What a quandary, eh?
No need to decide, because you can get both at once with qigong (CHEE-gong), the gentlest form of martial arts. For a few years I watched a small group of men and women leave our local YMCA’s Qigong session with serene smiles on their faces. A friend in the group explained that it was an Eastern practice like yoga or tai chi. Sadly, I didn’t have time to squeeze another class into my busy life.
I finally I decided to give it a try. Chatting with participants before class, I learned that they never missed a session. Hmmm…
I brought my yoga mat, but there was no need; we remained standing for the entire class as Mona led us through a series of slow, gentle stretches and movements combined with deep breathing. At first I found it a bit odd. The repetitive movements were simple, and it didn’t feel like exercise. “Jerry would never put up with this,” I thought to myself, but then my husband’s a sceptic who thinks even chiropractic is voodoo.
After a half hour of stretches, movements, and sounds, I was transformed. My body was relaxed and my mind soothed. I felt like I’d been on a massage table for an hour. It was absolutely miraculous, and I didn’t understand why.
I was hooked.
What is qigong?
According to Chinese philosophy, the practice of qigong allows access to higher realms of awareness by balancing the qi (chi, or energy) within the body. Qigong’s range of smooth, gentle movements help strengthen balance as well as foster a sense of peace and well-being. The National Qigong Association in Minnesota summarizes it as “a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.” Mona explains the effect of each movement on our health as we practice it. For a more thorough description of qigong, visit the NQA website.
What are the exercises like?
Qigong exercises range from very simple movements and sounds to more complicated sequences called the five animals. (My favorite is The Crane.) It also includes static meditative practices. “It’s a gentler form of tai chi,” Mona explains.
Let me describe a few of the movements. We always start in a quiet standing position with feet together. We slowly lift the left foot and place it about hip-width from the right. We slightly bend our knees and start with arm swings, swinging our hands up as high as our head, then down and back behind us, bending a bit on the downward swing. We repeat this movement for about a half minute.
We go through a series of other simple movements, and because I hold a lot of stress in my neck, I particularly like one where we bend our heads forward on an exhale, then breathe in (always through the nose) as we lift our head, drop it back on an exhale, then lift it back up on an inhale. We repeat this about five or six times. Then we switch direction, this time tilting the head to the right shoulder, inhaling as we bring bring it straight up, then tilt it to the left. I love what this exercise does for my tight neck. Try it.
How does Qigong affect you?
After my first few classes I thanked Mona for introducing me to qigong. I shared that after class I feel like I’ve had a two-hour massage. Mona looked at me with her gentle smile and replied, “I know. I get it, too. That’s why I teach the class.”
If you’re interested in trying qigong, I’d recommend looking for a class in your community. If that’s not possible, I’ve found two YouTube videos that are great for beginners.
Qigong for Beginners (30 minutes)
Marissa does a beautiful job of guiding the viewer through a number of movements with clear explanations. If you’re interested in trying Qigong, this is a great way to start.
If you’re tight for time but curious, this video will introduce you to some basic Qigong movements.
I must admit, I’m thankful to have discovered this beautiful practice and intend to continue with it.
A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me, a website I write for monthly.