If you go to Jarvis Creek Park on a Monday or Thursday at 9:00 am, you will see a group of 20 to 30 people on the dock gently waving their arms in the air, many with their eyes closed and a serene look on their faces. Led by a different volunteer instructor each week, this group has been meeting to practice the ancient Chinese art of Qigong for many years. The classes, or “practices”, are free and open to the public. Beginners are always welcome.
What is Qigong and why would you want do it? Often described as a moving meditation, Qi (pronounced chee, meaning energy) gong (pronounced gong, meaning cultivate) is an ancient Chinese practice that has been around for thousands of years and is proven to help relieve stress, lift depression, strengthen the immune system, increase energy and improve flexibility and balance. Like other forms of traditional Chinese medicine, Qigong is based on the concept that a vital energy, “Qi”, flows through the body following the meridian lines and acupuncture points. It is thought that blockages in the flow of that energy or imbalances in certain parts of the body cause a variety of illnesses. The aim of Qigong is to restore balance and health by removing blockages and stimulating the flow of Qi.
Qigong’s great appeal is that anyone can benefit from practicing it, from the very young to the very old. The movements are easy to learn, can be performed standing, sitting or lying down, and can be adapted for physical limitations. No special equipment, clothing or practice areas are required. The group at Jarvis Creek Park practice on the dock by the water. The lovely view and gentle breeze help calm and relax the participants as they flow through the 10 stages of Qigong, each with its own intention:
Stage 1: Discover Qi – center your mind around a ball of Qi you visualize between your hands as you breathe in and out, expanding the ball with each breath. The intent is to connect deeply with nature and become aware of a powerful new way of perceiving and being. Focusing on this “Qi ball” allows you to calm your mind and enter a state of relaxation.
Stage 2: Gather Qi – swoop your arms down and gather Qi from the earth into your center, then reach up to the sky and gather energy from the heavens into your center. The intent is to access and purposefully draw upon the forces of nature for healing and empowerment. Energy and power are gathered from both the earth and the sky.
Stage 3: Circulate Qi – help the Qi flow through your blood by pushing old energy out to one side with both hands, pull new energy back into your center and then down and up one leg. Repeat on the other side. The intent is to deliver potent restorative resources to strengthen and fuel organs, glands and tissue.
Stage 4: Purify Qi – push out old Qi and make room for the new energy by pushing both hands up, out and then down with a forceful breath. Think about pushing away any negative thoughts as you make room in your own personal space for new, positive thoughts and energy. The intent is to restore inner harmony by cleansing and dispelling spent, toxic and unneeded Qi, and opening up to the inflow of fresh, natural life force and power.
Stage 5: Direct Qi – run your hands from your head down to your toes and pass this new Qi into your entire body through the meridian lines. The intent is to transmit empowering resources to specific areas to accelerate healing and to restore balance and harmony.
Stage 6: Conserve Qi – pass your hands, which represent clouds, across your face as you visual clouds moving across the sky. Aptly named “Watching Clouds Pass”, this is my favorite Qigong movement as I literally feel as though I am floating on a cloud. The intent is to protect the inner essence and accumulate Qi within oneself.
Stage 7: Store Qi – envision pouring the Qi over your head and down your body as the energy seeps into the very marrow of your bones. “Bathing the Marrow” helps you to create, maximize and sustain an inner reserve of potential to optimize your health, life and being.
Stage 8: Transform Qi – gently swing your arms from the back to the front, alternating the arms, as you visualize the Qi transforming itself into energy throughout your body. The intent is to feel yourself being changed deeply by this practice, helping you find your unlimited potential.
Stage 9: Dissolve Qi – form your Qi ball one last time as you breathe in and out. Your Qi ball should be nice and big by now, full of the energy you have created. As you breathe in, expand the ball. As you breathe out, feel yourself dissolve into the ball of Qi and into all that energy. The intent is to merge with the boundless universal field of being, the Qi, you have just created.
Stage 10 – take both arms from down and behind you and sweep them up to the sky as you take the energy you need and give the rest back. You can direct this energy to a specific person who needs it, to those you love or up and out to the entire universe. The intent is to take the energy you have created, extract what you need, and give the rest away.
At the end of the practice, a circle is formed, hands extended right and left with palms up, hands not touching but hovering over your neighbors, as energy is transmitted around the circle. Namaste, which means “I bow to you with respect and gratitude” is spoken as the last word of the practice. Most people take a moment to think of all the things they are grateful for as they end their practice and start socializing with those around them. A small group go to Barnes & Nobles for coffee or tea and more socializing.
Although this can sound a bit “Hippie Dippie” to first-timers, the practice of Qigong has been around so long time and has so many benefits, you should really think about giving it a try. You might feel a bit odd at first, but once you feel the “Qi”, you will be hooked. I know I am!