I have been practicing tai ji and qi gong for over 20 years. These practices have been a huge part of healing my own back pain and have helped prevent it from returning. Over the last decade of my acupuncture practice I have been treated many patients with back pain and pelvic pain. I often would teach my patients tai ji positions and movements as part of their rehabilitation. I saw how the exercises helped my patients the same way in which the tai ji helped me improve. Eventually, I created this qi gong exercise routine for my patients to compliment the acupuncture therapy for lumbar pain, sacral pain, lower back pain and chronic pelvic pain.
Qi gong exercises are simple slow movements intended to boost the body’s energy and loosen your muscles and joints. This qigong routine, which has been inspire by my tai ji practice, engages many of the stabilizing muscles of the lower back and abdomen which may be weakened and causing pain. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before starting this qi gong routine.
Strengthen the lower back by through Tai Ji
Tai ji is based on balance and relaxation. The movement slowly distributes your weight between each of your two feet which places gentle stress on different parts of your lower back, pelvis, legs and the sacroiliac joint (SIJ). This helps to strengthen the muscles as well as stretch and loosen the tendons and ligaments in the lower back and the SIJ.
In Wu style tai ji, which I practice, one of the main goals is to strengthen the lower back stabilizing muscles through a concept of “opening the ming men.” The ming men comprises both the lumbar and sacral areas of the back. Ming men translates to the gate of vitality and is an area which stores the body’s energy or qi ( it is also an acupuncture point in this region). In Wu Style qi gong, opening the ming men is a term for engaging the deep stabilizers of the back to create balance. Learning to engage the lower back muscles is challenging but the payoff is significant in terms of back stability and reducing back pain.
My teacher, Benjamin Wu, is one of the best at tai ji push hands, the two many sparring exercises. This is because he has significant control and development of the muscles which lie within the ming men.
Throughout the qi gong routine it is important to involve natural diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is the largest muscle of breathing. When contracting the diaphragm it causes the abdomen to rise and fall. This uses less energy to breathe and will by itself relieve tension just by belly breathing.
The diaphragm is not just a breathing muscle but has a wide range of effects on the body. The diaphragm’s facia connected to all of the muscles of the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis and relaxed diaphragmatic breathing will helps to relax these muscles of the lower back and abdomen.
Diaphragmatic breathing is easy to practice but it can take some time to master.
1. Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor or lie flat on your back.
2. Hold your hands just below your belly button. The palms should face your abdomen.
3. Relax your shoulders and chest and breathe into your hands allowing your stomach to naturally rise and fall.
4. You can imagine a ball of energy in your hands which you are filling as you inhale. When you exhale, imagine releasing all the tension and stress in your body.
5. Do this for 5-10 minutes per day or whenever you feel particularly stressed. Pay attention to abdominal breathing when doing this exercise routine. Gradually, this will become your normal breathing pattern.
It is important to practice diaphragmatic breathing throughout the qi gong routine.
Qi gong for Back Pain
The first few exercises loosen the back muscles. The exercises towards the end of the qi gong routine help to strengthen the muscles. It may be hard to get the hang of the exercises at first. Be patient and go slowly. Although the exercises look easy they are challenging. Don’t overdo it because you will be sore.
Bouncing up and down: 30 seconds
Rub lower back with the knuckles of your fists while bouncing up and down. Bounce by slightly bending the knees.
Swinging arms: 30 seconds or more
With loose relaxed arms, twist the body back and forth at the hips. At the end of the swing gently pat the body with your palms as you move swing back to the other side. First start patting on the top corner of the chest. As you progress through move the area of the pat downward over the chest and abdomen. After patting for a few repetitions proceed to pat down the legs.
Patting the channels: 3 times each limb or 30 seconds
Start at the inside of the upper arm. Pat down the arm towards you hand. When you reach the end of the fingers gently pat up the outside of the arm back towards the chest and shoulders. Do this 3 times on each side. When finished pat down the other arm. Pat down the outside of the legs and up the inside of the legs.
Diaphragmatic breathing/ Qi ball – 1-5 minutes
You can perform this exercise sitting on a chair, sitting in lotus, or standing. Hold your hands below your belly button and imagine that you are holding a ball of energy in them. This area below the belly button is called the dan tian, and is the center and storehouse of the body’s energy. Feel the qi collect in your hands like forming a ball. Your hands will begin to feel warm and tingly. This is good and a sign that you are stimulating the qi.
Feel the qi in your hands and gently rotate the ball. Imagine the qi ball is moving the back and forth from your right to left hand and also, feel the stretch of the qi between your hands. Breathe relaxed feeling the qi in your hands for about 5 minutes. When you are finished you hands should be warm. Rub them together and then rub your belly and dan tian area to store the qi.
Inhale up and down: 9 repetitions
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold your hands, palms up, in front of your lower abdomen. Inhale and bring your hands up to the top of your chest. Rotate your hands palms facing down. Exhale and bring your hands back down to the lower abdomen.
Reach for the sky: 9 repetitions
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold your hands, palms up, in front of your lower abdomen. As you inhale bring your hands up rotating your palms to face your body. When you reach the level of your face rotate your palms out to face up. Exhale as you bring your hands down the sides of your body. Repeat 9 times.
Cloud Hands turning focus on opening ming men: 9 repetitions
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Turn your torso to the left twisting at the hips. With your left hand on top and right on bottom make a qi ball. Inhale and switch the position of the hand putting the right on top and left on bottom. Slowly and gently exhale as you twist your body towards to the right. When you are face the right side you should be making a qi ball with your right hand on top and left on bottom. As you inhale, switch the position of the hands. Exhale and rotate back to the left. Repeat for 9 repetitions.
Rock back and forth massage ming men: 30 seconds
Stand shoulder width apart and place your thumbs over the acupuncture point UB 32 which lies on the sacrum. Sway back and forth rubbing your lower back with your thumbs. You should feel the muscles engage as your weight is put on the side of that specific foot. Overtime you will feel these muscles strengthen. This exercise can be performed as a stand alone exercise to relieve muscle tension.
Tai ji step: 9 repetitions each side
Stand with feet shoulder width apart. With this distance of footing, place one foot so the heel lines up with the toes of the other foot. Bend your knees. Almost all of the weight is on the back foot. Hold your hands palms out in front of your chest. Move forward as you exhale and push your hands forward in front of your body. At the end of the movement almost all of your weight should be on the front foot. Inhale as you come back to your rear foot. Repeat 9 times. Then switch the front and back leg. Repeat again for 9 times.
Quarter squat: 9 repetitions
Feet shoulder width apart, hold your hands in front of your body palms facing out. Slight squat down by bending the knees as you exhale. Inhale on the way up. Repeat 9 times. As you move up and down work on opening the ming men by imagining the hips moving out to the side.
Cool down Qi Ball: 30 seconds to 5 minutes
Hold your hands again in the qi ball position. Feel the qi that you have cultivated and circulated through the body. After you have help them in place for a few moments rub your lower abdomen with the palms of your hand. This helps to consolidate the qi. You can also rub your lower back in the kidney area.
Bring the qi back down- 8 repetitions
This exercise is similar to reach for the sky, but it is the opposite. Inhale as you bring your hands out to the sides and then above your head. Exhale as you bring your hands down in front of your body. This helps bring the qi down and consolidate in the dan tian and kidneys. Repeat 8 times.
Be Patient and Go Slow
In qi gong it is said that it takes 100 days to boost your qi. This means it will take time to see improvement. Go slow. Remember pain no gain.