Updated: Jan 26, 2021
The Promise of Returning Light
A few things about the peak seasonal transitions at the Solstices and Equinoxes that the ancients from around the world learned were the concepts of direction and time. The Sun was described by the ancient Daoist shamans as being on a journey that manifested on the Earth as a yearly progression from the time of Birth (Springtime/East) to Growth (Summer/South), then on to Maturing (Fall/ West) and Waning (
Winter/North). Along its way, it stopped at different positions, which they compared to palaces, just before the next leg. At the Winter Solstice, its resting place was in the North, at the “Palace of Eternal Frost”, a place of great darkness in the time of Greater Yin, and at an “energetic time of transition (that) corresponds to ‘Midnight (Zi).” (Johnson, 35). Over time, faith could be cultivated that each midnight season carried within it a promise of returning Light and renewed life on the Earth, but only after the full Winter season played out.
The Winds of Change
Driven by the celestial Wind, following the Sun’s movements lead them to realize that something about the seasonal qualities of the Earth and the phases of human life and thriving were analogous. The quality of the Wind at the Winter Solstice was called Guang Mo Feng (The Wind of Far-Reaching Power). “This is a Very Strong Wind. If this Wind invades the body, it will energetically settle in the Kidney organs and lodge itself externally in the bones and para-vertebral sinews in the shoulder and the upper back, where it is capable of giving rise to symptoms of Cold.” (Johnson, 168) This “Great Unyielding Wind (Da Gang Feng)” is the driving Winter Wind and is associated with a musical instrument called the Da Gu, which are large drums- the kind that, once struck, vibrate deeply into the bones and like thunder, can strike sudden terror in the Heart. When this Wind blows, there is a need to close up in the house for protection, as its presence can seem quite relentless and punishing. But it will make us move, one way or the other. The blowing Winds announce change; more strongly, they require change. In Energetic Medicine, the breath is a catalyst for transformation and is considered a type of Wind, but maybe more perplexing for Westerners is the concept of the Emotions having physical impact like Wind. In nature, the energy of the Human Internal Wind creates an emotional climate that provides an environment in which we can thrive or wither, physically, emotionally or spiritually.
Of course, this year's Winter Solstice features another return- that of the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn- one that has not been seen exactly like this for almost 800 years. I am not an astrologer or an astronomer- just a lay person. However, Sarah Cherry, one of my teachers, posted the following description on the significance of today's events:
"... Ancient cultures all over the Northern Hemisphere celebrated this day as the return of light in both a physical and metaphysical way. It's no accident that many modern religions have important celebrations during this season...
The astrological significance of conjunctions is usually seen as beneficial, bringing out the best of both planets. In western astrology, personal philosophy, sense of justice, laws, rules and limitations will be front and center. Jupiter is about expansion - search for individual meaning and purpose, optimism, hope and a sense of justice. Saturn is about caution and reserve - the conscience and moral conviction and endurance - the laws and rules which we choose to obey. In Western astrology, this conjunction takes place in the sign of Capricorn, which Saturn rules. Capricorn is about endurance, hard work and determination.
With the Christian celebration of Christmas so close at hand, many feel this conjunction simulates the Christmas star, visible when Christ was born and led the Three Kings to his birthplace. Today, there are many theories of the Biblical Christmas Star, including that it was a comet, or merely the bright planet Jupiter alone but certainly the powerful conjunction coupled with the deep, dark, sacred Winter Solstice can only be seen as a beacon of hope and peace for this troubled year of 2020."
Sarah Cherry, DMQ (China); Body and Abode Healing
Even though Jupiter laps Saturn every 20 years or so, this year's event is considered to be a once in a lifetime event (for most of us, anyway) because these planets have not passed so closely to Earth in a long while. It will be visible shortly after sunset tonight in the Southwestern Sky. See more on the NASA website linked below.
