Sunday morning Qigong

photoAlthough Sunday is my official sleep in day, the late Summer sun has me awake and firing on all cylinders by 7am. I decided to head on down to the river that flows near my house and to do my Qigong on the riverbank.

There was barely a soul in sight as I rode down along the bike path, looking for a good location. I eventually found a quiet spot where I could practice in relative peace, only noticeable to the joggers running down the far side of the river.
 
This time of year its green, green and the air filled with dragonflies and various insects busy with their business. The river flows straight down off the mountain side, with lots of idyllic little spots for picnics or nature walks.
 
I do my stretches and then immerse myself in the local sounds; running water, a little breeze and the orchestration of birds and insects. Since I normally train indoors ( thanks to the near vicinity of a mosquito full forest next to my house), this was a pleasant change and I found myself much more engrossed in the practice than usual. If there is such a thing as being ” at one with the universe”, then Qigong and meditative practices are definitely the pathway to that goal.
 
Any tension both mental and physical just slipped away as the environment embraced me. It felt great to be able to stretch out my time frame and let the practice meander, rather than the regimented, set time sessions I do before an average work day.
 
Finishing off with some yoga breathing, I felt pretty charged.
 
Any of you looking for a way to deal with stress, recharge or just a way to connect with yourself, you wont go wrong having a look at Qigong.
 
An amazing path of self discovery.

The quiet revolution.

 
Its been two years since I moved out of the center of Tokyo into my current digs; a 55 year old traditional Japanese house on the side wooded hill near Mt Takao. After what was in all respects a major life transition, I spent a lot of that time quietly thinking about who I was and what I represented, not only as a fitness advocate but also as a basic human being.
 
I was out at an informal dinner the other night with some students of a dance class I have been attending, and as usual for a new member of any group, I was grilled over the course of the night as to my regular activities and lifestyle. This gradually fed through the table of classmates to the teacher of the class, who ended up coming to sit next to me near the end of the evening.
 
“So, let me get this straight. You run 5 days a week, do yoga every day, meditate every day, lift weights and kettlebells regularly. Wow- you sound busy!”
 
I just smiled in response, because in fact that’s not the complete list of activities either. What was interesting for me was that some people saw my regular schedule as extreme, when if anything, it is not.
 
But it is consistent. 
 
There was a moment early on when I had just moved and I was struggling to adjust to being on my own again so after many years. I realized that out of all the things I was interested in doing, I needed to prioritize those which I wanted to achieve results with, and then focus on those activities alone. 
 
My life, as with many of us today, was just too damn busy. I was doing too much, easily distracted  by our constantly updating social media lifestyle, stressed at work and the sum of all this plus the life change meant that I felt down a lot of the time. I needed to find my motivation again.
 
I realized quite quickly that some serious decisions were crucial. How I spent my time each day, and whether these activities were truly enriching my life or simply just aimless distractions and time fillers.
 
We all have justifications, often repeated ad infinitum to friends and family but ultimately sounding hollow to us in our private moments. I wanted to get beyond that and just be.
 
There were many revelations.
 
More important to me than just having a strong body was to have a holistic, body, mind and spirit approach to fitness that embraced all aspects of my daily life, and worked around a 9-5 job. 
 
I am not a professional athlete, nor a one-discipline specialist; but just your average “Joe the plumber” type with a regular job trying to achieve some kind of healthy balance in my life. And if other people found some resonance with that, to share what I know.
 
I read a lot of books, talked with some of my fitness friends from all over the globe, did a lot of meditation and contemplation, and started off from scratch again by adding one regular activity at a time to my schedule. For me, that in itself was a major achievement. Once I felt confident that the activity was a part of my daily routine, I added another, all the while making sure I wasn’t overloading my life, and that all necessary parts of my daily needs were being met.
 
That meant making some major changes to lifestyle.
 
I also started stripping away the unnecessary. My eight year affair with social media came to an end, and while I had reconnected with many old friends because of it, from then on it would be up to more traditional methods of communication to keep in contact. The constant drone in the background was no more, and I found it much easier to focus in on my goals because of it.
 
Television? Gone. I got into reading again in a serious way and if I needed entertainment, there were plenty of movies and you tube to watch.
 
One book that particularly stands out from the last two years was The Four Agreements, a life changing book for anyone of any background in need of a personal refocusing. 
 
