In principle we are all keen to ensure we are healthy and fit. We can’t escape the basic fundamentals of life;
- Consumption, food and drink.
- Stimulation and engagement, of body and mind.
New Year brings with it a throng of resolutions to rejuvenate our approach to life. We are innately aware of our basic needs but achieving them poses us all different challenges. The pressure to be beautiful, fit, healthy, lose weight, be happy, earn more money, be a good parent, partner etc are significant and can at best lead us to focus on a specific area of health at worst lead to a feeling of total disempowerment and depression.
When asked most people agree the important things in life are health and happiness. Our actions tend not to support this idea and, our pursuit of happiness is often at the cost of our health and as a result our happiness. It’s is a cycle that is all too often repeated. We lose sight of what is really important in pursuit of other aims and ambitions.
Individuals often ignore their context when deciding what changes they want to make or achieve. We are contextual beings, with busy lives finding right type of exercise presents a real challenge. All changes take time to implement, a change in lifestyle is an even greater challenge. Finding time for something new can push us over the edge, resulting in us abandoning our health drive all together. Knowing what type of activity is best for you is key to enhancing and sustaining your health and well being.
Exercise is an umbrella word for a myriad of activity. Chinese Health Arts recognise two main forms of exercise, ‘internal’ and ‘external’. Generally speaking external exercises comprising of high Tempo, cardio vascular exercise traditionally associated with gym and sports clubs, internal exercises constitute Qigong, Meditation, Tao Yin, Tai Chi, Bagua Zhang Taoist Yoga.
In Chinese martial arts circles there is a respected adage:
When you practice external exercise you must also practice internal exercise to create balance and increase your power.
Harmony and balance in all things is at the heart of Qigong. In deciding how best to achieve balance; all elements of your life and personality need to be to be at the heart of any decision you make. If you are able to look after yourself it better equips you to look after others.
We are often led to believe aerobic exercise is the answer to all our body and health requirements. I believe external exercise has many benefits and for some people it is an absolute must. However, there is a danger that for others external exercise further depletes their body’s energy levels, further limiting its ability to fend off illness and disease. The primary motivation for exercise should be to improve health and well being not to weaken us. Qigong and Taoist ‘Internal’ exercises develop and strengthen the body and mind, through movement, breath and intent leading to an increase in the strength and flow of energy, Qi.
Fitness does not always reflect health. There are lots of examples in sport where leading athletes suffer from ill health. Training to a peak for competition can weaken the immune system exposing the individual to illness and injury. Conversely there are people who claim to be healthy but are not fit, or are overweight. In my opinion health and basic fitness go hand in hand, it’s when people over emphasise any one element of health or fitness that imbalance results.
Traditional Chinese Medicine equates illness and disease to a blockage within the body preventing the smooth, healthy flow of energy, Qi. In a healthy body Qi circulates freely rejuvenating and sustaining the organs, respiratory, nervous, circulatory and glandular systems, nourishing muscles, tendons, ligaments to ensure we are both physically and mentally healthy. With this in mind internal exercises have been developed to support and strengthen the body against attack.
There are elements where this approach is akin to a traditional western approach to fitness and areas where the approach differs. Poor circulation is a common complaint. Many advocate ‘external’ exercise to increase heart rate and therefore circulation. There is a tangible logic to this approach, however, there are many examples where people have poor circulation and high heart rates. Partaking in ‘external’ exercise for such people places the heart under greater pressure and does not address the cause of the blockage. Increased strain mentally and physically often results in further problems. With this in mind it makes sense to consider another approach to addressing circulatory problems. Similarly this is relevant to people who lead very active or busy lives, to introduce external exercise into their regime before making their bodies healthy and strong enough to benefit from it is neither sustainable or beneficial.
Internal exercises, as practiced in Empowering Qigong, relax, nourish and rejuvenate the person, body and mind as a whole to help alleviate the specific and associated problems. Taking into account the energetic, physical and psychological condition of the individual and providing a frame work on which to build. A well structured internal exercises programme helps our body to deal with the daily pressures it encounters, but can also optimise recovery from specific illness or operations.
I had a client in his 50s who used the methods of Bagua Zhang Circle walking to help him recover from an operation. Advice from a senior medical consultant outlined a specific heart rate to facilitate recovery. Running and other cardiovascular activity pushed his heart rate too high and he found it difficult to keep his heart rate steady, whilst walking normally did not get his rate high enough. 10 mins circle walking 3 times a day helped him achieve optimum heart rate and facilitate his recovery and help improve his general well being.
Health and fitness will always be relevant to us. How best we achieve happiness may well inform both areas. Whether you choose internal or external exercise to help achieve your goals a proactive approach is a positive one. The most important thing is that you enjoy what you are doing. If there is no joy in what you do, change. Empower yourself to be happy and healthy.