In my view this is the best way to discover.
I’m fascinated by mindfulness, by living in the moment (or at least trying to, as we’re all guilty of drifting off into the past or into possible futures from time to time).
The question for me is often if we are paying attention or not.
If we are paying attention, if we are in the present, if we are mindful and truly appreciating what life has to offer, then we can pick these moments, these opportunities, ideas and insights from life as easily as picking a cherry from a tree.
This is how I came to write this article about Qi-Gong.
Via such an experience, an unexpected moment, thanks to a new friend who I will introduce you to in a moment (an expert on the subject of Qi-Gong) – enjoyed quietly – and a mental note to myself.
So what was this moment?
I was actually at a Table Tennis training camp and took the opportunity to take a short class which was being offered in Qi-Gong before the afternoon’s Table Tennis session.
Already a big fan of Mindfulness and quite familiar with Tai-Chi, Qi-Gong is something I knew a little about but never really properly crossed paths with so I was keen to learn more about it as well as actually attending the session and benefitting from the exercise.
What I discovered, being also a big lover of simplicity is that Qi-Gong is beautiful in it’s simplicity.
The Mental Note
Well, the mental note was simply me saying to myself that this was something worth learning more about.
At least Qi-Gong was going to be something I would find interesting and would enjoy finding out more about but also:
- I was very optimistic that this was something that could be of great benefit to me
- It could be just the thing I am looking for to compliment the more aggressive exercises I currently do via my preferred sports
- Practicing Qigong could be an allocated time for some mindfulness and to remind myself to be mindful as far as possible in my everyday life.
So the mental note was logged: “this is something I need to come back to and find out more about“.
What is Qi-Gong
Qi-Gong is a system of co-ordinated body posture and movement combined with meditation which has been proven to aid well-being both physically and mentally. It originates in the Far East (China) and is traitionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance chi (Qi) – Life Energy.
Rather than offer a more detailed description here, I would like to hand over to my friend Dennis who told me (and showed me) so much about Qi-Gong because Dennis can explain it and show it much better than I can.
This first video won’t tell you and show you everything about Qi-Gong just yet, but this coupled with a few more videos later in this article will.
What Dennis does in this first video which is great is to explain how to perform the movements in Qi-Gong and why (in the later videos he will actually demonstrate some of the exercises). Over to Dennis…
This is not the same demonstration that I attended but it was very similar and Dennis gave a similar overview of how to perform the movements before we went on to do the exercises together.
Some key points I found useful (and will elaborate on a little) and which Dennis also mentions again here and in the following videos are as follows:
Breathing: The idea with Qigong is that we’re timing our movements with our breathing. By taking a little time to listen to the pace, quality and rhythm of your breathing you will be better able to move in harmony with it. Dennis gives the specific example of moving the arms up when inhaling and down when exhaling but the same could obviously be said of alternative movements (e.g. moving arms out inhaling and in exhaling in the case of the second, ‘Opening the arms’ exercise of the 18 Movements described below). You have probably guessed already that we’re not talking about rushed breathing here with corresponding rushed movements, on the contrary, the movements of qigong should be practised with soft, natural breathing. Having done some reading on this subject, I have seen mentioned in several places that the slower the movements (and obviously the corresponding breathing), the better the quality of the Qigong.
Note: We have discussed how to breathe properly (i.e. deep, diaphragmatic breaths as opposed to shallow breaths) in a previous article in case you want more info on breathing & the benefits of doing it right: Learn to Breathe
Mindfulness: I already mentioned that I’m a big fan of mindfulness and we’ve already written plenty about it. Qigong is clearly a meditative and mindful exercise. Practicing Qigong without mindfulness would be such a waste, like sun-bathing in a duffle-coat! So obviously when performing Qigong, you want to be mindful and pay attention to what your body is telling you. You may have little aches or pains from time to time (particularly if it is your first time performing this kind of exercise as I found out myself), you may sense a little blockage or restriction – being mindful of what you feel and what your body is telling you allows you to guage how much movement is required. Don’t stretch or try to over-do any of the movements, your range of movements and the ease of the exercises will increase with time and practice.
Body Alignment: Dennis touches on two important concepts and mentions each several times. the first is the kind of ‘sitting down’ posture – the idea is to effectively ‘sink’ your weight (which you can do via visualisation by imagining your weight sinking into the earth below you) and maintain a sense of connection to the ground. At the same time as having this grounded feeling in the lower body, the upper body should in turn be freed from stress and tension, feeling light. As I’ve heard before in similar practices such as Tai Chi and yoga, the desired upper body effect can be reached by imagining a thread in the middle of the top of your head, gently pulling upwards toward the sky, gently elongating the neck and spine. The second concept Dennis touches on in terms of alignment is the idea of meridians. I’m not sure if it’s termed a meridian as such but one thing that is mentioned is to imagine a clear line from the base of the spine to the crown of the head (and try and keep that line long and straight). Try to avoid ‘crinking’ the neck, ‘bowing’ the back or allowing the head to drop forward. Humans have evolved to be upright and the more you can maintain a feeling of being in alignment, the better your body will be able to do its job. To go into more details about meridians would again be another big tangent (did I mention there is a lot to discover on the subject of Qigong?) but the idea is basically that different movements affect specific meridians for example, some movements work on the ‘belt meridian’, some on the ‘bladder meridian’. Maintaining a good alignment and posture will aid this process and the effectiveness of the exercises.
