Many of you that are regular—or even sporadic—acupuncture patients, or that are currently experiencing symptoms that are typically treated with acupuncture are probably wondering how to get the beneficial effects of acupuncture at home. While acupuncture is unique in that it is able to target specific points along your meridians and unblock your qi, in addition to the fact that it gives you access to one-on-one consultations with a licensed practitioner who can formulate a unique treatment for you, there are certain exercises and practices that you can incorporate into your routine that will help you get through the quarantine with a balanced, unblocked and free-flowing qi. Qigong is one of those practices.
According to the National Qigong Association (NQA), qigong is a practice that integrates “posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound and focused intent.” The NQA goes on to say that “slow gentle qigong movements warm tendons, ligaments and muscles; tonify vital organs and connective tissue; and promote circulation of body fluids (blood, synovial, lymph).” In other words, qigong moves the energy in your meridians without needles, and by doing so, relieves stress, eases pain, calms the mind, balances emotions and creates an overall sense of balance, grounding and peace in the body very similar to the “blissed-out” feeling you have when leaving an acupuncture session.
Qigong is one of the four pillars of traditional Chinese medicine and is one of the easiest for self-healing. As Qigong Institute states, “the main focus of Qigong is eliminating deficiency (associated with chronic illness) and stagnation (indicated by pain) of your qi (energy).” There are many styles and different practices of qigong but they all are based on three intentful corrections, or mindful adjustments:
- Body Posture: “Stand up straight,” your mother probably told you hundreds of times growing up (or even still). She was definitely onto something deeper than just appearances. How you hold your body directly affects how the energy in your body is able to move through it. Good posture aligns you, keeping your internal organs in their proper places. Incorrect posture, on the other hand, can lead to stress and pressure around your internal organs, and if practiced over a long period of time—think sitting at your desk, hunched over your computer 8 hours a day, 5 days a week—it will negatively affect the circulation of qi and blood. This misdirected or clogged circulation of qi and blood can cause imbalances of the internal organs. By aligning the body properly, as in different postures in qigong, you are rooting yourself to the ground, unifying your twelve joints (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows and shoulders), and stimulating your bones, marrow, kidneys and jing, the essential fluid of our physical body.
- Breathing: You probably don’t think much about your breathing on a day-to-day basis, unless you are doing yoga or singing. But even beyond those extremely beneficial practices that really force you to focus on your breath, even when you are just sitting at your desk and checking emails, you can focus on breathing in a way that really fuels you, rather than in a way that merely keeps you alive. Qigong can help you practice the “right way to breathe”: with qigong, you learn abdominal breathing, in which the lower abdomen expands and fills with air before the chest on the inhale, and the abdomen contracts on the exhale. Why is this the”right” way to breath, you may ask? Because by slowing down and becoming conscious of your breath, the brain sends a message to your body to switch over from the sympathetic nervous system—the flight or fight mode—to the parasympathetic nervous system—the rest and digest mode. In addition, mindful, abdominal breathing can help you move through qigong (and yoga and really any other exercise) postures with ease and grace, rather than working against the movement. Check out this breathing tutorial from World Tai Chi and Qigong Day.
- Awareness: If you’ve done any kind of meditation or mindfulness practice, you will be familiar with how becoming aware of your thoughts can help free you from those thoughts; how just noticing what you are thinking at any given moment can allow you to take a step back from that looping refrain in your head. Qigong is easily paired with, or can stem from, a meditation/mindfulness practice, connecting your presence and quietness of mind to slow, purposeful movements.
So how can you start practicing qigong right now, in quarantine?
Qigong Institute acknowledges that “at first, the dynamic adjustment of posture, breath and mind is only done during the time you set aside to do Qigong. With more practice, you’ll begin doing these adjustments throughout the day as Qigong becomes a natural part of your life and personal healthcare program.” Just like in meditation and mindfulness, at first you have to set aside 15 minutes every morning to practice; eventually, as you stick to this routine and deepen it, however, you will find yourself practicing mindfulness throughout your day: you may catch yourself in a looping, ruminating mind, for example, and be able to consciously direct your mind to your breath and to the present moment.
What does this mean in practice? First, there are tons of videos on Youtube to help guide you in your qigong exploration. Check out this one from Marisa Cranfill, for example, or just browse the Yoqi.com website, an amazing resource for yoga and qigong information and practice. Or check out these “Introduction to Basic Qigong for Beginners” videos at Taiji Forum. While it’s great to work with a teacher when you’re just beginning, you can easily start with these videos and then deepen your practice with a teacher in-person once it’s safe.
And to go more in-depth, here are a few great books to learn more about the foundations of Qi Gong:
The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing