How are your energy levels? Do you have enough energy to sail through all of your daily responsibilities? Or do you crash at a certain time of day? If you do crash, do you get a second wind? These questions are a part of every routine Chinese medical examination. I have been asking these questions in my clinic every day for years now, and the answers might not surprise you. But what might surprise you is the direct correlation between the answers and the person’s overall mental and physical health.
How much energy you have determines so much on a day-to-day basis; in fact, your energy levels practically shape your life. They are a direct reflection of your vitality as well as an indication of how well or poorly you are aging. In terms of chronological time, we are all growing older at the same pace, but how quickly our bodies or minds break down from the wear and tear of aging is an entirely separate issue.
The therapeutic energy exercises in this book have been practiced in one form or another for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. What is unique about this book’s presentation of qigong (pronounced "chee gong") is that it is designed for busy, tired, working people who have little time to spend on themselves. In short, people who are looking for and can use a little more balance in their lives. For that reason, I’ve included only those exercises that produce powerful and almost immediate results.
Some of these exercises come from hospitals that practice Chinese medicine; others are those that I’ve either taught or prescribed to my patients. They are all time-tested potent techniques, which either calm the mind and body or boost energy, both of which have the effect of slowing down the aging process. It can take as little as five minutes of practice to feel the benefits of these qigong exercises. You do not have to memorize difficult, lengthy exercise regimens. Nor do you have to buy new clothes or fancy equipment. If you have just five minutes, you can pick and choose any one exercise and do it at any time, depending on what your health goal is.
When I say that qigong can transform your life, I speak from experience. My own transformation story began back when I was a litigation attorney who didn’t believe in the power of anything as subtle as qigong or visualization techniques. Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I was initially introduced to qigong in 1989, when I was living in Japan.
While living in Japan, I tried my hand at meditation and found that I was a lousy meditator. I couldn’t sit still comfortably for more than ten minutes, and I couldn’t stop my mind from racing from one thought to the next. The more I tried to quiet my mind, the more unruly it seemed to become. Nonetheless, I knew intuitively that I needed something to balance out my type A lifestyle.
One day I came across a flyer in English for a weekend workshop in something called "Taoist yoga." I was intrigued and figured that I couldn’t be any worse at whatever Taoist yoga was than I was at meditation. I went to the workshop, and the entire morning was spent practicing ridiculously easy qigong exercises. (It turns out that qigong used to be called Taoist yoga back in the 1970s and ’80s). I couldn’t understand how these exercises could possibly benefit me when I wasn’t even breaking a sweat. Moreover, the visualizations seemed too corny and too New Age for me to take seriously. I didn’t stay for the afternoon session, nor did I return the following day. Instead, I wrote it off as a complete waste of time and money, and laughed about the experience with my friends.
The following year I entered law school as planned, and I started my own law firm almost exactly one year after I graduated. When I was an attorney, I prided myself on my ability to multitask; for example, it was not unusual for me to prepare for a court case while eating lunch and simultaneously talking on the phone with a client or opposing counsel. I specialized in writing appeal briefs (written arguments) for my clients as well as for other lawyers in California and Texas.
I regularly overextended myself by taking on more cases than I could handle, and to meet deadlines I routinely sacrificed quality for speed. This was accepted by other lawyers, because they conducted their own practices in the same manner. It was part of the profession’s "culture" to accept as many cases as came in through the door, as each case meant more money. By all measures, I was a success. I had a thriving law practice and I won a number of appeals cases, the decisions for which were published in the law books and became case law.
Along with my success came chronic insomnia, anxiety, digestion issues, sugar crashes that affected my moods, and an irregular heartbeat when I was particularly stressed. Routinely, I would get to my office by 6:30 a.m. to prepare for 8:30 a.m. hearings. I ate breakfast (always a sugary scone or muffin and a double cappuccino) in my car on the way to the office. Lunchtime was never spent just eating lunch; instead I would concurrently write motions or briefs, or I would work on a case or two as I quickly scarfed down my food. I clearly remember always rushing from one place to the next, or from one task to the next. Each day was a nonstop whirlwind of activity.
When I got home after work, I crashed hard. Back then I wasn’t a napper, and I rarely got a second wind. I went to bed exhausted but was frequently unable to sleep. If I did fall asleep, I would wake around 3:00 a.m. full of anxiety about the briefs I had to write or the hearings I had to attend the next day. Anxiety became my default mental state. This went on for years, and I can honestly say that I saw nothing wrong with how my life was going; I merely accepted the consequences of what I thought was necessary to succeed in my chosen field.
