With the COVID-19 virus pandemic, understanding the immune system has become an important topic of healthcare and self-care. The immune system is an intelligent matrix of biological structures and processes that protects your body against pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the strength of your immune system depends on the strength of your vitality and life force energy, called qi. Qigong is a self-care practice designed to enhance your vitality qi and effectively boost your immune system.
The immune system has evolved over thousands of years to keep you alive on planet earth. The key players in the system are white blood cells that circulate through the blood and line the mucus membranes, tissues and digestive track. White blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and are part of the lymphatic system. These cells are your paramedics, soldiers, military intelligence, and special forces. Whenever you get a cut, infection or virus they rush to the site and eliminate the invader. Specialized cells, called T-lymphocytes (T-cells), release antibodies (immunoglobins) that eliminate foreign invaders and micro toxins. These special forces record the information of every germ they have ever defeated so they can recognize them if they return. T-cells are developed in the thymus gland.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and qigong have successfully supported the immune system and treated illness for thousands of years. Rather than view pathogens as something we need to kill with antibiotics, Chinese medicine takes a preventative approach that supports the immune system to function at an optimal level.
From the Daoist point of view, your immune system is synonymous with your state of qi, life force energy. There are many different types of qi. Healthy qi is called Zheng Qi and pathogenic qi is called Xie Qi. In TCM these two polarities of qi are not viewed as good qi or bad qi, they are just different types of qi—both have a purpose here on earth. The problem is not the qi, but how you maintain balance between the qi in your body. If Zheng Qi is weak then Xie Qi can invade the body. If Zheng Qi is strong then Xie Qi will not be able to invade the body. People with strong vitality have a strong immune system army and a stronger response to viral infection. Even if a pathogen is strong, if your immune system is strong you will not get any disease, or at least you will heal faster. A strong immune system can fend off pathogens, especially viruses and infections, with its own antibodies and antibiotics can be avoided.
Taking care of the immune system is a lot like taking care of an army. Lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, lack of movement, stress, toxic air and poor conditions, such as long-term exposure to cold weather, compromises the immune system and weakens an army. All forms of qigong support the immune system because it stimulates the relaxation response, promotes blood and qi flow, and regulates the breath. Placing sustained awareness on the body in a skillful way shines light on the cells and tissues which promotes vitality and healing.
In TCM there are three basic ways to keep the immune system strong which I call the Three B's—Balanced Digestion, Balanced Hormones and Balanced Emotions.
The digestive system is made up of the stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine and large intestine. We acquire qi from the food we eat and the air we breathe. How we assimilate nutrients and qi essence from these sources depends on the healthy function of the digestive system and lungs. In Chinese medicine the spleen is the mother energy behind the digestive process. The spleen transforms nutritive qi, filters the blood, removes microbes and destroys old or damaged red blood cells. It also creates antibodies and lymphocytes that man your immune system army. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the spleen plays an important role in producing Wei Qi, your energetic immune system called defensive qi. Wei Qi is formed from the combination of postnatal qi (food and air essence) and original qi. Postnatal qi is transformed by the spleen and stomach and the lungs.
Original qi (Yuan Qi) is derived from the kidney essence (Jing Qi) and is converted into qi in the lower dantian. This mixture of nutritious qi ascends to the middle burner at the chest where it is further transformed into Wei Qi. From the chest the lungs diffuse the Wei Qi around the muscles, tissues and surface of the skin to create a protective shield against pathogens.
The balance of microbiota in the gut also affects the health of the spleen and digestive organs. When there is an imbalance of microbiota, digestion is weak and the immune system becomes weak. It's important to eliminate every day and support your microbiota with healthy flora. The most common symptom of spleen imbalance is dampness which causes qi stagnation and blockage. Therefore, YOQI qigong flows that purge the spleen and stomach, and tonify the lungs and large intestine are key exercises to support your immune army of defense.
The immune system and our hormones influence one other. Immune cells synthesize, store and secrete hormones, which are identical with the hormones of the endocrine glands. Therefore, any kind of endocrine system imbalance will tend to make the immune system deficient. The endocrine system is controlled by the limbic system in the brain and is affected by chronic stress and insomnia. The liver also plays an important role in hormone function.
