Most people will experience back, neck, spinal or repetitive strain injuries at some point in their lives. For many, it will limit the mobility they experience for the rest of their life. Learn what you can do now to help prevent needless suffering from chronic aches and pains.
Startling Health Statistics
An EU-wide study (by The Work Foundation www.theworkfoundation.org, reported by www.backpain.org.uk on 13 February 2010) found that musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain, neck pain and repetitive-strain-injury-type conditions, account for nearly half (49%) of all absences from work and 60% of permanent work incapacity in the European Union.
The estimated cost to society in Europe is 240€ billion each year. An estimated 100 million European citizens suffer the misery of these musculoskeletal disorders that are serious enough to warrant ongoing treatment. Of course, these figures do not take into account the pain, misery and costs associated with the much larger number of people who suffer less serious back pain and other ill-health without seeking treatment.
Upon concluding the study, researchers proclaimed: “It’s simply not feasible to treat 100 million people for back pain every year. We have to start trying to get these numbers down by addressing the root causes, such as poor working posture and lifting injuries, before people reach the stage where it starts to affect their work or they need to seek expensive treatment.”
Energy Exercises: An Answer to a Pandemic?
There are many and varied reasons why your back, neck or spine can become destabilised. Although major injuries do cause the worst pain, they aren’t to blame for the rising number of daily sufferers. Even 45% of children are reporting back pain. Reasons such as over strain and misuse of the body are the primary culprits. Both factors stem from excessive use of computers and playing video games, and could easily be avoided. We first need the knowledge and training.
In the West, exercise is associated with push and strain. It’s mostly about big physical movements that involve some aspect and degree of aerobic activity, which has some positive effects. In the East, exercise has been viewed very differently for thousands of years. Exercise is more about what is happening internally and doesn’t require extreme workouts to reap the same cardiovascular benefits.
Internal energy exercises systematically train you to operate your body more efficiently. They can help you maintain your good health and heal physical injuries, illnesses and other conditions that may be sapping your energy. They encompass enough depth and finesse to open up tight bodies, release tension, reverse the damaging effects of repetitive strain injury (RSI) and heal even chronic back pain.
Almost any type of exercises will be effective for a healthy body, but if you want to heal your body of illness or injury, you need gentle yet powerful exercises that your body can stand without strain. The same goes for those of you who are in sound physical health and want to upgrade your current state of being. Energy exercises penetrate deep into the body to create dramatic change without a lot of complicated choreography and jumping around. They can be practised by almost anyone—regardless of their current state of health, age, weight or fitness level.
Internal versus External Exercise
External exercises are solely muscle-orientated. Of course you can generate a certain amount of health and flexibility through conventional methods—especially if you’re healthy. They are normally aerobic in nature and fitness-orientated rather than health-orientated.
Fitness is about how your body looks on the outside. Health is about the internal workings of your body, mind and qi energy, and whether they function optimally and in balance with one another. You can be fit and not healthy or healthy and not fit. Hopefully, you can enjoy both, but if you have choice focus on being healthy and stop all this nonsense about what you look like. Thin people can have heart attacks and can be unhealthier than some fat people.
Internal energy excises are very different because the main focus is on health, longevity and vitality. At more advanced stages they can include aerobic activity and fitness, but that isn’t the focus in the beginning. Instead, they initially work on opening up the body and gaining access to the organ base, which massages and upgrades the functioning of your insides since they are the real key to keeping you alive. You can lose a limb and live, but you can’t survive without your heart, liver or kidneys.
Modern exercises may use stretches to open and release the back, neck and spine, but they are limited by what they can achieve because they are primarily comprised of external movements. That is they do not teach you how to optimise your body from deep inside. In most cases, the long muscles are targeted and thereby indirectly stretch your back and spine.
Internal exercise by its very nature will also stretch the long muscles, but the focus is more on the facia and ligaments of the back and spine. The stretches are therefore not only superficial, but penetrate deeper within and therefore have a more profound effect. Gaining access to your fascia will open up the whole sheet of your back and the ligaments will lengthen out your spine. This opens up the vertebrae and takes pressure off the discs. A very tight back usually means the discs are being compacted, so you want to lengthen and create more space between the vertebrae themselves. Stabilising this space with proper body alignments will also allow any load you put on your back/spine to transfer through to the legs rather than into any specific weak or damaged area. These areas are targeted within energy exercises.
Eventually, you can open up your body enough to give you direct access to your internal organs. When it does, the next level of benefits can be realised.
No Strain, Plenty of Gain
Regardless of your short- or long-term goals in exercising, internal energy exercises are all about increasing your health and human capacity. They develop your mind and body simultaneously, creating balance holistically.
