As most wild readers are probably aware, spending time in nature is great for your health. More research is coming out all the time quantifying the effects of nature on our health and attempting to understand the various mechanisms involved, but the basic fact is we do better when we get enough wildness in our life when we spend enough time in touch with nature. When we first begin to spend more time in nature, we may not know what to “do” with ourselves. How can we cultivate that sense of connection to nature that may be missing in our lives? In our busy modern lifestyles, it can be hard to just let ourselves simply “be”. Qigong offers us many different ways to cultivate that earth connection while engaging our body and mind. It is also traditional to practice it outdoors weather permitting.
Qigong is a traditional mind-body practice from China with roots in Chinese medicine and Daoism. While there are thousands of different styles of qigong, they can be broken down into three main categories: Medical, Martial, and Spiritual. The main difference between these types of qigong is one of intention; why we are doing the practice? Is it for our physical health? Is it for making our body strong enough to withstand injury in martial arts? Or is it for our emotional or spiritual well-being? Why not go for all three? When we practice qigong in nature we can reap the benefits of all three of these approaches.
Here are 5 simple ways qigong can help us enhance that connection to nature, that realization that we are wildness!
Standing like a tree
One of the simplest forms of qigong is standing qigong or Zhan Zhuang in Chinese. Often translated as standing like a stake, or standing like a tree, this simple practice is a natural fit for nature connection. First of all, smile! Then, simply take a relaxed standing posture with your legs about shoulder width apart, maintain a little bend in the joints of your arms and legs, and maintain a straight back and neck. Allow your hips to tilt forward a little to feel a little elongation in your lower back. Think of your hips sinking towards the earth while the top of your head is pulled towards the sky. Feel a little space in your armpits, almost like you had a tennis ball there. Bring a little awareness to your lower abdomen just under the belly button, where your center of gravity is. Take some nice, deep breaths all the way down into your belly and notice any tension in your body. Allow it to gently release with each out breath. As you relax, remind yourself that you aren’t just in nature, you are nature too.
Swaying in the breeze
We can take this idea one step farther and imagine we are a particular type of tree. We could take a hint from our surroundings. Maybe you are standing in a grove of old sturdy oak trees. If so, standing still as in the first practice might help you feel a closer connection to nature. If it’s a breezy day and you find yourself near some bamboo, or a weeping willow, maybe you’ll want to sway in the breeze along with the trees. As you practice, try to imagine yourself as a tree.
Moving like an animal
Another traditional way qigong is practiced is to mimic the movements of animals. In fact one of the oldest qigong sets is called the Five Animal Frolics. The possibilities are endless, but one of my favorites is “Wild Goose Flaps its Wings”. Stand in a relaxed posture as in the first exercise with your hands at your sides. As you breathe in slowly raise your arms to the sides as though you are a goose or other large bird flapping its wings. Allow the movement to start from the shoulders and move out towards the hands in a wave-like movement all the way to your fingertips. As your wings flap up you can also straighten your legs slightly or even push up onto your tip toes. As you breathe out, bring your arms down, again beginning at the shoulders and finishing the movement at the fingertips. As you flap your wings down you can squat down slightly to make it a full body movement.
Taking in your surroundings
Another great way to use qigong to connect to nature is to imagine that you are receiving healing energy directly from nature. Traditionally in qigong we would use the Five Element model where five colors are associated with five major organ systems of the body but we can keep it simple and just imagine that we are receiving healing energy from nature. Stand in a relaxed posture as in the first exercise. Take a few deep breaths. Once you feel relaxed imagine that healing energy in the form of white light comes from your natural surroundings and enters the top of your head. You can either imagine that it enters the top of your head and fills you with healing energy, or that the healing energy flows down over your skin like water relaxing any tension in your body and healing your body as it flows through you back into the earth. When you’re ready to finish bring your hands to your belly for a few moments and imagine the energy being stored there.
If you read this blog you’re probably already familiar with the Japanese practice of Shirin yoku or “Forest Bathing”. Qigong is an excellent addition to any shirin yoku walk. We can combine the previous practice with movement to take this idea literally and energetically “bathe” in our wild surroundings. Stand in a relaxed but erect posture as before. When you’ve taken a few deep breaths and settled into a relaxed state, squat down as you inhale and imagine that you are scooping up healing energy from the earth. As you stand back up bring your hands up above your head as though you were splashing water on your face. As you exhale imagine the energy flows down through your body as your hands slowly fall down in front of your body and return to your waist. Repeat as many times as you would like and finish by bringing the hands to your lower abdomen and resting them there for a few breaths. Smile and enjoy the peace of the wilderness. When you head back inside try to remember that feeling and take it with you as you go about your day.