Sunday, July 23, 2023

Three Primary Functional Movement Patterns

Channels and Movement Organization

The Acupuncture Channels Organize Movement

The image above describes 3 groupings of acupuncture channels (sometimes referred to as meridians). These channels in each grouping are all related and anyone who studies Chinese and East Asian medicine, including things like acupuncture, tuina, qigong and herbal medicine, would see and understand something about these groupings. 

The major functional movement patterns are organized by these 3 groupings and you do not need to have studied Chinese medicine to understand this. I can use a bunch of technical jargon such as describing the 3 networks by the names in the graphic above, but I can make it far simpler by describing the basic movement patterns that these channel parings do. These three groupings produce the following three movement patterns. They:

1) Expand, extend, and propel the body forward, 

2) Compress, flex, and hollow the body; and they

 3) Side bend and rotate the body. 

Expansive movements which propel the body forward:

We can look at something relatively simple such as a pull up for an example of this movement pattern. This movement engages muscles of the back of the torso and shoulder girdle. And, if your form is good, there is engagement of core. This relatively straightforward movement primarily involves expansive movements that lift and propel the body forward. These movements lift the body up (literally, in the image below), but also lift you into an upright posture when standing and walking; and they also stabilize the spine.


Expansive movements of the Taiyang-Shaoyin channel sinews
Photo by Ruslan Khmelevsky:

Compressive movements which hollow the body:

Other movement patterns compress and hollow the body. They protract the scapulae, depress the chest, and flex the torso and hip. There are many calisthenic and gymnastic exercises which illustrate this movement pattern. Hollow body holds, L-sits, a front kick, and many other movements fall into this category. The image below shows a gymnastics moves called a planche which is being performed on gymnastics rings. These movements protract the scapulae (round the shoulder girdle), depress the chest, and they flex the torso and hip. 

Compressive movements of the Yangming-Taiyin channels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

These movements also balance the expansive ones described above and there are many exercises that move back and forth between these two groupings. For instance, rowers would move back and forth between these phases; going into a compression so that they have more range as they engage the back, expand and propel forward as they pull the paddle through the water. You have to compress and load the spring before you expand, especially if you want to do it explosively. The spinal wave from White Crane qigong is another example of this ebb and flow and you can watch my video by clicking here

Movements which side bend and rotate the body:

Sidebending and rotation are two separate movements....., sort of. Major joints of the spine and pelvis couple these two movements which means that if you perform one of these movements, you are doing the other. Some movements are more apparently side bending, while others are more about rotation, but from a kinesiology standpoint, these movements are very integrated together and not as easily separated. 

These movements involves trunk and neck side bending, but also abduction and adduction of the limbs, along with rotational movements. To fully understand this category, you also need to understand that this movement pattern involves preventing too much movement by stabilizing the sides of the body. It involves the muscles which allow us to stand on one leg, even momentarily such as when we are walking or running, without the hip buckling and failing to support this weight. Walking or running is actually a great example of this patterns since the rotation of this hips and spine is so integral to healthy gait.

Another very simple example is in a video below where I am swinging on monkey bars. This exercise emphasizes rotation, but you will also see side bending if you watch the video.

Rotational and Sidebending movements of the Shaoyang-Jueyin channels
Photo by Los Muertos Crew:

Check out my Youtube channel where I will be exploring many of these concepts. If you do visit, especially if you find the information useful, please subscribe, like the videos, and comment on the videos. All of this helps build my channel and allows me to put the time into producing more content. Besides this, I appreciate the comments since it helps be continue to organize this information and we can all learn together!

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Sunday, July 16, 2023

Eight Pieces of Brocade - Qigong for Health

Eight Pieces of Brocade

Eight Pieces of Brocade: brief history.

Eight Pieces of Brocade (Chinese pinyin: Baduanjin) is attributed to general Yue Fei dating back about 1000 years. This figure was possibly a mythical figure and may not have existed, but the qigong exercise has its roots in antiquity, regardless. Legend has it that it was developed as a way to maintain the health of the soldiers. There is a standing form and a separate sitting form. I have learned the sitting form, but do not practice this regularly and do not teach this form, so the discussion below will be related to the standing form. Note that the standing form can be modified effectively to seated for those with limitations that prevent standing, but the original sitting form is a unique form and is not simply an adaptation of the standing form..

I learned this form from Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming at his North California retreat home. This was a fantastic introduction. I have since modified the form to highlight principles that I focus on and teach, but it is largely unchanged from what I learned with Dr. Yang.

Eight Pieces of Brocade: a great qigong form for spinal mobility and core engagement.

