The quiet superpower of yin

I’ve found myself sighing and quite possibly eye rolling as yet another podcast extolling the virtues of sleep slips into my feed. I mean seriously people, I’ve given up coffee and alcohol in the name of health (to help my ongoing concussion recovery) – now you want me to turn into even more of a nanna and sleep?!? Quite who do they expect to do the never ending laundry list of chores / work / life admin while I am snoozing away.

In my natural challenger style, I decided to give it go – to see if it was possible to work two jobs, raise two little people single handed, keep a spotless house and garden, pretend I have a social life and still sleep. It’s not unusual for me to sleep 4 -5 hours a night once everything else is taken care of, so for this challenge, I let myself sleep as long as my body wanted. It turns out I am a natural 9 hour sleeper, but 12 hours doesn’t go amiss.  Cue more eye rolling, of course I have never been one to make it easy on myself. Most people need 7 – 9 hours. So what happens if you consistently sleep 4 -5 hours instead of what your body craves? Well nothing pretty…

  • you are more likely to develop heart disease or stroke
  • your cancer risk increases
  • you can’t think
  • you forget stuff
  • your libido diminishes
  • you gain weight
  • your risk of diabetes increases
  • you are more accident prone
  • your skin suffers

Actually, getting enough sleep is the single best thing you can do for your health and wellbeing. It’s the superpower of yin energy. Without a strong generous amount of yin, our yang suffers. In the west our lifestyles are excessively yang – focussed on doing, action, achieving. We tend to struggle to balance this with the yin energy of quietly being, meditating, quiet reflection. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s said that you should never go to bed if you are too tired – you won’t have enough energy to have a good sleep. And if you don’t sleep well, you don’t have much energy to do all the things you want to do the next day.

Qigong is one way to bring some balance back. Unlike other meditation styles, Qigong is a moving meditation. First we warm up, activate and stretch the body,  we start to feel the flow of energy through our body. Then we move into slow long flowing moves which allow you to drop into a meditative state. It’s ideal if the thought of sitting still and clearing your mind sounds like some kind of torture. The simple mind hack of focussing on slowing down your body, moving with peaceful relaxation like a deep flowing river allows your mind to drop into a peaceful meditative state aligned with the ever moving universe around us.

So if you find yourself wired and tired – try this 5 – 10 minute routine before bed and notice how your quality of sleep improves.

Wave breathing

Place one hand on your belly, one hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply, filling up from your belly up to your ribs and chest. Exhale long, slowly, deeply from your chest, down through your ribs to your belly. Do this 5 – 10 times.

Spinal cord breathing - Bliss Calm QigongSpinal cord breathing

Start with your feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, bent arms by your head – arch your back, look up, breathe in. As you breath out, curl your spine forwards, tuck your tailbone under, chin comes to the chest, arms come together in front of you. Repeat long slow breaths alternating between arching and curling your back 5 – 10 times.

Water waves

Feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, tall spine. Gently twist your hips side to side, as you do this your arms naturally flow in behind and in front of you (hands face the earth), washing away the stress of the day.

Pulling down the heavens

With relaxed arms, breathe in as your arms come wide out to the side, palms up, lift arms above head. Breathe out as your arms float down your center line, palms to the earth, sending the energy to your belly area. Repeat 6 – 12 times.

It turn out that when I prioritised sleep I did in fact feel amazing, just as all the podcasts said I would. What they didn’t mention though was just how hard it is to let go of all the other “stuff” you “need” to do before your head hits the pillow. After another week of 4-5 hour sleeps trying to cram it all in, I can say with hand on heart, it’s no way to live. So if you are brave enough, unsubscribe from Netflix, step away from your phone, put on a pot of sleepy tea and settle in to the sweetest way to turn your life around, all for free.

Oh and if you are curious – here a few of podcasts on sleep that I’ve listened to recently on the topic…

Out of the dark comes the light and so it goes on…

Re-entering life after two weeks intense Qigong training in Santa Cruz has felt somewhat like standing on a train platform watching the train rush by, knowing I would need to jump on it at some point. It’s been a week since I floated back to to New ZealaEmily Drysdale from Bliss Calm Qigong in the Redwoods near Santa Cruz, Californiand on a Qi high, brimming with new techniques, new confidence and a new certificate – I am now an official Tier 2 Advanced Holden Qigong teacher (500 hours).

