Chi, Exercise, and Self Healing
In spiritual systems such as Chinese Taoism a great deal of time is spent cultivating good health through the medium of influencing personal and universal Chi. One of the key results of this was that the practitioners were rumoured to live for over a century – in some cases several centuries – not only in good health and vitality, but with their skills constantly developing too. In the West, Elders in most branches of Paganism are associated with both power and good health. This may be in part to working with Odic force, Prana, or Personal Power, all Occidental terms for Chi. Many senior Pagans I know look much younger than their chronological age, and when people at the council where I work guessed my age the other month their estimates were a decade younger than my actual one.
Part of this is down to a diet right for their bodies and the correct level of exercise. Many of today’s Pagans frequently assume that a vegan or vegetarian diet is the best one along with regular visits to the gym. This lifestyle overlooks the fact that while many people are fine on a meat-free diet, some peoples personal biology do not cope well with it. I remember a local coven in Portsmouth during the ‘80s that insisted that it’s members were all vegetarian and when a bad ‘flu or cold bug was in the area they fell ill first. The leader of the coven refused to believe that their diet was a contributing factor because the diet suited them.
If you choose an animal free diet then check into what your diet might lack and consider boosting it with supplements to make it more balanced. For people who prefer a more omnivorous diet the best thing to do is check that the plants and animals are looked after kindly and in as natural an environment as possible. In the UK many supermarkets have signed up to schemes that are aimed at supporting minimum standards of health and comfort for the animals that end up as food. There is however, a certain amount of discussion as to how well these standards are enforced. Although there are hopeful signs such as major meat suppliers retaining people such as Dr. Temple Grandin who, because of their unique perceptual skills, can give good advice on the best facilities to keep animals in and kill them humanely.
Our hunter-gather ancestors had plenty of exercise chasing down prey and walking miles to harvest plants other vegetation. Today most of us take little, if any, exercise and those that do tend to do it in the artificial environment of a gym or specialised sports facility. Speaking as a masseur who has had to treat injuries from exercise workouts and people who practice their activity as a lifestyle the latter tend to have fewer injuries and recover from them more quickly. This was brought home to me when two climbing friends came for treatment, one did climbing and Yoga, and the other climbing and working out with weights down the local sports club three times a week. The first person had some minor muscle problems that they were aware of and responded well to the massage, their friends muscles were a mass of scar tissue on and in the muscles themselves. This was compounded by further tears and keloid lumps on the ligaments and rotator cuff tendons. I recommended that second person switch to Yoga and, if they wanted to keep up exercising, just do moderate bodyweight exercise rather than ‘working through the pain’ of excessive exercise. The client followed my advice and their injuries healed or stabilised, due in part to the massage and lifestyle change.
Fortunately the person who over-exercised in the above example was young enough for their body to recover with little permanent damage. But it was a potent reminder of how easy it is to do serious damage to yourself by the “no pain-no gain” attitude so prevalent in many so-called fitness regimes. I well recall the Head of the institute where I trained in therapeutic massage telling us how he, and many massage therapists of the 1970’s and 80’s had paid off their mortgages early treating the many people who had “gone for the burn” doing the high-impact aerobics popular at the time.
If you want to practice a fitness regime it is well worth looking around to find one right for you. Yoga and martial arts may seem like logical choices, but always watch one or more classes first to see how the system is taught and if the instructor and senior grades look after each other and the beginners. Sometimes a more holistic approach to a traditional fitness system can make it an ideal way of exercising holistically. For example, running and jogging have been part of fitness training for decades but injuries to the knees, shins, back and neck are common for regular joggers. Now someone has developed a technique for running in a balanced dynamic manner by using methods from body mechanics and internal energy arts such as T’ai Chi. Called “Chi Running” this style of running is supposed to be much better for the body. It also incorporates meditation and breathing from other holistic practices from the east and west which traditional jogging rarely touched on
Chi Running is not the only holistic exercise system available of course; The West also has a history of similar systems such as Maxalding, a form of exercise that emphasised physical development through focused muscle control. Developed in the early 1900’s it was popular until the late 1970’s and I know several Pagans of various Paths that continue to practice it to considerable positive effect. Whatever system of health development you decide to pursue the more it is in tune with your personal and spiritual path the more likely you are to practice it and follow it throughout your life. It doesn’t have to be as formal as Yoga or sensible gym sessions; Walking in the countryside, wild swimming, or any of the myriad of activities that bring you close to nature are just as effective in improving and maintaining provided you do them regularly. The sooner you start doing them, the sooner you can begin to reap the benefits.
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