You’re more than just a brain in a jar. Sometimes, though, we get sucked into working in a way that makes us feel that way. Almost everything you are taught to do in school growing up utilizes the thinking part of your mind and most of us equate our professional worth, to some degree, with our ability to be sharp analytically. That’s fine for some things, but in the qigong world there is a saying that captures this basic problem: “The brain eats the body.” Too much mental work can literally suck up the chi of your body, stealing energy from much needed rest and recovery processes.
Is Your Brain Eating Your Body?
Here are some key signs to know if your work is sucking up your energies:
- your neck feels tight, especially around the base of the throat
- your head heats up as you work
- your eyes are too tense to touch
- you are often short of breath, just sitting around
- your primary sensory input is visual, to the point where you process other senses through internal images
If you start to notice these signs throughout your work day, then you need to find some way to get “out of your head” and bring your body and your brain back into balance. One technique you can use to reliably restore this balance is standing qigong.
What is Standing Qigong?
Qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”) is the Chinese art of developing your body’s energy. Classically, having a healthy body and strong chi flow was viewed as a foundational to clear thinking and a healthy mind. Many qigong practices involve movement – even Tai Chi can be considered a complex form of qigong – but if you really want to integrate your mind, body, and energy, nothing beats holding standing qigong postures. When you do standing qigong, you typically hold a single posture for 10, 20, or 30 minutes or longer. By eliminating voluntary, conscious movement and simply holding a posture, the only thing left to do is observe the movements of your mind and your energy. After a certain period in each posture, everything gels and your energy is integrated back into your body in a healthy way.
Qigong: How to Get Started
To get a feel for the kind of relaxation you experience in standing, clench your fist. Now, without deliberately opening it, let it release. It make take a few minutes to completely release and that’s fine. This is actually what the entire body starts to feel like when you stand. Instead of a couple of minutes of releasing your fist, though, over 20 or 30 minutes, deeper and deeper spaces inside your shoulder, torso, hips, and legs will begin to let go. You can stand up and try the whole-body version right now. First, set your posture:
- place your feet hip-width apart, so your joints are aligned – you’ll feel the weight balanced evenly in each foot
- lengthen the back of your neck, so the chin drops slightly
- relax your shoulders, as if the arms were slipping off the rib cage, to the left and right, not slouched forward or pulled back
Next, settle in:
- let your breathing go smooth, so the turn-over from inhale to exhale feels natural and not forced
Begin to scan:
- bring your feeling awareness up to the crown of your head
- once you feel like you’ve gathered your awareness to a single point, let your mind spread out through the crown of the head
- give in to gravity and let your mind drop down the body, height-by-height, feeling front, sides, and back
- when you get to anything that feels like your clenched fist, try to recreate the feeling of letting the fist go, but it might be in your shoulder, your back, your leg or your foot
- work downward until you can feel your feet settle into the floor
Perform this downward body scan at whatever internal speed feels comfortable for you. Naturally, as this process becomes more familiar, you find more and more space to explore inside the body and the length of the scan will get longer. The more the mind “soaks” into the body over time, the more you are reversing the process of all your energy getting stuck in your head. Any time you notice the early warning signs of your brain eating your body, stop, stand up, and let your energy re-integrate with your body. Over time, you may even enjoy standing qigong as an integration practice on its own. Many people find that regular standing practice leads them into meditation or other contemplative practice because when you feel more comfortable inside your own body, you can turn your awareness to more subtle layers of the mind. Enjoy! Try Standing Qigong at home or in the park and share your experiences in the comments.
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