Eventually I did jump on the train of normal life. The speed, the rush felt like it was battering me, trying to squeeze all the calm out of me, insisting I do more, keep up and push harder. I felt all those old feelings of overwhelm bubble up to the surface, that I couldn’t keep up, it was all too much. And you know what, I couldn’t. And I didn’t. In the act of giving up, surrendering to failure / not being enough, support poured out of the most unlikely places – my 8 year old spontaneously started doing the dishes (I can’t tell you how miraculous this is!), my Mum’s dear friend sent me healing remedies, my darling friend drawing me out the house to the warmth and sunshine at the beach, and my boss created space for me at work to settle in.

Emily Drysdale and Lee Holden, certified Advanced Holden Qigong teacher

Spending time in Santa Cruz with Holden Qigong is always a transformative experience – last year it was all butterflies and rainbows, I swear I wouldn’t have thought twice if a unicorn trotted down the beach. This year it was a time of transformational change for me, which isn’t always comfortable or easy, but always more powerful. A close friend and teacher of mine passed while I was away, and I experienced first hand the accelerated process of grieving and moving through the emotions that Qigong allows. We went on to learn techniques that can only be described as a “giant existential loofah for your insides” – thoroughly cleansing and clearing, but not always the most comfortable experience as old emotions bubbled up and old tension and stress moved its way out of our bodies. I came face to face with the reality that I hadn’t tucked that stuff neatly away forever, not to be seen or heard of again. It was still in my body, forgotten but not gone, just waiting quietly for when I was ready to move it on and out.

Emily Drysdale from Bliss Calm Qigong on Santa Cruz Beach 2019

I am ever so grateful to the wonderful team who facilitated this growth experience – Lee Holden for making this whole experience possible, his unflappable ability to make me laugh even with tears of sorrow streaming down my face is something to aspire to. John Platt for his gentle wise words and bottomless depths of knowledge, his uncanny ability to pull the best out of everyone and to create space for all to be the best version of themselves. To Karen and Lee Holden (snr) for their beautiful loving kindness and many years of mind hacking expertise. To Sara Russell who has the gift getting to the nugget of an issue in no time flat, and standing beside you with grace and an enormous toolkit of practical techniques to pull from. Thank you all for being my teachers and support crew.

And finally this from the Tao te Ching…

He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm.

He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far.

He who tries to shine dims his own light.

He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.

He who has power over others can’t empower himself.

He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.

Treehugging for busy people

Training with Lee Holden in Santa Cruz last year, we went into the local redwood forests and learned a Qigong technique done in partnership with trees. I’ve never been a treehugger, not that I have anything against treehuggers, it’s just I am usually rushing and hustling and don’t make the time. So I am in the redwoods having a conversation with a 1,000 year old tree, you know what it says to me? Slow down. I would love to be telling you how transformative that message was and how I jumped right on it and listened. I think you might know where this is heading… It took me a few more months before I took concrete steps towards slowing down, sadly, not because the tree told me to. Life had started shouting so loudly at me, I thought I better not ignore it (I was in no mood for another knock on the head to learn my lesson).

I think of that tree almost daily now, how can I slow down more, how can I do less – better, how can I be more present. It can feel like a dance, a balancing act, as the pushy wood element part of my personality (element of action, doing more, crushing boundaries and creativity) clashes with my reflective water element side (element of power, flexibility and deep reflection). This can be a particular challenge as we move into spring. Spring is the season of the wood element. A time for new growth, strength, flexibility and resiliency.  It’s a time for action, dusting out the cobwebs from winter and getting cracking with new plans.

As I walk through the park and check in with my new tree friends each morning on my way to work, I am excited to see them bursting back into life. My mind wanders back to the wise message from the ancient redwood in Santa Cruz. At 1,000 years old it’s barely middle aged.  Did you know that trees literally talk to each other (it’s a frequency we can’t hear), they can feel, taste and smell, they have little brains at the end of their roots and are super social? They even have their own internet. But it’s made from fungi, not silicon.

