When we are well and healthy, we take many things for granted including our level of energy. It is not the case though when the fatigue is so extreme that you are aware of the slightest fluctuations in the energy level, or when the energy is so low that you can barely function.
But how does fatigue accumulate in the body to the extent that the body loses its natural ability to recover through rest and sleep? Here is an explanation from the point of view of Chinese medicine about the way our body builds, stores and uses energy, and about the factors that lead and contribute to fatigue (a summary of the conversation with Asis Vendrell):
Different types of energy
In Chinese medicine there is a concept of the five elements which are interconnected in a cycle. This cycle starts and ends with the water element. So the water element is the source of life – like the oceans are the source of life on our planet, or the importance of water in our body.
According to Chinese medicine, we are born full of water energy which is called ‘essence’ (or ‘jing’). The ‘essence’ energy is inherited from our parents and ancestors and it’s the power that makes a cell turn into a human. This ‘essence’ is limited. It’s powerful but it gets lower as we go through life. And when we start to run out of this ‘essence’ energy, we start to age. The cells lose their power to regenerate and start to die slowly – this is the process of aging. All diseases and malfunctions of the body are directly related to the low level of the ‘essence’ energy.
There’s another type of energy called ‘qi’. ‘Qi’ is the energy that we can take from nature. By breathing and eating correctly and by resting we can get extra energy and replenish it. So if we have enough in store, we don’t need to use our ‘essence’. We cannot restore our ‘essence’, but we can create a kind of battery, so that we don’t need to use it. ‘Essence’ is vitally important, the more we can preserve it, the longer we can live. For that, there’s a whole Chinese medicine protocol of eating, exercising, preventive medicine – everything that is focused on getting enough ‘qi’ energy to avoid using our ‘essence’.
How do we get chronically exhausted and sick?
The reason ‘essence’ gets shorter is due to extremes and excessive behaviour – not eating properly, not moving enough, not giving yourself enough rest, or, on the other hand, overeating, overworking, leading sedentary lifestyle or wasting sexual energy. This causes extreme stress and imbalance in the body which we don’t notice immediately, but which develops into some kind of disease or disharmony.
Very often diseases start when one organ doesn’t have enough energy and the ‘essence’ energy is used to assist it. This way ‘essence’ acts like a mother, protector and sometimes a martyr – it tries to serve others sometimes harming itself. When we don’t have enough energy, ‘essence’ assists the organs because it is more important to preserve life in the whole body than having energy in store. It’s harmful for the energy itself, but this is just a last resort. Eventually, the lack of energy spreads throughout the whole body leading to nearly permanent exhaustion and ill health. This use of ‘essence’ is helpful during short moments of stress (emotional or physical) but not sustainable for the whole life. A sustainable solution for the whole life would be not spending the ‘essence’ energy but having energy from other sources.
Replenishing energy through Qigong
Qigong is all about working with energy. The nature of energy is movement – it must be flowing. Sometimes we have enough energy, but it is blocked, that’s when the problems start. It can be blocked because of the mental focus, because of the structural reasons (like an injury) or the inner aspects of our body (such as emotions). That’s when the first thing should be breathing properly, so that the five elements start to flow again.
There are two aspects of Qigong – not wasting and gathering energy. Our mind is so powerful that it spends most of our energy on worries, emotions etc. This cycle of wasting energy can be stopped by being still and focusing on something else, which happens during Qigong. When we breathe, we stop the mental work that wastes energy, collect the ‘qi’ energy from the outside and then gather it in a safe point in our lower belly area called ‘dantian’. This is the point in the body where we can store energy. I’s not blocking but accumulating energy in the ‘dantian’ which acts as a battery where we can store all the ‘qi’ energy we can get.
And this is the therapeutic purpose of Qigong – getting more energy so that we have enough to respond to stressful situations and support our body.
This way we not only let our body try to heal itself, but also start changing patterns that make the body sick. Healing the body is the first natural outcome of this process, but when we start to gather extra energy, it starts to boost our spiritual development.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
Qigong breathing exercise
(adapted from the video series Qigong 4 Fatigue with Asis Vendrell)
Choose a suitable position. You can do it standing, sitting on a chair or on your bed, or even lying down.
Observe your natural breath. Let your body be completely loose. Feel the ground supporting you. Breathe through the nose, allowing the belly to rise and lower as you inhale and exhale. Try to find your natural breathing rhythm without forcing it. Observe your breath for a few moments.
Focus on the abdominal breathing. Place your hands on the belly. Slightly contract the belly muscles when you exhale, and let the belly expand as it is filled with air on an inhale. Keep observing this rhythmic expansion and contraction, and anytime you become aware of your thoughts, get back to your breath. Feel how the air comes in and out.
Find your inner smile. Send a smile to your lungs – direct your inner smile and its positive energy to clear any difficult emotion you may have. Notice its therapeutic effect. Smile with gratitude for the energy that keeps us alive.
Add movement to your breath (optional). If you’d like to add some gentle movement, check our Taichi Qigong therapeutic sequence for energy and wellbeing demonstrated by Asis and Patricia. Keeping the same focus, follow your breath with the soft movement of the arms and the whole body – gathering energy and spreading it through your body.
Asis Vendrell grew up in a family of Sufi Spaniards, who introduced him to a way of life centred in spirituality. When experimenting with Taoist meditation and Qigong, he discovered his vocation and dedicated himself fully to the training, thus completing a three-year course for instructors of Taoist disciplines at the renowned Wudang Shan Granada school in Spain. He obtained several black belt degrees in the disciplines of Qigong and Taichi Chuan and a Kungfu style Chang Chuan, complementing the training in both internal and external styles. In 2013, he travelled to China to learn first-hand at the legendary temples of Shaolin and Wudang Shan, and after spending years of teaching Taichi Chuan and Qigong in numerous centres across Spain, his journey brought him back to Wudang, China where he is currently learning Taoist inner Kungfu.