Spinal Health and Its Benefits
Today I answer the questions, "Why should I focus on the back?" and "How do I know if it's working for me?" We explore how the back is related to whole-body wellness and the importance of paying attention to your health.
I always try to answer your questions, especially through my Patreon community. One of the most common questions is the importance of the spine to our overall health and wellbeing. If Snake & Turtle qigong emphasizes the back, should it be practiced by people who don't have spinal problems? Also, how can I know if it's working for me? I'll attempt to give a short answer to both of these questions.
I recently made a video with Dr.Daniel, exploring Chinese medicine's perspectives of the back and how it relates to the entire body through channel and function. Yet, there is still so much more to appreciate!
Our practice supports a back that has healthy circulation, is free of compression and rigidity, and is both strong and soft. We emphasize the prevention of future difficulties by increasing stability and balance and correcting the postural relationship between gravity and the ground. We learn to move in ways that do not strain the back or damage the discs. Also, by including explorations of a healthy diet, exercise, deep rest, and a peaceful mind, we speed healing for problems like unhealthy inflammation patterns, degeneration, and exhaustion.
I occasionally mention my own healing stories, although I avoid making these discussions about me. As a child, I had such severe spinal issues that I was excused from physical education classes to prevent injury. Years later, my spine is fully healed. I have first-hand experience with how well it works, and I'm always excited to share these methods with everyone!
I occasionally mention my love of tea because I feel it also plays a role in a healthy lifestyle. This is Purple Spring puer from Seven Cups. Super tasty!
Do you remember learning in school that the internal organs communicate with the brain? The nervous system regulates them through the spine. An obstruction in the spine is an obstruction to those related tissues. We are an interrelated, interconnected whole. The spine is the bridge between above and below, conscious and unconscious, inside and outside.
One of the ways that Chinese medicine explores this bridge is through channel acupoints (or "caves") along the spine, often named for a famous doctor. These "HuaTuo Jia Ji" reference some of the connections through the spine.
Cervical Vertebrae (Neck)
C1 - [Top of the Head]
C2 - [Forehead]
C3 - [Eye, Sinus, Ear]
C4 - [Mouth, Cheek Chin]
C5 - [Larynx, Pharynx]
C6 - [Thyroid Gland]
C7 - [Parathyroid Gland]
Thoracic Vertebrae (Upper and Mid Back)
T1 - [Windpipe, Bone Marrow]
T2 - [Bronchus, Thymus Gland]
T3 - [Lung, Lymph]
T4 - [Breast, Sweat Gland, Hair Follicle]
T5 - [Heart (L), Pericardium (R)]
T6 - [Diaphragm]
T7 - [Spleen (L), Abdominal Blood Vessel (R)]
T8 - [Esophagus (L), Pancreas (R)]
T9 - [Stomach (L), Liver (R)]
T10 - [Gall Bladder (L), Bile Duct (R)]
T11 - [Small Intestine]
T12 - [Transverse Colon]
Lumbar Vertebrae (Low Back)
L1 - [Adrenal Gland, Testis, Vagina]
L2 - [Kidney, Seminal Vesicle, Uterus]
L3 - [Prostate, Ovary]
L4 - [Large Intestine]
L5 - [Descending Colon]
S1 - [Ureter]
S2 - [Urinary Bladder]
S3 - [External Genitals]
S4 - [Urinary Tract]
S5 - [Rectum]
Consider a symptom as widespread as sciatica. It usually results from degeneration, compression, and circulatory problems, which can be improved through healthy movement, breathwork, and postural correction. When inflammatory changes occur, there are functional changes to nerve roots, which strongly impact our health. In Chinese medicine, we refer to these obstructive blockages as "qi stagnation." If that sounds strange, watch my lesson "What is Qigong?" Remember that I designed them to be followed in a specific order for your optimal success.
When the proper relationships along these spinal pathways are interrupted, no part of your being escapes. Similarly, when these pathways are nourished and protected, every aspect of our lives is enhanced. We might call this "strengthening the qi."