A few years later, I went on a family vacation to the Canyon Ranch Spa in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. On a whim, I chose to get an acupuncture treatment instead of the usual massage. I told the acupuncturist that my legs and back were sore from the hiking, running, kayaking, and racquetball I had squeezed into the day before. (Back then I thought that if you worked hard, you should also play hard.) I was worried because the following day would be the second day after heavy exercising, which is usually when I feel most sore. To my surprise, I woke up the next day feeling oddly refreshed and entirely without muscle soreness. I was blown away by the power of one twenty-five-minute treatment.
When I got back to San Francisco, I bought a couple of books on Chinese medicine. Then I bought a few more. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn. Chinese medicine presents a medical model based on wellness; one in which doctors are paid to keep their patients healthy, instead of getting paid only when their patients become ill. I was particularly intrigued with its focus on balancing body and mind, and the belief that the body and the mind cannot be seen as separate entities.
I knew that my own daily mental stress was negatively affecting my physical body, but I had no clue that I could harness my mind to positively affect my body. In truth, I didn’t believe it was possible for the mind to affect the body back then, but I was completely intrigued by the idea, and so I kept reading book after book on Chinese medicine. At some point during that time I had a sudden realization: It was like a lightbulb going off over my head, just like in a cartoon. I suddenly knew what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. Within six months of my acupuncture treatment at the spa, I enrolled in pre-med classes, and then I entered a four-year program at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco.
While in Chinese medicine school, I still ran my law office. I would often put on a suit in the morning, go to court, change clothes, and then go to class (or the reverse). Ironically, my life became even more hectic while I was trying to learn balance. I met my acupuncture mentor right after I began school, and he reintroduced me to qigong and encouraged me to practice it. Memories of Taoist yoga in Japan came flooding back to me, but I trusted this man, and I began practicing the qigong exercises he taught me.
Even though I was working full-time and going to school full-time, I found I had plenty of energy. I learned that ancient Chinese medicine doctors considered self-healing to be the highest form of medicine, and that they showed their patients qigong exercises so that those patients could take an active role in their own healing and wellness. I was already experiencing the energy-boosting benefits of qigong practice, and I found that I was able to focus my mind more clearly on whatever I was doing. I also realized that I could learn how to share qigong with my future patients. So while still enrolled in Chinese medicine school, I enrolled in a separate medical qigong therapy master’s degree program, and I followed that with a doctorate in medical qigong therapy after completing my clinical hours at the Xiyuan Hospital in Beijing, China.
I treated patients and taught qigong exercise classes while at the Xiyuan Hospital. I saw how doctors from all of the different wings sent their patients to the qigong classes, regardless of their illnesses or injuries. Patients routinely told me that after all else had failed, it was their daily hour of qigong that helped them feel better or even healed them from whatever their ailment happened to be.
That was many years ago, and since then I’ve taught thousands of people how to perform and practice qigong exercises. I have personally witnessed students and patients heal from physical and psychoemotional illnesses using qigong as one of their main healing tools. I’ve had many people come up to me to tell me about healing "miracles" they have experienced due to their qigong practice. Today, I no longer underestimate visualization techniques and gentle exercises that don’t make you feel as though you had just finished running a marathon.
The Daoist theories that underlie Chinese medicine teach that the simplest things can also be the most profound, and that less is more. It can take years to break unhealthy patterns and to shake the belief that change is impossible. The beauty of the qigong approach is that you simply start from where you are. Tiny steps can still take you where you want to go; you just need to dedicate some of your time to yourself, which is a form of self-respect and love. Let’s face it: when you have more energy and your moods are well-balanced, you are also more pleasant to be around.
Happily, the anxiety, insomnia, and other problems that I dealt with when I was an attorney are long gone. I have learned how to balance work and rest, and I regularly practice the "KISS principle," which means "keep it simple, stupid." Now when I eat, I just eat. If I am tired midday, I take a twenty- to thirty-minute nap and I wake up refreshed. It took a while for my chronic anxiety to abate, but it did; and I sped up the process with qigong visualizations that balance my emotions. I still begin each day at my clinic with at least thirty minutes of qigong, which ensures that I will be focused and have the energy I need to be the best doctor I can be.
I have come to understand that some of the deepest and most effective healing is not found at a doctor’s office or a hospital, but rather from inside ourselves. Our bodies are designed for self-healing, and we are capable of both boosting and blocking that ability. It takes literally only minutes a day to calm the mind and restore and revitalize our energy, and this book will show you how to do that. These exercises continue to work wonderfully for me, and I know they will work for you.