Edging forward into winter proper, I want to offer some ideas to add to practice centered on the aspects of the Kidney organ system, so I plan to do several guided meditations or short practices designed to enhance the very vital type of Qi that characterizes all the blessings the kidney system brings to the body and mind. This week’s practice is a guided meditation focused on the bones, called “Inhabit Your Bones”. It has been adapted from the book "Reclaiming Your Body: Healing from Trauma and Awakening to Your Body's Wisdom" written by Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, a cranio-sacral specialist who has studied Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. I discovered her work a few years ago and have been exploring how to weave her exercises into different areas of qigong practice.
Awareness and the Bones
Strong bones that make a framework for our holistic being is a result of building good Kidney Qi, and resonate with Winter/Kidney themes-especially destiny, wisdom, fear, belonging or feeling alienated, genetic codes, the brain, marrow, and the bones. All of these are influenced heavily by the status of kidney/ urinary bladder organ energies in Chinese Medicine. Suzanne’s idea is that because we are often encouraged to think of the body as lesser than the mind or the spirit, we often forget that the body tells us things that can protect or heal us as we let ourselves get sidetracked by the mental agendas of society or loved ones or our own prejudices about the wisdom contained in the body.
Bones form our basis; without the scaffolding they provide, we couldn't brace or steady ourselves, nor could we move. They not only provide a handy form for each unique body shape, but they also give the muscles a pathway to amble that shape along, offering a wide range of possible positions and motions. And they know things. Contained within them is a sense of place and a clarity that is expressed by the saying, "I knew it in my bones". They provide balance and a solid connection to Earth Qi; and they provide haven for our ancestral knowledge (genetics and cultural wisdom)- that which is written in the stars, a connection to the ocean of the heavens we call destiny. Settling into our bones is like being comfortable in our skins. It’s a deep form of trust in the foundation of who we are and where we belong. Not being able to do this can leave a person feeling disassociated, disembodied; these happen to be symptoms of kidney Qi disharmonies.
Our language is filled with the knowledge of bones. So often, when overwhelmed with emotional issues, people "hide in their bones", meaning, they know the extent of the issue, but are not ready to see it, so armor themselves to avoid what they know to be true or so others can't see there's a problem. I offer no judgement here, sometimes this is necessary to do, but as a chronic habit, it can be damaging and exhausting over time. Think about the phrase "bone-tired", that is a message from the body that physical and mental resources are too low to keep going now. Or think of the "backbone" of the family or group, who makes their foundation unwaveringly strong, never showing a crack in the armor. Bracing the bones may help in a pinch, but can cost us fluid movement and the ability to flow with change. But we often let responsibilities, or the needs of others persuade us to ignore what the body needs until we are burnt out, exhausted. Steeling ourselves chronically can be like stealing from ourselves; it costs kidney Qi, and most importantly, we lose one of the three treasures of the body, Jing.
Jing is normally translated as essence (zhen yin). “Essence is stored by the Kidneys to ensure their quality and to make it possible to produce and reproduce life, enabling it to grow and develop according to its initial model. With authentic yin, or zhen yin, essence supports the material manifestations of the bodily yin, such as liquids, blood, sperm, and marrow.” (Vallee) Each of these are renewable through a combination of ancestral Qi (genetics/prenatal) and the work of the Spleen and Stomach (digestion/ post-natal). The health of both is highly dependent on the quality of diet and environment, including food, air quality, cultural influence, beliefs, emotional states, and ideas. Essence can also be viewed as highly concentrated Qi. The Qi brought into the body through the lungs is “fed” to the Kidneys to be transformed into Jing, a process crucial to renewal.
Bones, Marrow, and the Sea of Marrow
Advice from the Nei Jing states, "If the Sea of Marrow is abundant, vitality is good, the body feels light and agile, and the span of life will be long. If it is deficient there will be dizziness, tinnitus, blurred vision, fatigue, and a great desire to lie down". The Sea of Marrow is one of four important collections of types of Qi, along with the sea of Qi, of Blood, and of Water & Grain. It includes both bone marrow and cerebrospinal fluids. “Of the 6 Extraordinary Organs in Chinese Medicine, four are directly linked to the kidney: marrow, brain, bone, and the uterus.” (Dunas, ATD) Marrow, Bone, and Brain reflect the condition of the Jing in the body and are mutually dependent. “TCM does not recognize that bone marrow produces blood as in Western thinking. It is Jing that feeds the kidneys and Marrow.” (Dunas).
Allowing ourselves to become aware of our bones and drop into them from time to time helps us to understand the very deepest recesses of being- to re-embody, root, and resituate the heart/mind within that center . Physically this is practice viscerally sensing the dense and strong structures and connective tissues around the center core; mentally feeling the sturdy, steady parts of who we are- where we each come from, revisit bedrock beliefs, and find gifts from our ancestors-our people, and the elements of a true self. These are the structures that support everything we are about and offer clues to who we would like to be as well.
Enjoy your week and rest your bones well!
Some definitions that might be helpful: Bone Marrow “Red bone marrow contains blood stem cells that can become red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets. Yellow bone marrow is made mostly of fat and contains stem cells that can become cartilage, fat, or bone cells. Anatomy of the bone. The bone is made up of compact bone, spongy bone, and bone marrow” (Health Dictionary)
Cerebrospinal fluid “Formed primarily in the ventricles of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid supports the brain and provides lubrication between surrounding bones and the brain and spinal cord. When an individual suffers a head injury, the fluid acts as a cushion, dulling the force by distributing its impact.” (Britannica Encyclopedia)
References: Britannica Encyclopedia online, Science, Cerebrospinal Fluid; https://www.britannica.com/science/cerebrospinal-fluid Dictionary and Publications of Cancer.gov, “Marrow”, https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/bone-marrow Dunas, Dr. Felix, “Marrow: East and West”, Acupuncture Today, digital edition. https://www.acupuncturetoday.com/digital/index.php?i=723&a_id=33472&pn=2&r=t&Page=8 Rochat de la Vallee, Elisabeth, “Wu Xing: The Five Elements in Chinese Classical Texts”, Monkey Press, 2009; revised 2019.
Rochat de la Vallee, Elisabeth, “Jing, or Essence, A Brief Attempt at Elucidation of a Key Notion in Chinese Medicine”, Blog- Pacific College of Health and Science, 2015.https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2015/07/21/jing-or-essence-a-brief-attempt-at-elucidation-of-a-key-notion-in-chinese-medicine
Scurlock Durana, Suzanne, "Reclaiming Your Body: Healing from Trauma and Awakening to Your Body's Wisdom", New World Library, Novato, CA 94949. 2017