Breast self-exams, regular checkups with your doctor, even mammograms- all of these are important ways to detect problems in your breasts. To that list you can now add another preventive measure: Wu Ming, a series of qigong energy movements from Chinese medicine designed to enhance breast health.
"Wu Ming movements guide energy directly into the breasts and clear energy blockages," says Nan Lu, O.M.D., L.Ac., author of A Woman's Guide to Healing from Breast Cancer (Avon, 1999) and founding director of the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation and the American Taoist Healing Center in New York City.
According to the principles of Chinese medicine, when energy is blocked, qi cannot flow freely through meridian points, which are related to the various organ systems. When this happens, we experience disharmony and disease. Practitioners like Lu believe "everybody is born with a natural ability to heal themselves, and by practicing qigong, you unlock that ability." Qigong exercises like Wu Ming use movement, meditation, and controlled breathing to prevent and clear blockages that might otherwise disrupt the flow of qi.
For Elaine Katen, who had limited use of her right arm for almost seven years after undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer, practicing Wu Ming qigong changed her life. "I could only lift my arm ten inches from my body and do little more than write and type with it," says Katen, 55, from Washington Township, N.J. Western medicine offered her no solutions and suggested that she learn to live with it. Instead, Katen looked for alternatives. First she tried yoga, which calmed her but didn't address her movement difficulties. Then she signed up for Lu's Wu Ming qigong classes.
Initially, Katen struggled, the pain allowing her to do only two minutes of the moves with her right arm. No matter how much she told Lu she couldn't do it, he said otherwise. "He kept telling me to practice, that my body had the intelligence to help me-and he was right." After a few months of daily classes, Katen regained full range of movement in her right arm. Today, she says, her life is back on track and she feels stronger than ever.
Vincent Caruso, D.C., a chiropractor in Bloomfield, N.J., who specializes in Chinese medicine, began using Lu's routine with breast cancer patients in 2001 and heard similar stories of success. "Patients have told me they've felt more energetic and they have more control of their bodies," he says.
To boost your own breast health, try the Wu Ming Meridian Therapy, a daily routine Lu created and recommends for all women. Wear comfortable clothes and do a few minutes of deep breathing to clear your mind before you begin. Then set aside about 20 minutes a day to complete the series, breathing naturally and envisioning a healthier you. If 20 minutes is too much, start with five. And although you can do it whenever it fits your schedule, Lu says the best times to increase qi are between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. As you practice, "imagine your natural healing energy making your body healthier, destroying all cancer and illness," Lu says, adding that you'll feel the effects immediately.