Inverted-Sequence Exercises in Qigong

Hu Xiaofei; Beijing Sport University

What are Inverted-Sequence Exercises

Inverted-sequence exercises refer to exercises like handstand, crawling, backward walking, and barefoot walking. These exercises provide body-strengthening, health-improving, and disease-removing effects for which they are deeply welcomed by people. Inverted-sequence exercises were carried out in our country as early as the ancient times. Various forms of inverted-sequence exercises were included in “Wu Qin Xi” composed by Hua Tuo in the Han Dynasty and recorded in Daoyin Illustrative Plates unearthed from Mawangdui and General Treatise on the Cause and Symptoms of Diseases written by Chao Yuanfang in the Sui Dynasty. These exercises not only provided guarantee for the health and longevity of our ancestors with their body-strengthening and health-improving efficacy, but also played an important role in the life, multiplication, and evolution of the Chinese Nation with their unique biological efficacy. And inverted-sequence exercises are easy to practice and deserve to be popularized.

Inverted-Sequence Exercises in Health Qigong

Health Qigong exercises are based on theories of bionics. And man is the most fully-evolved and advanced creature in the biological world having many habits and body postures that are quite contrary to those of animals. This result in many inverted-sequence exercises in Health Qigong, such as “Nine Ghosts Drawing Saber”, “Pulling Nine Cows by Their Tails”, “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, in “Swinging the Tail” in Health Qigong•Yi Jin Jing, “Tiger Exercise”, “Deer Exercise”, “Bear Exercise”, “Ape Exercise”, and “Bird Exercise” in Health Qigong•Wu Qin Xi, “Hiding the Head and Shrinking the Neck” in Health Qigong•Liu Zi Jue, and “Swinging the Head and Lowering the Body to Relieve Stress” and “Both Hands Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist” in Health Qigong•Ba Duan Jin. All of them will provide good effects on the exercisers of Health Qigong during their practice.

Functions and Principles of Inverted-Sequence Exercises

(I) Balancing nervous systems and removing fatigue

Most of the daily activities of people are done with a straight body or adductive, head-lowering, or forward exercises. Therefore the nervous systems controlling such muscle exercises will be constantly in a highly excited state on a long-term basis. On the other hand, the nervous systems controlling the body-bending, abducing, head-lifting, and backward muscle exercises will be in a low-excitation state. The long-term excitation imbalance among the nervous systems will inevitably cause tiredness in local muscles and nerve centers and thus result in sub-health and even diseases. Researches have shown that “inverted-sequence exercises can comprehensively regulate the nervous systems of the body and establish a new balance”. Therefore the crawling movement of “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, the body-unfolding movement of “Tiger Pouncing”, the backward-leaning and abducing exercises of “Nine Ghosts Drawing Saber” and “Bird Stretching”, the backward movement of “Ape Picking”, the head-hiding and neck-shrinking exercises of “Si Zi Jue”, and the looking-back movement of “Looking Backwards to Prevent Sickness and Strain” in Health Qigong can effectively stimulate those muscles that seldom move, exercise the nervous systems more comprehensively than normal exercises, and thus help the exerciser eliminate nervous fatigue and establish a new balance.

(II) Dredging the Twelve Channels and protecting the health of viscera

According to the Channel Theory, the fingers are the start and end points of the three Yin and three Yang hand channels, and toes are the start and end points of the three Yin and three Yang foot channels. For example, the Lung Channel ends at Shaoshang and the Large Intestine Channel starts at Shangyang. They serve as connecting links in blood and Qi circulation and most origin acupoints of the Twelve Channels are distributed around the wrists and ankles. According to the theory of the traditional Chinese medicine, “diseases in the Five Viscera shall be treated at their twelve origins” and “pains are caused by obstruction”. Stimulating these points can effectively dredge the three Yin and three Yang hand channels and improve the functions of the viscera. In the “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey” exercise of Health Qigong, it is required to exert the fingers, wrists, toes, and ankles in order to effectively stimulate the start and end points of the tree Yin foot channels and three Yang channels and thus dredge the channels and protect the health of the viscera.

(III) Improving systemic circulation and promoting metabolism

The lower limbs of the human body are the major active organs and blood tends to flow into the lower limbs when a man moves with an upright body. In this case, the heart has to work against the pull of the gravity of blood in order to drive the upward circulation of blood and return blood to the heart. This will add to the burden on the heart and cause reduced blood supply for the heart and organs above the heart, exposing the body to the risks of diseases like CHD, AS, varicose veins, arthritis, and haemorrhoids. Exercises such as “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, “Swinging the Tail”, “Tiger Pouncing”, and “Both Hands Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist” in Health Qigong effectively lower the heart, promote blood flow into the heart and parts above the heart, and thus improve the blood circulation of the entire body and facilitate the control and prevention of above-mentioned diseases. When one reaches the middle age, the deficiency of blood and Qi and lack of exercise will prevent blood and Qi from reaching the distal joints and thus result in the stasis and obstructed circulation of blood and Qi. And the “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey” exercise of Health Qigong can effectively enhance the stimulation on the wrists, fingers, ankles, and toes of the exerciser, open more capillaries, improve the microcirculation of the human body, and reduce the blood pressure. This is of more significance for the old and middle-aged people.

