In ancient times, Asian monks and nuns remained healthy through a simple diet, meditation, a tranquil life and what were known as temple exercises, a form of active qigong which consisted of a routine of usually no more than ten physical movements. These were practiced to circulate qi and stimulate all meridians of the body to prevent muscular atrophy which may otherwise result from living in such a gentle environment. In a world becoming increasingly dependent on computers and a shift towards an ever more sedentary lifestyle, exercises such as these can be of great benefit today. One Grand Master famous for his ”Nine temple exercises” was the Chinese American Marshal Ho’o (1910-1993). These movements each focus on strengthening and revitalizing a specific area of the body and can be used as a warm-up before a workout, or as a complete exercise routine by themselves. Simple to learn, they can be practiced in about half an hour. As with any form of qigong, the best time is in the early morning. However, if you are at work and find time during a break, these exercises are good to perform as they will not make you sweat and can be done in regular clothing. Practice with eyes open, breathing through the nose, staying relaxed. Coordinate breathing with the movement. In general, exhale when opening (doing the work) and inhale when closing (returning and preparing). Remember never to lock the joints, even when stretching, as this prevents qi circulation. Take time with each movement to enjoy it and feel its benefit. Here are the first three in the series. NB If you feel pain, stop, rest and try again, this time moving more slowly and gently.
1 Circular Push – tones the whole body, balances yin and yang, and invigorates all systems
Stand with heels together, knees slightly bent, arms by your side. Take a parallel step to the left, feet pelvic width apart. Step into the bow stance with left foot foward. Hold hands at shoulder height with palms facing in front of you 12 inches apart, like you are holding a ball.
Shift your weight forward so that your front knee is directly above your toes. Keep your spine vertical at all times. At the same time, make a circular clockwise motion outwards with the hands as if turning a prayer wheel. As you shift weight back, continue the circular motion by bringing the hands back in and down to waist level. Do about 9 circles with the hands as you shift weight back and forth. Then repeat the movement on the other side. This exercise is similar to the push in taijiquan.
2 Knee Circling – this is a good warm-up for the prevention of arthritis in knee joints
With feet together, bend forward slightly and place the hands lightly on the knee caps for balance. Try not to press down. Make slow and gentle circles with the knees, rotating them clockwise. Pause, then repeat the movement counter-clockwise. Repeat nine times in each direction.
3 Waist and Arm Rotation – stimulates spleen and kidneys
Start in a hip width stance, feet facing forward, knees bent slightly. Weight is evenly distributed on each leg. Bring both arms out to either side at chest level, palms facing forward. Slowly swing the right arm over to the left trying to bring right palm to left palm, and twisting from the waist. Minimize the movement of the hips. Bring the right arm back to its original position and swing the left arm to the right. Make sure that the head turns with each movement of the arms, facing forward in the initial and final position. Repeat the movement on each side nine times.
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