Appetite and sense of taste

‘When eating, stop when you are seven tenths full’. Chinese saying   One of the constant teachings in the Chinese diet and health tradition is to eat less and it’s clear that for most of us this seems to be true. Over several decades, research has been carried out on a wide variety of lab animals (and some humans) and pretty much without exception it’s been found that reducing overall calorie intake (while maintaining a healthy nutrient balance) results in fewer chronic diseases, better cognitive functioning and longer life. It is important to remember, though, that people who are underweight
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Exercise – what is it good for?

“If people exercise their bodies, the hundred ills cannot arise.” Sun Simiao, 7th century CE   A significant (and very long!) report by the US Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee has just been published. It accumulates all the available evidence on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of exercise. If you’re really keen, you can read the whole thing here, but below is my much shorter precis of the main findings. An even shorter snapshot is that exercise benefits every aspect of human health and quality of life, that any amount of physical activity is better than none, and that the
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Qigong and tai chi research

I must confess I have a weakness for research. Despite its many pitfalls, over time it can help clarify which health practices are helpful and which appear not to have any objective evidence to back them up. It embodies the ideals of science and philosophy – both of which are committed to accurate observation and a willingness to adapt our beliefs in the light of such evidence. This is more and more valuable in a world where people make all kinds of unfounded claims, not least in the field of complementary medicine, diet and lifestyle. Research is also useful in
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Natural movement

Welcome to the first of an occasional qigong blog. I welcome any feedback and discussion. I’ve been thinking and reading about movement quite a bit recently and one thing that keeps cropping up is the idea of natural movement. In the Chinese internal arts (qigong and martial practices such as tai chi, bagua and xingyi) this has many resonances. In these traditions, it is common to practise ‘simple’ core movements over and over again (usually slowly, mindfully and relaxedly and with focused awareness), to create better biomechanical alignments, greater fluidity and power, and whole body integration. These core movements are
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Well that’s a surprise – ultra-processed food is bad for you

Hot on the heels of the news that ultra-processed food makes up more than half of the average Briton’s diet (and 60% of the average American’s), comes a French report that consumption of these ‘food-like substances’ significantly increases the risk of cancer. In fact adding just 10% of ultra-processed food to the diet increases the cancer risk by 12%. Author Michael Pollan famously coined the phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. By eat food, he meant real food – stuff our grandparents would have recognised. Real food can be processed of course. Tea is, coffee is, cheese is.
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Qigong blog and qigong website

My enthusiasm for qigong seems to just keep growing – week on week, year on year. It saddens (and frustrates) me that it is so little known and practised – compared to yoga. I’m not sure if there is something in the nature of qigong itself (it’s slower to ‘get’ than yoga which seems to fit Westerners’ expectations of exercise a bit more neatly) or just lack of publicity – can we get a couple of celebrities to start bigging it up? Anyway, to do my bit I’ve expanded the qigong section of my website to include some discussion of
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Exercise in the young

I hated sports at school … really hated it. Cold showers, the overpowering smell of sweat and feet, hopeless at the sports they offered, last to be picked for any team. I always thought that final humiliation was because I was rubbish but I now realise that any confidence I might have had was knocked out of me, and because as an August child I was the youngest in my year. It took me years to discover the delights of exercising the body – not with rugby, cricket and athletics which is all my school offered – but with things
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The Transformative Power of Slow, Deep Breathing

  One common feature of traditional practices such as yoga, tai chi, qigong etc. is their emphasis on slow, deep, lower abdominal breathing, with extraordinary claims made about its powerful effects. For example Yuan Hao in 15th century China simply said, “A day and a night of regulated breathing can [reverse] twenty years of chronic illness.” What is special about breathing is that (like the heartbeat or digestion) it is an autonomic function – in other words we can spend the entire day quite unaware of our breath which carries on perfectly well without our attention. But unlike the heart
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Nature & health

A sweet study has just been published in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine journal. Researchers from Japanese environmental and forest institutes report that simply viewing a vase full of fresh, red roses induced powerful states of physiological and psychological relaxation in female university students. Japan, of course, is the home of what is known as ‘forest bathing’ or ‘shinrin-yoku’ where groups of people (usually seniors) are led on silent, mindful guided walks through the woods. The result is lowered levels of stress hormones, pulse rate, blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) activity. The rose researchers cite the ‘back
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Keep moving

The great 7th century doctor Sun Simiao said, “The Way of nurturing life consists of never sitting nor lying for a long time; we should constantly strive for minor exertion but never become greatly fatigued.” Only recently has the wisdom of these words been fully understood. Way back, human life involved almost constant movement. True, some of it was backbreaking labour (who’d want to be one of the nameless stone haulers building the pyramids?), but more usually it was moderate activity – walking, climbing trees, pounding grain, digging the earth, beating clothes in the river, carrying firewood and so on.
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