(IV) Strengthening muscles and bones and benefiting the brains

Long-term bad habits will cause injuries to local bones and muscles of the human body. For example, bending over the desk for a long time will strain the neck, shoulder, and back muscles. Together with the invasion by wind-pathogen and cold-pathogen, it will cause muscle injuries and local disorder of facet joints. In addition, long-term upright postures will also cause injuries to the vertebral column and especially the lumbar vertebra. Relevant researches have shown that: when looking at a the profile of the vertebral column of a normal person standing upright, the gravity center of the upper part of the body is located in front of the vertebral spine. The gravity line of the body usually goes through the ventral side of the center of the fourth lumbar vertebra. In other words, all segments of the vertebral spine bear a constant anteflexion moment. Therefore the pressure on the vertebral spine is not only from the weight of the human body itself, but also from the convergent force of the back muscles used to balance the gravity. When the human body is upright, the vertebral body and the intervertebral disks almost bear all the pressure. The pressure on different segments of the vertebral column gradually increases from bottom to top. Therefore people standing upright all the time will easily suffer from diseases in the vertebral column and especially the lumbar vertebra, such as lumbagos and back pains. And the crawling movement of “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, the body-unfolding movement of “Tiger Pouncing”, and the backward-leaning and abducing exercises of “Nine Ghosts Drawing Saber” and “Bird Stretching” in Health Qigong will not only effectively help the exerciser relieve the tension on the above-mentioned parts of the body and improve the local circulation of blood, but also disperse the gravity of the body to the four limbs to greatly reduce the load on the spine and lumbar vertebra. And they are very good exercises for the waist and back muscles and especially beneficial for old and middle-aged people suffering from diseases in the waist, back, and vertebral column. They can also stimulate “Dadun” of the liver channel (liver governs the tendons) and “Yongquan” of the kidney channel (kidneys govern the bones) to drain the liver fire, enhance kidney Qi, improve the hepatic and renal functions, and thus slow down the aging process, strengthen the bones and tendons, boost the spirit and energy, and benefit the brains.

(V) Promoting the peristalsis of the stomach and intestines and preventing constipation and piles

The upright posture of the body will impose pressure on the stomach and intestines, cause difficulty in their peristalsis, and due to their low positions, add to the difficulty of venous reflux. This will easily lead to constipation, rectocele, piles, and endless accompanying trouble. By lowering the body position and inverting the sequence of exercises, “Tiger Pouncing”, “Swinging the Tail”, “Both Hands Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys and Waist”, “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, and “Bear Carrying” in Health Qigong can effectively stimulate the stomach, intestines, and anal sphincter, promote the blood circulation, improve venous reflux, and thus prevent the above-mentioned symptoms.

(VI) Eliminating weak links and preventing accidental injuries

Unbalanced forces on muscles will cause local injuries to the muscles. For example, taking a sneeze may cause a sudden sprain the lumbar region, stepping on a stone may spray the ankle, and looking back may injure the neck. To prevent these injuries, we have to strengthen the local muscles. The “Nine Ghosts Drawing Saber”, “Plucking a Star and Exchanging a Star Cluster”, “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, “Deer Wrestling”, “Hiding the Head and Shrinking the Neck”, and “Looking Backwards to Prevent Sickness and Strain” exercises in Health Qigong can effectively strengthen the local muscles, eliminate the weak links, and thus prevent injuries.

Matters to be Noted about Inverted-Sequence Exercises

(I) Carefully choose exercises

There are a lot of inverted-sequence exercises in Health Qigong, and different people have different conditions. Therefore it is not advisable to practice aimlessly. The best way is to choose inverted-sequence exercises under the guidance of specialists and according to the specific conditions of the exerciser in order to suit the exercises to the symptoms. Inverted-sequence exercises are against people’s habitual movements. Therefore physically weak and disease-susceptible exercisers shall use caution while choosing such exercises. For example, physically weak and powerless people shall use caution while choosing “Crouching Tiger Springs on Prey”, patients with severe high blood pressure shall use caution while choosing “Swinging the Tail” or “Deer Wrestling”, patients with severe cervical spondylosis shall use caution while choosing “Nine Ghosts Drawing Saber” or “Looking Backwards to Prevent Sickness and Strain”, and patients with severe lumbar disc herniation shall use caution while choosing “Swinging the Tail”, “Tiger Pouncing”, or “Moving the Hands down the Back and Legs, and Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys”.

(II) Make full preparations

Since inverted-sequence exercises usually mobilize the nerves, joints, muscles, and tendons that we seldom use under normal circumstances, we need to take proper warm-up activities to excite the nerves, warm up the muscles, reduce the viscosity of muscles, activate the tendons, and lubricate the joints in order to improve the practicing results and avoid injuries.

(III) Make progress step by step

Inverted-sequence exercises have high requirements on the difficulty of movements, intensity of practice, and amount of exercise with regard to the practicing methods, nervous systems, and organs. Therefore inverted-sequence exercises shall be practiced in a step-by-step and gradually way. This means to: 1. Progress from easier methods of movements to the more complicated ones.. 2. Progress from lower difficulty levels of movements to the higher ones. 3. Progress from lower intensity of practice to higher intensity. 4. Progress from smaller amounts of exercise to larger ones. It is only in this way that we can gradually master the techniques, improve our skills, improve the balances between nerves and the motor system, and thus protect the body and improve health.

(IV) Perseverance

Peoples living habits are not formed within a day or two. And specialization of work is also something we need to carry through on a long-term basis. Therefore, many problems such as mental fatigue and weak muscles cannot be easily alleviated or solved and gradual transition will be required. That is why we need to achieve our goals through repeated practice. Specifically, we should practice 2 to 3 times per week and use 4~8 repetitions for each movement or body part.

(V) Reasonable sort-out

The inverted-sequence exercise involves a certain intensity and workload. Failure to take any sort-out or relaxation after the exercise will reduce the practicing effects and may even cause new fatigue and injures. Therefore, it is necessary to sort out and relax all parts of the body by patting, massaging, shaking, stretching, and swaying. Physical methods of relaxation such as hot water bath after the exercise are even better.

Reference: Inverted-Sequence Exercises in Health Qigong

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