We should never underestimate the benefits of simple touch for our physical and mental health……..medicine quite literally at our fingertips.
If you have ever received or delivered a Zu Qigong session then you will be aware that despite the simplicity and gentle touch of this modality it has the potential to be extremely powerful at both the physical and psychological / emotional level, inducing a sense of peace and deep relaxation, frequently described as being similar to meditation. The question often then arises from both clients and colleagues – what exactly is Zu Qigong doing, how does this technique work? This is something I find difficult to explain, as a holistic therapist I am caught between two “worlds”. With my original training being in science and then nursing, I have what I would classify as a distinctly Western perspective applying scientific theories and understanding, while on the other hand as a student of Qigong I can interpret Zu Qigong (ZQG) using the ancient theories and philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This duality, somewhat ironically, is perhaps best represented in the theories of Yin and Yang. The rigid Westernised scientific approach being Yang, the gentler mind body theories and philosophies of TCM being Yin.
“Everything in life is vibration.” Albert Einstein
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” Nikola Tesla
“What you think about activates a vibration within you.” Abraham Hicks
Firstly, looking at this from the Yang perspective, currently there is no definitive science to provide an explanation as to the exact mechanisms involved in ZQG but there are many clues to point us in the right direction and vibration, as the above quotes indicate, appears to hold an important key to potentially unravelling this mystery.
As the scientists continue to research and understand more about the remarkable communication abilities of the fascia – the connective tissue network of the human body (1) (2), the more likely it appears that this collagenous tissue is highly significant in not only the transmission of vibration throughout the body but also in the transmission, storage and transformation of the many different forms of energy utilised by the human body – a topic I have covered at length in my previous reflexology based blog articles (3).
When using gentle, touch-based therapies we are effectively transmitting the subtle kinetic energy of vibration, the human body being an energetic mass, using and transforming energy in all its different forms, every cell in the body vibrating with the actions and reactions that constitute life, (bio-energy). Add to this the vibration created by skin on skin, the swirls and ridges that create our fingerprints acting like microscopic sandpaper as they glide across the skin of the person we are touching, creating very subtle vibration. It is important to be aware that the subtlety of this vibration is significantly reduced if too much pressure is applied which would explain why many ZQG therapists report that the lighter the touch the greater the effect – less is more.
If vibration is the significant factor in ZQG then how does it bring about the rapid deep relaxation response? To answer this, I would suggest that we should be looking at the current ongoing research into the Vagus nerve and the ability of this nerve to “re-set” the stress response, calming the mind and body. The Vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and is bi-directional, meaning it sends messages from the brain to the body and vice versa – it is how the body talks to the brain and is connected to many important organs including the heart, lungs and stomach. The scientists refer to the level of responsiveness/activity of the vagus nerve as vagal tone. Vagal tone is not fixed, regular stimulation of the vagus nerve will increase the tone. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa (4). So how do we stimulate the vagus nerve? There are numerous acknowledged techniques including meditation, exercise, mind body practices such as Qigong, Taiji and yoga, deep slow breathing, massage, and singing are among a long list of activities. From the ZQG perspective singing is possibly the most interesting and significant vagal stimulant. Singing and chanting are producing sound – i.e. vibration. It therefore seems logical to assume that when the vibration of gentle touch, transmitted through the body via the connective tissue to reach the vagus nerve, is combined with a relaxing environment, deep breathing and the meditative outcome that ZQG elicits then we are, it would appear, effectively accessing the positive feedback loop of the vagus nerve, raising vagal tone and assisting the body in maintaining optimum health and wellbeing.
The benefits of vibration are interesting, we have long recognised the effect of sound/vibration on the limbic system of the brain and the change in mood that music can bring about. Singing is an activity that many people find beneficial for their wellbeing, reporting increased happiness, feelings of euphoria not unlike the “high” that many people report after physical exercise. New research is beginning to show another fascinating link between vibration and the newly discovered Endocannabinoid System (5)(6). Scientists first discovered the endocannabinoid system while trying to understand the effects of cannabis in humans. Currently much remains unknown about this system, however what is now known is that our body is full of cannabinoid receptors and produces corresponding molecules to those that cause the physical and psychological effects of cannabis in our bodies. This system essentially regulates all the basic functions; mood, sleep, appetite, immune function, reproduction, digestion, memory, pain, metabolism etc. Since its discovery, the endocannabinoid system has become a prime target of medical research due to its vast effects and therapeutic potential on the human body – CBD oil is currently a hot topic! How does this link to vibration? A small study carried out for the BBC TV programme “Trust Me I’m A Doctor” demonstrated that group singing did indeed boost endocannabinoids to give our brains a “buzz” – an exciting discovery that, in future, could help our approach to mental health. (This programme aired on Wednesday 26/09/18 on BBC2) (7). Could this explain why some clients report a feeling of euphoria following a ZQG session – is the vibration of touch having a similar impact on the endocannabinoid system as that achieved by the vibration of singing?
