published as cover article in Chronogram’s Healthy Living Guide Spring/Summer 2002
Qigong: Finding Real Peace Inside
by Cassia Berman
When I hear about the increased stress and distress so many people are experiencing since September 11, I wish more than ever that everyone knew how simple and effective Qigong and T’ai Chi are for calming the mind, and moving the body in soothing, harmonious ways that correct so many tension-related ailments.
The ancient Chinese discovered thousands of years ago how human beings can align themselves with the natural forces of the universe for increased health and well-being. Many of the techniques they evolved, like acupuncture and feng shui, are becoming part of the mainstream of American life, and you can even see T’ai Chi these days in television commercials for joint medication. But aside from recognizing T’ai Chi’s slow, graceful movements, most people still don’t really understand why T’ai Chi imparts healing benefits. Qigong, the energetic basis of T’ai Chi, is even more of an unknown quantity.
T’ai Chi and Qigong are both very basic forms of mind/body medicine, very special ways of exercising that enable you to care for your physical health and mental well-being yourself. By bringing the mind inside the body, focusing on special points that help the body relax and energy to circulate, both mind and body become peaceful.
By the way, where are your feet as you’re reading this? May I suggest relaxing both of your feet flat on the ground if you’re sitting, letting the soles of your feet soften, and feel, even if you’re indoors, that from the middle of each foot you have roots going deep down into the earth. Even if you’re lying down, tune in with your feet, first relaxing the soles, and then the center of your feet, and imagine their connection with the earth.
How deeply are you breathing? Take a moment and see. Do you breathe in your chest, or your abdomen, or can you breathe down in your belly? See if you can relax inside, and breathe more deeply as you read the rest of this article. When we were in our mother’s womb, we breathed in our bellies, and when a child is born, the breath is usually that deep until about the age of five, when the breathing moves to the abdomen. As people get older, or tense, or sick, the breathing grows shallower, up to the chest. The more deeply in the body you breathe, the more oxygen you get, which helps the whole body function better. When you breathe in the belly, and focus the mind there as well, your mind will be more peaceful, and your body more relaxed.
Guess what? You’ve started doing Qigong! Qi, pronounced “chee,” is the Chinese word for energy or life force; gong, pronounced “goong,” means practicing something, doing it over and over. Qigong is the ancient art of correctly exercising the force of life, aligning and integrating your mind, body, spirit and breath. There are thousands of different kinds of Qigong practices, including the choreographed movements of T’ai Chi. But they all stem from the same basic principles, as simple as the ones you have begun to do by focusing your mind and breath through your body, and can be practiced every moment of your life to keep your mind peaceful and your energy fluid and vibrant.
One more thing—where’s your headtop? If you’re sitting, become aware of your headtop (if you draw a line from the tops of both ears to your middle part, you’ll find it), and let it point up to the sky. From that one point, let the rest of your body hang down—gravity will help you—letting the spine ease and straighten, neck and shoulders relax, chest and back of the chest open, upper body’s weight going down to the bottom of your torso. Yes, sit straight. Sometimes I feel like everybody’s mother when I teach classes, telling people to sit up or stand up straight. But the fact of the matter is….Mom was right. When you keep your spine straight, your organs and nervous system will function properly, and you’ll feel more relaxed and peaceful. In Qigong and T’ai Chi, learning to relax means aligning yourself so that your body stays upright and balanced without tension, your mind focussed inwardly. More than I can show you in an article, but try these few simple directions, and see how they make you feel.
There are many points in your body which are doorways for energy, points an acupuncturist would stimulate by inserting needles, but which can also be opened using mind and movement. This form of meditative movement is actually the most ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine, predating acupuncture. Moving the body in itself always feels good. But by focusing the mind through the body in the special way Qigong teaches, you are actually doing a form of meditation that corrects the mind away from negative and distressing thoughts, healing the mind and emotions even as you energize, heal and strengthen the body. Western physics has discovered that energy flows in circular patterns. The ancient Qigong masters already knew this, and designed Qigong and T’ai Chi in simple, circular movements that harmonize us with the way energy circulates in all life
“It amazes me that people have known this for so long, and more people don’t make use of it,” one of my students recently exclaimed. An IBMer in his fifties who spends most of his time on a keyboard in front of a computer screen, he started doing T’ai Chi because the pain and tension in his body had become unbearable. After a few months’ practice, his neck and shoulders don’t hurt any more. He showed me how freely he could move his arm, which he couldn’t do at all until he started practicing a form of Qigong called Swimming Dragon less than a month ago. “And the best part of it is,” he continued, “I’ve stopped worrying so much!”
Several years ago, China’s top Qigong masters issued a statement at their annual conference: “If everyone in the world did Qigong, we would truly have world peace, because people would be happy, healthy and peaceful in themselves, and not want to hurt others.” Throughout the thousands of years that the world has fought its endless battles, spiritual teachers have always counseled that peace is a state that must first be attained inwardly. Qigong offers simple, effective techniques that how you how to find real peace at the meeting point of your own mind, body and heart.
Cassia Berman has 25 years experience in the Chinese healing movement arts. A Qigong Therapist and Qi Healer certified by the Chinese Healing Arts Center, she teaches weekly classes and monthly workshops in the Woodstock area, as well as at conferences and holistic events throughout the region. She also offers private healing sessions, and teaches workshops in poetry and women’s spirituality. She can be reached at (845) 679-9457.