Get that top-to-toe glow with a little ‘chi’

You may have heard of chi before, but what is it exactly and what has it ever done for you? Look into the belief system of any ancient civilization and you’ll probably come across the concept of a ‘life force’, the energy that differentiates all living beings from inanimate objects. It’s known as prana in India, ki in Japan and the Great Spirit by Native Americans. The Chinese called this life force chi (qi), and an abundance of chi is believed to make a person energised and vibrantly alive, healthy and youthful in appearance, as well as physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually balanced. “Does it come bottled?” we hear you ask, well… not quite!

The idea that influencing one’s chi can help to heal the body is central to the practice of Chinese traditional medicine and acupuncture. Improving the flow of chi also forms the basis of Tai Chi, Qi Gong and other types of Taoist martial and healing arts. Reported benefits of these practices range from better balance and flexibility to increased mental wellbeing.

The beauty of learning to work with chi is that once you know how to access it, you have this wonderful resource within you all the time – and it’ll literally be at your fingertips whenever you need a physical or mental boost. Ready to embrace the Eastern wisdom in your life? Read on to start increasing the flow of chi in your life!

  1. Tune into your chi and strengthen your body to boot

Tai Chi

If you’ve ever spotted a group of people doing a slow martial art-like dance in a park, chances are you’ve already seen Tai Chi in action! Often described as “meditation in motion”, Tai Chi originated in 13th-century China as a martial art. Today there are a number of styles, with those focusing on health comprising of continuous slow and fluid movements combined with deep breathing and focus on physical sensations, helping both mind and body release tension and find a state of calm. Tai chi is designed to promote a healthy flow and circulation of chi and to correct any imbalances. Thanks to being a gentle, low impact exercise, Tai Chi can be easily adapted for any age and ability.

Qi Gong (Chi Kung)

Like Tai Chi, Qi Gong has been practised in China for centuries for its health enhancing effects. Comprised of repetitions of move sets performed with a mindful intent and designed to stretch and open energy channels in the body for the optimum flow of chi to increase vitality, Qi Gong’s emphasis is on deep relaxation and breathing. Though a discipline in its own right, Qi Gong is also often practised alongside Tai Chi training.

For a taste of Tai Chi and Qi Gong, get flowing with this routine (Video).

Yoga & Pilates

Can’t find a Tai Chi or Qi Gong class locally? Yoga might be an excellent ‘chi’-boosting option for you. Though not based on Taoist philosophy, yoga has its own traditions of working with the energy flow in the body by influencing its energy centres (chakras) through stretches and poses. Or get hooked into Pilates, the core strength and endurance building exercise system developed in the ’20s by Joseph Pilates, that borrows elements from both yoga and martial arts. Either way, you’ll reap the benefits of greater physical strength and flexibility!

  1. Have a chi(-fi)lled moment right now

In addition to the above practices, there are many simple and quick exercises that can be used to awaken and increase the flow of chi – all you need is a quiet moment. Some exercises focus on breathing, others on posture or relaxation. It’s good to experiment with all to find those that work best for you – and to keep doing them daily to create a lasting effect. Some of the positive physical effects you may experience include feeling more energetic, relaxed and comfortable in your body. Mentally you may begin to feel calmer and more centred.

The exercise below is designed to strengthen chi through breathing. Before you begin, wear loose, unrestrictive clothing if possible and find a peaceful place where you can spend a few moments without being disturbed!

The ultimate breathing exercise to strengthen chi

  1. Get into a comfortable position, either cross-legged or kneeling on the floor, in a chair with your back straight or lying down.
  2. Focus on your breath, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Become aware of the movement of air in and out of your body.
  3. Gently deepen your breathing, fully involving your diaphragm with each breath. Feel your belly expand with each inhale and contract with each exhale (you may want to place your hand on your belly).
  4. If you feel like this deep breathing comes naturally (otherwise keep practising daily), try ‘breathing in a square’: inhale, count to 5 slowly while you hold your breath, exhale, count to five again while you hold your breath. Keep going as long as you wish.
  5. Tune into your body. How do you feel? You may notice the increased flow of chi as warmth or a ‘tingle’ in your body.

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