Why Qigong Improves Proprioception

Why Qigong Improves Proprioception

Why Qigong Improves Proprioception

 So what is proprioception?

At a basic level it is a combination of three things

  • Balance
  • A sense of joint position
  • Body Awareness

Proprioception is the process by which the body can vary muscle contraction in immediate response to incoming information regarding external forces, by utilizing stretch receptors in the muscles to keep track of the joint position in the body. Proprioception can be defined as the cumulative neural input to the central nervous system from specialized nerve endings called mechanoreceptors. The mechanoreceptors are located in the joint, capsules, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and skin.

Although an internal, subconscious mechanism, proprioception is real, observable, and measurable. When it’s lost, it may or may not come back automatically. Regaining it following an injury requires time, effort, and the expertise of someone who knows how to put it back into operation.

We also know that proprioception is different from kinesthetic awareness, but that both mechanisms are needed for balanced, efficient, and relatively safe movement of body parts, whether the athlete stands in one place (as in lifting weights, golf, or archery) or moves (as in baseball, basketball, or football).

So bottom line is, it's pretty essential to being able to move well and to help us avoid injury caused by abuse of joints and muscles. 

We also know, through a number of studies, that as we age, our proprioception deteriorates and we become more prone to injuries on that basis. When you consider the three initial aspects of proprioception: Balance, Joint Position and Body Awareness, it is easy to see this declining through age and how that loss of awareness could lead to injury.

Research has also shown that moderate exercise and specific movements will help to restore and maintain proprioception in the elderly and those recovering from injury.

Why Does Qigong Improve Proprioception?

Because it trains us to be aware of where our body is and what it is and isn't doing. It is that simple.

I have a standing practice that goes back 25yrs now, so that means I have reflected on where my limbs are in relation to my posture and how that feels for over half my life. That changes things radically for me.

I talk to my students about the quality of Ting Jing which comes mainly from Tai Chi. In a nutshell this is listening to the body. Using your mind to be aware of what the body is reflecting, which tell you about where you are in time and space. Does something feel tight, hot, shaky, vulnerable, unsupported, immobile? All these questions you go through when you practice standing, looking with your mind to feel if the body is in the best position. Are you managing to achieve Song (pronounced Sung), which is the active process of releasing and relaxing?

When you practice standing correctly, the feedback through the mechanoreceptors and Golgi Tendon Bodies is telling you that the body is in alignment, that it is able to rest and relax. Before you get to that point you get to listen to your body complaining about a whole bunch of reasons that you are not in alignment, pain being the most obvious of those. So you adjust your body position, release the tension, soften and relax and things improve.

In the long run we know that this information develops better self awareness, which can be translated to better proprioceptive awareness. This will lead to better balance and joint awareness, which means less likelihood of injury and falls. It has been shown that Tai Chi reduces falls in seniors by up to 45%!! Now that is some figure. Another study has shown that it significantly improves balance and mobility in people with Parkinson's Disease.

Qigongg and Tai Chi have an almost unprecedented focus on listening to the body and being aware of what it is doing. Similar processes can be found in Yoga, but with the emphasis on soft, slow movement which encourages relaxation to create stretching rather than stretching to relax, as in yoga, Qigong is particularly suited to making sure that the softness and relaxation are emphasised with the alignment.

Qigong practice, especially when done over an extended period of years, gives the practitioner a much greater sense of body awareness and much greater control. Making it less likely that movement will be unconscious and even potentially traumantic. Besides that, we get the benefit of the 9 areas of health improvement highlighted in the NIH study on the benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi which include: bone density, cardiopulmonary, physical function, falls and related factors, quality of life, self-efficacy, patient reported outcomes, psychological health and immune health.

Sounds like a miracle practice to me, I'm going to carry on with mine and I invite you to come and join me.

Please feel free to add comments or join in discussion below

 

References:

 http://www.coreperformance.com/knowledge/training/all-about-proprioception.html

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/serendipupdate/proprioception-how-and-why

Aging effects on joint proprioception: the role of physical activity in proprioception preservation

Age-related decline in proprioception.

http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/19663/InTech-Factors_influencing_proprioception_what_do_they_reveal_.pdf

Aging and proprioception

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/try-tai-chi-to-improve-balance-avoid-falls-201208235198

Health benefits of Tai Chi exercise: improved balance and blood pressure in middle-aged women

Tai Chi Improves Balance and Mobility in People with Parkinson Disease

A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi

Cover Photo credit to www.taichimania.com

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