There is much that the scientists have yet to understand about the direct link between mind and body along with the full significance of environment and lifestyle on our health and wellbeing. The ancient Eastern physicians and philosophers, however, appear to have understood these concepts dating back thousands of years, observing and transferring the laws of nature to describe the physiology and function of the human body whilst acknowledging that everything and each of us is “connected” through the energy that flows around and through everything – Universal Energy, devising effective mind-body practices that are still in use today. It is interesting to note that Western science is exploring this concept of universal connection in the comparatively new science of quantum physics!
From the Yin perspective, the Eastern mind-body practices focus on a holistic and mindful approach with the primary aim of these practices being to cultivate and circulate the energy of life / Universal Energy around and through the body to support and maintain health and wellbeing; Qi, Prana, Ki, all being different names for the “energy of life”, the nomenclature being entirely dependent on the origin of the philosophy applied.
Zu Qigong (ZQG), as the name suggests, was developed around the philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and more specifically the theories of Qigong. In the West we are gradually becoming familiar with internal Qigong, the exercise system whereby individuals using mental focus, controlled breathing, meditation and gentle, carefully choreographed physical movement can encourage a balanced, healthy flow of Qi through and around the body to establish and maintain health and wellbeing.
The practice of external Qigong is perhaps less familiar; this involves the transmission of Qi from trained practitioner to client, guiding Qi into and through the meridian system – applied with focus and positive intent to effectively assist the client to achieve improved circulation of Qi. ZQG is a contemporary approach to external Qigong, using the feet and lower legs as the gateway into the energy pathways, the meridian system; applying careful delivery of emitted Qi across the energy network, observing the in-built layers of regulation, checks, balances and flow patterns that are inherent within the system.
However, as a therapist, it is the Qigong way of thinking and being that enables ZQG to offer a holistic, client centred approach. It is not about what the therapist can achieve, or the difference the therapist can make, but instead views the client as a flowing moving whole (holistic) rather than individual parts, accepting the inherent knowledge and capacity of the body to heal itself. The ethos of ZQG is to provide a non-clinical approach, stepping back from the diagnostic and prescriptive thinking that has become embedded in so many “holistic” therapies, letting go of the ego, and offering an unconditional exchange of Qi (energy/vibration) recognising that all change is directed and controlled by the client at the subconscious level, enabling mind and body to become connected. As the therapist becomes familiar with the defined sequence of touch, learning the mechanics of the ZQG technique, then it becomes possible to switch off the “thinking” Yang left side of the brain and begin to “let go”, using the subconscious – the Yin, becoming a channel through which, the vibration of Universal Energy from Heaven and Earth can flow unhindered.
In an increasingly hectic Western society our lifestyles could be described as out of balance, becoming too Yang. Life is carried out at such a frantic pace, everything must happen immediately, there is a constant sense of urgency. We take little time to connect physically or emotionally with each other or our natural environment, communication takes place frequently via a screen. The vast majority do not take regular time out to reconnect with their inner peace – they have forgotten how to relax and experience what true relaxation feels like. It is only when the mind and body are relaxed and calm that healing can take place, as daily stress increases so too does the level of stress induced illness in society. Accepting that we are all connected via the energetic field of the universe then we have a duty of care to ourselves and each other to redress the balance, reintroduce the Yin aspect of life, taking time out to reconnect with our internal and external environment – “the butterfly effect” with each small step towards a more peaceful and calmer life rippling out to affect us all. ZQG offers a gentle “helping hand” in re-educating the mind and body in the art of relaxation, connecting with the flow of Universal Energy to support and encourage health and wellbeing.
With a foot in both camps (if you’ll pardon the pun!), combining both sides of the equation – Yin and Yang, my personal interpretation as to how Zu Qigong works is this…….
“If we think of the human body as being a finely tuned musical instrument, every cell vibrating with the actions and reactions that represent life, when the ZQG therapist connects with the client’s feet, he/she effectively acts as a musician with the ability to influence the resonance of the instrument. Applying a carefully choreographed sequence of gentle touch moves designed to acknowledge and work with the inherent ebb and flow of vibration present in the “strings” of the body (pathways/connective tissue), creating the subtle vibration of skin on skin and providing an exchange of Qi (the vibration/energy of life), delivered with a calm mental focus, compassion and care, the “musician” enables a harmony of vibration that reflects the unique connection of person to person, time and place, becoming as one – supporting and enriching the vibration (music) of the soul, connecting to the Dao – The energetic field of the Universe “