You might not have heard of Qigong but, chances are, if you walk through a park, you'll see people doing it.
Qigong, which translates into "life-energy cultivation", is an ancient Chinese form of martial art, combining both mindfulness and light exercise. It requires you to coordinate your breathing to a series of slow, rhythmic movements.
While called a martial art, the Chinese use it as a form of preventative medicine rather than for self-defence. The breathing exercises help cleanse the mind of negative thoughts and stress. While the stretches and movements release tension from the body, replacing it with positive energy.
I spend my working life hunched over a desk. I have a stressful job that occupies my mind even when I sleep, and I always feel like I'm rushing around getting nowhere. Several years ago, I embraced meditation. I downloaded a few apps (I recommend Headspace and Calm), and now, every day, I find five minutes in the middle of the day to meditate. I found this so beneficial I decided to go further.
I wanted to exercise my body, as well as my mind. During the summer months, I would squeeze in a run, but during winter, with the shorter days, that's not possible. I was loathed to join a gym, and I've never been flexible enough to consider yoga. So, I decided to try Qigong, and I've never looked back.
Qigong is a wonderfully relaxing, energising form of exercise. Its feel like meditation and a massage rolled into one. I told my wife about it, and now she's also hooked. I can't tell you what a life changer it has been for me.
Why Learn Qigong?
People who practise Qigong use it as a form of relaxation, meditation, exercise, massage and preventative medicine. The aim is to get Qi or 'Chi', as it's pronounced, flowing throughout the body by transitioning between several different postures or stances, called 'Brocades'. It's a bit like yoga, requiring you to move between different standing positions while focusing on your breathing.
Qi is healing energy. It affects how we feel and think. I'm not Chinese, but my understanding of Qi is that it is universal energy, found all around us in life. We draw on this energy from the earth, the sun and the sea. It might not be science, but it makes sense. Think of the feeling of the sun on your face or swimming in the ocean. It's good for the soul and has a positive effect on our wellbeing. In my mind, this is Qi.
The purpose of Qigong is to draw on that energy, pull it into our bodies while ridding ourself of negative energy. The result is a positive, healthy effect on our mind, body and soul, that sets you up for the day. For this reason, I find it best to do Qigong in the morning, before work.
Is Qigong Difficult or Dangerous?
The Chinese Health Qigong Association officially recognise nine variations of Qigong. I'm not an expert but think the difference boils down to variations in the exercises - the brocades. Some brocades are more challenging than others, requiring greater muscle strength and flexibility. However, don't let this put you off. Qigong is not as challenging as yoga in terms of flexibility and certainly isn't dangerous. It can be as strenuous as you wish to make it.
I suggest starting with beginner exercises, which are no more than just warm-up exercises. You'll still feel the benefits, without putting your muscles under any undue strain. Just be mindful if you know you have a particular weakness or frailty. I broke my wrist a few years back, so I tend to be a bit cautious with some of the exercises. It's just common sense.
I've recommended following a beginner-friendly video on YouTube as a free starter guide to Qigong. As you grow in confidence, you can try more challenging brocades. Enrolling in a quality course will give you a better understanding of how to use Qigong for your mental and physical wellbeing, as well as providing more guidance in each exercise.
Before You Get Started
Give yourself plenty of room. Qigong requires you to stretch your arms out in different directions, so you're going to need a bit of space, hence why many people do it outside. When you start, your mind needs to focus on the exercises and your breathing. You don't want to be distracted by having to reposition yourself because you're too close to a wall or a door.
I find Qigong is better done barefoot or in socks, so make sure what you're standing on is comfortable. You won't have to lie down, but you want to limit distractions. You don't want to be distracted by thinking the floor feels cold or uncomfortable underfoot. Carpet or a good-sized mat is best if you're indoors. I find it best to wear sneakers when doing Qigong outdoors. Wear comfortable, unrestrictive clothes and you're good to go!
#1 - Qigong for Beginners - YouTube
As I mentioned earlier, if this is your first foray into Qigong and you're not particularly flexible or strong, I recommend this video on YouTube called Qigong for Beginners.
This 30-minute introduction into Qigong begins by explaining the idea of chi before moving into stretching and activating exercises. Activation exercises are a warm-up, designed to get the chi flowing throughout the body and improve circulation.
Marissa, the instructor, does a great job of explaining the purpose of each movement while you follow along. If you're interested in just having a go, this is perfect. Some will argue that this isn't traditional Qigong, more a hybrid of yoga, but what's important is how you feel after completing the exercises.
After following this video, I guarantee you'll feel more relaxed and revitalised.
#2 - 8 Brocades Qigong Practice - YouTube
If you want to continue learning for free but try more challenging qigong exercises, I recommend this second YouTube video. Here the instructor, Mimi, goes through eight 'silk brocades'.
If you follow along, you will soon feel the burn in your thighs during 'opening the bow' and 'wagging the tail' exercises. You'll see from the video that these exercises require core strength. Start slowly to avoid potentially overstretching and injuring yourself.
These two YouTube videos do an excellent job of demonstrating and explaining Qigong exercise, but Qigong is much more than just a form of workout.
The power of Qi and Qigong are deeply rooted in Chinese philosophy and Chinese medicine. If you want to understand Qigong in more depth, in a structured manner, Udemy has several courses.
A word of caution if this is your first time using Udemy. Udemy courses are often discounted. If a course you're interested in is not on sale, it likely will be in the future.
#3 - Qi Gong for Health and Healing - Udemy
This course uses videos, audio recording and articles to teach both the theoretical and practical sides of Qigong. It covers breathing, meditation, workouts and the spiritual meaning of Qi and Qigong. By the end of this course, you'll have a more holistic understanding of the different ways Qigong can help to attain a healthy mind, body and soul.
There are eight separate modules. In each module, you'll learn to use Qigong for different purposes, such as reducing stress, improving motivation, and ridding the brain of negative emotions. At the end of each module is a self-assessment exercise. The self-assessment is a way for students to reflect on their response to the workouts and meditation.
The instructor Lee Holden is a licensed Chinese medical doctor and honorary member of the International Chi Gong Association. Lee is also the author of the book, Seven Minutes of Magic: Recharge Your Body Each Day with Qi Gong which is available on amazon.
#4 - Extensive Qigong Movement, Breathing and Meditation - Udemy
This course, comprised of mainly videos but with some articles, is chocked full of practical breathing, moving and meditation exercises.
The course starts with 17 lectures teaching different Qigong movements. The next two modules are on breathing techniques and meditation. The final section of the course is devoted to Qigong theory and the idea of Qigong healing.
The author, Michaël Bijker, has several courses on Udemy, this one being the most popular. Over 2500 students have enrolled in the class with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5.
#5 - Instant Health Qigong - The Shaolin Qigong Workout For Longevity - Udemy
I recommend taking this next course for anyone wanting to learn more challenging Qigong exercises.
This a complete Qigong workout with 2.5 hours of video lessons covering breathing, warming-up, stretching, eight brocades and self-massage. The focus of the lessons is using Qigong to restore health and longevity.
The exercises in this course are advanced and require a level of strength and flexibility. I suggest watching the preview video to determine whether it is suitable for you.
The instructor Yan Lei Shi is a 34th generation Shaolin monk. Yan Lei has taught Qigong and Kung Fu in China and the UK and opened a Shaolin Temple in London.
He has published two books, which you are available on amazon:
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Maybe you have a question or maybe you are practicing Qigong?