No need to decide, because you can get both at once with qigong (CHEE-gong), the gentlest form of martial arts.

For the past few years I’ve watched a small group of men and women leave our local YMCA’s Qigong session with serene smiles on their faces. One woman explained to me that it was an Eastern practice like yoga or tai chi. Sadly, I didn’t have time to squeeze another class into my busy life.

This year, qigong was scheduled after my Zumba Gold class, so I decided to give it a try. Chatting with participants before class, I learned that they loved qigong and never missed. Hmmm…

I’d brought a yoga mat, but there was no need; we remained standing for the entire class. Our teacher, Mona, led us through a series of slow, gentle stretches and movements combined with deep breathing.

At first I found it a bit odd – the repetitive movements were very simple, and it didn’t feel like exercise. “My husband would never put up with this,” I thought to myself, but then he’s a sceptic who thinks even chiropractic is voodoo. There were men in the group, though, and they seemed committed.

After a half hour of stretches, movements and sounds, I was transformed. My body was relaxed and my mind soothed. I felt like I’d been on a massage table for an hour. It was absolutely miraculous, and I couldn’t understand why.

I was hooked.

What Is Qigong?

According to Chinese philosophy, the practice of qigong allows access to higher realms of awareness by balancing the qi (chi, or energy) within the body. Qigong’s range of smooth, gentle movements helps strengthen balance as well as foster a sense of peace and well-being.

The National Qigong Association in Minnesota summarizes it as “a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound and focused intent.”

Mona explains the effect each movement has on health as we practice it. For a more thorough description of qigong, visit the NQA website.

What Are the Exercises Like?

Qigong exercises range from very simple movements and sounds to more complicated sequences of movements called ‘the five animals’ – the crane is my favorite. It also includes static meditative practices. “It’s a gentler form of tai chi,” Mona explained to me.

Let me describe a few of the movements. We always start in a quiet standing position with feet together. We slowly lift the left foot and place it about hip-width from the right.

We slightly bend our knees and start with arm swings, swinging our hands up as high as our head, then down and back behind us, bending a bit on the downward swing. We repeat this movement for about a half minute. Then we go through a series of other simple movements.

I hold a lot of stress in my neck, so I particularly like one where we bend our heads forward on an exhale, then breathe in – always through the nose – as we lift our head, drop it back on an exhale, then lift it back up on an inhale. We repeat this about five or six times.

Then we switch direction, this time tilting the head to the right shoulder, inhaling as we bring it straight up, then tilt it to the left. I love what this exercise does for my tight neck. Try it.

How Does Qigong Affect You?

After my last class I ran into our teacher, Mona Abdul-Rahman, a very busy woman with an acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice.

I thanked her for introducing me to qigong and shared that after class I feel like I’ve had a two-hour massage. Mona looked at me with a gentle smile and replied, “I know. I get it, too. That’s why I teach the class.”

If you’re interested in trying qigong, I’d recommend looking for a class in your community. If that’s not possible, I’ve found two YouTube videos that are great for beginners:

Marissa does a beautiful job of guiding the viewer through a number of movements with clear explanations. If you’re interested in trying Qigong, this is a great way to start.

I must admit, I’m thankful to have discovered this beautiful practice and intend to continue with it. I fear the day that Mona retires.

Have you tried Qigong? What other practice do you find to be useful for exercise and wellbeing? Please join the conversation below.

Ann Marie MershonA retired English teacher, Ann Marie Mershon lives on a lake in northern Minnesota with her husband, Jerry, and their two dogs. She’s published three books as well as numerous articles and columns. You can read about her years of teaching in Istanbul on her blog.

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