In the West, there is an unbalanced focus on extremism in all activities whether it’s the big push in exercising, the shop, shop, shop ‘til you drop, marathon running, climbing mountains in extreme conditions or more. We’re bombarded with images and messages that we must prove ourselves through taking on fanatical challenges. All of it is in the vein of giving 100% or more! This is supposed to be the path to achieving your dreams? It’s bogus.
The force-and-push attitude actually creates a glass ceiling. Your body and your energy become depleted when you exert too much energy for prolonged periods of time. You use up your reserves early on and have nothing left for the long game. It’s true that initially your ability increases, but only to a point and not beyond.
Only very few people are genetically strong enough to develop super-human abilities with a push-and-strain mentality. These are the athletes that fill arenas of the Olympic Games, but for sure they comprise less than 0.01% of the population or we wouldn’t be so enamoured with their performances, would we? The rest of us—99.9% of the population—need a different approach to health, life and longevity.
The Trick Is the Golden Mean
Never exhausting the body or its energy is among the most difficult challenges you will have to undertake in life. Of course some are persistently apathetic, but for the majority of people it’s striking a balance between doing too much and allowing the body and mind the downtime needed for regeneration.
Focused practice without the push and strain will help you learn how to use your full effort with relaxed attention. This is the path towards building and maintaining rather than depleting your reserves and taking yourself out of the running before you reach the start line. You attempt to exercise to the point where you feel your system is functioning well and you can sustain this feeling for a while. It’s a sense of cruising rather than flat out full-steam ahead, the jog rather than the sprint.
When you finish, you want to have the sense that you could have practised a bit more. You don’t want to feel that you could have done a whole lot more—say two or three times what you did—but you don’t want to be exhausted from exercising. Finding the balance is tricky because you have to feel what is happening inside you. You’ll notice changes in yourself on a daily basis too.
Exercising moderation is so important because it accomplishes two key goals:
- Leaving you a reserve in the energy banks of your body.
- Preventing resistance so that you continue daily exercise (and maybe even enjoy it).
Everybody has tried some new activity—a bit of rock climbing, snowboarding, hiking or workout programme at the gym. At first you enjoy it immensely, yet it takes so much out of you. This is because you exercise to excess. Maybe a friend brings you along who is really good at the activity and shows off their skill level. If you try to keep up, you may notice a sudden loss of interest. These are examples of how internal resistance can undermine your efforts. You go beyond your comfortable ability and the body refuses to be forced into high performance. Unfortunately, you aren’t even capable of achieving fitness when the body hits internal resistance. The cunning mind of any intelligent individual, fuelled by the powerful rebound from the push, will find any excuse not to train.
Finding the balance between too much and too little is called the “golden mean” in the East. The golden mean creates the space where you can exercise, practise regularly and gain much benefit over time. For sure exercising excessively once in a blue moon will yield a lot less than a small amount of practice several days a week. So, look for you own personal golden mean and don’t be in a hurry to get results. It’s the slow road that leads to success (one of my 5 Principles of High Performance).
As discussed most back, neck and spine problems are self-generated and caused by repetitive strain injury due to continuous, poor body mechanics. You’re unlikely to be aware of the tiny amount of damage that is caused by repeating normal daily tasks until one day you perform that same simple motion again and OUCH! These stresses can build a little each day over months or years. Once you notice pain or fatigue, the problem is here to stay and compounds much more easily from any of life’s stressful events.
When you learn how to move your body properly, repair the damage and release the deep physical tension you can once again live pain-free. Injuries such as repetitive strain are normally due to the fact that whatever the motion—the load or pressure—is focused on a single point. This creates a weak link that eventually wears out, gives out or breaks down.
The human body can easily take the weight of two people (or more) of the same size on your shoulders if the spine and legs are properly aligned. If, however, a quarter of that weight is applied with poor alignments the pressure will go into any weak area of the lower spine or knee joint and cause big problems—common joys like slipped discs and torn ligaments.
Also, as we age our body naturally contracts, reducing our range of motion and flexibility. The tissues and bones become harder and more brittle. Of course some areas are more susceptible than others. What repetitive motions do you perform? Typing on a keyboard and operating a mouse? Lifting and stacking sequences? Driving long distances or sitting in traffic?
Any restricted areas may receive the torque as you move, which can lead to tearing muscles, ligaments or tendons. These blocked areas may hold fast though and cause the areas on either side to give way or tear.
I’ll have a second post for you on:
- How to re-educate and feel your physical body
- What is possible from internal energy exercises, and
- Why investing your effort in qi energy development could pay healthy dividends.