Read even further to learn some Winter seasonal Qigong practices that I have used in my classes over the years and are perennial favorites. Simple and easy to follow, they are done in the Winter to cultivate and store Qi in the Kidneys and the bones. A feature of these forms is that the focus is more on internal cultivation, called "neigong", which is ideal for practice in the winter season. We will be practicing these weekly through the Winter- join us on Zoom, or contact me for other ways to access these vital practices. Soon enough, it is my sincere hope, we will be able to work together in person! But until then, don't deny yourself the opportunity to connect with likeminded others. Click here for more info: 3Baohealing.com
Nasa link (Great information on the Conjunction of 2020)
Seasonal Qigong for Winter
The Winter season is considered the most Yin time of the year- dark, hidden forces are at work, cold dominates with quiet heaviness in the air. This season, paradoxically is related to the Water element and the Kidneys’ energies, which emphasize the kind of energy that flows, cleanses, purifies and most especially, renews. A primary "job" of the kidneys in the energetic system is to store essence, called Jing, that regenerates and revitalizes us. But in such coldness, water energy can sink our spirits, drenching and dampening the fire there and darkening the light, leaving things obscure and frankly, a little scary. We get out less, move less- which can give rise to feelings of alienation and isolation. Issues may emerge for us that include feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness can make us fearful about our place in the world. Fear keeps the central nervous system in a constant, vigilant state which is necessary energy held to help us move out of danger, but invariably saps and steals the energy we need for vital processes and mental agility. Working to strengthen kidney energies after a year like we have had would be a wise thing to do for overall health.
Emotional fear patterns can be triggered and can become "toxic" to health and wellbeing-especially in the bleak, sometimes gloomy winter months- of the dark, of the unknown, of not being sure or not belonging. Will the sunlight ever come back? The days are shorter, but they seem longer; and nights can seem like eternity. These thoughts are all challenges to remember why we are here, what is the mission and how to use willpower. Can we cultivate the courage in these colder times to discover and BE who we are, to see ourselves in the mirror of crystal deep blue ocean without flinching, or will we sink further in the dark, fearful abyss, afraid of what changes self-discovery will require of us? The Kidney system is connected through the water element to the deep well of eternal wisdom that stores Universal knowledge as well as true self-knowledge. For winter qigong, we move to find and cultivate internal light and conserve energy more than we spend it.
Winter qigong practice usually highlights meditations rather than active exercise to build reserves of Qi, though this doesn’t mean not to do any active Qigong forms. Just be careful with your expense of energy at this time of year. Keep yourself warm- especially the feet, hands, and the back of the neck; fill up with warm nourishing soups and stews and limit (or eliminate) cold, raw foods.
Some Winter Neigong Practices:
Bone Marrow Cleansing (Xi Sui Jing): bone marrow and the kidneys are storage areas of Jing
*inspired by Ronald Davis book: Qigong through the Seasons (info below)
Preparation and Meditation (recording of guided meditation click for "Standing and Breathing)
The following forms can be done as stand alone practices or all together as a set. A particularly powerful time to work with kidney energies is from 5pm to 7pm, the time when the kidney meridian is at high tide; but these can be done at any time of the day or the year.
Form Wisdom Posture: Feet together, hands relaxed at side, then step out with the left foot into Standing Posture (guided meditation click here)
Inhale: lifting hands to lower dantian, palms form an energy ball, while facing toward pelvis
Exhale: bringing your mind to focus on the lower dantian
Inhale: letting your hands raise toward the middle dantian (heart area) as you bring the palms together in a “prayer pose”, with the thumbs touching the body
Exhale: relax with knees slightly bent.
Feel yourself relax completely into the bones; imagine yourself solid as a mountain, taking in the universe. Take in the energy of eternal wisdom and let it fill your mind, body, spirit. Breathe naturally- gentle, but strong and deep. Do this exercise only one time per session.
Building the Foundation/ Temple walls:
From Standing Posture, hands at sides:
Inhale: lifting arms up into “T” position (careful not to hyper extend the shoulders), palms facing ground
Exhale: bend the knees, as you bring the hands downward again to about hip level; see, feel and imagine you are pushing two balls downward into water as you do this. Imagine that you are laying the foundation for your personal temple and this is the first layer
Inhale: bring the arms back upward, feel them be light and effortless floating up to shoulders
Exhale: bend the knees and bring the hands down like before, making another layer; after this repetition, do 6 more (8 in total)
(this is a favorite of several in my classes):
Start with both feet together, hands at sides, then move into Standing Posture. Keep your breath natural and strong, but it is not necessary to coordinate your breath with the movements for this form. Stay alert and focused.
Place the back of the left hand over the center of the lower back (Mingmen). This is the gateway of the kidneys- GV4, but don’t worry about being precisely on the point- the area is fine.
Raise the right hand up and out from the side, slowly up to the top of the head; once over the head, place the palm downward over the crown of the head (BaiHui). Feel the connection, then turn the palm upward toward the heavens. Think of your favorite star, then respectfully, reach up and pluck a little cord of light from the star, offering gratitude for the gift. Bring it down through the crown and the center core, seeing it fill the lower dantian with radiant starlight. Feel it travel through the brain, the spinal column. At the navel, place your thumb on the navel and the palm against your abdomen, thinking of holding Qi in the lower dantian, between the back and front hands.
