The fundamental importance of movement

“If there is free flow, there is no pain. If there is pain, there is no free flow.”

“The reason flowing water does not become putrid and the hinges of a door do not rust is because they move. The physical body and its qi are like this too. If the body does not move then the essential qi does not flow. If this does not flow then the qi clogs up.”

Chinese Medicine has many quotes like these that illustrate the importance of movement as one of the foundations of health.

But clearly it’s not just Chinese Medicine saying this; the fundamental importance of movement, and by extension physical fitness, is something that’s universally agreed on.

If we exercise sufficiently we live longer, we lower our risk of pretty much all types of disease and morbidity, we feel better, we experience more joy and less depression. 

By and large though, we exercise much less than was once the case. 

Farming, working the soil, chopping firewood, fetching water from a well, washing clothes by hand, hunting etc: all these forms of exercise and movement that for millennia were an inevitable part of day-to-day life have obviously been largely been dispensed with in a relatively short space of time.

For the most part they have been replaced with exactly what I’m doing now: sitting still at a desk, tapping away on a laptop. 

Indeed, just simply sitting for too long is itself linked with a range of negative health outcomes: ‘pooling’ of the blood in the legs, general circulatory inhibition and certain specific postural distortions to name a few.

It’s important to recognise though that not all forms of exercise work for all people. Running, for example can easily risk knee problems if you have certain postural / structural issues.

Chinese culture has a long tradition of gentle movement aimed specifically at enhancing vitality, improving many aspects of health whilst at the same time calming the mind. And for the most part these are extremely low risk exercises that are safe for anyone to undertake.

The best known Chinese movement system is probably Tai Chi, however in my experience Qigong is perhaps a simpler place to start.

I still practice a particular Tai Chi ‘short form’ and love the effect it has on my nervous system. But learning Tai Chi involves a relatively longer period of absorbing detailed choreography before you get into the ‘good stuff’, and start getting paid back for your efforts.

Qigong is somewhat simpler. You get the rewards a little more directly. There are thousands of different qigong exercises, qigong traditions, qigong schools and qigong teachers. Ultimately it’s a case of try a few, play around a bit until you find a teacher that you click with. We’re lucky living in Brighton; there’s a lot of choice! 

It’s always better to learn these sort of things in person with an actual teacher, rather than from a YouTube video. But whilst going to a class isn’t an option, here are a few links to explore:

The Ba Duan Jin (translates as 8 Pieces of Silk) is one of the best known traditional qigong exercises. This looks like a reasonable example of it:

The second option I’ll flag up is probably for those wanting to take it a bit further; Yiquan is a system that I practice a lot. For me personally, it’s the most effective system I’ve found for generating ‘internal power’. It’s an odd choice to mention in a blog about movement as it primarily focuses on standing in static postures, but nonetheless here’s a link to a thoroughly charming series that was filmed for Channel 4 in the early 90s: Stand Still, Get Fit