With most people not able to go to a gym these days, many folks are looking for exercises they can do at home, quickly and without any fancy equipment. Of course, if you look around anywhere on the web, there are scores of articles on five “easy” exercises you can do to get your heart rate up, strengthen your core and increase your lean muscle mass.
These exercises range from old fashioned push ups to squats to abdominal crunches, with one article even advocating that you walk around your house doing lunges! And almost none of these articles address people who are unable to get down on the floor easily, or have joint pain or other problems that would prevent them from doing these.
While of course any of these at home workout exercises can be modified to accommodate nearly any physical condition, we’ve decided to introduce you to another way of thinking. While intense Western cardiovascular and muscle strengthening exercises absolutely have their place, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and Taoist martial arts put their emphasis on another aspect of exercise altogether. It’s almost like the difference between working “out” and working “in.”
Before we go any further, you should understand just a bit about the ancient Chinese concept of qi, sometimes written as “chi” and pronounced “chee.”
Qi is a subtle life energy that runs throughout the body in channels called meridians, and is what an acupuncturist taps into when using acupuncture needles to re-balance and unblock your qi when treating disease or injury. The ancient Chinese believed that exposure to extremes, whether that be heat, cold, or even very strenuous exercise, has the ability to deplete the qi or vital life energy. Their system of exercise, known as tai chi (say “tie chee”) emphasizes gentle, circular movements.
While most people in the West have heard of tai chi as something that is good for older people, as it does not require strenuous activity, most do not realize there is also a sophisticated “internal” component to these exercises, which involves the circulation of qi. In fact, the external movements are only the tip of the iceberg on what is really going on internally. Many or even most tai chi teachers in the United States are unaware of and have never been taught the underlying energetics of tai chi, and simply teach the basic physical movements.
Of course, trying to even begin to teach a system so complex and elegant is far beyond the scope of this article. But there is one introductory exercise that you can do that will get you started down this path, one that is altogether simple but at the same time very advanced.
This exercise is standing.
Yes, I can hear you saying “But I already know how to stand! What’s the big deal?”
Standing, in the Taoist martial arts, means something altogether different than standing as we think of it in the West. Standing properly takes stress away from your body and joints, helps you to develop a quiet mind, strengthens your musculature and improves your balance.
~ Stand with your arms at your sides, dangling naturally, palms facing to the rear. Your armpits should be slightly open, not pressed to your sides.
~ Place your feet together. Now transfer all of your body weight to your left leg, then move your right foot and leg to the right so your legs are comfortably about shoulder width apart and your weight is evenly distributed between both feet.
~ Straighten your legs so your knees are momentarily locked, then unlock your knees so your legs are slightly bent.
~ Relax and lower your shoulders. Tuck your chin in a bit so your neck is not arched forward and your head is lifted slightly and held straight.
~ Soften your gaze, look forward and slightly down, relax into the posture and let your breathing go easy
That’s it! Practice standing for five minutes a day and increase as you are able. At first this posture may seem awkward, but soon you will sink into it as easily as your favorite chair.
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