After 4 repetitions, reverse the hands and do 4 more on the other side. End with bringing the feet back together.
Another exercise where the movements don’t need to be coordinated with the breath (but stick to good breathing mechanics!!)
From Standing Posture, hands at side- turn palms toward the front and slowly lift them to about a foot beside the hips; form the slopes of your mountain self, fingers extended, palms open.
See your head as the summit of the mountain and scan down your slopes, feeling heavier and stronger as you widen your energy field towards the feet. See the trees, the animals and the people who live and depend on this mountain power you are experiencing. After a little while, lower your hands back to the sides and step back to center.
Raise the arms to form a "T", then:
Think yourself as BIG and light, the heavy density of your mountain self transforming to lightness of being without form- expand your energy from the center core and outward- big as the room, the house, the city, the country, the world. Feel the immensity of yourself, much like the Wisdom exercise, but this time you are luminous, light, filling space- Being- space, effortless, expanded- a combination of all colors and lights. Breathe in this form of yourself for a few minutes, then gently pull your back into the room. Do only once.
Washing the Bone Marrow:
From standing posture, lift the hands to navel height, palms facing upward. Pause here and take a slow and gentle breath (Inhale and exhale). You have gathered Earth energy. It's not unusual to feel warmer with some of these exercises, which may be exactly what your body needs to balance cold. However, if you begin to become uncomfortably warm, that too can be a message you need to listen to. Focus on pulling the coolness of earth energy up into the body and rooting your mind moreso into the earth to balance excess heat.
Lift the hands, arcing upward, to over the head, palms now facing the heavens, pushing slightly upward and away from the head (a gentle stretch). Take a slow breath here. You have gathered Heaven energy.
Bring the palms to face the crown of the head, with the center of the palms connecting there (Baihui). Feel for the energy between the head and the hands. See it turn dark, midnight Blue.
Slowly bring the hands downward along the front side of the body, breathing naturally. See the blue color filling and saturating the bones where your hands are, seeping into the spaces, into the tissue and the marrow. With your mind, intend fresh, deep blue or clear Qi into these cavities as they are being strengthened and healed- bones, joints, discs, and perfect fluid balance. See these issues melt and fade- any impurity, pain or illness is pushed through and out of the body through the bottom of the feet. End with the hands at the sides, fingers point (directing) the impure Qi into the Earth. Do this 1-3 times.
Filling the Lower Dantian to Nourish the Kidneys:
According to Davis, this is “the premier qigong exercise for Winter…” Movement is kept to a minimum, while mental intention is the primary force moving the Qi and packing it into the lower dantian to store as a reservoir for energy, nourishment and preserving oneself through the season of Ultimate Yin. This one is also great for balancing Fire and Water element in the body.
From Standing Posture, arms down with palms toward the outside of the thighs.
Inhale: Focus on bringing Qi from the Earth and Sky (all directions) with the breath as you arc the arms upward, then compress this Qi between the hands
Exhale: bringing hands together in prayer position over the top of the head. Imagine you are holding a precious diamond, the energy of which you will now bring down through your body.
Breathing normally, slowly lower the hands, still in prayer position, seeing the energy flow down the center core (taiji pole) and into the Heart; turn the finger tips downward and pull the energy into the lower dantian. See this energy infuse the spine and spilling into the kidney orbs, with some moving down your center core and into the lower dantian. The lower dantian is like an energy reservoir for the physical body and especially the kidneys; the kidneys recharge from this store so they can operate as a kind of energetic battery.
Inhale (short): pulling the hands apart (about hip width)
Exhale: bring palms back toward the center (but not touching). See the energy pack and condense in the lower dantian. Do 8 repetitions of the whole exercise.
If doing these as a set, close by doing three Pulling Down the Heavens, and then resting the hands on the navel for a few breaths as the Qi settles. (Ladies, left hand/ right hand on top; Gentlemen, right hand/ left hand on top)
I hope you will find these neigong practices useful and beneficial for your winter cultivation. May your Winter Solstice and holiday season be supremely blessed!
References, links not available:
*Davis, Ronald H., “Qigong Through the Seasons: How to Stay Healthy All Year with Qigong, Meditation, Diet, and Herbs,” Singing Dragon Press. 2015.
Johnson, Professor Jerry Alan. “The Secret Teachings of Chinese Energetic Medicine, Vol. 2: Energetic Alchemy, Dao Yin Therapy, Healing Qi Deviations, and Spirit Pathology”, The International Institute of Medical Qigong Publishing House, Monterrey, CA 93940, USA. Revised 2014.