring time gift to you!

Natural Path – photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/51866462@N07/8954971567″></a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Community Vegetable Garden – photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/42647587@N06/3935703108″>Stars Complex Urban Garden</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Enjoy Nature – photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/32008328@N08/4095380295″>HAWAII NOV-09129</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Listening to the Still Small Voice

inner thoughtThat still small voice, the spirits, inner vision, gut feeling, sixth sense, or hunch told me to do it.  Regardless of how we refer to this phenomena, it can benefit us in so many ways.  Nurture it!

Over the years of my association with Naive American elders and teachers, I learned these feelings or voices can take on different meanings.  Allow me to explain.  Sometimes directions can be quite clear to do this or that and circumstances, people, or nature may confirm the feelings within to be true.  These directions, once followed, may affirm that we did the right thing.  The words, voices, or senses usually provide direction, teaching, or warnings to the person.  The feelings and voices I speak of will not, however, instruct the person to cause harm to themselves, others, or any living thing.  Often, that feeling, usually emanating from the our solar plexus, simply confirms what we did to be “right”.  Then there are instances when these feelings may be just tests to see if we are listening to the inner guidance as we should.  At times, we may not even know if we averted a negative experience or mortal danger, to which I would say, does it really matter as long as we keep listening and walk aware of our surroundings?      

A July 2014 article of the Stanford Report referenced research conducted by Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann citing some interesting results of a study.  This report explained that “voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful.”  The study addressed people who suffer from schizophrenia in the United States, India, and Africa.  Allow me to emphasize, throughout the article most Americans experienced negative voice hearing experiences while those from Africa and India experience the voices in a completely different manner.  Those in Africa and India often hear the voices of their relatives or ones where they have engendered relationships with those voices.  Those hearing the voices from those sources of established relationships, as well as relatives who have crossed over were positive.

I experienced similar positive events over the years and noticed when I am most focused on other day to day events, the “voices” are virtually silent because other activities drown them out.  As I referenced earlier, the voices I hear, never suggest or imply anything that would potentially harm myself or others. In fact they usually encourage, teach, and uplift me.  They also keep my inner child in line! 

For example, I recently experienced just such a phenomena.  I had simply planned to go see a movie.  No big deal, I don’t go to the theatre as much as I used to, but one had come out that caught my interest.  I was all set to head out when I couldn’t find my keys.  After several minutes of searching, I gave myself a goal that if hadn’t found them by a certain time, I would just give up on the plan.  Five minutes before that set time, there they were.  I found them, but then the gut feeling, the solar plexus squeeze came into play indicating I shouldn’t go.  That’s when the internal dialogue commenced, “Well, I don’t need to go.” Almost immediately came the childlike side’s reply, “But you found them within the allotted time!”  I thought for a second.  Well, that is true.  I did find them in the prescribed time frame.  So, off I went to the movies!  Yay!  The opposing side, from a voice I established a reaction with years ago, very specifically stated, “You don’t need to and should not go.”  Oh boy, I haven’t heard that voice with the associated sense of guidance in a while.  The dialogue continued for the next several minutes as I continued on toward the theatre.  The uneasy turmoil also continued in my solar plexus during the debate.

Finally, the guiding voice won, and immediately, my solar plexus relaxed.  I ran an errand while out.  On the way back, curiosity kicked in and I wondered if I had done the right thing.  A hawk flew in front of my car which, for me, was a clear indicator that I had made the right choice.  What’s hawk got to do with this story you ask?  Hawk in FlightI developed a close relationship with hawks.  I learned through this relationship with hawks and the natural world around me, that when circumstances demanded my attention, hawks would come across my path.  When they did, their presence either indicated I needed to pay attention or I had made a proper choice in a given set of choices.  How would I know?  Timing was the indicator.  When I made the decision, they would present themselves within moments of my query, such was the case this day.

It’s important to listen to the facts, to weigh the evidence, and make decisions based on sound reasoning and logic, but sometimes you just need to go with your gut feeling.  The gut decision may or may not involve hearing voices, seeing hawks fly in front of your car, or having someone say just the right thing at just the right time.  Being mindful, is just that, to be filled with awareness, not allowing everyday physical events overshadow the unseen or unheard voices of the soul that can prompt and guide our spirits on toward a life in balance.   It all comes down to this, walking aware.  Walk in such a way that you are aware of not only each element in your physical environment, but also the non-physical world around you as well.  So, walk aware, feel the gut, reconnect with the inner self, and listen to the still small voices.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/128431605@N05/15461639695″>Self in Presence</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/74542540@N00/8236454536″>Hawk overhead</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Tales for the Journey – The Calling Crows

Crow1

Photo 1 By Roger Bunting

The American Crow may be found throughout North America.  They can be found cawing their hearts out from California to the Carolinas and Maine to Florida year round while it’s not unusual to find them in most of Canada during the summer.  These very intelligent birds are common sights perched in both bare and foliage filled treetops, gathered in fields, and wandering roadsides.  They can outwit most birds, animals, and even many of us humans.  It adapts to its environment.  They aren’t particular at all about their habitats ranging from empty beach-sides and open woods to the center of towns and local neighborhoods.  They’ll consume most anything as ground feeders especially earthworms, small animals, insects, seeds, fruit, plus garbage, carrion, and even some chicks they rob from other nesting birds.

