I just got back from a QiGong retreat this weekend. As part of our program at NCNM, we learn Qigong within a specific lineage that we are privileged to access via one of our program founders, Heiner Fruehauf. It’s an amazing addition to our education. We take a practicum each term where once a week we learn from a teacher and are encouraged to have our own practice outside of class.
We learn many forms as well as therapeutic applications of various movements that we can teach our patients. But the crown jewel of the Qigong portion of our education is the Qigong retreats. Once a term (so about every 3.5 months) we go to a beautiful natural area for three days with our teacher and our classmates and do Qigong for many hours a day. I’ll go into the retreats in another entry, but this time I’d like to talk about something else.
The prevailing problem that I have, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is maintaining a regular practice outside of class and retreats. Our program is a challenging one and I have a lot of extra-curricular activity that, along with my family and personal commitments, pushes me to the limits of tolerance.
Sometimes doing Qigong can seem like an impossible “extra” that is simply unnecessary. After all, noone is grading me on whether I do Qigong every day! So I thought I would offer my list of reasons why it is important to maintain a rock solid Qigong practice even in the face of intolerable schedule chaos. Many of these reasons will pertain to people who do some other practice, or people who aren’t in the field of Chinese medicine.
1. Personal cultivation is the foundation of authentic Chinese medicine practice.
In numerous Classical sources, personal cultivation is seen as the ground from which great practitioners are grown. We have been told by many professors how important it is to cultivate our own energy to a high level in service of increasing our sensitivity and proclivity as acupuncturists. Even in herbalism, a calm and refined mind will serve us well. Of course, Qigong isn’t the only practice that can help us in this regard – but given that it has both moving and still forms, uses visualization and internal silence for meditation and keeps the channels open and flowing it seems a particularly ideal practice.
2. Qigong helps keep your body healthy.
The forms that I learn combine stretching, isometric work, deep breathing, core strengthening and some cardiovascular elements. All of these elements are balanced quite well and while some forms may leave you quite breathless, you never feel pummeled or exhausted like you might with some more popular forms of exercise. Combine this with the fact that most forms focus on the opening of channels and removal of stagnation from problem areas and you have a program for total physical wellness. Definitely a good thing for Chinese medicine students that are forced to be sedentary much of the time.
3. You can use some forms of Qigong to study, if necessary.
Again for Chinese medicine students, and perhaps for other students, you can use Qigong as an addition to your study techniques. I have already discussed how you can use Qigong to help you study acupuncture points and channels. However, you can use Qigong – especially any repetitive portions of a form – as a way to more deeply integrate knowledge about the human body. If you are studying muscles, for instance, you can focus on each muscle you are using in a particular form as you are using them and try to remember the origin, insertion and action. If you can think of any novel uses of Qigong in studying, please do let us know in the comments.
4. Qigong is an effective stress reducer.
Perhaps a bit redundant, but it’s important to note that I have found Qigong to be a very effective reducer of overwhelming stress. When my practice is regular and fully engaged, I don’t notice little things and I certainly don’t worry about them. I don’t get headaches, I don’t crave so much sugar and caffeine and I think my academic performance improves. You may not notice ALL of these benefits, but I would be surprised if you didn’t experience some of them. This effect may come from the opening and coursing of the channels, it may come from the spiritual benefits of diving deep inside or it may simply be a by-product of taking some time for myself.
5. The more you repeat a form the better able you will be to teach others that form.
One of the goals in learning Qigong in our program is gaining the ability to teach forms and parts of forms to others. Why would we do this? Well, as practitioners we might teach the forms to our patients or to a class in order to help them gain all the benefits I am discussing. We might also teach specific techniques to patients experiencing particular symptoms – such as high blood pressure or headaches.
I have heard students discuss offering free Qigong classes in the morning at their clinic as a way to extend or intensify acupuncture and herbal treatment. Many people find that when they practice Qigong in addition to getting regular treatment from a practitioner, they get better faster and the effects are longer lasting. Practicing the forms often will help you to give these benefits to your patients in the future.
6. It’s a great way to wake your body up and ready yourself for the day.
I like to do simple forms in the morning as an alternative to coffee. Some of you coffee-heads are laughing right now, I know, because I used to be one! You may think you can’t live without your coffee, but I bet you can. Just for one week, try doing a 30 minute Qigong session BEFORE your coffee and instead of going directly to brew up a pot just go inside and see if you really need it.
I bet 9 times out of 10 you will find that you can forgo the cup of joe. While I don’t demonize coffee consumption like some people do, I think it’s a mistake to allow your body to become dependent on too many substances. We’re already dependent on carbohydrates, protein, minerals, vitamins, water and oxygen – why add yet ANOTHER thing you can’t live without?
7. Failing that, it’s an excellent way to let go of the day and ready yourself for sleep.
Sometimes I don’t manage to get up early enough to do a morning form. Sometimes I can’t find time for it through the day. If this happens, I always always find time to do a simple and non-energizing form in the evening. Doing one of the sitting forms or simply standing in Universe stance after some brief movement can really help me settle down from the day. If I’m feeling particularly energized, sometimes I do a walking form around the yard and imagine all my cares and thoughts going out of my feet and into the ground. Nearly always this helps me go to sleep and stay asleep.
8. It’s a multi-purpose way to attend to your spiritual health.
Although I try not to find my spirituality in my medicine, Qigong is a great bridge between the two. It can be part of the medical system, is based on the same principles and definitely helps you cultivate your inner awareness of spiritual dimensions of reality. As I’ve said before, it can be a method of meditation and also can be seen as a form of prayer. Sometimes I will do a physically intense form and follow that with a deep meditation session. Because my channels are open and my energy harmonious, I can sit for longer periods and find myself to be much less distracted.
Do you do Qigong? Do you have a regular practice? Tell us how you manage to keep to it in the comments.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of Deepest Health. When I'm not writing here, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Community Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.