Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Kung Fu are Healthy for the Blood
Previously we learned about blood from the articles on Qi and Blood, Understand Your Blood in the Western Science, and Foods for Your Blood. The question is – How does Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Kung Fu affect our blood? These arts can dramatically improve your health. They have a positive impact on the health of the blood.
The blood has two key functions: to nourish and to cleanse. To achieve these functions the blood must circulate throughout the body. While we are moving we want to avoid injuring the blood and the blood vessels. The ideal method is to move smoothly without tension. When we move we want to avoid tension for several reasons. In relationship to health, moving smoothly with non-contractive rotation is more natural. This also reduces the risk of injury. With smooth long movements the body is opened and closed fully.
Relax to Circulate the Blood
Opening the body with long movements increases the range of motion of the body by softening the joints and lengthening the muscles and tendons. Long movements help to open the spaces between the joints. This helps to bring blood circulation deep inside the joints, thus nourishing the joints. Twisting and rotating movements that use the full natural range of motion are particularly good. When you use opening and closing; rising and falling movements together you are able to help the blood circulate fully throughout the body. Since it is normally the role of the heart pump the blood thru the body, when we are able to use body movements that harmoniously assist the heart the
can relax and balance its rhythm. This is relaxing for the entire body.
Classical Chinese Martial Arts are Healing
Many sports and martial arts use sudden jerking, percussive, or shaking movements and tension. This can lead to injuries and damage to not only the muscles, tendons, bones and joints but also the blood vessels and nerves. For actual competition or self defense sudden movements may be necessary for victory. However, it is not the wisest plan to constantly subject your body to such stress. I have practiced martial arts for over thirty years and observed many outstanding older masters of various styles.
Those teachers that practiced in this fashion had the most physical prowess in their 70’s and 80’s. Many of these individuals lead rough lives and fought many matches. However, their daily practice rejuvenated them and helped to heal their injuries rather than wear them out. This is one of the prime qualities that distinguishes good traditional Chinese martial arts from other styles. Good Chinese martial arts work in harmony with the body thru their common foundation in Chinese Medicine and are therapeutic in their design.
Tension Needs to be Avoided
Tension should be avoided for several reasons. Tension is caused by two opposing muscle groups both contracting at the same time. At the base level this is inefficient. Tension is the mark of a beginner who has not refined their movements thru practice. With enough practice people gradually eliminate tension as they become more precise in their posture and timing. If a building is poorly constructed and elements that should be vertical and plum are not and other elements that should be level are not and the areas where they join do not fit properly the building will be weak, unstable and likely to collapse. In an effort to strengthen it we can use lots of nails, glue, extra boards, braces
and other fasteners. This will help to an extent but it is poorly done. Tension is like using the extra nails and boards. Tension is used when things are not well aligned and working together to keep the structure or posture from collapsing.
Tension Restricts Power
Often people are addicted to the sensation of tensing their muscles. We like the sensation of the strength we feel. Flexing your muscles is natural and does feel good. However, it is not good martial arts. Beginners often think that by tensing their muscles they are increasing the force of their movements. Actually this is not true. Force is a result of physics. Force is defined as mass times acceleration. For our purposes mass simply means how much of your body are you putting into a blow. Are punching with the weight of your hand, arm, upper body, or whole body? Acceleration means how fast are you moving. If you have lots of mass moving very slowly it may be the same as a
much smaller mass moving very fast. The structure of your body must have integrity and be united to count its whole mass. There are two ways to achieve this. One is by having great alignment and posture. This is a well built house that uses few nails and is very strong. The other is by using tension to hold it together. This is the poorly designed house that is held together with countless boards and extra nails and tape. Tensing your muscles only helps to increase your power in the same way the extra boards and nails help to hold up a poorly designed building. The problem with tension is that it slows you down reducing your speed or acceleration. Tension also makes you stiff and unresponsive. Tense people can be more easily toppled during movement. Tense people are less able to change their course and respond to new threats or opportunities.
Tension also restricts the flow of blood thru the blood vessels. This creates higher blood pressure and leads to the risk of weakened blood vessels breaking. I have known quite a few practitioners of the hard styles like Karate and Kenpo to die in their fifties and early sixties, and even a couple in their forties from heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms. These were strong men and excellent fighters. However, many years of tension took its toll. I am sure many of us know people who have very stressful jobs or lives and the stress influenced their health.
Tension Injures the Blood
The other concern from tension is injuring the blood itself. When the blood vessels are are constricted by the tense muscles around them they are smaller. When you increase your activity level then the heart pumps much faster forcing the blood thru the smaller vessels. Blood cells themselves can be damaged in this process. This is called burning the blood. Then the liver has to remove the old blood cells and build new ones. This is one reason it takes a while to recover after extreme physical exertion. If we are being chased by a tiger who cares so long as you get away! But you don’t want to exercise this way constantly!
Practice in a Relaxed Fashion is Healing
By exercising in a relaxed fashion with long smooth movements we assist blood circulation and eliminate blood stagnation thereby healing the entire body. This doesn’t mean we have to be slow. In Tai Chi and most Qi Gong you move slow but in Northern Shaolin, Lan Shou and other Kung Fu styles you move fast. Sometimes like lightening. However, for the beginning student it is wiser to practice most of the time at a moderate pace and perfect your postures and timing. Then you will naturally speed up as your body changes and is transformed by your training. If we were laying tracks for a new railroad we should make a couple of slow inspection runs before going full speed. If you are building a refinery or pumping plant we would check all the pumps, pipes and valves
then use low pressure and gradually build up to full speed. In the same way, always practicing fast is the mark of the perpetual beginner. Slow careful practice builds real skill. After you know the postures well you can spend practice at full speed.
When the tissues of the body are relaxed and free from constriction caused by tension, misalignment, or scar tissue then the fluids of the body can circulate freely. These fluids include both the blood and the lymph. The blood brings vital nourishment from food and oxygen from the air to every cell in the body. In addition, the blood carries away the waste products from cellular metabolism and cleanses the body. The lymphatic system also cleanses the body and has an important role in the immune systems defense of the body. When the blood vessels and lymphatic system are squished or compressed it is difficult for them to perform their vital roles of cleansing and nourishing the body.
This is like a bent or crimped garden hose, little water comes out even though the water pressure is high. When we relax the body and promote proper movement and circulation of the vital fluids the body can heal itself. It is very simple. Take away blood circulation from any part of the body it quickly atrophies and dies. Restore blood circulation and vigor and strength soon return.