Have you ever noticed elderly people doing odd things to trees? Knocking their backs against them? Slapping them? Sometimes even punching them? At dawn, in parks, under freeway overpasses, these ancient exercises are all about restoring the balance of qi in one’s life.
Tree Backing stimulates the dumai, which is the channel of energy that runs along the spine, and governs the entire yang system in the human body. This stimulation relieves hidden aches and pains. To do it, stand with your back towards a tree, and your legs apart. Relax, and knock your back against the tree trunk, letting your body rebound naturally. After about a second, knock again, and adjust your breath to move in rhythm with the knocking. Obviously, take care not to injure yourself or the tree by hitting too hard.
Tree Scratching works as a perfect stand-in for a massage. It’s awesome for itches in difficult to reach places, and is considered especially good for people with liver problems. Within the “five elements system,” the liver is considered to be wood, and according to traditional Chinese medicine, rubbing it against wood treats liver ailments naturally. The qi from a pine tree is said to be best. So put your back against a knotty pine, and rub up and down to relieve itches and keep that liver healthy.
Tree Slapping is an energizing exercise that brings the palms and arms to life, and emerged from the practice of kung fu. To give it a shot, face a tree head-on, and concentrate. Your eyes should be humble, your knees slightly bent, your shoulders sunken in, and your back straightened. Let your hands hang naturally. Now twist your waist to one side, swing your palm, and hit the trunk of the tree. As soon as your palm touches the tree, turn towards the other direction, and repeat on the other side. Remember that the tree is your friend, not an enemy, and your goal isn’t to defend yourself or assault the green world, but to smooth your flow of qi.
Tree Punching is an exercise born out of bajiquan, a martial art whose name translates literally to “eight extremes fist,” and whose first teacher was known to boast, “I do not know what it’s like to hit a man twice.” So while we’re not expert enough to teach you everything you need to know here, we do recommend approaching practitioners warily. Basically, it involves punching various body parts into the tree—like your palm, the back of your palm, your fist, different parts of your arm and your chest—to let out any excess energy. One late 19th century teacher, Li Shuwen, famously needed to release so much qi that he killed a thick-skinned banyan tree while practicing. So be careful!
General Tips for Tree Exercises:
- Find a tree with a diameter larger than a third of a meter.
- Never hurt the tree. These exercises are meant to be performed in a totally relaxed state, in order to balance your qi. If you need to work off anger, go to a gym first, and do the tree exercises later.
- These exercises have actually been banned in many parks around China, due to damage done by people who don’t follow tip #2. Make sure that you are in a park where you are permitted to “work out” with the trees.
- Obviously, avoid poisonous oak. It really doesn’t do your qi much good at all.