I got back to basics with training as well. Tim Ferriss’ Four hour body,  David Kessler’s The end of overeating, books on Ayurveda and all kinds of topics, all inspired and helped me focus in on want I wanted to achieve..
 
I started paying more attention to my food intake and habits around food and drink. Cooking for yourself can be very rewarding if one makes the effort to keep it interesting and spice things up a bit once in a while. Variety, in all things, is key. Laziness means making poor diet choices, and ultimately, you need to be responsible for your own health. A fact so often forgotten in today’s modern lifestyle.
 
I made a big decision to simplify me as well. Learn to listen better and say less, to be what I believed and to let it manifest naturally as my own personal, living truth. 
 
Beginning, middle and end. Follow the process and enjoy the journey. Results come as a natural bi-product, but are not the main focus. Smile more, complain less. Beginners mind.
 
Two years later, I count my blessings. A healthier life, better sense of balance at work, a smaller group of real friends and an ongoing desire to contribute to this world that I live in as a giver, not a taker.
 
Its small steps maybe for some, but for me, important ones that cover many miles.

AeroSling: Ready to work!

download 1 I was recently contacted by a fellow called Elmar Schumacher over at Aerobis Germany to test one of their suspension trainer devices- The AeroSling Pro Set. Knowing that I had pretty extensive experience with other suspension trainers and that I have been using them for some of my clients here in Japan, I appreciated their forthrightness in approaching me for a critical evaluation of this new line of equipment

The Goods.DSC_0107

The first thing you notice when you receive one of these kits is the packaging. Its well thought out with little extras that make it obvious that a lot of effort and thought has been put into making this kit as complete as possible. For example, I liked the re-sealable plastic bags that all of the equipment came in, instead of the usual rip and throw variety. It shows an environmental sense. The main parts of the aerosling come already assembled, with accessories separate and each with an instruction guide as to how to set up or add to the assembly.The handy doorknob sign for the busy businessperson staying in a hotel that lets people know- hey, I’m training in here! The exercise chart and easy to follow dvd made my first workout a breeze, with little time spent in set up. My first impressions were- this kit is well thought out.

Getting started.

Compared to other equipment I have used, the Aerosling was both lightweight and sturdy.For anyone carrying equipment or wanting portability with their workouts, a few grams here and there make a big difference. This equipment fits easily into the draw string carry bag (comes with the kit) which can be put in a backpack for an outdoor in-the-wild adventure or take with you to your gym. Here in Japan, we have a mainly urban environment, so the ability for me to pick up the kit and head to the local park is a big plus. All the components were sturdy and built for hours of use. Attaching the device to a wall mount or overhead beam etc was as simple as flipping one end of the attaching cable over the attach point, and then clipping it on the carabineer. For more sturdiness, two winds around the beam give you an extra sure attachment point. Then a simple weight test to check proper set up, and you are off to work.

Having used similiar devices before, I found this one really simple and user friendly. Don’t get me wrong- I like heavy duty, and there is a place for such types of equipment, but there is also some sense of overkill at times, such as in weight. I usually carry other equipment with me, such as kettlebells etc, so the ease of trasnportantion was a big plus for me. For your average athlete or gym who needs equipment that can take a hard workout and still be ready for me, the Aerosling fits the bill.

Instant fun.DSC_0117

If you are already used to doing body weight/resistance training, or have some gymnastic background, you will immediately sense of advantage when training- the core muscles are instantly involved to balance you while you work out. For first timers with this kind of equipment, I recommend watching the instruction video and setting up your Aerosling for beginner intensity level. Then as you gain confidence, you can up the intensity easily by a quick unwind of the main handles.

Scalable workouts.

I love the versatility that this equipment brings a workout. You can push yourself as hard as you like, or take the more moderate path. Each exercise shows a simple form and then an advanced level version on the cd, and the exercises are easy to follow. I recommend though that you watch all the exercises through completely first, and perhaps don’t attempt to do them all straight away. Pick a particular area of  your body that you want to train, and then follow the related exercise. DSC_0122

I tested the Aerosling out on a couple of my students, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Its a fun machine that you can set up in your own house, take to the gym, or set up outside. For us, it was smiles all round and my students were exhausted after a 45 minute session. I can see it being a real boon to any professionals out there wanting to keep fit while they travel for business and have to adjust to busy schedules. You would hardly notice this kit in a suitcase, even a carry on bag. Perfect. Crossfitters, this equipment has something for you too. Fighters, well enough said- this equipment rocks.

