Tips For A Healthy Back By Paulo Fonte
Paulo Fonte is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and a Physiotherapist at Palacio Estoril in Portugal. A humble healer and an overall amazing person he kindly shared some useful information on how to keep your back healthy.
As you are reading these words, you are probably comfortably seated in front of your computer or standing looking at your smartphone screen while waiting for the train or the bus to arrive, your spine is allowing you to do it by supporting your head. This marvellous segmented structure of vertebras connected with muscles, ligaments, discs and nerves gives you the ability of movement in almost every possible direction (if you have ever been to a Yoga class or watched a contortionist you know what I am talking about) so many joints, muscles and systems constitute one of the most perfect machines in Nature: the Human Body, thus we have been made to MOVE.
Let’s talk about your back
Roughly fifty years ago and before that, most of the hard and heavy work was done by people. For example, in agriculture, it was all done by hand and it was normal to carry on your back a bag with 75 kg (or even more) of something. In that period this was one of the causes of back pain and incapacity; Life was hard then, and it’s good that it has changed, but perhaps we have gone too far in the opposite direction, as now we spend most of our time sat down in front of a computer in work and afterwards we go home and lie down on our super comfortable sofas, and in between we sit in our cars. We have been made to move, but we are now doing it less and less.
As we move less, our structure and material (we are mostly made of Water, around 60%) start to “suffer”. Sitting (or being in the same position) for long periods will bring stiffness and soreness to your muscles and as a consequence a lack of flexibility, strength and coordination.
One can enjoy a healthy life just by changing certain habits or routines: avoid sitting for long periods and sit with your back straight, be mindful of your posture and move more… be your own mechanic. You should never forget that all the parts of your body are connected: when you are standing to wave to your friend be aware that from the bottom of your feet all the way to the fingertips of your waving hand (with your back/spine in between) everything is being activated.
PingShuai Gong, One Foundational Exercise
In 2010, I moved from Portugal to Taiwan. By that time I was starting my studies in Mandarin and then in Chinese Medicine. Living in Taipei, and being an early riser, it was very common to find in almost every park people practising all kinds of movement: gymnastics, dance, Taichi and Qigong. As a physiotherapist, starting my studies in Chinese Medicine, and coming from the West, I was quite curious about the way of moving Qi inside the body (Qi means Energy, the Force of Life; Gong means Exercise, Movement). My daily walks between the Chinese Medicine Clinic and the Mandarin Training Centre took me to a place where young and elderly were quiet, smiling and swinging their arms. It was such a simple movement but surrounded by an aura of strength and tranquillity. There was no gate as if it was receiving everyone. Later on, some of the people there told me that it was a martial art. So a few days later I started learning Qigong at Meimen under the guidance of Master Lee Feng-San, in Chinese Lee Feng-San Shifu. “Shi” means teacher, “Fu” means father. “Shifu” is a teacher who teaches not only knowledge and Kung fu, but also a philosophy of Life. He teaches people ways to gain better health and higher spiritual strength with simple Qigong exercises, emphasising both internal cultivation and external exercises. Lee Shifu has been promoting a basic Qigong exercise – PingShuai. PingShuai was the first exercise that I´ve learned from Lee Shifu; it is easy to learn and will produce quickly visible benefits, so I will share it with you in this space, as PingShuai combines the movement of our physical structure as a whole, the circulation of water, blood, lympha (and Qi) and brings a steady mind; and a steady mind brings a stable body.
How to practice PingShuai Gong
PingShuai Gong, or Level Arm Swing requires an area only slightly larger than a standing space. It is easy to learn, helping you achieve physical and thus mental stability, improving circulation, balance, and relaxation. It is important to have regularity in your practice in order to achieve a dynamic body and mind harmony. Pingshuai stresses the importance of levelness, in order to facilitate the circulation of the blood to all your body and relaxing the joints, allowing you to become more agile and flexible. Start by doing 3 sessions per day, 10 minutes each, or one 30 minute session. At the conclusion of each session, drink a glass of warm water slowly to promote the circulation and storage of Qi.
1. Stand still, with your feet parallel shoulder width apart, toes and heels aligned. Lengthen the spine. Be mindful of your posture. Close your eyes and breathe normally.
2. Slowly open your eyes. Raise both arms to chest height. Keep them parallel to the ground, palms facing downwards.
3. Allow both arms to drop and swing backwards naturally, like a pair of pendulums. Remain relaxed. Keep in mind not to use any force to intentionally push your arms backwards. As both arms reach as far back as possible, staying always in a relaxed and comfortable posture, swing them back in front to the starting chest-height position. Both arms must remain straight and relaxed, parallel to each other as well to the ground, hands open, fingers stretched. Each full cycle counts for one repetition.
4. On the fifth repetition, as both arms are falling, slightly bend your knees and dip down twice. At the completion of the second dip, arms should return to the starting position.
Guidelines for PingShuai
1. Plant both feet flat on the ground
2. Arms, when travelling in front of the body, must always remain straight and parallel to each other
3. Maintain left/right balance
4. Never strain to push arms backwards. Allow arms to fall naturally under their own weight
5. Maintain a bouncy feeling on the knee-dip. Do not lock your knees. Keep them soft and flexible
6. There are no set of rules on how much you should bend your knees on the knee-dip. Bend them as far as you feel comfortable without having to strain to get back up
7. Never rush yourself. Always stay relaxed and at ease. A fast swinging motion often leads to a tight stance
8. Practice at least 30 minutes every day. Beginners may divide daily exercise into three ten minute sessions if soreness or numbing sensations should occur.
I have been practising PingShuai Gong every day since learning about it in Taiwan and have been sharing its benefits with friends and family, and with my clients, many of them attending a posture fixing class, with some remarkable results. There are many methods, exercises, and tips to bring good health for your back and all your body; you just have to find the one that motivates you to continue practising. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and move well.
If you would like to discover how to keep your back healthy at Palacio Estoril
call our wellness advisors at 020 7843 3597 or enquire here to arrange your stay.