The human spine is comprised of 24 vertebrae (and 9 fused vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx), 220 ligaments, over 120 muscles, over 100 joints, and over 13 million neurons. It’s no wonder that the spine is often considered the “gateway” or “highway” to health, and that “having a backbone” has come to mean having courage, strength of character, and determination.
In qigong, the spine is sometimes referred to as a dragon, a snake, or a caterpillar. A healthy human spine resembles that of any of these creatures: strong and flexible.
The spine serves four primary functions:
- To support the whole body as a pillar
- To enable the body to move in different directions
- To create balance in any and all movements
- To protect the central nervous system (spinal cord and brainstem)
The last function is often under-appreciated as people go about their daily lives. By serving as the conduit for the spinal cord, the spine connects the brain with the rest of the body. That is, it connects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with the peripheral nervous system, an intricate series of nerves that spreads throughout the body, including to the internal organs, glands, and blood vessels.
This means that mingjue (or pure consciousness) initiates almost all movements; information from the brain sends signals to the rest of the nervous system and body. So any changes to posture or structure can impact the flow of this information and the flow of qi (or energy), for better or worse.
If there is a particular place in the back or nervous system that is challenged, information exchange to and from that area is compromised. Energy flow is also compromised. That area of the body, then, becomes weaker and less functional. This can be temporary but repetitive, like slouching at the computer, or longer-term, like scoliosis. In many places in the world, back pain is one of the most common reasons people miss work or seek medical care.
On the other hand, any healing at the level of the spine and central nervous system can reverberate throughout the entire body. Mingjue can receive and send good information throughout the nervous system. And what follows consciousness information? Qi. Life force energy flows to those areas, activating powerful changes.
The Zhineng Qigong methods designed for the spine can effectively mobilize qi and information for the entire nervous system, opening you to health and vitality. What’s more, these methods can enhance the body’s meridians (energy channels) and blood vessels, at once improving other kinds of circulation. While some may have congenital or acquired conditions that have altered the spine, everyone has the potential to increase the strength and flexibility of his or her spine, energetically or physically.
Mingjue spine practices can help you directly cultivate the “wu wei” experience of “doing without resistance” or “effortless action” in mind, heart, and body.
For a comprehensive lesson, please watch Teacher Wei’s lesson and guided practice, “The Spine is the Highway to Health” (62 min).
Adapted by Cynthia Li, MD, from the course,“Awakening the Inner Healer,” Module 3, Part 1 (December 2022), as taught by Teacher Wei.
PRACTICE – MINGMEN ROTATION
Why Mingmen (or Lower Spine) Rotation? This simple practice is a powerful way to improve flexibility and relaxation of the whole spine, as well as activate your innate qi.
“Mingmen” means “gate of life.” It refers to both the energy point on the lumbar spine, as well as the mingmen inner palace, an important energy center located anterior to the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae, occupying the back portion of the lower dantian energy center of the abdomen. Whereas lower dantian stores acquired qi, mingmen inner palace stores innate (or inherited) qi.
Practice: Find a few times during your day to do this for 10-15 minutes. If helpful, set an alarm on your phone during breaks in the day.
Note: this practice may be modified according to your physical condition. If you are limited in your ability to move your back or other body part, you can begin by visualizing this practice. Scientific research has shown that visualizing movements can have similar benefits to doing them.
First, set a good mingjue entirety state (6-min video).
Slowly begin to rotate the lower spine, left – front – right – back.
Connect with the inner space of mingmen. Observe the rotation of mingmen leading the whole spine in rotation, leading the whole qi body in rotation.
Relax and breathe deeply into mingmen.
When you are ready, reverse the rotation, left – back – right – front.
Continue breathing into mingmen.
Try to gently hold your breath. This helps mingjue draw more deeply into mingmen’s inner space.
Feel mingmen breathing – the whole qi body breathing. Feel your breath as the universe’s breath.
Place your palms on duji (the navel) to ground the information and energy.
Separate the hands to the sides.
Open your eyes slowly.
Always hold the question: Who is observing this rotation? Who is initiating the movements?
DEEPENING YOUR PRACTICE
We offer creative materials to help deepen your practice, make it more playful, or clarify the theories. Review them as you feel inspired. Keep whatever supports your process; disregard if not useful. Better yet, find other materials to personalize your practice. There will come a time when you go beyond all images and tools.
1. Watch this 45-second video of a caterpillar in motion. Pay special attention to where the movement begins. Does it initiate from the front / top? Or from the low spine? Also note the fluidity of the qi impulses and bodily structure. When you practice, bring this good information into your body.
2. In this 3-minute video, Teacher Wei demonstrates the caterpillar method.
REFLECTION fROM THE COMMUNITY
During this module, we have focused on the methods of crane’s head, caterpillar, bow body down, and mingmen rotation.
In the past, one person shared…
“The more relaxed my mind is, the more I can feel, perceive and BE the movement and inner body. The practice is as if I do the movements in the universe. I observe the movement, for example, crane’s head. I AM in the head, in every vertebra and in every space between each vertebra, but I am observing from within the universe. Difficult to explain by words.”
Another person shared…
“Since I started with the ’N’ meditation and the relaxation process, I started to feel pain in my neck and between some thoracic vertebras, as well as at the occipital area. I don’t feel pain during daily life, only some days. (Since childhood I have had scoliosis and had an accident where I had hernias between L4- L5-S1, but I had arranged osteopathy, acupuncture, taiji and qigong).
I realized that the more I practiced crane’s head and bow body down, the deeper the blocks started to loosen, and maybe this is why I felt pain while relaxing deeper. I say ’N’ and ‘Xu’ to these blocked parts and give information to dissolve and transform them, with an open heart and without attachments, just observe. After some time, I got to a really blissful and empty state. I also tried to do the movements in this state which is not easy. At the moment, I can do crane’s head well. When bowing down, I still get the feelings in my body, but don’t get attached to it. After practice and getting back to daily life, I feel well, peaceful, empty and relaxed for a long time.”
STUDY AND PRACTICE MINGJUE GONGFU WITH US
- Practice with a vibrant, global community in our yearlong program, “Awakening the Inner Healer,” which started in June 2022. It’s never too late to join! Monthly courses are available a la carte, and translations are available in multiple languages.
- Are you or someone you know facing cancer? In September, Teacher Wei gave a powerful 7-day course on understanding and healing the root causes of cancer. The recordings are available for purchase, as well as live (virtual), teacher-led groups. To learn more, click here: Healing Cancer with Pure Consciousness. To download your free e-booklet companion guide to the recorded course, click here.
- “What is the World Consciousness Community?” in Teacher Wei’s words (3-min video)