What it will cost you.

The staff at Aerobis have made this equipment very affordable. ( see the details and special offer below!)

Summary:

For those who travel, the lightness, sturdiness and well thought out design of these easy to use kits will mean that you can take it anywhere with you and give yourself a good workout. Whether you are a professional athlete, sports trainer looking for equipment for your clients, or someone just out to keep your body toned, this kit has something for you.

Two thumbs up from me.

Q: How do I get one???

Elmar at Aerobis headquarters sent me these useful links and some extra information for you :

Go to Aerobis.com

http://www.aerobis.com/shop/en/index

Go right to the aerosling models:

http://www.aerobis.com/shop/en/Suspended-Pulley-Trainers/aeroSlings (our aeroSling Models)

http://www.aerobis.com/shop/en/Suspended-Pulley-Trainers/aeroSling-Sets (I received a Set which is called the aeroSling ELITE)

A new model for you to check out as well. I will let Elmar explain:

The new aeroSling XPE is a lightweight smaller brother of the ELITE that you tested. It retails at 139 EUR incl. Door Anchor and DVD. It also has great material but is simpler as such as it cannot be extended with other grips etc.. So professionals would go for the ELITE or ELITE set – beginners in Suspended Pulley Training would go for the XPE.

And a special coupon offer from Elmar at Aerobis for you!

People that are interested will get a coupon code for 15% off to cover shipping and such (100 EUR order value min):

MDA2011CHL

So..what are you waiting for? Go get one!!! Smile

Here it comes….

Lifestyle change. Capital letters. I am tired of constantly struggling with food choices, and wading through the slew of false information out there as to what is best for you, good for you, fat free etc. I can say that in many regards I am as confused as my stomach feels after a normal meal.

In other aspects of my life and training, things are definitely improving. I am hitting some of my own personal training goals, bringing in more and more kettlebell practitioners, and keeping a pretty good balance between work and down time. I stopped drinking alcohol 2 months ago, and I can say that I feel differently because of it. But I really wish that I could get more of a peace of mind from what I eat.

Now I want my regular food intake to support me in a cogent way, hence I have been edging slowly over the last few months towards the Paleo lifestyle.

Don’t know what it is? Have a look in my links bar and take your pick :)

Lets just say I am sticking my toes into the water right now and seeing how I feel, reading up differing approaches to emulating a paleo lifestyle in the modern world, and then brainstorming on how I can support that lifestyle change here in urban jungle Tokyo.

To others who might be considering a similar move in the near future, here is a great piece by the recently retired blogger Methuselah of Pay Now, Live Later who pretty much nails many peoples pet fears and misunderstandings about changing what they eat to a Paleo system and how to get there gradually.

Its going to means saying goodbye to grains and sugars for a start. But if it means I am going to look and feel healthier, so be it.

Gotta get back to study.

Peace.

Better sleep to live longer and reduce stress!

More studies being reported in Time magazine this week on the benefits of a good night sleep.

This kind of news may seem rather obvious to some, but hey, come and live in Tokyo or any big city around the globe for that matter and you will see just how easy it is to slip into an unhealthy late-night lifestyle. No offense Conan!

In Japan, six hours of sleep for many is a luxury that they just cant or wont afford themselves.Late night tv has big draw power as well, with many full time workers not getting home until ten in the evening, they need a couple of hours of just staring at the tube to start their relaxation process off.

Sometimes its a struggle to get eight hours- work, worries, noisy environs, late night messages appearing on your mobile- all these things can cut into your down time. Without proper rest you can forget about maintaining your training schedule or your desire to keep at it. And if its bad for us, you can imagine what it must be like for kids.

So do yourself a favor, and make sure that you can truly switch off to recuperate from your modern day lifestyle.And while I am at it, a little meditation or some yoga/Qigong wouldnt hurt you, either.

Put that mobile on flight mode, and rest easily my friends.

Peace,

Markeu

Scary news on that western diet and your gut

Well, nothing they said was really that surprising, considering the profusion of overweight people in our societies around the world today.
Even in Japan, where the myth that somehow the Japanese diet helped keep people slim is starting to show signs of cracking as the Japanese start to fill out like many of their western trade partners.

