There are tons of different healing modalities: crystals, essential oils, yoga, meditation. One you may not have heard about yet? Qigong (pronounced chee-gun). The mind-body practice similar to tai chi is an ancient healing practice that is not often buzzed about in wellness circles, despite the fact that it’s been around for so long. So, curious to learn more about the practice, I asked two qigong teachers to answer my every question.
What exactly is qigong?
Qigong is a moving meditation that involves breathing exercises and different postures with your body, according to Los Angeles-based qigong instructor Christopher Barbour of Be Satya. "It's an energy cultivation practice that comes from China.”
Jummee Park, qigong teacher and founder of Jummee Method, adds that it's about understanding and using the energy, flow, and strength of nature and bringing that into our bodies and harnessing that power. “We often call this 'qi' or 'prana,'” she says, which means the life force that creates healing in the body.
And although qigong and tai chi share similar movements, they are indeed two entirely different practices. In tai chi, Barbour says, there are different styles. When practicing, you don’t typically break away from that particular style.
Qigong, on the other hand, is a little more open and way more focused on cultivating qi, he says. You can certainly follow a particular qigong style closely, but there’s more freedom to color outside the lines in your practice.
What are the benefits of qigong?
Research shows that qigong provides a long list of mental and physical health benefits. And getting your body’s energy, or qi, back into flow is at the core of its healing powers. “Any circulation issue, blockage issue, stuck energy, stress, headache—you name it—are part of the symptoms of stuck energy not being in flow,” Park says. “Qigong is really about opening up the stuck energy and bringing it back to a flow state.”
“Any circulation issue, blockage issue, stuck energy, stress, headache—you name it—are part of the symptoms of stuck energy not being in flow. Qigong is really about opening up the stuck energy and bringing it back to a flow state.” —Jummee Park, qiong teacher
In this über-busy, tech-obsessed time, we’re all constantly in our heads—or as Park explains, our upper chakras, which block the flow of energy in the body. Qigong, then, helps to connect you back to your root chakras and to the Earth and opens up the flow again, unlocking your body’s own healing energy.
And what the heck even is this "flow" that's being opened? “When we are in the flow, we create abundance,” Park says. “We create joy. We create awareness.” In other words, flow is the state of mind and body that allows for the best possible way you can feel.
Barbour echoes this by adding that the main benefit of practicing qigong is vitality. It allows for feeling present, grounded, clear, and downright radiant.
Who is it for?
Quite frankly, it's for everyone. “Qigong truly is a practice that can change one’s life,” Barbour says—and its powers extend to a physical, energetic, mental, and spiritual level. He adds that qigong is especially beneficial for pro athletes who want to learn how to use their energy in a more efficient and grounded way.
But this isn't to say a person has to be a pro to practice it; qigong is also very beneficial for people who suffer from physical challenges—like arthritis and lung issues—who perhaps can’t do more strenuous exercises, like, say, HIIT. “Qigong is the most gentle way to move your body without any harm,” Park says. And if you're someone who thrives on intense workouts, consider qigong as a potential option for active recovery exercises.
How do you prepare for qigong?
Whether you’re attending a class or practicing at home, it’s important to approach qigong with an open mind, Barbour says. After all, there is so much value to gain from the practice.
“Learning how to be with yourself and slow down is a big hallmark of qigong,” he says. But, being important and easy aren't one and the same. Cultivating the skill of quieting your mind is hardly simple, but it's an entirely necessary prerequisite to practicing qigong.
Our minds are constantly spinning and thinking about the next thing on our ever-so-long to-do list, or where we’re going to go grab kombucha afterward after checking off an item, or what we forgot to do, or who we forgot to email. It's all exhausting, which is all the more reason to get still.
So yes, he says, while it might be tough to literally stand and breathe for 10 minutes before jumping into your qigong sesh, you’ll thank yourself for the mindfulness dividends doing so will pay you. And keep in mind that just like any other meditative practice, this requires discipline. “Meditation only works when the mind and body become one,” Park says. So she recommends doing some body shaking to help you get in touch with yourself before you begin.
