I’m a newbie to qigong. I’ve been a yoga practitioner all my life, but through my teacher, Mimi Kuo-Deemer, I’ve discovered the traditional Chinese way of seeing exercise. That is wasn’t to attain anything, or achieve a change or different body shape. Rather, exercise was about maintaining health and supporting our body’s natural movement – something we were born with but may have lost due to unhealthy lifestyle patterns and stress. Exercise was to maintain our body, which unlike in the West, wasn’t separate to our egos, but was seen as absolutely part of ourselves, the outward expression of who we are. So no more searching for a god-like physique or attaining goals through exercise, just a question of keeping up and maintaining our health.
The aim of qigong, as I understand it, is to harness qi – which is our universal energy as residing in the body, in the same way as yoga harnesses prana. But perhaps, in the way that a lot of the yoga is taught, the beautifully harmonious effect has somehow been lost in translation.
1. A SHIFT IN MINDSET
Although qigong is a health giving and gentler practice than what I’ve experienced in my yoga, what has really struck me is the fundamental shift and transformation I’ve experienced through qigong. This made me start to look at life a little differently. The realisation that the body needs no perfecting, that there is no idealised form to work towards, was so liberating to feel as I practiced. It was also something I intellectually knew was positive for me, It was so beautiful to finally embody the fact that our nature really is perfect as it is: there is no need for any project or self-improvement. The qigong brought an integration to what I have sometimes felt is a somewhat fragmented sense of self.
2. A DIFFERENT KIND OF STRENGTH
When I first tried qigong I found it deathly boring. Without as many strong sensations of deep stretching and strength, endorphins and feelings of euphoria to seek out (as there are in yoga), I must admit, I pretty much discounted qigong.
But now something has changed for me. I experienced something very different. The apparently pointless arm waving and rather unexciting and repetitive movements , no seemed to be wonderfully slow, deliberate and graceful. They were also really hard! It’s not easy to move in a truly fluid manner! I also found that stretches were incorporated into the sequences, the strength was certainly built, but in a very subtle manner compared to what I have known in yoga.
3. A CHANCE TO GO WITHIN
We didn’t work out, but we worked inwards. Instead of doing exercises with a count, with a hardening thought of ‘how long are we going to stay in this shape’ I found that I was able to stay in postures that I wouldn’t have been able to before, because there was a sort of softening into it. Instead of fast-paced shapes, a lot of the movements were sequenced into a slow and very deliberate flow. Moving this way was much more fluid than I had expected. There wasn’t much of a ‘this is a pose’, rather, in qigong, there are sequences of movement. The qigong moved each joint, freeing it from tension and enabling me to access a much more meditative and graceful state than I would do normally in a yoga practice (although perhaps that’s just me!).
4. A PRACTICE WITH INTENTION
What I also really found very powerful about the qigong was the use of intention, the power of the mind during the practices. During the sequences we are asked to direct our minds towards something very specific, to think of and visualise something connected to the natural world. This use of the power of the mind whilst practicing is something we just don’t harness often – it’s common to ‘workout’ whilst checking out – watching TV, listing to a podcast. But using your mind as you use your body is really just wonderful!
It’s easy to see how qigong is now being seen as the new all-round health fix. I can absolutely see why, and hope that it continues to grow in popularity, especially when taught in such a careful, soulful way as Mimi teaches it. She very kindly, for us movement junkies, incorporates some yoga moves into her practices – but even these are taught in a specific, fluid, softer and kinder way also somehow using new muscles in the same poses, as well as the focus on the ‘energy body’.
Of course the only way to judge any practice is by how it feels in our own bodies, and I would say, in the way that the practitioners act in the world. If the practitioners are often sickly, or have mental disturbances like being aggressive, harsh or unkind to others, I would say that the practices aren’t doing their job.
Right now, I’m feeling a lot softer, kinder, and have a better understanding of springtime energy that relates to the ‘wood’ element in qigong, and how I can work with this element to bring in ‘good wood’ in my life. This is planning and leading in a benevolent way. I’m certainly enjoying the fruits of the practices in harnessing the good wood. I also feel a lot more goodwill as well as excitement for all the wonderful ways that I hope that our community can help people.
I hope to keep these practices alive, and retain this softness, openness and sense of vast expansiveness in the body and mind. That’s always the tricky part!! And if we’re judging practitioners by their practice, there could be no better role model than Mimi, such a kind, graceful and wise soul, helping us constricted, stressed- out accomplishment-focused souls so patiently.
Join in on Movement For Modern Life, ‘the Netflix of Yoga’s CULTIVATING ENERGY WITH YOGA & QI GONG course today.