When it comes to posture and sitting correctly at our desks and on the commute it’s something we all know we need to improve on, but it’s hard, despite knowing the benefits.
What if I told you that there is something you can do anywhere, any time, that would help with maintaining your physical, mental and emotional health, and is as relevant today as it was in the time of Confucius. Enter the ancient art of Chi Kung, rooted in Taoist philosophy.
As humans we are well practised in using our grey matter to solve problems and find solutions but we are more than a brain with a body to carry it around. All our parts work better when the whole is working better.
The following exercise is a way to apply your attention, and to get your Chi flowing, which means your whole body and mind operating in a smoother and more coherent way.
I will assume you’re seated, but this can equally be done in standing. Sit in your seat, with your back supported if you can. Even if your back is against a backrest, have a pull in the lowest part of your belly, supporting your back. Feel your sitting bones underneath you, your spine rising up through your body, and your head balanced on top of your spine. Take a moment to unclench your jaw, and to drop your shoulders down away from your head. Have your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart, knees bent above your feet.
Take a deep breath in (through your nose if possible) and exhale, sighing the breath out. Do one more breath. Let your eyes either lightly close, or let your gaze rest on the floor or wall somewhere easy.
Take your awareness to your belly, in the centre of your belly (about 3 finger widths below your belly button) – this is your Dan Tien, your centre. See if you can find it with your feeling senses – as if you were in a tiny space ship flying through your body. When you find it notice how it feels. Breathe in and feel it strengthen, and breathe out and feel it settle.
After a few breaths here, take you attention down to your feet. Imagine that you have never seen a foot before, you have no idea what’s at the end of your legs, as they’re somehow out of sight and always have been. Instead, see if you can use your feeling senses to explore the shape, texture, dimensions and material of what is at the end of your legs. If you had to go by sensation alone, without moving your feet, what would you imagine they are like? Keep breathing in a relaxed way as you curiously explore your sensations.
When you have finished your exploration, take your awareness back to your belly for at least one, and up to five breaths.
Now relax, open your eyes, and notice how you feel in your whole body-mind.
This practise not only centres you in your body, but also connects your body up, joining your conscious attention with the centre of your body and your feet, allowing your creative curiosity to play with becoming completely present. So much easier than meditating!
A slightly more physical (but still quite unobvious) practise you can do while sitting or standing is to loosen your shoulders and stimulate your lungs (Always good to increase your breathing – it is a free and easy way to take more Chi / Energy into your body).
Sit as described in the practise above, or stand with your feet hip width, your knees bending slightly over your feet (or even pushing outwards slightly). Have your tail slightly tucked under you and your sitting bones moving in towards each other, strong in the lowest part of your belly.
Take your arms slightly out to the sides, so that there is space in each armpit for an egg. Allow your elbows to bend a little, so that your fore-arms are hanging vertically. Now pull your shoulder blades down your back as far as you can, without arching your lower back. Try to keep this downward movement in your shoulder blades as you do the practise.
Inhale, spiral your arms and hands so that your palms move through facing forwards and then out to the sides, as far as they go by the end of the in-breath – whole arm joining the movement.
Exhale and spiral your hands and arms back the other way as far as they’ll go, so that your little fingers are facing forwards and moving in towards you by the end of the out-breath.
Continue, pulling your shoulder blades down your back, as you, inhale spiralling your arms and shoulders open (spreading the fingers so the palm is wide), and exhale spiralling your arms and shoulders closed (palms still wide).
This not only stimulates your lungs, but also opens and moves Chi / Energy through your shoulders, refreshing any stagnation and improving circulation in the area.
There are many Chi Kung practises that are invisible, using the combination of attention and breath to move and influence your energy, and many that use movement to exaggerate the impact. The more you practise Chi Kung, the greater effect it has, as you get more adept at moving your Chi. Practising the above two exercises on the way to and from work, and once or twice a day at your desk, will start to improve your well-being, focus and health immediately, with significant effects within a week.
Although the benefits may not be immediately tangible, mind and body well-ness can have a massive impact on every area of your life, including your focus, productivity, your relationships and your overall experience of life. Well worth investing a few moments of attention.