How to Improve the Effect of Morning Exercise in Winter
I have spent several winters in Beijing and I have never ceased practicing Health Qigong exercise in the morning. I, together with the Health Qigong team in Beijing International Sculpture Park, Shijingshan District, always persist in practicing Health Qigong exercise. Every morning, we gather together: we choose open field in clear day, the place beside pines and cypresses in windy days, and the eave in rainy and snowy days. Accompanied by soothing music, we practice Health Qigong of several practice forms into a wonderful and vivid performance. We all readily call this the practice of the elderly and the middle-aged: it takes its origin from the natural physiological needs that people wake up early and desires for exercises; they need fresh air in early morning; practicing exercises in early morning can result in a pleasant mood. Therefore, morning exercise is the indispensable life content for the elderly and middle-aged people like us. As a popular saying goes, “An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening”. Health Qigong exercise in the morning is a good chance for motion of life. The significance of life lies in exercises. Exercises should be scientific. The existence of severe cold can, by no means, be ignored when practicing Health Qigong in spring and winter. Otherwise, people may catch a cold in minor cases or other diseases may be caused. In that case, the loss outweighs the gain. Scientific data suggests: The optimal deep body temperature of human beings should be about 37°2. All life activities of human beings depend on calorie. If body temperature is low, it will lead to poor blood circulation which in turn will cause series of diseases. Under normal circumstances, people’s body temperature is about 35° after getting up in the morning. If they then go outdoor where the temperature is below 0°, the difference between their body temperature and the external temperature is too sharp, which is sure to incur diseases. Therefore, it is required to confirm to nature and take corresponding actions to increase body temperature. Then, how to confirm to nature and prevent cold? The author has some experience on three aspects as of this matter and is ready to share it with all fellow practitioners. The first point is increasing body temperature in advance: It is required to supplement calorie half an hour before going out. For example: Having a bowl of hot soup (porridge, milk and sesame paste), a piece of cake or bread. However, remember not to eat too much nor drink too much water, so as to avoid aggravating gastric and stomach burden. It is advised to have formal breakfast after morning exercises. The second point is keeping warm appropriately: Wearing hat, protecting the hundred convergences, tying scarf, protecting the great hammer, wearing wadded garments and protecting the torso. In particular, it is important is wear gloves to protect fingers and wear padded boots to protect toes, to better protect the tips at two ends. The third point is actively increasing body temperature: On the one hand, it requires doing warm-up before exercising. This is the indispensable basic condition for exercising. There is certainly some distance from home to exercise site. During the trip, it is advised to try to walk briskly and do exercises while walking. The hands can neither be idle. They can grip orderly and then relax. It is advised to do some stretching, breathing exercises, Paidagong, animal frolics, etc. for several minutes after arriving at the exercise site, so as to further awaken the circulation of qi and blood, increase body temperature and make adequate preparation for doing exercises. On the other hand, it requires performing the action appropriately according to the characteristics of exercise method. Reviewing the nine exercise methods of Health Qigong, their common purpose is “stretching the body to make it flexible and leading qi to make it tranquil and calm”, though the movements differ in a thousand ways. Besides, there are also many other common characteristics, for example: stretching the sinews and pulling the bones, rotating, bending and stretching; rotating in each movement, working hard with the tips; alternating looseness and tightness as well as rigidity and softness; exhaling, inhaling, guiding and leading, ideation follows breathing. Cold prevention is a positive and active self-regulation process. The several points above are effective, convenient and frequently used, though they are nevertheless comprehensive. With these cold prevention measures provided to enhance the effect, the necessary foundation is laid down. Meanwhile, it is required to apply these characteristics in routine exercises of Health Qigong. I found that only by focusing on “one center”, “two fundamental points” and “three key points”, can the effect of “obtaining more favorable results by putting in less effort” be achieved. “One center” refers to appropriately performing each movement such as left-right rotation and front-back bending and stretching around the vertebral column. For example: The movements of left-right rotation include: “slightly shaking the heavenly column” in Shi Er Duan Jin; “Pulling Nine Cows by Their Tails” in Yi Jin Jing; “Ji Chang Shooting Lice” and “Rhinoceros Looking upon the Moon” in Shi Er Fa; “Lu Di (colliding with the antlers)” in Wu Qin Xi; “Xu Exercise” in Liu Zi Jue, etc. Further instances: The movements of flexion and extension includes: “Bird Stretching” inMawangdui Daoyin Shu; “Stretching Waist” in Da Wu; “pouncing tiger” in Wu Qin Xi; “Bowing Down in Salutation” in Yi Jin Jing; “Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases” in