Life today pulls us all in a million directions. Family, friends, work, phone, computer, social media, you name it! Although stress in and of itself is not a bad thing, constant stress is quite damaging. But of all the possible remedies on the market, have you ever thought to try Qigong for Stress Relief?
How Does Stress Affect the Body?
Stress is a necessary stimulus to create adaptation and change in the body on a neural-chemical and physical level. The problem is the human mind and body are designed for short bursts of stress, not constant day in and day out, no stop stress.
This constant stimulus causes our autonomic nervous system to perpetually engage the sympathetic side of our nervous system, leaving us in a state of never-ending “Fight or Flight”.
As long as the sympathetic side of our nervous system is engaged, the “Rest, Digest, and Heal” state of the parasympathetic nervous system is turned off, and that’s not good for anyone! It’s specifically that chronically engaged “fight or flight” state that is the root cause of so many of the diseases and health concerns that plague our society today.
To put it simply. As long as your body is fighting, its not healing! So why then if our body knows this, do we stay in this less than optimal state so often? The answer lies in our every changing brain.
How does Stress Affect the Brain?
The human brain is a marvel of complexity and elegance. In essence, it is a machine that constantly remodels itself for greater processing speed and efficiency. That said, the remodelling is stimulated by new information, challenge, stress or stimulus being focused upon. Its goal is to help new or repetitive electrical impulses to be delivered to their destination more efficiently.
Those electrical impulses could be a new thought, or a cherished memory, a new physical skill, or a well-practiced one. Basically, whatever we think about on a regular basis, our brain reinforces the connections that make up that thought or process.
Every time we think about that certain thing, moment, person, skill or event, our brain strengthens the actual physical wiring that allows that thought to occur by way of the neural connections. It literally builds new “brain” parts to do the job.
The stronger the wiring the clearer the picture. The clearer the picture, the easier to recall and remember and of course “do”!
Now this is all “Hunky Dory” as long at the subject of our attention is one that is connected to a positive emotional response. If your thoughts are focused on the crazy antics that your lovable pets gets up to on a daily basis, chances are, the emotions tied to those pictures are happy ones.
If you physically or even just mentally practice a new skill that you love on a regular basis, chances are, the emotions tied to those pictures are also happy ones.
If you get lost in the beauty of a stunning sunset on a tropical beach. chances are…. well you get the picture.
All of these mental images, which are made possible by new or newly reinforced neural connections cause the body to then release certain chemicals that make us feel good. Natural opiates such as serotonin and dopamine are our feel-good hormones that are produced in response to a pleasing mental stimulus.
When the feel-good hormones are pumping, the stress hormones take a break. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
So what happens when we constantly think about traumatic moments from our past? When we think over and over about things we don’t like in our life. About our partner. About our friends. About our family. About ourselves.
By constantly placing our focus on unpleasant thoughts our brain doesn’t discriminate, but simply goes about its natural process of rewiring for better efficiency. Making it easier for you to recall the unhappy moment, and to see it more clearly. Unfortunately, it also continually stimulates the body to produce the stress hormones felt at that moment in time.
Once again, the body doesn’t discriminate whether the moment happened last year, last night, or in the last minute. As long a you repetitively focus your attention on a thought, your brain remodels itself to think about it easier and your body responds by recreating the same chemicals that go along with the moment.
You might be asking yourself right now, “then why do I forget things?”
The answer is simple. Just as your brain is constantly rewiring itself to reinforce the efficiency of the constantly used thoughts. It also constantly erases the connections of those things that we don’t focus on. Grade nine french class…..Gone! First girl friend’s birthday….. Gone! What I had for lunch last Sunday……… oh no!!…. gone! (I should have thought about that pizza a few more times!!)
Understanding all this, I hope you can see why the focus of our attention becomes a quite important factor of whether we are happy or sad, peaceful or stressed, healthy or sick.
How Does Qigong help Stress
The Chinese have a saying “Yi Dao, Qi Dao”, which basically translates to “where the mind goes the energy follows”. With that in mind (literally!), within the ancient eastern traditions, there has been a great deal of study on the effects that focusing your attention on the current moment has on overall health, stress reduction and longevity.
Through both seated and moving meditation such as Qigong, a mindful connection to the moment has proven to elicit a powerful effect on the health of the mind and body.
When it comes to stress relief, Qigong can truly be magically medicine! The practise of Qigong is a simple, yet powerful way to disengage your sympathetic nervous system and get your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. By combining soft flowing bodyweight movements, with long slow diaphragmatic breaths, connected to calming and beautiful visualizations or intentions, Qigong activates the Rest, Digest and Heal setting.
By engaging this aspect of your nervous system, your body has the ability to heal itself from the toxic, stressful, negative influences it’s subjected to in the modern world. Whether they are happening in the moment or being relived from the past.
Most importantly, because Qigong is something that can and should be practiced on a regular basis, the constant calm, soothing practice wires a calm and soothed brain. As I explained earlier, the rewiring then leads to more efficient movement, more efficient mental connection to those movements, and of course increased production of the feel good hormones associated with practicing something that you enjoy and makes your feel good.
Through qigong practice you can literally bio-hack your mind and body to be healthy!. But let’s take it a step deeper. Did you know that Stress has an effect on…….. your Liver?
Tradition Chinese Medical Approach to Stress
Stress has a very specific target within the body. It may be surprising to know, but from a Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) perspective, it’s the Liver that takes the brunt of all stressful stimulus.
Now it may sound strange, but stress and the Liver have a bit of a chicken and egg kind of relationship. Ongoing stress will damage the liver, but in opposition, a damaged liver will manifest in stressful feelings.
In TCM the liver is responsible for the smooth and gentle movement of energy (Qi) in the body. When stressful emotional stimuli cause the liver to function in a disharmonious way, the energy of the liver stagnates. This Liver Qi stagnation causes internal friction, the friction causes heat and heat has a way of expanding, rising and drying things out.
Just like all living things on this planet, humans cant be too dry, or too wet, too hot or too cold, to function properly. An overly hot and dry internal environment leads to an array of different symptoms.
Now, most people are aware of the liver’s functional connection to the digestive process, but it also has a strong connection and effect on menstruation and eye health. Some of the symptoms that can result from a Liver in disharmony are;
All of these systems are a result of the stagnation of energy and the resulting hot, dry internal environment in the body.
Qigong Exercise for Stress Relief
So, to combat stress and its damaging effect on the body, here are three powerful Qigong exercises to soothe your troubled Liver.
Qigong for Stress Relief Exercise #1 – Brushing the Liver & Spleen
This exercise massages both the liver and spleen, forcing out toxins and allowing both to absorb fresh blood and nutrients. Historically, the physical movement of this qigong exercise laid the foundation which later evolved into the reverse punch used in traditional eastern martial arts.
Qigong for Stress Relief Exercise #2 – Weeping Willow
This exercise provides an intense stretch down the inner thigh. This is where the liver meridian travels from the big toe to the groin. In addition, it stimulates the entire lateral aspect of the body where the liver’s paired organ, the gall bladder meridian travels. This exercise incorporates the active cultivation of the positive emotional counterpart to stress which is gratitude, during the movement.
Qigong for Stress Relief Exercise #3 – Cleansing the Liver
This exercise creates an energetic connection between the liver and the eyes. Its movement creates a pathway to purge toxic energy from the eyes and liver down and out the gallbladder channel.
By performing these three Qigong exercises on a regular basis you can help to strengthen your liver’s ability to deal with stress while helping your nervous system to give its Fight or Flight response a well-needed vacation.
….Give it a Try!
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