Hmm…food for thought?

All puns aside, have a read and a good think about your own diet, and what you can do to make it a bit healthier…

Cheers,

Markeu

Drink Water and guard that waistline!

Well, they have finally proven that it is true. Drinking water before a meal significantly helps you not gain extra inches in the waist line.

Its such a simple solution, and one that you should try out for yourself.
Our modern day lifestyles aren’t really conducive to getting our recommended daily intake. Add that on top of our already sluggish metabolisms and dysfunctional digestive systems…and you get the picture.

Why not give this a shot yourself?

Cheers,

Markeu

Sunday fun

IMG_2892 Well we certainly earned our keep today- the weather turned around and went from threats of thunderstorms to a beautiful hot Tokyo Summer day. Two first timers joined us and in all we had a great time.

The feed afterwards certainly didn’t hurt either!

We will have another meet again probably in about three weeks to enjoy the Summer while it lasts, and get some of our other friends along.

Cheers!

Ed Coughlin- Living Qi.

6373_1165867915855_1502629688_420292_1228642_nEd Coughlin is one of the key elements of the International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation’s core teaching philosophy, and who is busy this year spreading the awareness and uses of Qigong  for practitioners of the Kettlebell Sport . I had the great pleasure of studying with him earlier this month in Malaysia at the IKFF CKT Level 1 & 2 Teacher’s training, and asked him at that time if I could interview him for Gaijin Kettlebell . Here is the start of what I hope to be a regular spot here at Gaijin Kettlebell on Qigong.

GKJ-Thank you Ed for taking the time to speak with us today. Could you start with telling us a little bit about your long and diverse background. You have been a long time friend and associate with Steve Cotter, to the extent that he often refers to you as his brother.
What led you to Qigong initially? And what is it?

I began studying martial arts 30 years ago beginning with Uechi Ryu karate, I achieved 4th dan and received my teaching certificate after training in that style for 18 years. In the late 80’s I began studying Tai chi and qi gong with various teachers. About 15 years ago I was introduced to my current teacher Master Kao by a friend and fellow student. After being introduced to Master Kao I gave up everything else I was doing at the time to devote myself to his teachings.  Master Kao is a Master of Chinese Internal Martial arts including Xing Yi Quan, Bagua Zhang, Tai Ji Quan and the rare Taoist System called Xiao jiu tian or “Little Nine Heaven” which includes martial arts , qi gong and Chinese sword. He is also an excellent traditional healer. In 2001 I was made a 35th generation disciple in the Little Nine Heaven system, one of only four of master Kao’s students to be made disciples. My friend and Kung Fu brother Steve Cotter is also a close student of Master Kao. In 1996 I graduated the Florida Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine and now work as a doctor of oriental medicine, I also teach martial arts and qigong to a small group of students at my home. For the last decade I have been practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism as a student of H.H. Penor rinpoche.

I had  been introduced to qi gong at various times , first in the mid 80’s with tai chi and a few years later with a number of teachers. Later in Chinese medicine school , qigong was taught as an element of the curriculum. But my real serious training has been with Master Kao. Qigong is an important element of both Chinese internal martial arts and Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Briefly qigong means to exercise the qi .  Qi can be defined as the vital energy of the body and qigong is a method of exercise to preserve , strengthen and circulate this vital energy in the body to promote health and vitality.

GKJ- Tai Chi Chuan is quite well known in the west, but Qigong has appeared relatively recently in the common consciousness. What does Qigong have to offer the average person and why is it important?

Tai 6373_1165820194662_1502629688_420108_1360238_n chi chuan Or tai ji quan is a system of Chinese internal martial arts related to qigong in that they both relay on a cultivation and understanding of qi. Whereas traditionally tai chi was taught as a fighting art and only recently is done primarily for health. Qigong is a health promotion and rehabilitative regime.

For the average practioner qigong offers a simple method to promote health and energy and as a way to repair the body from stress and overuse. While traditional methods of exercise focus on the building physical strength , speed and endurance, the focus of qigong is on the subtle energetic network of the body and the internal organs. Ordinary exercise can be damaging to the body which is in fact why it works by causing the body to adapt to stress, qigong can repair the  body by reducing tension, regulating breathing ,improving circulation and strengthen the internal organs and endocrine system.

