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Get Moving

One glance in the mirror tells it all: You look sallow and worn, the result of having caught every bug that's crossed your path. When your vitality wanes, it's time to strengthen your lungs. That's right, lungs. A primary source of qi, or life energy, strong lungs help you feel alive, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Weak lungs, conversely, can leave you fatigued -- and more susceptible to congestion and infections like colds.

"In TCM, the lungs are known as the 'prime minister' of the body because they control breath and the circulation of qi and blood," explains Laurie Steelsmith, N.D., L.AC., author of "Natural Choices for Women's Health." They also circulate a particular type of energy known as wei qi. That's your immune system's first line of defense, serving as a barrier to outside influences that can make you sick. "The lungs act as a bellows," Steelsmith says. "They fan the fires of the body and turn up the flame on your overall well-being."

To develop a program that gets your lungs working and your qi moving, we turned to Tiffany Chen, star of "Step-by-Step Tai Chi" and "The Kung Fu Kickboxing Workout" DVDs, as well as Max Strom, Oregon-based yoga teacher, breathing educator, and developer of the DVD "Learn to Breathe."

This interval routine, which takes about 30 minutes, alternates between spurts of lung-strengthening cardio developed by Chen and focus-enhancing breaths from Strom. It's challenging yet simple in design so you can concentrate on coordinating your movements with your breath. "Monitoring your breath as you work out makes exercise more restorative," says Strom. With strong lungs, you'll gain energy and boost your immunity -- keeping yourself healthy this season.

The Plan
Start with an energizing warm-up. Next, move on to the intervals, which switch between cardio exercises and resting breaths. The cardio builds lung capacity and endurance, increases circulation and metabolism, boosts the flow of qi, and enhances vitality. The resting breaths calm the nervous system, promote mental sharpness, and help you stay centered. Finish with a cooldown of soothing breaths and stretches.

Start the intervals with exercise one and work your way in order through nine. Do each cardio segment for five minutes, performing a resting breath for one minute between sets. Or, if you find the five-minute cardio sessions too difficult, try doing them for two minutes with 30 second resting breaths -- and, when finished, repeat the entire sequence. "Most important," notes Chen, "find a pace that fits your own abilities."

Warm-Up
Complete Breath
What It Does: Strengthens the lungs and diaphragm by causing them to expand more fully than they typically do. Stretches and strengthens the chest muscles. Increases circulation and lung capacity. Energizes the entire body. "The exaggerated hold of the breath lets your body absorb more qi from the inhalation," says Strom.

How to Do It: Sit cross-legged with your spine tall. Breathing through your nose, inhale and hold your breath, then exhale and hold your breath -- all for an equal amount of time (three to seven seconds each; don't strain). Continue for one to three minutes.


Standing Twist
What It Does: Stimulates circulation, warms up the body, encourages the mind to relax, and teaches you to breathe more freely.

How to Do It: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms hanging by your sides, and knees soft. Inhale and twist your torso to the right, then exhale as you release and twist to the left, letting your arms swing with your body. Keep alternating twists from right to left, building momentum until your hands are lightly slapping your lower ribs with each twist. Let your breath speed up in time with the movements, inhaling as you twist and exhaling as you unwind. Continue for one minute, or until you feel more energized, and then gradually slow to a stop.


Workout
Butt Kickers
Instead of lifting your knees, as in a traditional standing jog, focus on lifting your heels as if trying to kick your backside. Keep the heels off the floor and stay on the balls of your feet throughout the interval. Do for five minutes.


Upside-Down Slow Breath
Stand with feet parallel to each other, a little wider than hip-distance apart, and knees soft. Fold over at your hips and let your head hang with arms dangling (or hold on to opposite elbows); completely relax your neck. Inhale for three to seven counts (don't strain), and exhale for an equal amount of time. Do for one minute.


Sprawls
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft, and arms hanging freely by your sides. In a continuous motion, place your palms on the floor in front of your feet and hop your feet back so your body is in the top of a push-up position, keeping your spine straight during the transition; immediately contract your core and push off the balls of your feet to hop your feet back toward your hands, and then stand up into the starting position. Gazing straight ahead will help you keep the spine long throughout this movement. Repeat for five minutes.

Mindful Breath
Stand tall with your knees soft and feet hip-distance apart and parallel. With your palms together in front of your heart, breathe in and out through your nose. Don't restrict or guide your breath in any way -- simply notice your natural breathing pattern. Do for one minute.


Jump Rope
If you have a jump rope, use it. If not, simulate the circular motion of turning the rope with your hands to help you keep time. Take small hops off the floor, jumping with both feet at once. Stay on the balls of your feet. For an added challenge, alternate jumping forward and backward with jumping from side to side, keeping feet together sometimes and slightly apart other times. Jump for five minutes.


Upside-Down Slow Breath
Stand with your feet parallel to each other, a little wider than hip-distance apart, and knees soft. Fold over at your hips and let your head hang with your arms dangling (or hold on to opposite elbows); completely relax your neck. Inhale for three to seven counts (don't strain), and exhale for an equal amount of time. Do for one minute.


Knee Lifts
Lift your knees one at a time, alternating legs and bouncing on the balls of your feet. Keep your hands on your hips. Or, for greater intensity, hold your arms out in front of you at waist height, and then touch your knees to your palms for the duration of the interval. Alternate knee lifts for five minutes.

Mindful Breath
Stand tall with your knees soft and feet hip-distance apart and parallel. With your palms together in front of your heart, breathe in and out through your nose. Don't restrict or guide your breath in any way -- simply notice your natural breathing pattern. Do for one minute.


Alternating Lunges
Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart and your hands on your hips. Starting with your right foot, step forward about 3 feet, bending both knees and coming into a lunge; your right thigh should be parallel to the floor, knee bent at a 90-degree angle. To maintain proper alignment, keep your spine straight, engage your abs, and don't extend the front knee beyond the toes. Push back up and return to the starting position. Repeat with the left leg, and alternate for five minutes. If this is too challenging, try lunging with one leg until it's fatigued, then switch to the other leg.

Cooldown
Slow Breath
What It Does: Soothes the nervous system. "Breathing this way slows down the heartbeat and respiratory system, telling the body that rest is imminent," says Strom.

How to Do It: Sit cross-legged on the floor with spine tall, or lie on the floor with arms out at least 2 feet away from the hips. Breathing through your nose, inhale slowly for a count of three to seven, and then exhale for the same count; breathe continuously for three minutes.

Twisting Straddle
What It Does: Stretches the muscles in your back, sides, and hamstrings.

How to Do It: Sit on the floor, spine tall, with your legs straight and open as wide as is comfortable, arms extended straight out over the legs. Inhale, and reach your right hand toward your left foot, going as far up the left leg toward the toe as you can while keeping the spine straight. Exhale and come back to the start. Repeat on the other side. Continue for two minutes.


Text by Kate Hanley

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