Ba Duan Jin; “bending to touch feet” in Shi Er Duan Jin, etc. All the rotations, flexions and extensions are intended to effectively stimulate governor vessel and conception vessel and girdling vessel, with a view of bringing the twelve meridians into effective operation. “Two fundamental points” refers to the two tips of human body (finger and toes). According to TCM theories, the tips of fingers and toes are the locations of well points of twelve meridians: the three yang meridians of the hand starts from the tip of finger, the three yin meridians of the hand stops at the tip of finger; the three yin meridians of the foot starts from the tip of toe, the three yang meridians of the foot stops at the tip of toe. Therefore, movement of fingers and toes can initiate and promote the dredging of the meridian system and facilitate the circulation of qi and blood. It not only makes the temperature of human body rise, but also realizes the effect of strengthening the body. Therefore, special attention shall be attached to these two fundamental points when exercising. In nine methods of Health Qigong, the content concerning movements of fingers and toes is scientifically compiled. Therein, frequent finger movements include: “tiger, beer, bear, ape and bird” exercises in Wu Qin Xi, “Golden Rooster, Wild Geese, White Crane and Phoenix” exercises inShi Er Fa, “natural palm”, “gripping fist”, “a fist with five fingers bending together and the tip of the thumb pressing on the middle sections of the index finger and the middle finger”, and “a posture with all fingers gathering together and the middle finger pointing upwards” in Ba Duan Jinand Shi Er Duan Jin, “Black Dragon Displaying Its Claws ” and “Tiger Springing on Its Prey” in Yi Jin Jing, “owl looking” in Mawangdui, “rolling, spinning” and “rolling the mace” in Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang, etc. Movements of toes pervade in several exercise methods. They are generalized in three forms: Firstly, all the “lifting the heels” requires five toes clutching the ground. For example: “Seven Movements of the Back to Eliminate all Diseases” in Ba Duan Jin, “Ape Lifting” in Wu Qin Xi, “back channeling” and “Dragon Climbing” in Mawangdui, “Golden Rooster Crowing at Dawn” and “White Crane Flying over the Cloud” in Shi Er Fa, etc. Secondly, some methods lay emphasis on “Lifting the heel tightly and setting the heel slightly”. For example: “Two Fishes Hanging in the Cabinet” in Shi Er Fa, “Boatman Rows with an Oar (Shao Gong Yao Lu” and “Boat Rows Slowly (Qing Zhou Huan Xing” in Tai Chi Yang Sheng Zhang. Thirdly, the methods for toes landing on the ground diversify. For example: “Opening Hip’s Rotators/Crotch” and “Rubbing Spine” in Da Wu, “Ape Picking” in Wu Qin Xi, “The Advent of the Phoenix” in Shi Er Fa, “back channeling” in Mawangdui, etc. For the examples mentioned above, if one thing cited, ten thousand may have been left out -- the list is far from being complete. We believe many fellow practitioners will experience more. In fact, after having basically mastered the regularity of exercise methods, we can quickly improve our exercise level if only we are good at discovering details, master the skills and exercise properly. The “three key points” run through all exercise methods. They mainly include: Firstly, alternating tightness and looseness. Alternating tightness and looseness requires to grasping “tightness” firstly and then the exercisers can better experience “looseness”. For example: “Posing as an Archer Shooting Both Left-and-Right-Handed” and “thrusting the fists and making the eyes glare to enhance strength” in Ba Duan Jin, “Pulling Nine Cows by Their Tails, Displaying Paw-Style Palms like a White Crane Spreading Its Wings” in Yi Jin Jing, “Vibrating Body” in Da Wu, and the “zhongchong” digging “laogong” mentioned several times in Shi Er Fa. Secondly, exhaling, inhaling, guiding and leading. Exhaling, inhaling, guiding and leading are the distinctive feature of Health Qigong. In other words, without exhaling, inhaling, guiding and leading, it can no longer be called Health Qigong. The method of exhaling and inhaling is basically scientifically compiled according to the requirements of exercise method, for instance: method of natural breathing, method of favorable breathing, method of reverse breathing, anal breathing method, method of holding breathing, etc. When we practice each position and posture, we had better get familiar with the corresponding method of exhaling and inhaling, so that better effect can be achieved. However, beginners are not required to adhere to so too many restraints. They only need to perform the movements properly. Thirdly, stabilizing the breathing and concentrating the mind. Stabilizing the breathing and concentrating the mind is not only the basic requirement of routine exercise, but also the special requirement for outdoor exercise in winter morning. Here, it mainly refers to that concentrating on the exercises can not only resist external cold but also enhance the effect. Human beings shall be alive with spirit. Once spirit exists, heroic manner will occur. With heroic manner, the exerciser will be charged with vigor and strength. This is conductive to cold prevention. Otherwise, if exercisers have no intention to do the exercises due to severe cold, he will feel colder the more he exercises, and finally he will end up giving up exercising. As an ancient saying goes, “No pains, no gains”. Though it is hard to exercise in severe cold, if we has firm belief, scientific method instruction and manage to experience with a whole heart some key points and skills of exercise methods, it is already a gratifying harvest in itself.