A 5000 year old practice called Qigong is said to be
the secret of longevity.
Anna Maxted (for The Times) finds out why…
It’s the latest way to destress, boost fitness and improve longevity, yet it’s 5000 years old. Qigong is a Chinese holistic practice of slow low impact movements that incorporate posture, breathing and focus, to cultivate a smooth energy flow through the body. It calms the mind, improves well-being and fitness and its fans include actresses Julia Roberts Kate Beckinsale and Gwyneth Paltrow. Also the golfer Tiger Woods.
Classes and workshops are popping up in fashionable gyms and studios. So why the sudden popularity? Catherine Allen author of ‘The Qigong Bible’, an instructor who has practised for 30 years, teaches in Kent and says that it has three main benefits:
- it improves health – mental and physical involving every system in the body
- it increases martial abilities and strength
- it promotes spiritual development
Allen also practices yoga and tai chi. “They’re all longevity arts” she says “very good if you want to stay young, healthy, sane and relaxed but there are differences. Qigong is mostly standing. With yoga there are many postures on the floor and they are usually static. Yoga has a meditative element but not the martial aspect. Rather like Tai Chi, Qigong is traditionally practised outside at dawn or dusk. Tai Chi uses all the same principles and is like a long flowing series of Qigong moves” she says.
“Unlike yoga, Qigong is suitable for all ages because there is no impact or jarring”. Allen says “Qigong sets the spine in a very safe position – there are no headstands! Good posture is an integral part of each move. Osteopaths love it she says because the spine is always extended. A class starts with gentle diaphragmatic breathing – slow, relaxed and silent. This calms your nervous system” Allen says. “You need to get your breathing right before your mind can settle. In the East they say your brain is always chattering to itself – meaningless trivial stuff like chattering monkeys! The idea is to still your chattering monkeys”.
She sometimes plays music but if she teaches outside the soundtrack is of the birds, the wind and the trees. “You wear thin soled shoes to retain a sense of connection to the Earth. Moves are simple, very often the moves are flowing”, she says, “though there are some static moves where you hold the pose, there are also balancing moves”.
“A beginner might hold a stance for a minute or repeat a move seven times. As strength and mental focus improve you might hold it for five minutes. If you are athletic, moves can be scaled up in intensity. There are individual moves and sets. A class might incorporate 25 moves and a beginner may start with for instance cloud hands”.
“Unlike in strength training you don’t hold tension in your body in Qigong. You are relaxed and your arms float and flow. There is no tension in your arms but neither are they limp and floppy” Allen says “some of the stances are just as demanding as a kettlebell workout but the idea is that you can strengthen your body and still remain calm and relaxed”.
“Qigong is the perfect foil if your exercise is high intensity, If you’re a runner or a weightlifter it’s very good to balance that with something calming” Allen says “the flow makes you happy at the end of the session. We sometimes do a standing meditation, this calms the body and the nervous system so you should walk out of the session feeling more relaxed and happier than when you walked in. There’s a psychological aspect to it that you’re not going to get with kettlebell training”.
Give Qigong a go – feel the difference in yourself after a session with Tai Chi Tigers.
We accommodate everyone so we have chairs available and will practice some seated Qigong. Our moves are simple – but not always easy! Our moves can also help your co-ordination as Libby said this week “it’s improved my table tennis” and young Sam said “my cricket bowling is so much better”.
You have nothing to loose – just a whole lifestyle to gain.