The combination of physical exercise such as kettlebells, bodyweight conditioning or martial arts with a consistent practice of simple qigong is an ideal method to promote health , relieve stress and increase longevity. Continuous vigorous exercise without a rehabilitative component to it is a recipe for injuries and a short athletic career with a lot of chronic pain. I believe adding a simple qigong routine to your exercise or just on its own can greatly improve performance , reduce or correct injury and promote overall health.

GKJ.- I have read and heard that it is very important in Qigong to have proper instruction from a teacher. Why is that so? Are there any Qigong practices that a person can try if they are interested in exploring Qigong?

There are many systems or methods of qigong training , primarily what I’m talking about here is qigong for health and longevity  . but there are also qigong methods for martial arts to strengthen and harden the body, medical qigong to cure disease and religious or philosophical qigong done as a spiritual practice. Some systems of qigong are very complicated and involve holding the breath for extended periods , directing the energy(qi) with the mind or the breath or the use of weights or other equipment. The more complicated the method the greater the possibility of side effects .

Therefore complicated qigong systems require instruction and monitoring by a competent teacher to avoid pitfalls, however there are very simple and effective qigong systems that can be practiced on your own once the basic principles are understood. A good example is the level one qi gong that can be found on the IKFF YouTube channel. (Link to the clip here) This is a good introductory qi gong exercise that can be done by anyone and has no side effects, yet is very effective for promoting circulation and reducing stress among other benefits.

GKJ.- In my own short time experience, I have experienced Qi as a form of energy that resides in the body and the atmosphere around us. Doing Qigong practice brings an awareness of this energy that exists around us every day. What is Qi? It is often left as a mystery. Also, this energy awareness comes and goes- is this natural?

6373_1166442210212_1502629688_421951_1194653_n “QI” basically means energy and exists all around us and in us . there are many types of qi. In the human body Qi can be thought of as the body’s vital energy . our body has an energetic system related to but apart from our nervous and circulatory systems.

It is this energetic network that is manipulated in the practice of acupuncture and some types of Asian body work. In traditional oriental medical theory , the energy aspect of this network is called “qi”. Qi  is the body’s motivating force, it is the “stuff” that animates our body. Every living organism has Qi. With conscious training this vital energy can be strengthened and controlled to promote health and longevity, this is the practice of qigong or “working the qi”. Similar ideas of this energy exist in other cultures like the “prana” of yoga. Bio electricity is also a comparable term.

GKJ.- It is also said that Qigong is very effective at relieving stress, and also making the body stronger. How does it do this? Here in Japan, the average office worker deals with low energy levels constantly, due to a fairly intense working environment, non natural light environment and long working hours. Most people feel incredibly lethargic, especially during the hot and rainy seasons. Can Qigong help them?

Through a combination of breathing , movement and posture qi gong practice can increase oxygen uptake , relax the nervous system , increase the circulation of blood and lymph through the activity of propulsion. through breathing combined with right and left movement brain hemisphere and wave frequencies can be normalized. The endocrine structures of the brain can be stimulated by intention , meditation and visualization which are all elements of qigong practice. Increased immune function can be stimulated by breathing ,relaxation and meditation . all of these things have been observed in clinical settings related to the consistent practice of qigong along with other wonderful effects. For people who are high stressed, with long work secludes , sedentary work conditions and who have low energy or only short periods of time for activity or exercise , qigong is the ideal method of training to promote their health and longevity and  eliminate stress and tension .

GKJ.- It seems that from now on, Qigong will feature more prominently in IKFF seminars and activities. What are your own personal aspirations with the spreading of knowledge of Qigong? Can we look forward to having you touring around teaching about Qi?

Steve Cotter and the IKFF are at the cutting edge of fitness and as I noted above the combination of kettlebell training, body weight conditioning and qigong are an ideal health promoting exercise and fitness combination. I look forward to traveling to and teaching qigong at the various level 2 certifications. In the future we hope to be putting out a book and DVD on qi gong and to doing qigong workshops around the globe.

GKJ.-Thank you for your time and I hope to have you hear regularly answering questions about Qigong. It was certainly an honor for me meeting you in Malaysia earlier this month.

Thanks for this opportunity to talk about qigong and I look forward to working with you in the future. More info about can be found at www.xisuigong.com and www.ikff.com

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