Be Natural: Dennis repeatedly talks about soft movements, dropping the shoulders, relaxing. It is important to be natural when performing Qigong. One of my favourite expressions that I keep coming back to is ‘there is nothing wiser than nature’ and it is something that I truly believe. Take a look around you at any animals you see, whether pets, wild animals, farm animals or birds in the sky. Observe how birds fly or how wild cats run. Sure these animals have stresses and strains to cope with (mostly to do with their next meal), but they don’t carry these stresses and strains within their bodies in the same way that we humans do. When you are performing Qigong, imagine you are one of these majestic creatures and try and emulate the smooth, easy natural movement that you can see when you look around you in the rest of the (non-human) natural world
Demonstration of The Qi-Gong Exercises
In the following 3 videos Dennis demonstrates the Qi-Gong movements, explaining as he does how to perform each of these.
The first video is 2 basic movements (Shibashi 1 & 2, more on that below)…
The second video shows the next 11 movements and the movements start to get more interesting…
The final video shows the final 5 movements as well as two extra exercises…
As you can see from these videos and Dennis’ demonstration Qi-Gong is a very fluid form of exercise and these movements easily flow into one another, meaning if you peform them all in sequence as Dennis has shown here, you can quickly and easily get a very useful and very healthy, balanced work out for your entire body.
18 Movements (Shibashi)
Dennis mentions that there are 18 exercises that make up Qi-Gong and goes on to demonstrate them in sequence as shown in the above 3 videos. I wanted to find out more about what these 18 exercises are. As far as I can tell, these 18 exercises (or Shibashi) are part of the Tai-Chi related practice of Qi-Gong, specifically when used for healing.
I also mentioned earlier that Qi-Gong has been around for centuries and evolved and been interpreted along different paths and in different forms, so bear in mind that these 18 movements are just one of those forms. I would love to tell you more about some of these other forms, and also learn more myself about them but feel like this is a good start.
The 18 Exercises, briefly are as follows:
- Lifting the Arms
- Opening the Chest
- Painting a Rainbow
- Separating the Clouds
- Rolling the Arms in a Horse-riding Stance
- Rowing a Boat in the Middle of a Lake
- Carry Ball in Front of the Shoulders
- Gazing at the Moon
- Turning the Waist and Pushing with the Palm
- Cloud Hands in a Horse-riding Stance
- Scooping the Sea and Looking at the Horizon
- Pushing the Waves
- Flying Dove Spreads its Wings
- Punching in a Horse-riding Stance
- Flying Wild Goose
- Turn like a Flying Wheel
- Stepping and Bouncing a Ball
- Balancing the Chi to Close
Whilst a lot of these exercises deal with and help to overcome stress and tension in the body and mind, each one also has a more specific health benefit, for example, the 3rd exercise, ‘Painting a Rainbow’ strengthens the stomach and aids digestion. It is also believed to reduce headaches and shoulder ache, strengthen the heart and to improve resistance to disease.
Without rewriting all of these in detail when there are plenty of good websites out there explaining these, and not wanting to make this into a book rather than an (already quite long) article, I would instead encourage you to do some further research yourself if you wish to know any more than you pick up from this article.
Take a look for example at this website which gives an overview of the The 18 Luohan Hands which I found whilst looking for a more detailed explanation of the exercises Dennis demonstrated. Clearly not the same form, but also you can see the link and the same principles of movements which are similar and have related health benefits.
My Reasons For Writing This Article
Back to the tagline.
Somewhere along the way writing this, I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing writing all this stuff about Qi-Gong?’ – because I am clearly not an expert on the subject, not even close. I thought briefly about scrapping it and writing something different, because there are plenty of websites out there already on Qi-Gong and some really good information out there and videos, all easily accessible, all free (OK you have to do a little searching to get the best stuff, but same for everything).
The point is this – I wanted to share with you, my readers 1) the moment, 2) What I have learned about Qi-Gong and why I like it and 3) to give you enough of a taster that you can then decide if you want to go and find out more and perhaps join a class yourself (both of which I intend to do myself).
I find Qi-Gong fascinating, because it’s easy, it is clearly good for you, it works well as a complimentary exercise in my case without being something I need to get ‘too involved in’, its something that is interesting and fits with other interests I have from a well-being point of view, whilst also complimenting my sporting activities from a physical point of view (per Dennis’ videos pre-Table Tennis warm-up) and it’s something that can be instructor-led but that is very feasible to do on your own.
I would encourage you if you found this interesting to do more research of your own. Being a practice that is over 3000 years old, there is plenty of material out there and interesting history to this activity to get your teeth into, as well as other forms, evolutions and interpretations which I haven’t described here. Finally, if you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear them.