Once again, it’s an overtime day and a fast-food dinner. You’re so frazzled, even days off feel like work, and forget about a decent night’s sleep. If only you could wind down and unplug!
Enter qigong (say “chee-gong”), a type of moving meditation. Similar to yoga, this practice from traditional Chinese medicine combines thousands of simple and repetitive postures and slow gestures with relaxed and purposeful breathing and a present-focused mind. While doing qigong, you can remain perfectly still or you can move—from ever so slightly to dancerly. How you position your body informs your state of mind (and vice versa), while your body and breath improve your physical health.
Reduce Stress with Qigong
You can do qigong anywhere, whether sitting, standing, or lying down. And yes, you can make time for it! Just two minutes of qigong here and there throughout the day can reduce stress and help with depression and anxiety. It also helps you manage chronic conditions and prevent illness, and it encourages healthy aging.
“Qigong creates functional changes within the body to produce the most profound medicine ever discovered,” says Roger Jahnke, a doctor of Oriental medicine and director of the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi, in Santa Barbara, CA. He’s the author of The Healing Promise of Qi: Creating Extraordinary Wellness Through Qigong and Tai Chi. For starters, qigong (qi for “life force” and gong for “practice”) mobilizes the blood and other body fluids, including those related to the lymphatic system, joints, brain, and spine. It also increases blood-vessel elasticity, so the heart pumps more easily.
“The blood carries in more oxygen and nutrition, and lymph more effectively flushes out toxic byproducts through the elimination system,” Dr. Jahnke explains. This, in turn, enhances the immune system, cell metabolism, and tissue regrowth.
The body loves qigong. It’s why millions of people worldwide do this practice that originated before recorded history. You can’t help but feel calmer, given your relaxed yet alert posture, abdominal breathing, and mindful attention.
“These are the ‘three treasures,’ in an internal conspiracy of cooperation that the Chinese call ‘the qigong effect,’” Dr. Jahnke says. “When you slow down to the length of a deep breath and link it to the gestures, it triggers the body’s relaxation response.”
Instead of the fight, flight, or freeze typical of the sympathetic nervous system when you’re under stress, qigong releases parasympathetic hormones. Heart rate and blood pressure decrease, immediately calming you and sharpening your mental focus.
“When you do qigong, you stop doing everything else,” Dr. Jahnke said. “You stop being busy and worrying about the past or future, and you tend not to catastrophize or ruminate. You also are, then, more aware of what your body is doing, in movement or stillness, and how you feel within your body.”
Getting Started with Qigong
You can try qigong right now. Stand or sit upright, or lie down stretched out. Like a tree rooted firmly in the ground with its leaves fluttering, imagine being pulled from the base of your spine down into the center of the earth with your head lifted way up into the sky. Slowly breathe in through your nose into your belly, hold for several seconds, then slowly exhale, letting yourself increasingly relax. Picture clouds drifting by or a stream bubbling through the forest. Then notice what your body is doing and how it feels. It can begin that simply!
In the midst of racing around and getting stressed out, qigong invites you to ease up and chill out. Enjoy those moments of quietude and relief, and get to know the healer within.
“Can Tai Chi and Qigong Postures Shape Our Mood?” by K. Osypiuk et al., Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5/1/18
“The Three Intentful Corrections”; “The Three Mindful Alignments,” www.QigongInstitute.org
“Why You Should Practice Integral Qigong and Tai Chi,” www.InstituteofIntegralQigongandTaiChi.org
Personal communication: Roger Jahnke, 8/18