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This tree is refusing to give up, growing a new trunk from its stump.

It matters if you are a good tree neighbour, if you are kind to your family and friends in the forest they look after you, even if you get chopped down. If you are a bit of a dick, though, you are outta luck, left to die. In the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben there’s a story of a 9,000 year old tree that has no trunk, it’s still alive though. Its root system is intact, and its neighbours continue to support and nourish the ancient tree.

You would expect that the tallest living things on the planet, the giant redwood trees, would have roots that stretch deep into the earth. Nope. 6 feet. That’s it. 6 feet deep, but they do stretch wide, hugging their neighbours and family in the forest around them, depending on each other to survive storms.

I am heading back to Santa Cruz this October to complete the Tier 2 Holden Qigong Teacher Training (500 hours). I might just try to find that wise redwood I spoke to last time and give it an update on how I am going – I will let you know what it says.

Here’s a short (free) spring routine, from my teacher Lee Holden. On the same page, you can also sign up for a 3 hour workshop which deep dives more into the philosophy of the wood element, spring, and the swimming dragon style of Qigong.

 

Qigong for calm kids

Imagine a world where you feel completely relaxed and at ease with yourself and inspired by the world around you. Sadly that’s not a reality for the skyrocketing number of kids who suffer from anxiety.

Childhood anxiety is a growing issue worldwide. It’s particularly challenging for sensitive kids growing up in the stress soup of post-earthquake Christchurch. So what causes anxiety and what can you do about it? In this video, brain researcher Nathan Wallis explores anxiety in kids, looking at why some kids even within the same family are resilient and others suffer from crippling anxiety.

Kids love feeling their energy come alive and respond really quickly to the simple yet powerful relaxation and balancing techniques used in Qigong. This can be really useful for anxious or sensitive children to cope in our stressful world.

Last year fourteen kids from the UK were invited to the European Health Qigong Games after practising Qigong for a year at school.

“Rheeya, 11, told Xinhua that she was lucky to be selected to join the Qigong club at school and she now likes practising it every day by herself at home.

“Because it’s very fun and it’s very slow. It’s a great thing to do. I want to learn lots more and become better at it,” she said.”

Interested in bringing the powerful calming practise of Qigong to your school either in the classroom or after school? Get in touch.

Winter, water, flow

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Frozen bones, steamy breath and frost covered everything was a gentle smack in the (numb) nose that winter has taken a firm hold over our lovely city. Shivering Matariki celebrations bring hope of a distant summer making it’s way back towards us. Strong low wintry suns are welcomed with grace and reverence for the luke-warmth they offer.

Winter is the season that corresponds to the water element in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is the most powerful, deep and flowing of the five elements. It is a time for internal reflection and deep work inside ourselves. It is a time for embracing the yin aspects of life – hibernation, relaxation, rejuvenation.

“Of all the elements, the sage should take water as his preceptor.

Water is yielding but all-conquering. Water extinguishes Fire,

Or finding itself likely to be defeater, escapes as steam and re-forms.

Water washes away Soft Earth, or when confronted by rocks, seeks a way around.

Water corrodes Iron till it crumbles to dust; it saturates the atmosphere

So that Wind dies. Water gives way to obstacles with deceptive humility.

For no power can prevent it following its destined course to the sea,

Water conquers by yielding; it never attacks but always wins the last battle.

The Sage who makes himself as Water is distinguished for his humility,

He embraces passivity, acts from nonaction and conquers the world.”

Tao Cheng – Eleventh century A.D.

What does this passage bring up for you? Where in your life can you add more yin, do less, nurture yourself more?

Breath and the art of not giving a f*%#

Have you ever been given the advice to “just breathe”?  I reckon it’s got to be the most unhelpful bit of helpful advice it’s possible to give in the heat of the moment. You are jolly lucky if you don’t end up second best when you dish that one out. Yet, I found myself doing just that this morning as my 7 year old spiraled into a tailspin of doom. I caught myself as I said it, and braced for impact. To her credit she let me off lightly with a rather compelling death stare, some stomps and carried on voicing her opinion on the indignity of having to do her own dishes.

