(This is a repost of an article written by Dr Sun Lei from Shanghai Qigong Research Institute)

We refer to the lower-back as the two sides of the spinal column, above the pelvis and below the ribs. It is a major connection hub in the human body. In the lower-back we have five lumbar vertebrae, among them, the 4th and 5th vertebrae take the biggest body weight burden, that is why they are the thickest, and in the same time this area is the most likely to suffer some problems. If the lower-back is not strong enough this will cause a physiological over-curvature of the 4th and 5th vertebrae, not allowing the lumbars to stretch and unblock. Likewise, due to the lack of strength in the lower-back the upper-body weight will not be well supported. This will strain shoulders and chest, where we’ll feel fatigue, pain and stiffness. This lifting-up of the qi functional activity makes the upper-body and the lower-body to come apart, which is the cause of many diseases.

Every school of qigong practice regards the work of the lower-back as very important, specially Neijia Kongfu emphasizes its training even more, mainly through indications such as relaxing, settling down, straightening and stretching the lower-back, just to mention a few. In the practice of zhanzhuang there are two essential requirements:

  1. Relaxing: One must relax the muscles in the lower-back, only a relaxed lumbars can be flexible. Many people’s lower-back is sticking forward, specially when the upper-body is straight the lower-back will easily stick forward, in other words, the lumbars will be curved. In this circumstances, it will be hard for the qi in the upper body to sink down. Many students bend their back forward as soon as they relax the lower-back, if they straighten it the lower-back sticks forward immediately. The main reason for this is that the spinal column has become rigid, it cannot stretch vertically, it is just like a seesaw: if we press down one end, the other one automatically rises up. When we find this scenario, we can gradually make the spinal column unblock by the method of leaning against the wall.
  2. Stretching: In terms of morphology, once the lower-back is relaxed and unblocked we must aim for the stretching of the lumbar vertebrae. In the traditional teaching this is expressed in different ways, such as protruding the mingmen backwards, pushing the lower-back straight, straightening the back, stretching the lumbars, etc. The stretching has to be upwards and downwards from the lumbars as the center. In the downward stretch the lumbars extend and make the pelvis sink, drooping the coccyx. In the upward stretch the lumbars extend and make the back reach upwards and straighten the nape effortlessly (XuLingDingJin).
    Aside from this, the diaphragm is connected to the xiphoid process, the sternum’s tip in the pit of the stomach, on the flanks it is linked to the ribs, and on the lower-back it is linked to the 2nd and 3rd lumbar vertebrae. Therefore, the protrusion backwards of the mingmen should pull the diaphragm downwards, and thus influence the qi functional activity in the pit of the stomach and the two flanks, which can improve the blending of the qi functional activity of the heart and the kidney, and also that of the lung and the kidney.

The lumbar area is the connection point between the upper-body and the lower-body, it is the center of all the body’s activity. In TCM the lower back is called “the governor of the kidney”, it goes without saying how important it is. When we practice zhanzhuang, we always start by the lower-back, once it is well trained, then we can gradually extend the work towards the torso and the extremities.

Original article by Dr Sun Lei of Shanghai Qigong Research Institute.

English translation by Estel Vilar.