Seasonal Training Qigong
Seasonal Training Training seasonally is a very Taoist approach to any type of martial activity and changing things up during the year. Each year the seasons change and while they do so do we our bodies gaining or losing weight, becoming softer and more warm or tighter and more contracted during the cold winter months and so on. Essentially there are five seasons in this point of view, four full seasons and times of transition between them. The diagram of the five phases is used to explain this more easily and while the more commonly seen picture is of the engendering and controlling (creation and destruction) cycle it is the following diagram that is more accurate when discussing seasons of the year.
The transitional times between the seasons or phases is Earth as the Earth “element” is even distribution throughout and shows the times of the year where the seasons are in flux. Fall becoming Winter has a few weeks of time where it is seemingly both or neither Fall nor Winter. Days of warmth followed by cold or days of an in between state it is the balance point between those seasons it represents.
Each of the seasons are associated with different parts of the body and as such engenders certain types of diet and in the case of this discussion activity or training types. Heavy Hands is a Fall qigong in this way of thinking and is where I will start the discussion.
Fall is associated with Metal and Metal with the Lungs and coalescence and slowing down. The world around us begins to slow as the trees begin to pull back from growing and bursting with life and begin to drop their leaves and get ready for their long sleep. Animals gather and nest for the upcoming winter bringing food and storing it in their own way. The life cycle of the world is in the first stage of death in some ways as animals leave their mothers now grown and the relationship changes. Since the reality around us is changing we too change and in times past when we lived closer to the land and the earths cycles we would harvest and store, preparing for winter and the coming darkness. Although our lives now are climate controlled, endlessly supplied with any food we may want and so on our bodies still are a part of the natural cycle and begin as well to store and slow. Most people in cold countries begin to be less active, gain some weight to survive winter and begin to stay indoors more and more as the cold approaches. This is the coalescence of the season, Metal.
Heavy Hands is nearly stationary only moving from one posture to another slowly and after remaining in each for a period. It is a Yin qigong for this reason and is cool and slow in practice taking many minutes to complete it is by mirroring the reality around us we find ourselves more integrated as a part of it and in most cases, find more result from our qigong practices. It is this reason that I use Heavy Hands as my 100 days of Fall Qigong.
Winter comes next and as the cold touches the Earth the world seems to slow and come to a standstill. Sap within the trees stops running, animals hibernate, and the world is quiet. Winter is a time for rest and slowly using our reserves gathered from the year. It is associated with Water and Water with the Kidneys the very Yin of the Yin in the body, the base line of life. Yin is cultivated through stillness, bland food, coolness and so on. While the snows cover the ground, it is advisable to not over exert yourself in training slowing your methods down to study them inch by inch rather than using fast explosive movements. Water will either freeze or run only below the surface of the covering of ice in Winter and as such we too settle, and rest as is needed as a part of our lives. This does not mean do not train at all, instead Winter is a great time to study detail and work on stillness exercises that may be overlooked the rest of the year. 18 Lo Han Palm which is an entire Qigong system based on empowering Kidney function is my Winter Qigong along with Seated Meditation practices like Treasure Vase Breath and Ling Shan Meditations.
Spring returns and with it the Wood of the seasons, the Liver which is associated with willpower, stretching and connective tissues. The tress and animals begin to move and grow. They exit their dens and stretch as the feel the warmth of the coming spring. Trees begin to have their sap run and again reach towards the light of the sun pressing into the earth to reach upwards towards Heaven. Bamboo grows quickly and substantially when the warmth touches the earth and it is rapid, strong and lithe and is why it is found in the character for tendons 筋 (Jin) literally “The flesh that has the strength of Bamboo”. Stretching and working on this powerful strength transmitting part of the body is difficult but training will change to more stretches and more active movements to take advantage of the natural tendency to change with the season. The Taoist calendar watches for “The Day of Insects” to begin training the Yijinjing 易筋經 – muscle/tendon changing classic in the spring working directly on the tendons, it is for this reason I use it as my Spring Qigong training method.
Summer is the simplest of the seasons to match as the world is fully awake, birds flying, animals hunting and grazing, and life is easy. The warmth of the days and night make it easy to move quickly and work or play longer hours before sun down. Fire is the element of summer and is expanding and opening in all directions like the leaves of a tree or petals of a flower. Training in the summer is to go for it! Move fast ad with power, work out and feel the body sweat and breathe and enjoy being alive like every other living thing in the easiest time of year to live and thrive. It is for this reason I run my full-time training course in the late spring and early summer to let myself and students take advantage of our bodies mirroring reality and being ready to be agile and quick again before fall comes.
Seasonal training is not of course a necessity for any martial artist or qigong practitioner, but the deeper learning of the arts is about integration of ourselves, oneself into reality and the reality around us, no matter how much our lifestyles can separate us from it changes and we do too. Mirroring those changes does not have to be with these qigongs at all, this is just examples of my personal practice and I change them up as well from time to time, but being more natural and changing how you conduct yourself throughout the seasons has certainly given me a finer understanding of my integration in the natural world and slowly helps remove the separation our lifestyles and society seek to create. We are not masters of the natural world, we can simply keep it at bay, but at a cost very close to our hearts. We are a part of it inextricably and it is a shame to not realize that throughout life. The sunshine on your face, wind in your hair, sound of crunching snow beneath your feet or quiet nights are what make our hearts sing. I know I have gained real benefit from this schedule, perhaps you may too.