What I saw was a child breathing very fast and shallow, shoulders by her ears, frontal cortex well and truly disengaged and clearly in the throws of a stressful situation. But what is stress? Why do some people handle situations with grace and ease and for others it’s tantrum worthy.  My Qigong teacher Lee Holden describes stress as the difference between the way things are, and the way you want them to be. It’s not a thing, it’s a perception of a thing. And we get to choose what our perception is. Yep, we get to choose if we pop on our favourite tunes and have a great time waiting in busy traffic, or whether we grind out teeth and get angry, tense and stressed in the same situation.

So back to breath. Breath really is the quickest and easiest way to switch from stress mode to relax mode. Our breath patterns are a really good indicator to our emotions and our stress levels. You can see this if you take some short, shallow and fast breaths. Notice how your shoulders feel. This breathing pattern actually physically tenses up your neck and shoulders, creating even more tension and stress. This is the stress breathing pattern. Chances are if you are in stress mode you really aren’t paying much attention at all to your breath and you don’t really care, but breathing this way often can lead to more serious health problems, so it’s a good one to be aware of.

Likewise when you are sad or crying, it has it’s own particular breathing pattern with a focus on the inhale, usually a breath hold and a reluctance to let go and release the out breath. When you are angry it’s all about the out breath, sighing, huffing and puffing. If you focus on inhaling when you are angry it can help clear the anger.

Deep long belly breathing has the effect of calming the nervous system. It allow the body to let go of tension and stress, to drop into the moment to become clear, centered and calm. Laughter is one of the best deep belly breathing exercises there is, it creates a flood of good chemistry through the body.

Consciously practising deep abdominal breathing can have huge health benefits:

Improves digestion
Deep breathing gives your digestive system a massage, improving your overall digestion. When you are stressed out, in fight or flight mode your digestive system shuts off so the body can focus on more immediate urgent needs, like running away from danger. Deep breathing switches the body from fight or flight mode to relax mode, de-stressing your nervous system and improving digestion.

Cardiovascular system
When the diaphragm is moving whilst deep breathing, it takes the pressure off your heart and can act as a secondary pump for your circulatory system. Heart attacks are mainly from under oxygenated blood.

Immune system
Breathing deeply helps circulate the lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is a major part of the body’s immune system, and is like the garbage collector for your body.

Emotions
Breath plays a big part in balancing emotions, the pattern of the breath can signal when things are heading off track, and we can consciously ground and center our emotions through deep slow breathing.

Here’s three great deep breathing techniques we use in Bliss Calm Qigong classes to calm our mind, center our body and drop into the moment.

Deep abdominal breathing
Begin by breathing deeply into the abdomen. Place both hands on the abdomen and as you inhale, the belly expands outward and moves back toward the spine on the exhale. Make sure your breathing is long, slow, deep, and soft.

Wave breathing
Bring your right hand over your navel and place your left hand on your sternum at the center of your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Feel you lower abdomen expand first. As you continue to inhale, let the breath rise up through your ribs. Keep inhaling until the breath reaches your chest, beneath your hand. Exhale through your nose; feel your breath relaxing and your chest descending. Allow the exhale to relax through the ribs. At the end of the exhalation, allow your abdomen to move back toward the spine as you squeeze the breath all the way out. 

The Wave Breath technique allows for a deeper connection between the abdominal cavity and the lung and heart area. It fills both areas with life giving energy, as well as a soft flowing movement that helps the whole body relax and rejuvenate. It both calms the system down and, at the same time, energizes the body for greater alertness and focusing ability.

Heart to sky
Place your hands in prayer position at the heart. Inhale deeply as you move the hands out and separate out wide to shoulder level. Push the chest forward and up as if to point the heart to the sky. Exhale and return to the starting position. Heart to sky breathing activates the upper lobes of the lungs and heart, as it exercises the intercostal muscles, releasing emotional stress. It has the ability to center and settle the heart emotions.

