imageIt is late January as I write this, Christmas seems a distant memory and there’s a long stretch to get¬†through till Spring. Make all the resolutions you want, adopt “Dry January”; resolve to learn French, or piano; aspire to lose weight and get fit; make peace with aunt Edna, but let’s be honest, even though we Got over that “First-Monday-back-at-work syndrome”, it’s hard to keep motivated when it’s dark and cold as we get up and the same when we get home. The passing of David Bowie three weeks ago didn’t help the mood, either. People gathered in my part of town to lay flowers outside ¬†the great man’s mural opposite Brixton tube. The mourning was heartfelt for the loss of such a great and talented spirit. However, I take heart that we have passed the Winter Solstice and each new day gives us two more minutes of daylight. Fortunately, there is plenty we can do to work with the season and take care of ourselves.

Support Through Shiatsu
At this time of year, I often find in my shiatsu sessions that clients need a more supportive and gentler approach to bodywork. I use a softer touch to encourage the body to relax, the breath to deepen and the parasympathetic nervous system to take over. Clients often sleep through part of the session when I work this way, which is always a good sign, as it means the body has relaxed and can start to foster its healing resources. I often work on the back to support the energy that holds us upright and strengthens our resolve.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is associated with the Water element, which governs the bladder and kidney channels. These powerful channels, located on the back of the body, running either side of the spine and down the legs into the feet act like guy ropes to hold us upright, enabling us to look life in the eye and walk our chosen path. Back problems can often be traced to a blockage in one of these two channels. The function of these organs is crucial too: the kidneys filter our blood and the bladder stores waste for convenient disposal. In the wider context of TCM, this function can have an element of psychological cleansing and processing. Christmas is when many of us have spent time with our families and may now be processing feelings that have been stirred up by being close to our nearest and dearest. This could be an ideal time to use the cold and the dark to do a life audit. Along with a new gym membership, maybe it’s time to sort through that box of old letters, tidy up the accounts, set aside some time for reflection on what it is you really want in life.

Preserving our Treasures
Chinese Physicians often refer to the Three Treasures of the body: Jing, Qi and Shen. A rough translation of these terms might be ‘Essence’, ‘Energy’ and ‘Spirit’ and it is the purpose of exercise systems such as Qigong to cultivate all three.

Jing, or ‘Essence’, is the part of the body’s energy system that governs the natural process of growth, maturation and decay. It is composed of pre-natal Jing, which is created at birth and is finite, and post-natal Jing, which is created through the air we breathe and the food we eat. It is like a reservoir of energy, that we draw on through our lives: we cannot add to it, but we can preserve what we have through a sensible work/life balance, eating well and taking appropriate exercise.

Building our energy bank
One of the most effective ways of preserving our Jing is through Qigong. The movements of Qigong gently stretch the limbs and stimulate the flow of energy in the channels linked to each organ in the body building a reservoir of Qi to draw on. This is why, after regular practice, Qigong students often report feeling they have more energy.

Bone Nourishment
Lastly, after the indulgences of the festive period we frequently resolve to improve our diet. My recommendation for this year is to invest in a stockpot. I have been reading Nourishing Broth by Sally Fallon Morell and Kaayla T. Daniel and it’s going to be a huge influence on my cooking this year. This fascinating book is packed with information about the virtues of making traditional broth and stock. According to the authors, boiling up the bones from your Sunday roast is not only a thrifty way of making your budget stretch a little further, it can add collagen, cartilage and a host of other nutrients to your diet, which provide a multitude of health benefits that support the structure of our bodies and relief from ailments including arthritis, digestive problems and skin ailments.

If you are mourning the loss of the Starman, or feeling the cold bite deep, remember there is much we can do to look after ourselves and keep the fire burning in the belly. Take it easy and may God’s love be with you.