I practice and teach Eight Pieces of Brocade in several setting, but specifically I came to appreciate this form during much of the initial social distancing phase in 2020. This form, due to is simple stance and lack of stepping patterns, lends itself quite well to zoom based classes. In 2020, I initially also taught taiji, liuehebafa, and core strengthening classes, in addition to baduanjin (8 POB). While it is possible to teach taiji and liuhebafa on Zoom, they are not as obvious a fit as something such as eight pieces. 

Eight Pieces of Brocade contains many of the same principles, especially those related to health improvement, that can be found in the other forms. Yet it is much simpler and more repetitive externally. The internal movement, however, features the same spinal mobility and core engagement. This can take some practice to find and maximize and is something we focus on in class. But it is pretty simple to jump in and start following, and you will likely be getting at least some of the this benefit from the beginning. You can get some nice stretching and strengthening from the start with plenty of room to develop and grow!

Eight Pieces of Brocade: Spinal Wave/Danyu

Microcosmic Orbit

One way to maximize the benefits in eight pieces of brocade is to incorporate the spinal wave into each move. Some of the people I teach learned this qigong movement as the danyu (dūn yāo). There are some external differences between these two qigong exercises, but they both are ways of accessing the small circulation (microcosmic orbit) which is a circulation up the du mai (governing vessel) and down the ren mai (conception vessel). This movement can then travel out into the extremities and it would then be referred to as the grand circulation (macrocosmic orbit). Simply, this means that the movement of the spine and core manifest into the extremities. If you can find this movement in the Eight Pieces of Brocade, the benefits will be far greater for your health and wellness.

Check out the Youtube video below. This walks you through each move and allows you to follow along and practice. Also, check out the class information and contact info by clicking here.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions on the video by leaving a comment. Also, please like and subscribe as this helps build my channel which will allow me to continue providing content like this!

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Saturday, June 17, 2023

Liuhebafa Qigong Patterns

Liuhebafa (brief history of the form I practice)

Liuhebafa (known in Cantonese as Lok Hup Ba Fa), is one of the major internal martial arts from China. It is similar in some ways to taiji, though lesser known, especially in the West. The liuhebafa that I learned comes most directly from Liang Zipeng. Liang Zipeng was a recognized student of Wu Yi Hui who was likely the most instrumental figure in the wider transmission of this art. However, Liang Zipeng only learned the first half with Wu and he created his own second half from knowledge of other styles such as Yiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, The liuhebafa I learned is most closely related to the version his student, Moy Linshin taught, though there are other sources and influences in the version I am doing now.

Liuhebafa Qigong Patterns

To teach Liuhebafa, I have 'created' several small qigong patterns (drills). I say created, but these are really just isolated movements from the liuhebafa form that are modified only to make them more bilateral (done on both sides) and repetitive so that you can isolate and train certain movement patterns. If you were to learn these patterns, that would be enough to work on mobilizing the shoulders, ribcage, pelvis and spine while massaging the internal organs. This is the purpose of these qigong patterns. Practicing these patterns would also facilitate learning the liuhebafa form. I put these together for that reason, so that they can be practiced in my classes. But I also teach them in my online Zoom classes. I find these patterns are much more adaptable to online classes than the full form, although they are a useful element of live class. Click here for the class info.

Check out two of these patterns in the video below.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Channels of Acupuncture and Their Functional Movement Patterns

Note: This post is adapted from a post that originally appeared on the Sports Medicine Acupuncture Blog site which can be found here.

Jingjin Movement Training presentation at the Pacific Sports & Orthopedic Acupuncture Symposium

One of the features of the Sports Medicine Acupuncture program, where I am a faculty member, is the emphasis on the channel sinews or jingjin. These are highlighted in dissection classes, but also in the assessment and treatment classes and in the corrective exercise classes. The jingjin are an important part of the channel system and I have been exploring movement patterns of these channels since 1998; I am currently developing qigong and calisthenics patterns to strengthen the channel, improve body awareness and control, and improve the channel health. This is something that I will be presenting on at the upcoming Pacific Sports and Orthopedic Acupuncture Symposium from March 30th to April 3rd.

Grundy Erector Spinae Schematic

While you can look at the movement patterns of a particular channel, it is actually better to look at more comprehensive functional movement patterns that involve multiple related channels. For instance, there are movements that lift you into an upright and expansive posture. These movements involve an engagement of the back muscles which pull down on the pelvis and spine and lift the front channels, as seen in this excellent illustration to the left from an anatomy atlas by John Hull Grundy. The full, expansive and upright posture that is the result of the back engagement occurs with a stabilization from a balanced, aligned and strong core where the respiratory diaphragm is aligned with the pelvic floor as seen in the illustration below.

This overall pattern involves the Taiyang-Shaoyin channels. The video below from my Youtube channel and featuring something I refer to as a Hanging Squat highlights these channels well. This exercise is a simpler version of an exercise called a front lever. The position on the upright portion of the movement calls on muscles of the UB and SI jingjin such as the gluteus maximus, the erector spinae, the lats, and the shoulder external rotators, but also the transverse abdominis and multifidi from the KID jingjin are engaged and the pelvic and respiratory diaphragms are aligned. The exercise can be modified and made easier or harder by decreasing or increasing the angle the body makes with the ground when in the up position. This would be a great exercise for many shoulder and back conditions especially if these muscles are underutilized. Of course, care should be taken and it is not appropriate for everyone. Understanding the mechanisms helps find modification or related exercises which work the same channels.

The Shaoyang-Jueyin channel network is involved with side bending, stabilization of the sides and rotation. If you look at the muscles that cause movement (or prevent too much of it) along the sides, and also the ones that rotate the major segments of the body, these are generally the same muscles. The abdominal obliques are a great example of this.

The interplay between these movements is seen in the video below, which is a standing version of an exercise called the Human Flag. Notice the innominate bone movement in particular that makes this movement shine. This could be used as a great sacroiliac joint exercise for patients and It can be scaled back and made achievable for most patients.

Planche on Gymnastics Rings
The final movement pattern is controlled by the Yangming-Taiyin channel network. This involves flexion of the major joints and pulls you down. It also helps move the shoulder blades.  I don’t have a good video that highlights these channels and will have to expand on them at the symposium. Here is an extraordinary gymnastic maneuver, however, that exemplified this channel network. This is beyond most patients, unless they are a gymnast. It is beyond what I can do, though there are many ways to modified this and/or train elements of this to simulate these channels. Another characteristic movement would be a handstand using proper abdominal support (no banana back) or even a V sit as demonstrate below by Gabo Saturno from

I hope you can make it! If you are there, I will also be leading the morning qigong sessions from 7-7:30am out by Mission Bay. Many of these themes will be presented, but I will not be explaining everything in these morning sessions. So, there will be simple instruction and this will be expanded on during the Thursday, March 30th lectures. So, the morning sessions are a time to play. Practice and explore our own movement potentials.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Support Hold on Gymnastic Rings

Supporting yourself on gymnastic rings is difficult due to the instability of the rings

Transitioning from parallel bars to gymnastic rings is a large step in bodyweight calisthenics. Actually, it is a much bigger leap than many people realize until they try it. This is because of the instability that rings offer. In bodyweight training, instability is a good thing as it calls on many of the smaller stabilizing muscles to become active to help make up for the loss of stability that occurs when transitioning from the solid structure of metal parallel bars cemented into the ground.

For me, this is a far more functional way of training. Consider activities that would require us to support our weight and something like climbing a tree might come to mind. These branches would move and sway and we would need to adapt to this movement so that we would not fall. Something like gymnastic rings is a safe way to include instability into your training but, while it is safer than hanging out in a tree, there is still some risk involved due to the increase in demands.

When transitioning to rings, the starting place is to be able to support yourself in the top of a dip position. When transitioning from parallel bars, many people are surprised, and frequently very humbled, by how much more difficult this is. You might be very use to cranking out a set of dips on parallel bars, but find yourself shaking uncontrollably and find that you can barely hold yourself up on the gymnastic rings.

Fortunately, this phase ends with a little practice and you can support yourself without quite as much shaking. The challenge then is to hold yourself in this support position for some time. I recommend starting with 15-30 seconds with good form. Work towards locking your elbows and turning the rings out.  It is a good idea to get strong in this position before working on other calisthenics skills on the rings.

Gymnastic rings with straps anchored to a high ceiling

Once you are strong in this top position, you can play with having control in all positions of the dips. And, you can start to increase the instability by introducing a swing which more demands on your body to return to stability. Just make sure that you have taken the time to build strength in the support hold before increasing instability by adding more movement. Rushing the process increases the potential for injury. Having said that, you will need to be able to support your weight on parallel bars before moving on to rings for the same reason.

Something else to consider is that the degree of difficulty is increase as the length of the straps is increased. For instance, I take my rings out to a calisthenic park and strap them onto a bar that is about 9 feet from the ground. Other times I have access to rings at a local recreation center with a gymnasium (image on left) and these rings are anchored to a very high ceiling. It is far more difficult to do any skill on the rings at the rec center as the instability is increase significantly. 

Here is a short I filmed where I am playing around with the ring instability.

A great bodyweight exercise for chest

The gymnastic rings support hold is a fantastic bodyweight exercise for the chest. Locking the elbows and turning the rings out calls heavily on the pectoralis major. This muscle group has a number of functions and adduction is a major one that is challenged with this position. This is especially the case with rings since they have the capacity to move and you need to really use the pectoralis major to prevent the rings from moving away from the body (into abduction).

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