Grief and the Collective, Grief and the Body

Practicing Qi Gong to Move through Sorrow with Strength Gentleness.
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Zena Takieddine
January 27, 2024 | 10 min read
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Grief in Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese Medicine, our emotions inhabit different organs in our body. Vice versa is also true, our body organs generate the expression of different emotions.

When it comes to healing and therapy, arriving at the stage of grief is often the result of processing several other layers beneath which grief has been hidden. Anger can hide grief. Fear can hide grief. Denial can hide grief. Many layers of awareness and embodiment are engaged during a therapeutic process until the depth of grief emerges.

While emotions like anger and fear have a high sympathetic charge, faster heart rates and shorter breaths, grief tends to be in the parasympathetic range, with slower pulse, heavy sighs, and heavy hearts. It does require an overall slowing down and softening to truly be with one’s grief.

Native traditions are used to honor this need. It was said, for example, that when somebody is bereaved of a loved one, he or she would be given a whole year to grieve. If we imagine the life of the village or the tribe, everyone working together and in rhythm with nature, the social structure included a way for grief to be supported. The bereaved would be taken care of by the village until the year had passed. At the anniversary of the death, the bereaved will have fully lived the flavors of loss in all its seasons and will be ready to engage back in a more active life again.

In modern times, grief is often not given much space at all. Instead, the priority is placed on staying busy, not bringing everyone else down, toughening up, and hiding the feelings away. But whatever is left ungrieved can often harden into coldness, aloofness, disease, or even behavioral cruelty. Rather than deny grief, wisdom tells us to sit with it. If grief is an indication of loss, it is also an indication of what we truly love. Rather than deny, grief can be used to celebrate what we love, even as we weep in longing, we can also praise and remember. This allows us to remain intact in our humanity.

Martin Prechtel, one of the few people carrying forward the wisdom of the Mayan Shamans in our present day, recounts this tale in his beautifully written rendition of humanity, The Smell of Rain onDust. (2015). He calls to mind family members who are often stigmatized as being ‘most disturbed ‘and most vulnerable’, and he interprets this as signs of them being the ones ‘saddled with the burden of unmetabolized biis or grief inherited from the family’s past.’ Prechtel, similarly to Dr. Gabor Mate and his renowned book When the Body Says No, recognizes how drug addiction becomes one of the ways people cope with grief that has not been recognized and supported.

In the tradition of Chinese Medicine, there are somatic practices of breath and movement that can be practiced together as a group – and also individually – which are designed to help access, embodyand release whatever grief is being carried.

Qi Gong is a kind of medicine through movement. The quality of movement is slow and flowing, creating a full-body experience as well as poetic imagery with the environment. This makes it quite different from physical movements with body parts moving in isolation or exercising without any sense of connection to nature. Based on a very subtle and precise understanding of the way that energy flows through the body in channels, known as Meridians, the practice of Qi Gong stimulates the flow of energy in these channels to help create more harmony, balance, strength, and immunity.

Elemental Qigong looks at the five elements through which Chinese Medicine sees the world: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire. These also correspond to five season patterns: Later Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer. And each of the elements and seasons corresponds to body organs. Late summer corresponds to the Stomach and Spleen, Autumn to the Lungs and Colon, Winter to the Kidneys and bladder, Spring to the Liver and Gallbladder, and Summer to the Heart and Small Intestines.

The season of Metal is the season of the falling leaves, the season of letting go, of release. There are many ways the body lets go. Emotionally, weeping is an expression of Metal, an outlet of emotional burden.

When it comes to feelings of grief, these are thought to correspond with the season of Autumn and the element of Metal (and also Air). The organs associated with grief are primarily the lungs. The lungs are soft and squishy, able to expand with an average lung capacity of 6 liters. Through the lungs, the blood is oxygenated on the inhale, and the carbon dioxide is released on the exhale. Through the heart, the oxygenated blood is pumped and circulated to every cell of the body and the veins carry back the waste to be eliminated with the exhale which, the trees happily receive nourishment. And so, trees and humans have this inextricable relationship of mutuality through breath.

While the lungs are the yin (passive or receptive) organs in relation to grief, the colon is the yang(active) organ, as each element of the Chinese medical system corresponds to two body organs, yin, and yang. The lungs eliminate carbon dioxide through breathing. The colon eliminates stools through excretion. Both are purifying the body. The Metal element, with its sparkling shine, indicates this quality of purification which corresponds to grief.

Grief is also a measure of love, and what could be more sacred than allowing that expression of human pain loss, and longing, as an acknowledgment of the essence of our humanity and our interconnectedness? The lungs, after all, hug the heart and the heart snuggles in between the lungs. Denying grief is akin to denying love. It is unnatural and it leads to a rather miserable life. Honoring grief, on the other hand, keeps our inner light lit up because it connects us to what we care about. Sorrow needs tending and metabolizing into a sense of connection to a greater truth. Metal reflects and sparkles the light of fire just as the state of being in the lungs is a reflection of the passions of the heart. There is no spiritual bypassing in embracing grief. There is no denial of pain. Our lungs hug our hearts, carry our hearts, and purify our blood.

Qi-qong Practice for Grief

Shibashi is one of the most popular practices in the modern repertoire of Qi Gong and it was developed by the famous Qi Gong Master, Professor Lin Housheng. After creating this 18-movement practice, which became widespread across China, Professor Lin introduced it to the Western world as well. The 18 movements should be repeated six times each and should flow seamlessly, one into the other. It is also perfectly valid to perform just one or a few of the moves, as per each person’s inclination. The overall sequence is particularly helpful in expanding the lungs, liberating the arms and shoulders, toning the lower body, and tapping into an overall flowing quality of movement,

Shibashi movements are very wave-like. To encourage the best quality of movement, it is recommended to practice as if you are performing the moves in water. Let there be a little bit of resistance and drag so that all the muscles of the body engage as a single unit. 

Throughout these movements, the feet are parallel and hip-width apart, with the exception of movements numbers 11, 12, and 13 where the stance is staggered and there is back-and-forth rocking movement in the whole body. Watch the video by Tai Chi/Qi Gong master Kailash Lim to follow along

  • Waving Hands by the Lake – (Regulating breath to begin)
  • Opening the Heart
  • Painting the Rainbow
  • Circling Arms to Separate Clouds
  • Floating Silk in Air
  • Rowing the Boat
  • Raising the Sun
  • Gazing at the Moon
  • Lotus Leaves Rustling in the Wind
  • Cloud Hands
  • Scooping the Ocean and Looking at the Sky
  • Undulating Waves
  • Drove Spreads its Wings
  • Dragon Coming Out of the Sea
  • Wild Goose Flying
  • Windmill Turning in the Breeze
  • Stepping and Bouncing the Ball
  • Gathering the Fragrances of the Earth – (Balancing chi to end).

Hands on Dan Tien. Pause and feel. Enjoy the effects.

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Zena Takieddine

Co Founder, Wellness Facilitator
About The Author

Zena is Body Mind You Holistic Wellness’s co-founder and somatic lifestyle medicine facilitator. In her 30’s, she began volunteering at refugee camps in Lebanon offering them the knowledge and wisdom of Yoga. She trained in multiple somatic therapy modalities and is a certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.

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