(Joints and Qigong – 2)
In the previous post you can read about basic anatomical aspects regarding joints and find some suggestions how to prevent joint problems in general.
Today I will discuss about the importance of well-conditioned joints in Qigong, about phases of this process and I will give you some tips for effective practice.
It is always better to prevent than to cure.
The information in this post is meant for Qigong practitioners, especially beginners and also for others people whose joints are still relatively healthy but are weak and not flexible. And they would like to improve the state of their joints. It is always better to prevent than to cure.
Serious joint issues require help of an expert
In this post I’m not addressing the cases of injured joints, joints which are already physically damaged or deteriorated, acute or chronic joint pain, joint inflammations, “degenerative joint diseases”. All these cases require different approach and need special treatments. Please consult a medical doctor or alternative medicine expert in this field which can help you in your specific case and lead you through the process of healing and rebuilding of your joints.
Why is in Qigong important that your joints are well-conditioned?
The short and simple answer would be that flexible, loose, opened and strong joints allow your body to relax and Qi can flow smoothly throughout your body. They play an important role in feeling, developing and using the whole body connectedness which is emphasized in Qigong and in internal martial arts.
If your joints are weak, stiff and rigid, your posture and movements can’t be relaxed and all these tensions prevent the smooth flow of Qi.
There are also numerous energy gates located at joints, more precisely in the space between the bones of joints. The theory of Muscle/Tendon Changing (Yi Jin Jing) and Brain/Marrow Washing Qigong (Xi Sui Jing) explains that the Qi enters the bone marrow through the joint areas. When the “space” between bones of joint is obtained, the Qi is able to flow smoothly.
Joints and Qigong practice
Qigong practitioners with different backgrounds
People who start to practice Qigong have very different backgrounds. Those who are involved in some of internal martial arts usually have already conditioned their joints through their training. For them is usually enough to do warm up and stretching exercises which are usually (or should be) preparation for Qigong moving exercises or form and also for practice of Zhan Zhuang, Nei Gong, Taijiquan…. Their purpose is to prepare your body, including joints, for the further practice.
Spend some extra time at the beginning
But if this is not your case and you want to improve the condition of your joints you have to spend some extra time working with most weak parts of your body, at least at the beginning. After you’ve conditioned your joints you will be in the position that with a regular Qigong warm up and stretching exercises at the beginning of your training you could maintain your joints healthy.
Conditioned joints will improve all kind of your practice mentioned above and vice versa, all these practices will maintain and improve the condition of your relaxed, flexible and strong joints.
Support the weak parts
When you start practicing Qigong you will start to observe your body more carefully and probably you will notice that some of your joints are weaker. Don’t try to work with all these joints at once. Be patient and start to work with one or maybe two different joints. For example you start with ankles and be focused on them as long as it takes to improve their condition.
Be patient and persistent
I would like to stress that this is not happening in a few days or in a week or two. In Qigong you would often get instruction that you should do something at least for 100 days (or 3 months) to see results. To improve some more difficult conditions it takes even half year or more. But I insure you that you will see improvements and changes already on the way there.
If you would like to improve the condition of your joints you have to proceed gently and slowly. If not you can injure yourself or do even more damage to your joints. So, try to be patient and persistent.
During the practice avoid joint pain
It is important that during the practice you pay attention to any pain in the joint or around the joint. In order to eliminate the pain you have to reduce the range of motion or sometimes change posture or correct your alignment. Learn to listen to your body.
Pain can mean that you are overstretching tendons and ligaments, connective tissues. If you do some heavier exercises (or when lifting something heavy), pain can also mean that you are compressing the joint surfaces. This is pretty dangerous as it can seriously damage the cartilage of your joints or its supportive tissues!
The process of conditioning joints in Qigong
For better understanding of the process of conditioning joints I have divided it in this three phases described below. But this is not something rigid. You will realize soon that Qigong exercises usually cover more than one of this areas:
Increase the circulation of Qi in joints
The first step to improve joints is to increase the circulation of Qi in the joint. You start doing gentle warm up exercises to make joints more relaxed and flexible and to strengthen the joint ligaments. In this process you should learn how to relax and avoid muscle/tendon tension and stress in the joint area.
