Qigong: Fusing Exercise, Healing, and ArtSeptember 29, 2017
This summer while I was in New York City for my Master’s Program at Columbia University, I had the honor of learning Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) from the incredible Christine McQuade. Yes, qigong was part of my 3 week educational program for 90 minutes, three times a week– how cool is that? Christine is an incredibly talented artist and healer in the craft of qigong, and shares the same vision to help others connect mind, body, and spirit with exercise and health; it was a truly incredible experience to learn from her. However, I was not at all familiar with qigong prior to my program, and did not expect it to have as much of an impact on me as it ultimately did.
To be honest, I went into qigong with an open mind, but thought it would simply be something new and different that I tried for 3 weeks and would then be done with it. However, as it turns out, I took such a liking to the practice that I now incorporate it into my daily morning ritual (no lie, I have yet to miss a day since starting on June 19th!)
So, I asked Christine if I could interview her to share some of the amazing benefits of qigong, and hopefully convince people to give it a try! I’m sure there are plenty of you who are not familiar with the practice, and Christine answered some great questions that will help you get a better idea of what qigong is all about. Here is what I learned from our conversation:
Qigong is a practice rooted in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, and means “Life Energy Cultivation.” The intention is to cultivate and balance ‘qi’ or life energy, through rhythmic body movements and postures, meditation, and breath.
1.) What is the difference between qigong and tai chi?
So if you’ve heard of Chinese energy movement you may be wondering what the difference between qigong and tai chi is. Well, they are both from the same “family” so to speak, but qigong is more healing. If you visit a Chinese Medicine Physician or an Acupuncturist, they will often prescribe a qigong regimen along with herbs and their other recommendations. Tai chi also has therapeutic benefits, but it takes longer to access those benefits. Qigong is the foundation of many of the Chinese healing arts and it helps you to build your chi, and if your chi isn’t flowing properly, it will be difficult to do tai chi well and to reap the benefits.
2.) How is qigong healing?
Qigong works at the energetic level and is one of Chinese culture’s great gifts to the world. The “map” of how chi flows through the body is known as the Meridian System. And just like when you get acupuncture and the needles are working with your meridians, so are the qigong movements. Qigong helps one have a clear flow of energy through the body and also helps us collect more energy. Energy isn’t just power, according to traditional Chinese medicine, it is universal life force that carries information, wisdom and consciousness. So every time you exercise your energy, you are also flexing your connection to nature and universal consciousness. That’s one of the reasons the impact can be so much more profound on multiple body-mind-spirit levels.
From the perspective of basic physics, everything is energy and if it has wisdom and purpose, then every time you exercise your energy, you’re also exercising your connection to consciousness and spirit.
3.) What are the benefit of qigong on the mind, body, and soul?
When energy flows in the body, then each component of the body’s system can play its natural role. We tend to get overactive in the mind – overthinking, worry, stress, so when we exercise the energy system and allow energy to flow, the mind can naturally calm down and get back into balance. It is able to become sharper and clearer. When the mind calms down it stops blocking our natural flow and the clarity of the messages our body is giving us, including from the heart. The heart is our bodies’ connector to spirit in Chinese medicine. As our energy rises (like it does from practicing qigong,) our minds calm down and our hearts can speak louder.
4.) Can it be done instead of seated meditation?
I was curious to get Christine’s opinion on whether or not qigong can be done in lieu of seated meditation. She shared that qigong can be an entry into seated meditation. The beauty of qigong is that it involves a meditation through a still pose known as the Dragon Dances Between Heaven and Earth. This pose is so powerful because it is a still pose and allows you the opportunity to meditate, while at the same time stimulates the internal energy system.
You can also experiment with trying qigong and then moving into a seated meditation and see if that changes your practice. Maybe you’re able to quiet the mind a little bit easier, or sit more still.
5.) How long do you need to practice to see benefits?
This varies for the person. How much practice you need is very dependent on what’s going on in your life that day with your energy field and your emotions. Some days you may only need 5 minutes of quality practice and some days you may need more, it all depends.