What can you expect during a qigong class?
Just like any other class you take, whether it's SoulCycle or needlepoint, it’s going to differ depending on the teacher. But one of the most unique aspects of qigong is that the practice also differs depending on the season.
Each of the five elements (metal, wood, earth, fire, and water) are connected to a season and an organ in the body, Barbour says. For example, autumn is lung qi season which correlates with the element of metal. So that becomes the focus during fall, while still incorporating some postures and movements of the other elements, as well as keeping harmony and balance in the system.
Just like any other class you take, qigong sessions differ depending on the teacher. But one of the most unique aspects of the practice is also differs depending on the season.
Another important thing to know before getting your qigong on is that although it might look easy because the movements are so simple, slow, and subtle, it’s actually a pretty intense practice. “Moving slow is often much harder than it is to move fast,” Barbour says. “Especially when you have to move with intentionality.”
Learning what your qi is and really feeling it is also an important part of the practice, Barbour says. Your qi is “a bit mystical in some ways,” he adds, clarifying that it’s not necessarily something that's super tangible. It might just feel like a little tingling sensation, and you may or may not even notice it at first. But, he advises to just allow yourself to be open and aware enough to experience it.
On the more practical side, Barbour also recommends listening carefully to your instructor during a qigong class, paying attention to the movements, and not being afraid to ask a lot of questions.
Being mindful of your posture is also key. “Our body is like an antenna,” Park says. “So if you sit crooked, then you don’t receive full energy from the divine.”
How often should you practice qigong?
Overall, we are one big, goal-obsessed society. We’re constantly going, doing, and achieving. And yes, there is obviously a lot of good in that, but when we bring that strict structure to our wellness routine, it can quickly become more of a chore than something we do to nourish ourselves. So think of qigong as the JOMO of mindful movement exercises. “No goal is the goal,” Park says. “It’s not about achieving something.”
Think of qigong as the JOMO of mindful movement exercises.
But of course, just like with any healthy habit, the more you do it, the better the benefits payoff will be. Barbour suggests making it a daily practice. But no need to shoot for an hourlong intensive. Rather, a qigong practice can be taking some time first thing in the morning to hold a few postures for five minutes and set the tone for the day ahead.
In fact, the morning is a smart time to practice because when you wake up, “your conscious is super clean and clear without any thoughts processed,” Park says. Barbour adds that dusk is also a good time, but practicing in the middle of the day or out in high sun is definitely not recommended.
And just like it’s possible to overdo it with HIIT workouts, it’s also not recommended to overdo it with qigong. “We’re not trying to use all our qi to practice,” Barbour says. “We’re also trying to cultivate qi.” So basically, if you wear yourself out during practice, you’re liable to use up all your precious qi.
What are some main qigong postures to practice?
Below, Park shares three simple postures she designed that are influenced by qigong and are meant to help release trauma and stuck energy in the body.
1. Grounding arm thrusts for anxiety
To do this anxiety-busting posture, sit down with your legs crossed and make fists with both hands. Bend both arms and tuck your elbows in at your sides. Next, raise both arms straight up toward the sky as you inhale. Then exhale with a big loud sigh coming from your stomach as you swing your arms back down, beside your body. Repeat for one minute.
This exercise is meant to ground your energy, Park says. So every time you exhale, visualize bringing energy down and releasing stuck energy.
2. Holding plate posture for lower back issues
This posture, Park says, is designed to improve lower back issues and circulation and awaken your side body. To do it, stand up straight and bend your right arm as if you’re holding a big plate on top of your palm. Slowly begin to twist your arm toward your body and then over the top of your head and back to center. “Your waist and your whole body is moving together as one,” Park says. Then repeat on the other side.
3. Vortex generator for blood circulation
Park describes the vortex generator postures as the “simplest way to generate your own energy by adopting Earth frequencies and strengthening your core.”
Start by standing up with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and with your knees slightly bent. Then extend your arms out in front of you in a circle as if you’re holding a big beach ball. Inhale and exhale deeply a few times in this pose.
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