Hildreth CJ, Lynm C, Glass RM. Sciatica. JAMA. 2009;302(2):216. doi:10.1001/jama.302.2.216
By the way, sciatica has been one of my specializations within the clinic. Chinese medicine's effectiveness has been startling and undeniable. If you suffer from this radiating pain, find a good healer to receive a diagnosis and some relief. Too many people live with unnecessary pain.
doi: 10.2147/JPR.S280404. PMID: 33447076; PMCID: PMC7802920
That said, it's vital to notice your healing as often as you think about your troubles. Our minds are wired to note concerns far more consistently than areas of ease. Too often, patients who have healed from their main complaints in my clinic don't even notice. For example, a woman visited me in Costa Rica with over a decade of chronic sciatica pain. She was skeptical that I could help her but allowed me to treat her in the community clinic. After a single treatment, her pain vanished, and she never felt the need to return! This kind of insta-cure rarely happens, but it's fun when it does. For two years, I was telling people about this story, happy to share her success. Eventually, we attended the same charity gathering. And I overheard her speaking to another guest. She was telling them that acupuncture just had never been helpful to her. I was shocked and couldn't help but interrupt the conversation. When I asked her about her cured sciatica, she had completely forgotten that it had been the biggest problem. She just remembered that her insomnia didn't improve. This rewriting of history blew my mind and reminded me to help clients pay attention to their improvements. Otherwise, it will go completely unnoticed.
While sciatica is hard to ignore, not all imbalances announce themselves loudly with discomfort. 90% of the nerves coming out of the spine do not signal pain, so it's often difficult to evaluate your health through how much you are hurting. You should carefully assess your entire wellbeing because every aspect of your health impacts the whole of your system. You must see your doctor and visit experts regularly to safeguard your health. If you're already suffering, then it's extra urgent that you seek healing. Many doctors and specialists spend their entire lives learning how to help people just like you, and at the very least, it's worth asking for our advice. We can also help you know when you are healing and find the best pathway forward.
In the meantime, a gentle, peaceful, full-body practice like qigong will help maintain your health. Cultivate a stable and relaxed posture, knowing that misalignment becomes compression and obstruction over time. Poor posture shortens and compresses your torso, reducing the amount of space available for functions like digestion and circulation. Contraction is yet another time to enjoy practical terms like "qi stagnation," referring to the body's interrelationships. This way, you can understand that the spine's position and motion are related to a healthy digestive system. Understand how to treat the cause of the illness rather than the symptoms and maintain those practices daily. Notice how your balance, overall relaxation, flexibility, and peace of mind slowly improve with each session.
The Next Step:
So many people see the result of diligent practice, such as flexibility, ease, and vitality, and misunderstand the cause. They imitate the result instead of the process, which leads to the result. People like my instructors are remarkably strong and flexible. So people try to emulate their feats of strength and force their bodies into stretches that aren't appropriate. Instead, understand that these people have been training every day for years. Please don't copy the result; copy the method that got them there. One reason I post so many practice videos for you to follow is to try to help encourage those efforts. Be diligent and patient, following the proper principles as you increase your skill. I know that you can do it!
These qigong methods have been carefully crafted and refined over millennia, all to improve our lives and benefit humanity. I am so grateful that Zhicheng Shifu and Shoko Sensei have worked hard to pass on these methods to the rest of us. They are a treasure that will continue to nourish the health and wellbeing of our community long after we are gone. Please send them a note of thanks if you have a free moment.
Write down your health complaints in your journal and look at the chart to see how your spine might play a role in your imbalances. Emphasize softening and releasing that area of your back as you practice. Also, remember that we are happy to answer any questions you have and that I always include links to studies I cite during my lessons here and in the blog.
Please share your healing stories in the comment section to inspire and encourage the community. And enjoy your practice!
Remember that this is only a tiny part of a more extensive system and sequence of teaching videos. Subscribe to my channel to learn more!
Make sure that you begin your practice at the beginning of the sequence
Ready to train? Follow along with traditional practice sessions
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