In Chinese medicine the neuroendocrine system is controlled by your life essence called Jing Qi that is stored in the kidneys. The kidneys rule the bones and marrow which produce your immune system army: white blood cells. Endocrine system balance is regulated by the triple burner meridian. Therefore, qigong exercises that support the kidneys, increase the quality of Jing Qi and Yuan Qi, as well as balance the triple burner are key to support a healthy immune system.
In the Dao emotional imbalance and mood swings are a waste of vitality and are signs of the beginning of illness. Chronic stress and negative emotions cause a release of chemicals that weaken the immune system function. Energetically, the frequency of negative emotions overheats the organs and creates qi stagnation. From the qigong perspective, the root of emotional imbalance is spiritual imbalance. The home of our spirit (called the Shen) is the heart organ. Qigong practices for emotional balance focus on releasing negative emotions with sound, calming the heart spirit and reorganizing the energy field through the three dantian.
Qigong Flow To Boost The Immune System Series
The YOQI Qigong Flow to Boost the Immune System Series contains a selection of routines that focus on the "Three B's". The two core routines are immune system support and immune system defense. Both routines end with flows that promote emotional balance and create coherence between your body, mind, and spirit.
Immune System Support Flow
This sequence is designed for long term immune system support and hormone balance. If we compare the immune system to your internal army of defense, this routine is designed to fortify your army supply and build up your reserves. To do this, the routine focuses on hormonal balance and the neuroendocrine system. It uses qigong techniques to nourish the bone marrow, tonify the kidneys and balance the triple warmer. The immune system support flow is also helpful for those who have internal qi deficiency like chronic fatigue or adrenal burnout, as well as chronic lung weakness and respiratory conditions. It's great to nourish your hormones, sexual energy, fertility and longevity. Since this is long-term immune system support, this routine should be used consistently over time and can be used all year round. Available in long and short form.
Immune System Defense Flow
This routine helps to stimulate the immune system defense function. It is useful for short term prevention, like when you feel your immune system is weak (you get sick often,) your energy is low, or you are exposed to external pathogens. If we compare the immune system to your internal army of defense, this routine is designed to train your army and prepare them to be ready when you need them. To do this, the immune system defense flow focuses on the stomach, spleen, lungs and large intestine. These exercises are designed to clear spleen damp and strengthen your lung qi and Wei Qi. As a result, the routine is also helpful if you have poor digestion or constipation. The end of the routine contains special qigong flow movements to balance the spirit through the three dantian and central meridian. These popular routines I teach are available in long and short form on the YMAA DVD and streaming video.
Body Patting To Boost The Immune System
The immune system program also includes two bonus video lessons to strengthen your Wei Qi called Body Patting and Embrace the Tree. In Chinese, Body Tapping is called Pai Da. Pai Da is an ancient form of self-massage that improves circulation and strengthens your Wei Qi. Wei Qi is a protective shield of energy that surrounds your muscles, fascia and skin. The Wei Qi supports your immune system that protects you from colds, flus and viruses. Since the Wei Qi surrounds your skin, one of the best techniques to enhance this protective shield is by patting the body. Since body patting is both purging and tonifying, this sequence can be done any time of day. You can do it before or after any YOQI routine, and you can also pair is with your other favorite activities including meditation. It is a wonderful way to clear pathogenic qi, harvest the good qi and invigorate your body.
Embrace The Tree
Standing meditation is one of the most ancient and important practices in qigong. The original standing postures were used by Daoists as health and longevity methods. In recent centuries martial artists developed standing for superior fighting skills, but nowadays even martial artists use standing meditation for the health benefits. Standing meditation may be one of the most challenging practices because we are holding a posture for a long time, but the benefits are many. Through the practice of standing, you will develop stamina, posture, bone density, clear qi stagnation, clear the mind, promote blood circulation, and build your Wei Qi. The posture that we will be using is the classic Cheng Bao posture, called Embrace the Tree. As we will be holding the posture for 15 minutes, I suggest that you start with 5 minutes a day and slowly build up your stamina to the full 15-minute session. Standing can be practiced alone or in combination with other qigong routines.
The above is an original article by Marisa Cranfill, author of YoQi: Qigong Flow to Boost the Immune System, published April 2021, YoQi: Qigong Flow for Happy Organs, a 5-Set DVD, published October, 2020 and YoQi: Six Healing Sounds Qigong, published August, 2020 and YoQi: Qigong for Stress Relief, published August 2020 by YMAA Publication Center.