From keeping burnout at bay to minimising the symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, or low self-esteem, consistent self-care is essential for maintaining and improving your mental wellbeing. Taking time to allow yourself to be aware of your body and mind increases your self-awareness and gives you the tools you need to maintain your mental wellbeing. But with so many methods to choose from, how do you know what form of self-care will best support the demands of a busy schedule, tight budget or ever-shifting needs?
First, it must be said that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for incorporating self-care into your daily routine. You are unique, and your physical, psychological and social needs will inevitably flux as your circumstances evolve. So whilst you should discover forms of self-care which work for you, you can equally empower your self-care routine by exploring methods that are scientifically validated to improve mental wellbeing — such as mindfulness, physical exercise, and conscious breathing.
Using the classical Chinese medicine (CCM) concept of Qi, Medical Qigong is a mindful movement practice that combines proven self-care techniques into one comprehensive system of physiological and psychological wellbeing. Informed by the CCM concept of Qi (vital energy), Medical Qigong can help increase your self-awareness and help you identify the type of self-care you need on any given day.
Learn more: “Qi: what is it and how can it boost mental wellbeing?”
Informing self-care through the principles of Chinese medicine
According to the principles of CCM, the type of self-care you need when you’re feeling intense or angry (excess Qi) is likely different than the self-care you need when you’re feeling worn out and mentally foggy (depleted Qi). And what about self-care when you’re feeling healthy and balanced?
No matter what your experience, classical Chinese medicine provides a framework to help you identify your current state, so you can recalibrate, nurture, and sustain your mental wellbeing, overall health, and inner sense of harmony.
How Chinese medicine addresses mental health
Your mental wellbeing arises from systemic harmony — this is one of the pillars of classical Chinese medicine and a guiding principle. Instead of singling out and treating a symptom, CCM considers the dynamic relationship between your mind and body, and between your inner world and outer experience. Often, CCM will combine different areas of psychology and physiology to “treat” imbalances and physical or mental afflictions.
For example, in treating insomnia or depression, CCM would evaluate (at minimum): your physical health (exercise and nutrition routine), psychological health (e.g, stress levels), inner experience (e.g, life satisfaction), and outer influences (environment and society). Insomnia, then, could be the result of everything from poor nutrition to an overstimulating work environment. Rather than treat the symptom alone, CCM—and its adjunct therapy, Medical Qigong—uses the principles of yin and yang to optimise the flow of Qi in all aspects of your life—so you can experience your highest potential for health, happiness, and harmony.
5 Qigong exercises for improved mental health
Medical Qigong is so effective at enhancing systemic harmony that it can become a form of self-care in and of itself. Here are 5 simple yet powerful Medical Qigong exercises that can jumpstart your journey toward improved mental health.
1. Crane Qigong (Heart Meridian)
The heart meridian is physically associated with speech and circulation, and psychologically associated with warmth, joy, laughter, self-control, and enthusiasm for living. In addition to the physical imbalances of cold limbs and shortness of breath, imbalances in the heart meridian are strongly associated with sadness, heartache, and depression. Drawing from the rich CCM tradition of the 5 Elements, Crane Qigong is a graceful and easy to learn qigong exercise that stimulates the heart meridian and increases circulation through balance, focus, gentleness, and targeted muscular engagement.
2. Leopard Qigong (Liver Meridian)
The liver meridian is physically associated with filtering, replenishing, and storing blood, and emotionally associated with compassion, generosity, and drive. Whilst physical imbalances may manifest as inflammation, skin and eye issues, or irregular menstruation, psychological imbalances may manifest as intense anger, frustration, resentment, jealousy, or rage. A 5 Element Qigong practice, Leopard Qigong targets the liver meridian through a strong stance, side bends, spinal twists, and a cultivated attitude of letting go of frustrations and surrendering to what is.
3. Monkey Strolls Qigong (Spleen Meridian)
The spleen meridian is physically associated with digestion, circulation and muscular strength, and psychologically associated with cognition, equanimity, and trust. In addition to the physical imbalances of chronic indigestion, chronic fatigue, phlegm, and muscle weakness, and imbalances in the spleen meridian are psychologically associated with worry, poor concentration, excessive thinking, regret, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. In addition to soothing the heart meridian, Monkey Strolls Qigong stimulates the spleen meridian with single-leg balance, lateral movements, and a cultivated attitude of presence, constructive curiosity, spontaneity, and playfulness.
4. Tiger Qigong (Lung Meridian)
The lung meridian is physically associated with respiration, and psychologically with dignity, integrity, and high self-esteem. Whilst physical imbalances manifest as difficulty breathing and respiratory ailments, psychological imbalances manifest as grief, anxiety, disappointment, and shame. Tiger Qigong stimulates the lung meridian with deep breathing, controlled arm and shoulder movements, and the spirit of a dignified tiger who sees clearly and acts confidently.
5. Deer Lifts Its Antlers Qigong (Kidney Meridian)
The kidney meridian is physically associated with the autonomic nervous system (ANS), filtering waste for excretion and maintaining hormonal, fluid, and electrolyte balance, and psychologically associated with wisdom, willpower, and courage. Alongside the physical imbalances of chest pain, asthma, impotence, and adrenal fatigue, imbalances in the kidney meridian are psychologically associated with fear, loneliness, insomnia, and insecurity. Deer Lifts Its Antlers Qigong supports the kidney meridian by strengthening the posterior chain of the body, articulating the pelvic girdle, and embodying the spirit of a deer who cautiously surveys the situation and proceeds with a calm power, self-confidence, and grace.
Mental wellbeing is a dynamic state that you can start influencing today. Try these 5 exercises with even breaths and an open mind, and keep learning about how Qigong can help you improve your self-care routine and mental wellbeing on our blog and in our comprehensive selection of ebooks and online courses.