Confession: Yoga just isn’t my jam. I know it’s life for a lot of people and it’s clearly beneficial for health and well-being. I just don’t follow directions well, and I’m not particularly spacial or graceful. Form is so important, and I feel inept and like I never can translate the pose of the instructor into something that mirrors like it’s supposed to. In other words – it’s not them, it’s me.
I was delighted to discover qi gong a few years ago in a class on integrative medicine at work. You have probably heard of chi or qi, the concept of life energy. It’s a foundational principle for practices like acupuncture and reiki. Qi gong translates a cultivation of that life energy. Practitioners are asked to visualize sweeping up balls of energy from the universe, concentrating in their hands, and to move that energy around them. In a group setting, there seems to be a cumulative effect – you feel even more energy in the room than if you were to do along. At the end of a session, I find my hands and toes literally tingle with energy. And if I started with a racing brain, by then end, I am much more calm and at ease.
It’s similar to yoga in that it’s a gentle form of exercise and involves a series of poses and movements. My qi gong teachers have always expressed from the outset that you don’t need to do it perfectly (though real practitioners do focus deeply on mastering form). For the person just getting started, qi gong says “don’t worry about getting anything perfect, just do what comes naturally to your body.” It takes off a lot of pressure for those of us who just can’t seem to nail yoga poses. Here’s a link to a great starter video, which is a series of 5 movements corresponding to the 5 elements in Chinese medicine (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal). The music also happens to be deeply relaxing.
Qi gong is sometimes called “meditation in motion.” I love that description. Before I got the hang of meditating, I found it challenging to just sit still long enough to let the mind rest. I found it actually easier to get into a meditative state while moving. Qi gong is similar to Tai Chi, a martial art which incorporates many of the same poses/principles. In China, qi gong has been a staple of good self-care for millenia. Now, Western scientific literature is catching up and documenting the same benefits; regular qi gong practice has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, reduce fall risk and more.
While qi gong can be done anywhere, it’s absolutely awesome to do it outdoors, ideally while barefoot and connecting with the earth. I did a class on sunrise qi gong in which you learn to welcome the rising sun each day. We have a little creek in the woods behind our house, and I love to do it there. Feeling the energy of the sun and the earth, you feel like a conduit for something much bigger that yourself. As a reiki practitioner, it makes me think of harnessing the power of the universe to store up and give back to others.
I’ve found qi gong to be a great practice to start and end your day (though I seem to do better sticking to a morning routine). There are a few quick and simple moves which can be used in a hurry, and many gracefully elaborate series for those with more time. I have a few go-to moves.
First, we were taught to always start with a simple shaking routine, which can dispel nervous energy. It’s as simple as it sounds, just shake your body around (it’s actually fun in a sort of care-free youthful way – when I’m demonstrating this to people, I say you can’t do this and not smile). I also gravitate towards centering/balancing poses like the crane.
There’s also a quick way to release anger if you’re really ticked off at something. Basically, you sweep around and below you like you’re gathering up all those negative feelings, then you bring them up with you arms to around your face’s height, then you thrust forcefully away from you to push it out. Qi gong also involves vocalizations sometimes and it’s important for this one you actually make a pushing/whooshing noise with your voice as you dispel the bad juju.
We hope you’ll give qi gong a try. There are countless free videos on You Tube. For those in the DC/MD/VA area, we are looking at having some collective outdoor qi gong meet-ups when it warms up a bit more. Please let us know if you’d like an invite!
Further and Related Reading
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