Qigong for Healing and Stress Relief: What's it like and where to find classes
May 01, 2016 01:44PM
By Julianne Hale
Lorraine Hughes of Empowered By Nature in Fishkill, NY
Qigong is a term that has gained popularity in recent years as more people discover this ancient Chinese practice, but many of us are still unfamiliar with this healing art. Licensed Acupuncturist Margaret Steele, owner of Classical Acupuncture and Aromatherapy, in Peekskill, explains, “Qigong, which means energy cultivation, is an ancient Chinese health and longevity practice intended to move, direct and preserve qi (energy) by coordinating specific movements with the breath.”
Certified Qigong Instructor Lorraine Hughes, sole proprietor of Empowered By Nature, in Fishkill, describes the practice further, “When we practice qigong we cultivate how we use our own innate energy, or qi, and our Prana (life force). The exercises or sets, as they are called, are highly intentional, and through intention and breath we are able to manipulate the various subtle energies of the body, mind and spirit.” This manipulation allows practitioners to reduce their reactive responses to stress, providing access to much-needed peace and calm.
Evolution of Qigong
With a history that dates back thousands of years, qigong has evolved many times since its inception and this evolution can be seen in the different types of teachers available. Each instructor has a different focus and their own unique training. Hughes, for example, practices qigong based on her training in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Drawing from the wisdom of her teachers, including Lee Holden, she customizes the classes based on her students’ needs. Hughes explains, “I will modify the exercise sets of each class based on the state of health of the students who are in attendance, general health and seasonal transition.”
Steele’s practice methodology dates back to China’s Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 A.D.). “I practice and transmit the Ba Duan Jin (Eight Pieces of Brocades Qigong),” she says. “As a holder of this teaching, my responsibility is to pass these exercises along in their purest form, unchanged, retaining their simplicity and power. I also practice Five Animal Qigong form, dating from the third Century, A.D. Since the principles of Chinese medicine are the same across all modalities, my knowledge of acupuncture greatly enriches my qigong practice and teaching. With qigong, the more you understand it, the better it works.”
What to Expect
Because qigong is such a deeply personal practice, each session can provide a different experience for the practitioner. Dan Court, of Holistic Wellness Alternatives, in Yorktown, performs qigong healing sessions and guided qigong meditation sessions. He describes a typical class, “During qigong sessions, my goal is to bring each client into a state of relaxation and well being; to not only balance the physical body but the energies as well; and to gently return the mind and body into one. Many clients feel a sense of movement, light heat or see vibrant colors during their session. They leave feeling peaceful, happy and energized.” Court studied and practiced with Master Robert Peng, a world-renowned qigong master, healer and author.
Master Koki, of Westchester, was initiated into qigong by Tienko Ting, the founder of the Natural Chi Movement, in 1995. Her practice takes a different approach. “Unlike many, my practice has no visible lineage or style. Outwardly, it can be very athletic or very still,” she explains. “Students are passively affected by the benevolent energies coming through me and those that fill the Dojo. We begin by jumping and shaking to loosen and energize, then meditate. I personally allow my energy to produce a ‘dance’ for the class to connect us all and then we use movements that come through my qi for them to do, which are later applied to self-healing. At some point students move into an energetic state where they can do their own flowing practice without instruction.”
Steele describes her classes. “Every class is a beginner class and each class is essentially the same,” she says. “The movements are simple and very easy. Students may stand or sit. We gather, move and bank qi by repeating very slow, graceful, detailed and specific movements coordinated with the breath.” Most qigong classes are taught in a group session but private classes are available for individuals who feel overwhelmed in a class environment or are in need of a medical qigong session.
Qigong and Tai Chi: What is the Difference?
Qigong and tai chi are both ancient Chinese practices that combine movements and breathing but one is much older than the other. “Tai chi is about 500 years old and qigong dates back thousands of years,” explains Steele. “Tai chi is a martial arts modality while qigong is about self-cultivation, healing and longevity.” When practicing tai chi, individuals are supposed to imagine they are fighting an opponent while qigong provides a more inward focus.
Why Practice Qigong?
Modern life is full of stressors and distractions—places to go, meetings to attend, shopping to do, children to care for, aging parents to help, businesses to run, calls to answer and the list goes on. Although it is an ancient practice that existed long before the first photo was taken or the first artificial light illuminated the darkness, qigong has some very practical applications in the modern world. Using this ancient technique to connect and control the qi, practitioners of qigong can find a deep sense of peace and true stress relief, a much-needed skill in the 21st century.
“As a practitioner of traditional Chinese herbal medicine, qigong is one of the prescriptions issued to our clients,” says Hughes. “I am so amazed and delighted by how my perception and physical reaction to stress has evolved since starting to practice in 2004. Practicing qigong has helped me become the person I am today.”
Margaret Steele, owner of Classical Acupuncture and Aromatherapy in Peekskill, 914.772.4589, SteeleNeedlesAcupuncture.com.
Master Koki, Westchester, NY, 914.648.0492.