Keen to join us? Qigong classes run in Christchurch on Monday, Tuesday Thursdays. Love to see you there!

Discover the ancient healing art of Tao Yin

Tao Yin combines the powerful asana practice of yoga with the effortless flow of Qigong.

Over 6,000 year old, Tao Yin is the most original form of Qigong. It is the foundation from which all forms of Qigong emerged. Today there are over 3,000 different styles of Qigong practiced daily by over 80 million people in the world. Thousands of years ago, Indian yogis and Chinese sages shared their wisdom, Tao Yin became the common ancestor to both Yin Yoga and Qigong.

“The lost art of Tao Yin was re-discovered when Taoist sages found paintings on cave walls and inscriptions on tortoise shells. The practice revealed natural movements that help to heal the body. Many of the practices mirror the movements of animals and of nature, reflecting a deep respect and reverence for the natural world. Taoist sages were always seeking the learn from the world around them, and Tao Yin is the practice that embodies their wisdom.” – Holden Qigong

Tao Yin painting on silk
The Daoyintu; a painting on silk depicting the practice of Tao yin; unearthed in 1973 in Hunan Province, China, from the 168 BC Western Han burial site of Mawangdui, Tomb Number 3.
taoYin
Reconstructed Daoyin tu Drawings of Guiding and Pulling in the Mawangdui Silk Texts

Compared to yoga, in Tao Yin there is more emphasis on the meridians, more flowing movements and an emphasis on acupressure points for self healing. Tao Yin is a beautiful practice that is very efficient, it’s a bit like combining a fitness class, yoga class, acupressure session and meditation all in one.

Through Tao Yin we explore and support the body’s bio-electrical system, which supports our bio-mechanical system. We work with Qi (energy), moving energy around the body, pathways of energy (meridians), acupressure points and rhythms of energy.

Often we will have a problem with our bio electrical system before it arises in our body, in our bio-mechanical systems. This is a great podcast from Goop that explores how scientists are now proving that health issues in our bio-electrical system precede the same issues in our body. This supports the ancient wisdom of the masters, who knew that if you work on your energy system first you can prevent problems from arising in your body.

A great Qigong master was once asked, does he ever get sick? His answer – yes, he gets sick quite often, but only ever for a few minutes at a time

Learn about our current Tao Yin Series

The healing power of Qigong

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This is a guest post, written by Sharon Nepe, a Holden Qigong Teacher since 2017 living in Papakura South Auckland. 

I was blessed to have made friends with Emily when our paths crossed on our healing Qigong journey with Lee Holden Qigong. The journey started for me with the loss of my late husband in 2010 after a 7-year battle with renal failure.  I had given up my career to care for him fulltime and found myself alone and stuck in a grief and depression that I just could not break free from. I needed the pain to stop and many days just wanted out of life. I was also battling chronic lower back and hip pain from a badly degenerated disc in my lower spine.  I found myself under mental health services and on anti-depressants after my GP got a bit freaked at carrying the risk as my depression escalated.

It was a couple of years on and still trying to find the right anti-depressant that I found Lee Holden on U-tube. I felt an aliveness I had not felt for a long time as I had a go at a couple of his Qigong classes.  I ordered many of his DVD’s from the US and started a regular practice. I found it easier to face each day and developed a thirst for the Taoist teachings. The practices helped me reconnect with life and slowly heal my grief and depression.  My back pain became more manageable and I was physically able to do more and more. As I healed, I was able to come off the antidepressants and I trained to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist. I have worked for the last five years supporting others in Community Mental Health on their own journey of recovery.  A couple of years ago Lee made the Qigong teacher training available online and I knew a life sharing this practice that literally saved my life was what I wanted with all my heart.

I am so fortunate to have a manager that allows me to run Qigong mindful movement sessions in my Peer Support role.  I run weekly classes at a community centre in Pakuranga and have also at the hospital for staff in their lunch breaks.  I have patients attend who are so socially anxious that they come into class not wanting to talk to or look at anyone. Now my group meet after class sharing lunch, board games, smiles, laughter and support.   One young man a couple of weeks ago told me I had done a miracle. He said he had been so anxious when he came to class and felt bad. Now he was calm and peaceful. That touches my heart. I see them relax and connect with themselves, with others and with the renewing energy of the elements.   Together we are learning to trust in and enjoy this practice that is restoring our health and wellbeing.