There are many Qigong exercises designed for these purpose and they include joint bending, rotations, circling, gentle stretches and also Qigong massage. Some can be done also in a sitting position.
These are exercises where you don’t engage your weight heavily and so you are not causing too much pressure on your joints.
Use your Mind and Breathing to lead the Qi
While doing these gentle movements your mind and also your breathing have to be calm and relaxed. It is important to use your wisdom mind (Yi) to lead the Qi in coordination with breathing in the specific area (joints) to stimulate smooth circulation of energy. When you inhale lead your Qi inside the joints. Feel what happens inside the body, inside the joints.
The use of Qigong self-massage
In this stage it is also very useful to gently massage the area of the joint (for example the knee…) as this additionally improves circulation of Qi and blood in this area. During the practice try to be present, aware of what you are doing. Start to develop sensibility for your body tissues and energy. It you are not familiar with anatomy it would be useful to use some anatomy atlas to see the internal structure of the joint you are working with. This will enable your Yi (wisdom mind) to connect easier with the particular structure.
For a Qigong practitioner it is also useful to learn how to apply acupressure technique (i.e. cavity press) to some acupuncture points which are related to specific areas. These techniques enable you, especially when accompanied with your calm and focused mind, to access to deeper structures. You can use them to regulate Qi circulation in the joints or remove Qi and blood stagnation.
Increase tendons, ligaments and muscles strength
When you feel that your joints are more relaxed and your joints mobility is increased you can proceed to the next step and start to gradually emphasize the practice to strengthen ligaments, tendons and muscles of joints which are important for stability of joints and their movement.
Qigong is concerned with developing so called internal strength of tissues and skeleton. The focus of training is on strengthening the deep tendons and muscles around joints.
These exercises can include more demanding tendon stretches and exercises for opening joints. It is very important that you learn how keep your muscles relaxed and not contracted. Instead you learn how to generate movement using extension and lengthening of fascia (tendons, ligaments, soft tissue).
Again, while you are practicing correct breathing and use of your mind is important to release tensions and relax your body.
Maintain and improve joints health and overall well-being
After your joints are more flexible and stronger you can maintain them healthy with regular daily movement. Practising some form of moving Qigong (for example the long version of Five Animal Sports), Taiji Ball Qigong or Taijiquan form… are ideal. But don’t forget to include the warming up and stretching routine before any of these trainings.
All these practices improve also the circulation of Qi around the internal organs. Healthy internal organs are in fact the foundation for the health of all your tissues and therefore also for your joints and for overall well-being of your body.
Few tips for effective practice for joints
There are many qigong exercises for conditioning your joints, derived from different Qigong styles and external or internal martial arts. Your Qigong teacher will help you to choose some of them which are appropriate for your condition. If you don’t have a teacher, find some video course etc.
Here I’m giving you some tips for safe and effective joint practice:
- Keep your joints warm
When practicing choose place where you can avoid cold, cold wind, moisture and wind. Wear warm clothes.
Calm and relax
Before exercising you have first to calm down your mind and breathing and bring your body into a relaxed state. Softly focus your attention on your joints.
Start slowly, proceede gradually
When you start the exercise begin with gentle movements, leading your Qi using your mind. It is just if you were exploring where you are currently. Each day you are different and also your body’s capabilities change all the time. Sometimes only one reckless movement can cause you a strain and disable you to practice for a long time…
Then gradually start to increase the range of motion, strength… in accordance with your feeling.
You are the One who should feel when your joints are still relaxed and where are your limits. Don’t mimic blindly the movements, be present, aware and feel. Apply the usual 70 percent rule (you use 70 percent of your current capacity in whatever you do).
Consider your limits
Adjust the exercise to your current limits. Every exercise can be adapted to yourself; adjust the depth of stretch, the strength, the number of repetitions….
When you decide about the length, number of repetitions or intensity of your training also listen to your feeling or at least use the 70 percent rule.
It is better to practice daily only for few minutes as to do it occasionally and for a long time. The strength of joints must be built gradually and slowly.
May the Qi be with You!
Read also a previous blog: Joint conditioning and Qigong – Introduction
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