Practicing Qigong in a time of Covid
A qigong practitioner demonstrates giving and receiving. This pose will be followed by bringing her arms and legs back into her body with palms up, the receiving position.
Your outer life reflects the quality of your Qi. When you glow inside, the whole world shines, Robert Peng, qigong master and healer
Surviving during a global pandemic is challenging to anyone and thriving during this time can be even more of a feat. One of the techniques that have helped me during this time is qigong, also called chi kung. Qi is Chinese for air or breath and represents the body's vital internal energy flows. Some Oriental medicine practitioners consider it to be one and the same as the other internal fluid flows, including blood and lymph circulation, and cerebrospinal fluid flow. The practice of cultivating and balancing qi is called qigong. The postures and movements share the common principles of Oriental medicine – reinforcing and tonifying depleted chi or qi, clearing blocked or excess qi, and strengthening internal or external qi.
Self-nourishing and self-massage are important components of qigong that make it especially helpful for people dealing with the anxiety of quarantine or isolation, who are missing their bodyworkers! When practicing qigong, people are building up chi that can be felt between their hands in a ball of energy. Practitioners can use this energy to heal themselves and each other.
I have been learning qigong via Zoom for the past two months with Jane Blount, a holistic health practitioner who has a thriving bodywork practice and leads Authentic Movement classes in San Diego. Jane graduated from the International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego in 1989 and received her degree in health and human performance in 1995.
Jane decided to offer her class via Zoom in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as a way to guide people into a meditative state, to strengthen the immune system and to encourage the alignment of breath, movement and awareness. Her classes have served as an anchor for me during this global time of upheaval.
When I began qigong, I was experiencing trauma and shock due to a dog bite that narrowly missed my carotid artery. Soon after the coronavirus lockdown began in Southern California. Qigong is helpful for those experiencing anxiety or trauma and has provided a daily touchstone for her students. Students commit to the practice and work with a community of fellow Zoom students, mostly in Southern California but also from across the country. Each person supports the others.
Although I have studied some tai chi, another ancient movement art from China, and have always loved the circular movements, it is a complex system that requires years of hard work and practice. Qigong also requires dedication and perseverance, but it can be gentler and may be adapted to sitting in a chair.
Qigong is derived from tai chi with many of the same principles, including focusing on being grounded and connected to the earth through your feet, while maintaining a sense of spaciousness between each vertebra.
Another component of qigong, as well as tai chi and other martials arts is a focus on three "dantians" or energy centers, with the lower dantian being the foundation of rooted standing, breathing and body awareness. This center is located about three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel. It is considered the physical center of gravity of the human body and the seat of one's internal energy. It is also called the hara.
Chunyi Lin, one of the first masters I heard of, who is centered now in Michigan, began his studies in caves in China. My Philadelphia friend and tai chi instructor Jerry Fleishman had reached a point in his training where he could move things through the air from several rooms away. Longtime practitioners, with much practice, can channel their energy to avert physical damage to their bodies, such as using their chi to keep a sword from penetrating their body.
But today millions of people around the world study and practice qigong as simply a way to relax, enhance immunity and stay young. They may look to qigong for exercise, recreation, preventative medicine, self-healing, self-cultivation, meditation or martial arts training.
Jane said she appreciates the fact that many people are participating in her classes who couldn't have otherwise, with the ease of watching from their own homes. She plans to continue offering her classes Monday through Friday after the current pandemic is over. Her classes can be done by people seated in a chair or standing, or both. The movements include many upper body stretches and chest openers along with slow and conscious breathing that cultivates increased lung capacity and allows the body to come into homeostasis, or equilibrium. Jane said that for people who experience insomnia and who get stuck in their head, qigong joins the mind with physical sensations in the body, resulting in flow, ease and harmony. Her classes often begin with self-massage to move the lymph and increase circulation, beginning with the head, face, shoulders, neck and arms followed by going down to legs and feet. For those with lower back pain, the kidney rub feels especially good as we reach behind and rub our backs just above the waistline to activate the adrenal glands.
Much of the class is done with slightly bent knees with attention on the feet for grounding and connecting to the earth. Students may shift from one foot to the other or balance on one foot. Sometimes they twist the body and slap acupressure points on the hips and upper arms as they move to each side.
Qigong is the art and science of refining energy. ~ Ken Cohen, qigong master and health educator
Qigong consists mostly of simple and repeated movements, sometimes for as much as five or ten minutes, which gives practitioners time to collect and direct the chi or energy to open up channels. Slow movements also give the conscious and subconscious mind time to join together which activates the body intelligence. The slowness of the form enables one to focus on breath, to reflect on the feel of the movements, to monitor balance and equilibrium and to share the cultivated energy. Healing energy can be built between the palms. When we lunge forward, we can give energy from our bodies out through our palms, and when we lean back, we can receive energy or love with open palms. When we do a movement called "Circling the World," as we raise our arms up and out to the sides, we send energy to anyone or any place that needs healing or love. A basic premise of qigong is that energetically everyone is connected.
At the end of each class, Jane asks for feedback from students, and she receives responses such as these: I felt a warmth in my belly or torso; I feel more relaxed and more energized; I can work now that I am feeling focused; I feel calmer and the world is OK.
For more information about Jane Blount's classes, contact her at 619.379.8747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wendy Hammarstrom has been practicing, teaching and writing about bodywork since 1976. Her book, "Circles of Healing: The Complete Guide to Healing with Massage and Yoga for Practitioners, Caregivers, Students and Clients," is available on Amazon or her website at http://www.circlesofhealingbook1.com.