Qigong is a traditional Chinese wellness practice that combines mindful body posture, breathing, and visualization. The word “qigong” (气功) is made up of two Chinese characters. The first character “qi” (气）is the natural energy that gives us life. In traditional Chinese medicine, your Qi stimulates the flow of blood and ensures that the organs function properly. When your Qi is not flowing properly, you become ill. The second character, “gong” (功) is the skill that develops through practice. Daoist Qigong guides the body’s Qi energy, restoring health by stimulating meridians and acupuncture points. One of my personal favorite Qigong practices, is Li Jianzi’s Four Seasons Qigong.
Li Jianzi 灵剑子 (239 AD – 374 AD) was a Eastern Jin Dynasty Daoist priest. He was very skilled as astronomy and geography, and had a deep understanding of yin and yang and the 5 elements. He studied older practice manuals and traveled around China seeking out old masters. Later, he lived as a hermit on Xiao Yao Mountain (逍遥山) in modern day Jiangxi Province. Legend has it that he died at the ripe old age of 126. Li Jianzi’s Four Seasons Qigong is designed to guide people smoothly though the shifting of Yin and Yang that causes seasonal changes, both in the body and in the natural world.
During the three Winter months, Yin is dominant over Yang. The days are shorter and colder. All living things slow down. It is important to conserve energy and build strength. The organs associated with winter are the kidneys and bladder. Chinese medicine views the kidneys as the storehouse of energy that sends warmth and energy to every cell in the body. It is important to support the kidneys in the cold winter months.
The kidney meridian begins under the little toe and travels up the inside edge of the foot and the leg to the base of the spine. It connects with the kidney and wraps around the bladder, before exiting at the pubic bone and to rise up the front of the body to the collarbone.
Here are the Four Seasons Qigong exercises for winter. The best time for these practices is from 5-7pm.
From a seated position, interlace the fingers around the bottom of one foot. Inhale. With the breath held gently inside the body, the food pushes out to bring the stretch into the arms and waist. Exhale to release. Repeat on both sides. For a balance challenge, you can also try this posture while standing.
Recommended for: feeling of cold or stiffness in the lower back, stiffness in the hands and feet, and minor knee pain
From a seated position, the fingers grasp the outside edge of the foot. Inhale. With the breath held gently inside the body, the foot pushes out to bring the stretch into the arms and waist. Inhale to release. Repeat on both sides. For a balance challenge, you can also try this posture while standing.
Recommended for: feeling of cold or stiffness in the lower back, numbness in the feet, feet that are sore from walking
From a seated position, the left hand grasps the outside of the left knee. The right hand holds the back of the head with the elbow out. Inhale. With the breath held gently inside the body, bring the chest and knee together. Inhale to release. Repeat on both sides. For a balance challenge, you can also try this posture while standing.
Recommended for: cold in the hands and feet
During all four seasons, the end of each season that connects into to the next season corresponds to the Earth, which is the spleen. So, in the Four Seasons Qigong Practice, the last exercise of each season is dedicated to helping the spleen. From a standing position, inhale. With the breath held gently inside the body, exhale to stretch the arms above the head, fingers spread apart. This is a whole-body stretch, with the leg muscles alive, and the stretch continuing up through the side body and fingers. Inhale to release.
Recommended for: overthinking, low energy
Why not give the Four Season Qigong practices for winter a try? Remember to check in with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine. Please comment below with any questions you might have.