Crow4

Photo 2 By Hornet Photography

In the winter months of Maine, there aren’t many species of birds that tough out the winters.  Crows, among a few others, do.  As I walk a nearby nature trail, I see and hear them as they make their daily rounds wether perched, wandering, or on the wing in their methodical flapping with very little gliding.  They always seem to be up to something.  Their activities don’t appear haphazard, but rather calculated or coordinated  with a planned creative purpose.

Though the typical “caw” identifies that bird as a crow, I’ve noticed slight differences between the cawing voices of northern versus southern crows.  One seems quite magical while the other seems static.  One is multidimensional… the other myopic, but it’s still a familiar “caw” that catches your ear.  They actually do have a language that sounds… magical.

It’s a privilege to hear all our winged friends talking to each other as the day begins.  The deep blackness of the crow ushers in the brightness of the new day almost like its caws give birth to the new day.  Native American elders have shared that the conversations of birds are very complex.  Crows (along with many other birds) greet the new day and tell the other “winged ones” and forest inhabitants the news throughout the day.  To the animal kingdom, they’re the original morning news team without the necessity of television, radio, or print.  Their watchfulness tells every creature about their discoveries, current events, where some of the other inhabitants, including predators, may be, locations for the best food for the day, or simply telling everyone, “Wake up. Wake up it’s time to greet the beauty of the new day”.

Watching crows will show them as very organized.  They post sentinels to keep a watchful eye over the area.  Nesting high in the treetops is common for a good view over where they feed and live.  They communicate with each other to work together.  Like many animals, crows have been known to predict tornadoes, rain, and other weather patterns by the way they fly.  They help all those around them in addition to those closest to them.  They really are quite magical in deed.

Cultures throughout the world teach that people should look at the natural life around them because it will help teach life lessons in order to live better lives.  The longer we listen and the more time we devote to listen and observe, the more often truths are recognized and their language can be understood by us, who are also part of that same creation.

Crow2

Photo 3 By Donald Portlandia

What can be learned from crow?  Though a great deal may be learned from the stories and legends of crow’s wonder, uniqueness, and even magic from Greek and Roman mythology to the ancestral words of the Native Americans, there are few basic truths that may help us in our daily lives for today.  Crows have been associated with creation and solitude in various cultures of the world.  Typically they not only symbolize creation, but spiritual strength as well.  Illustrating these various qualities they encourage us, “caw” to us, to maintain that same creative awareness and spirit that embraces our being, never losing sight of the magic that surrounds our life while maintaining our spiritual strength gained through our solitude.  Think on these qualities the next time you see or hear a crow “caw”.

Frankincense and Myrrh For Today

I dedicate the following to my good friend and teacher Miles Coleman of Black Belt Herbs.  He recently wrote of the following, prompting this blog entry.  Thanks Miles!

In the Christmas story, Three Wise Men offered gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  In honor of that, lets consider two of those gifts from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective: Frankincense (Pin Yin = Ru Xiang or Scientific term Boswellia serrata) on the left and Myrrh (Pin Yin = Mo Yao or Scientific term Commiphora Molmol).

Frankincense Resin

Frankincense Resin

Frankincense is also called olibanum for the tree it comes from, an aromatic substance which is used by burning as an incense and an ingredient in perfumes.  Oil may also be extracted from the gum or resin of the tree.  The medicinal uses vary, including that of an antiseptic, astringent, carminative, digestive, disinfectant, diuretic, emenagogue, expectorant, sedative, and tonic. 

Myrrh Resin

Myrrh Resin

Myrrh also has many medicinal qualities like joint support for  arthritis, digestive disorders, respiratory infections, painful menstruation, sore throats, asthma, coughs, and bad breath. As a topical, myrrh has been used to treat muscular pains, ulcers, sores, wounds, and bacterial and fungal skin infections to name a few.  The resin is harvested by cutting through the outer bark of a tree species Commiphora myrrha, often found in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.

In TCM, resins are often used to treat wind cold damp or bi syndromes tor pain syndromes resulting from blockage of Qi and Blood or “Stagnation”.  ”Evils” are often present as well.  These two are always used together to create a “dui yao” or combination with mutually supporting and synergetic affects!  Traditional Chinese Medicine finds this combination in virtually every bi or da ke (hit medicine) formula.  Together, Frankincense and Myrrh move Stagnant Blood, Stagnant Qi, and dispel Wind Damp. In addition, they both are powerfully antiseptic and can regenerate flesh. In ancient times, when infection was a real killer, herbs like this were worth there weight in gold.  Hence their value in all cultures was indeed royal and fit gifts for a King! Moreover, Mo Yao in Chinese translates as MEDICINE!   It is said in TCM that the 5 stagnations are the mother of all disease, having herbs that handle 3 of the five is indeed… priceless, a truly valuable gift! 

Frankincense and Myrrh, royal and highly treasured gifts both then and for today!