Exercises for the Organs of the Head

The organs on the head are referred to in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the seven apertures or openings. Namely the nostrils, eyes, ears (each with two openings) and the mouth which includes the lips, teeth, tongue, and pharynx. These are important organs to ones life and looks, and the Chinese people have since ancient times evolved ways to keep them fit and to prevent diseases as well as to maintain good looks. Detailed descriptions can found in the Nei Jing, and the Yellow Emperor’s Manual of Internal Medicine, which is the oldest extant Chinese medical book written some two thousand years ago.

Following are some simple ways to keep these organs in good condition.

1. The Nose.
The nose governs respiration. Through the nostrils filthy air is exhaled and fresh air inhaled. It is the common belief that the nostrils should be big enough; for example, a horse with big nostrils has staying power and does not gasp for breath galloping a short distance. This is because the big nostrils facilitate the inhaling of air. The same is true of human beings. Another point is that the nostrils should face downward to avoid taking in dirt directly.
Apart from respiration, the nose has another function, which is to warm up the air going into the body so as to prevent the lungs from being irritated by the cold air. But when the nose is stuffed up after catching a cold, it will fail to function as a warmer and a filter for incoming air. The result might be lung infections which may sometimes lead to serious illness, especially for the aged. Some people wear veils or masks made of a parchment or silk to protect the nose and mouth which are exposed to the cold. In the case of a stuffy nose caused by a cold, using a hot compress, steaming with boiling hot liquid medicine or smoking with medicinal herbs may be of help.
These methods are good for increasing the blood circulation in the affected area. Washing the face in cold water can also increase resistance against cold. 

Pressing , massaging or rubbing the acu-points yingxiang (on the naso-labial groove) and juliao(below the nostril) and other movements have similar effects. To strengthen its functions, one may pinch the nose with the fingers for a while and then take a deep breath, or one may press one side of the nose to clear the passage on the other side.
Meanwhile care should be taken to co-ordinate the respiration and body movements. For instance, one may bend the body forwards and backwards or turn the head and upper body, first to one side and then the other. Keep the mouth shut during these movements and only open it during short breaks. Face away from the wind while doing the exercises and there will be a comfortable feeling. Except for the nostrils the tip of the nose is immobile outwardly, and it moves only as the head or body turns. Actually its movement never ceases, and is in co-ordination with the lungs throughout ones life. If the co-ordination is good, the effect of the exercise will be better.

2. The Mouth.
The mouth is a vital organ: the tongue tastes the food and determine whether it is suitable for eating; the teeth bite and chew the food; and the salivary glands secrete saliva to lubricate the food during chewing and aids digestion. As a Chinese saying-goes: “Illness enters the body through the mouth and trouble emits from the mouth.” As a matter of fact, illness can be prevented from entering the mouth if proper care is taken; as for trouble from the mouth, the brain should bear the chief responsibility rather than the tongue.

Exercises to strengthen the functions of these organs have been practiced since remote antiquity in China. For instance, moving the lower jaw up and down helps blood circulation. Gritting the teeth when men urinate is said to be able to strengthen the teeth and benefit the kidneys. When the mouth is dry, press the upper palate and incisors with the tip of the tongue to facilitate the secretion of saliva. Bulging and contracting the cheeks alternatively will achieve the same purpose. These exercises will be more effective if they are co-ordinated by proper breathing and physical exercises.
The appearance of the mouth often indicates certain diseases in the body.
When a child is stricken with meningitis and tetanus, his (her) mouth remains open all the time. A distorted mouth shows facial palsy. If a baby lolls out its tongue and draws it back in alternately, it shows the baby has trouble in its digestive tract. If the tongue curls up, it shows the acute infectious disease has reached a serious stage.
The pharynx governs the swallowing of the food while the larynx governs respiration and speech. The latter is a rhythmic, ceaseless motion, and when talking, its burden is increased. To strengthen and develop their functions, people do special exercises. To improve their voice, for instance, singers practice singing in co-ordination with slight body movements, the secretion of saliva from acu-points on the tongue, and gentle respiration. The [i:], [c] and [e:] sounds opera singers utter during practice in the mornings can help exercise both the larynx and vocal cords. Doctors of Chinese medicine often advise patients suffering from chronic laryngitis to utter these sounds as a means of restoring its functions.

3. The Eyes.
The Chinese people have devised many ways to safeguard their eyes and eyesight. On one hand, one can give them a rest by closing them, with the body and mind relaxed. On the other hand, one can strengthen their function by looking a distant mountains, counting trees or the tiles on the roof from left to right and vice versa or concentrate the eyes to observe moving objects.

It is said that in some places in China, old people who have retired keep their eyes fit by trimming the withered leaves of Cattails. As green is salubrious to the eyes, sorting out the withered leaves and trimming them helps improve the eyesight. In Inner Mongolia where the grasslands extend for miles on end, the old who are used to looking at the grass all day enjoy good vision. In addition, massaging the muscles around the eyes and pressing the acu-points connected with the eyes, or rotating the pupils can be equally beneficial to the eyesight. Some people sharpen their eyesight by watching the stars at night, which is also a way of military training.

4. The Ears.
The ears cannot move by themselves except for a few people whose helixes are movable. The eardrum will become weak in an immobile state.
To maintain good hearing, one may pinch the nose or pump air into the nostrils to exercise the eardrums . To keep the head clear one may cover the ears with the palms and percuss the back of the head with the index fingers. In addition, uttering the sounds[Hau] while walking up a hill, can adjust the eardrums; this has the same effect as chewing when a plane takes off or lands. An old man used to climb up a long flight of steps to the Pavilion of the Fragrance of Buddha(Fo Xiang Ge) in the Summer Palace in Beijing early every morning with a walking stick. As he did so he uttered [ai] when his left foot landed and [hau] when he put his right foot down, and following these two sounds he tapped his stick on the ground. He said he did not feel tired and short of breath or sore in the legs in this way. His heartbeat was normal when he reached the top of the hill overlooking Kunming Lake about a hundred metres below. The secret perhaps is to raise the Qi to the upper body, so to reduce the pressure on the legs which bear all the load of the movements.

by Geng Jianting

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