Having said that, Christine shares that in the beginning it is important to spend some more time practicing because it takes time to unblock the internal pathways. So, for the first 6 weeks you should be practicing 20 minutes every day to build your chi properly. After that, you might be able to find benefits with less.
Christine has seen everything from tangible physical responses in one session, and others who take longer. It takes energy to heal so the more issues you have going on that need healing, the more energy you need to accumulate to do so. Energy will go to where you need it the most. Maybe you want to lose weight from qigong, but unknowingly have a stagnation in the body that you need to work on first.
Also, there are questions you need to ask yourself: How open are you? How ready are you to change? There are so many different factors that will affect how the practice works for you.
Because the work is deep internal healing, energy work is always about going to the root causes of the body’s imbalances.
With weight loss, for example, you can exercise and modify nutrition and you may lose some weight, but you’re not dealing with the imbalances that are causing the problem in the first place.
6.) Why do we start on the left side?
The left side governs the body’s liver energy system, and this particular system emphasizes the liver as a gateway to healing.
The liver is the organ system that handles stress in the body. Christine’s teacher, Grand Master Lu, talks about observing and working with people in the West, and how particularly the common denominator to many issues is stress. Therefore, the most important thing we can do is heal the liver. The liver is also responsible for flow in the body; when energy is moving you have health, and when things are stuck you get out of balance.
7.) How many different variations of qigong are there?
Wu Ming is the lineage, or variation, and Dragon’s Way is one of the many sets within this lineage. Just like in yoga, there are many different lineages. Some movements focus more on breathing, while some more on form. So, if you try qigong and don’t like it off the bat, don’t give up right away because there may be another style that resonates with you!
8.) If there’s only one movement people could do, what would it be and why is it so effective?
Christine’s recommendation is Dragon Stands Between Heaven and Earth, as part of the Dragon’s Way Sequence.
This movement is so powerful and so efficient as a way to balance the body energetically, and to collect and fill your energy tank at the same time.
Sneaking in this movement for 2-3 minutes throughout the day while transitioning between tasks can help you practice more easily, and to connect the dots and find fluidity between practice and everyday life.
Below, you can watch Grand Master Lu practice the Dragon’s Way Sequence:
9.) Can qigong enhance a fitness routine?
Any exercise we do has a purpose. The purpose of qigong is to heal from a deep, energetic level, which is why it requires a different kind of strength. Christine’s comments about qigong requiring a different type of strength resonated with me, and assuaged some of my (minor) worries. The first day that I did the final standing meditation pose (Dragon Stands Between Heaven and Earth), I admit that my ego was bruised a bit. I pride myself on being able to lift a lot of weight in the gym, yet one minute into the pose I was already feeling the burn in my traps and lats. I felt a bit discouraged and thought I couldn’t continue, but I realize that my struggle was about energy circulation being trapped, and not about the strength of my muscles. Now, the more I have practiced, the easier it has become, because I am using this new type of strength, and I am allowing the energy to circulate more freely in my body.
Additionally, Qigong makes you calmer, which can enhance any area of life. This deep inner strength can also help to shift your relationship to exercise, since your energy is flowing more and you might find you are able to do more and move in different ways than you previously thought you could.
I have personally found that qigong has slightly changed my workout routine. I feel like the energy is flowing through my body more, and as a result I am recruiting the correct muscles even more at the gym because my muscles are more relaxed. I have actually had to scale back on the weight, because my form is even better than before and therefore I do not have other muscles to rely on for back up, I am just using the right ones. Therefore, the intended muscles are getting more of a workout than they did before. However, this is just a thought I had when I noticed a difference, there’s no science behind it.
If you’ve never given qigong a try, I highly recommend you consider it. This powerful and beautiful practice really has enhanced the start of my day! If you’re interested in learning more about Christine, and qigong, check out some of the links below:
Christine’s Website: Openasthesky.com
Grand Master Lu’s Website: taoofhealing.com
Traditional Chinese Medicine Website: Tcmworld.org
Have a Good Workout,