In our natural state of health, the body knows how to create and maintain balance.
An out-breath is automatically followed by an in-breath; a time of waking with a time of sleep. We digest and assimilate food, finally eliminating what the body does not require; our natural cycles of fertility come and go mirroring the phases of the moon. All this happens without our conscious control. These automatic body processes are governed by the autonomic nervous system, which has its own internal checks and balances.
Human beings have always experienced times of stress, whether physical, mental or emotional, and it is these stress factors that activate what we often call the ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms, which interfere with the harmonious workings of the autonomic system.
During a stressful event, we may experience changes in our digestive patterns, difficulty sleeping and even changes to the menstrual cycle. We can deal with this for short periods of time, and have been doing so for millennia, but the modern world exposes us to an almost constant level of stress.
Whether the obvious stress of busy lives in a busy city, with its noise and constant stimulation, or the more hidden stresses of chemical pollutants and electromagnetic frequencies which are hard to avoid. Our bodies have become so used to stress, that we can live in a permanent state of tension – often without realising it.
For this reason, it is important that we give our selves a little help to regain our natural balance. Most forms of natural health care address this, but with its core philosophy of yin yang and understanding of natural cycles, the Oriental view of health and well-being can provide important insights and simple guidance for self care.
Although the autonomic nervous system functions quite happily without our conscious control, we can aid it in various ways – and one of the simplest is awareness of the breath. In stress we can almost forget how to breathe! Our breathing often becomes rapid and shallow, we do not take in enough oxygen, and do not engage sufficiently with our surroundings – closing down and closing in.
Sometimes we literally hold our breath to get by. Being aware of our breathing slows us down, brings us back to a centred awareness of ourselves, and allows a good exchange with our environment. Combined with simple movements that encourage a good flow of blood and vital energy throughout the body, the in-breath and out-breath instil a natural rhythm to all our bodily functions.
The theory of yin yang explains the simple logic of natural balance – if we are too speedy, we need to slow down. If our system is too sluggish, we need stimulation. It is knowing what we need that is the key to good health. If take time out to listen to our bodies – take time to retreat from the world – we can tune in to our natural state of balance.
Whether we decide to swim, to walk, to have a regular massage or to engage in specific qi gong health exercises, it is the quality of the breath, the quality of our awareness that can transform a simple action into one of centring and balance.
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