Ask Grand Master Nan Lu: Exercise

Question: I like the idea of exercising to stay fit and in shape, but I often push my body too far and feel sore and tired the following day. Could you share the TCM perspective on exercise?

Answer: Some people are constantly exercising. They start with aerobics, then go running and maybe do weight training afterward. This type of daily routine constantly pushes their bodies—and their tendons—and never allows the Liver to rest.

The body can be trained for strength; it has unlimited power. But tapping into unlimited power is not gained by over-pushing the body. You must learn how to nurture or heal the body. In that way, you will train without pushing yourself too far. From the TCM perspective, it’s important to learn how to heal the body before beginning any type of training. From ancient times, an important part of martial arts training was to relax the muscles. That piece is missing from Western exercise.

Many people have stressful jobs, and after working, they go to the gym and further push their bodies. Stress already causes a Liver function disorder. Think about it: you are already tired; you are already low in energy. But you think you need to exercise to stay fit. So what do you do? You force the body, you push it. Because the body needs to survive, it will push this way. But where does the energy come from? You go to your body’s life force—its savings account—and pull the energy out to push your body.

Daily stress already pushes the Liver, which means it is not functioning at its highest level. And if you push the body, you cause the Liver to have even more stress. After exercising, a lot of people will say, “I feel a release of stress when I exercise.”  That may be true on the mental level, but on the energetic level, if you don’t allow the body to rest, your Liver will become more unbalanced.

People do feel relief after exercise—mentally. But the mental level is based on your belief. Your belief only wants to see what you want to see. Hard exercise does not build up the connections in your body or the connection between your body and Nature. Instead, you build up your body image so when other people look at you they see something good. You build up your body for other people, not for yourself. So you lose the sensitivity; you lose the connection; you lose the biofeedback where your body tries to talk to you. The feeling is lost.

If you continue to push and push, the body will give you signs that it is out of balance. You may develop pains, sports injuries or may feel exhausted. These signs are your body’s way of communicating. It’s trying to say, “Hey, I need a rest, I need healing, don’t push!”  But we don’t listen. We continue to push the body.

Rather than sweating and overworking the body, go for a walk in Nature or take on a healing meditative practice, like Taiji or Qigong. All of these “exercises” will heal the body and the mind, so that you reach a healthy level of stress-relief and find your unique state of balance.