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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How to eat is more important than what to eat

(Apologies if you have received this post more than once but it seems gremlins have entered the system and most people aren’t receiving my blog posts. It would be helpful to let me know at peter@jcm.co.uk if you do receive this. Thanks.) Well, it’s not strictly true, but the ‘how’ of eating … our eating habits … are certainly at least as important as the ‘what’. If we overeat, eat when rushed, angry, walking/standing, working or slumped on the sofa, eat too late at night, or have some kind of pathological relationship to food, we can weaken and damage our
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The Gongfu of Ageing

The term gongfu (kung fu) evokes images of fighters leaping through the air in meticulously choreographed fights, accompanied by a biff-bang soundtrack, or else shaven-headed Shaolin monks smashing bricks with their fists. But the original meaning of gongfu is quite different from that. ‘Gong‘ means work, achievement or skill, and is the same character that appears in the word qigong (skill in vital energy). Gongfu is the seemingly effortless expertise that results from the prolonged and dedicated practice of any art. As Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English lexicographer, said, “What we hope ever to do with ease, we must
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Philosophical ramblings

I risk self-indulgence by posting something more personal than I usually do in this blog. If any part of it resonates (or causes discord), please respond and we can debate it. So … I recently got back from a ten-day qigong camp in Devon which I teach at every year. And as happens every year, the camp presents me with massive rewards (community, nature, qigong, music, dance, poetry, friendship, laughter and more) as well as quite a few challenges. One of these that crops up for me year after year is the question of ‘belief’. I was brought up in an
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Live Well Long now published as an iBook

Dear friends Just a note to say that my recent book Live Well Live Long: Teachings from the Chinese Nourishment of Life Tradition is now available as an iBook for Apple devices. It’s not that I’m an Apple fanatic but their iBooks books creation allows  for real creative design (unlike other digital publishing forms). So I’ve been able to add photos and live reference links and links to videos etc. It’s also half the price of the printed book. Please spread the word, thanks.
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How to reduce our stress response at the deepest level

Anyone who practises integrated mind-body methods such as yoga, meditation, tai chi or qigong knows how effective they are in helping us feel calmer, more centred, and more stable in our responses to the world. For some people this effect can be immediately felt at their very first class, although for others it takes longer. When we make this kind of practice a part of our daily life, we can begin to feel this relaxation response deepening. In fact we can begin to condition ourselves so that as soon as we take our meditation position, put on our tai chi clothes and
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Let’s campaign against pesticides and save the natural world

Two things happened to me yesterday. My daughter gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl, and I went to see Professor Dave Goulson give a talk on pesticides and their effects on wild bee populations. The two events are connected. The truth about the state of nature is deeply painful to hear. The world that my new grand-daughter is likely to have to live in will be very different from the one we do, or rather the one we used to. We humans are simply wiping out life on earth. The population of farmland birds and wild animals of
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Why do we get ill?

Once we understand that our lifestyle and behaviour have a big impact on our health and wellbeing, it’s easy to slip into thinking they are the only factors. This can have negative consequences since we can then start casting blame when illness develops, even if it’s unrelated to anything that we or others do or fail to do. So it’s helpful to be reminded of two other major factors that affect our chances of being well and leading a long healthy life – our inherited constitution and the good or bad fortune we encounter. As far as constitution is concerned
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