Encouraged by Emily I am so excited to also be travelling to Santa Cruz California in October to complete my level Two Teacher training with Lee.  At 53 years old it will be my first flight overseas in 42 years. I am so looking forward to spending time with like minded Qi junkies. In the mean time I am starting my business Rhythm of Life Qigong and will be kicking off with community classes at the Howick Leisure Centre in East Auckland from the beginning of April.  

If Lee had not developed and shared his empowering integrated style of Qigong, I may not have made it through my grief and depression.  Now it is my turn to pass it on. To teach there is hope and always, always an answer we have not yet found. For me and many others those answers came through Qigong.  I have gone from not wanting to be around anymore to wanting to live another 100 years as there is so much I want to experience, so much to learn. I have also been blessed with finding love for the second time in my life with a man who is supporting my Qigong journey.  Qigong taught me to be open to new possibilities and not live in the past.

Qigong has the power to transform and heal body, mind and soul without the negative side effects of western medicine.  You can’t experience it by just reading about it though. Make it a daily practice and restore the rhythms of your own health and wellbeing.

Thanks again to Emily for having me as part of her Qi Tribe for inspiring me and for this opportunity to share.

 

 

Master stress with this simple technique

One of my “aha” moments in my Qigong journey came when I learned this simple technique to turn stress into vitality.

Imagine you are stuck in traffic, you are late to pick up the kids / get to an important meeting / *insert your reason here* – what would you do? Most people tense up their bodies in an attempt to control the situation – sounds silly right? For some reason the default reaction of humans in stressful situations is to tense up – as if by some feat of magical power, the traffic will suddenly start flowing if our shoulders are super tight, we grind our teeth and clench our jaw.  So why is it that some people cope really well in the same situation, they turn up the volume on their favourite tunes, stay relaxed and enjoy the moment of the traffic jam, and others turn into raging frustrated mess?

They have figured out that the only thing we have control over is ourselves, our own bodies and our own actions. We may have some limited influence over others, but in reality we can’t control other people or situations. We especially cannot control traffic jams. It takes an enormous amount of energy to keep our body tense in a futile attempt to control something that’s out of our control. Yet this is exactly what most of us do every day – building layers of tension, exhausting our energy system leaving us tired, grumpy and no better off than we were before.

So what’s the best way to change things up? The answer is a super simple technique of reminding yourself in the moment of stress, of where you do have influence and control – in yourself. That’s it. Simple right? When you become aware that stress is a natural reaction to wishing things were different, and you understand the only way you can change things around you is to focus on yourself and your reaction to the situation – it suddenly becomes clear – getting tense is a waste of time and energy.

Going with the flow, accepting things with relaxation when they don’t go exactly as you anticipated them to and understanding that you only have control over yourself is a simple, yet powerful shift in perspective.

Emily Drysdale from Bliss Calm Qigong in Hagley Park

Now, I didn’t say it was easy! Next time you find yourself tensing up in a stressful situation, simply observe your reaction with no judgement. Be kind to yourself. Take 2 -3 deep slow belly breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Observe how you feel. Often all it takes is a couple of minutes of deep belly breathing to shift your nervous system from a state of stress, fight or flight into a state of relaxation – it’s like taking your nervous system a little holiday without leaving the room (or car!). As you relax, the energy that was trapped in your tense muscles begins to flow freely, boosting your vitality, leaving you feeling vibrant and energised.

Qigong embodies the principal of relaxation and flow. Often described as a moving mediation, the flowing movements of the body allow the mind to become still, and align you with the energy of the constantly moving universe that is all around us.

 

If you’d like to transform your stress into vitality, join me for a lovely lunchtime Qigong session on the banks of the Avon in Christchurch, every Tuesday and Thursday 12.30 – 1pm over summer.