Hand in hand with the positive effects of acupuncture, there are many other ways to improve one’s emotional and mental balance. Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise that uses slow, meditative movements and mindfulness to gain awareness of the inner state of one’s body and mind and can help to clear the body of biochemicals associated with chronic stress by increasing blood and lymphatic flow and reducing muscular tension. The Chinese have dedicated a huge amount of research into the therapeutic effects of qigong, and exercises are routinely prescribed for patients with a variety of conditions, including cancer, as an adjucnt to standard treatment.
There is a bewildering array of information available regarding qigong exercises, and this can seem overwhelming for somebody who wants to start learning. Undoubtedly, practical tuition with an experienced practitioner is the best way to go, and a Google search will often find a class in your local area. If qigong isn’t explicitly available, a tai chi class will often include qigong exercises as the two practices are very similar.
Failing all that, from my own experience I have found both Bruce Frantzis’ Dragon and Tiger Qigong and Lam Kam Chuen’s teaching of his version of Zhan Zhuang (or ‘standing like a tree’ posture) to be easy to learn and very effective. Both practices can be learned from the books: ‘Dragon and Tiger Qigong’ and ‘The Way of Energy’ (the latter being out of print but available second-hand at quite reasonable prices on Abebooks or Amazon. The Dragon and Tiger system also has a DVD available, and there are probably clips floating about on YouTube. Zhan Zhuang instructions are certainly widely available on YouTube. For those in the vicinity of Colne Engaine, Earls Colne, Halstead. Colchester or Sudbury, Nick and Liz Cahill offer Dragon and Tiger Qigong tuition (see www.nextsteptaichi.com)
Despite the gentle movements, qigong practice isn’t easy; it takes dedication and perseverance to see results. Zhan Zhuang practice, from the outside, simply looks like you are standing still. Yet with the correct alignments and mindfulness it becomes incredibly challenging. Try following this routine and see how you find it.
In contrast to Western exercises, a fundamental principle of qigong is to use less effort to bring about greater results. When doing the Zhan Zhuang standing practice and other qigong forms, you aim to continually try to let go of unnecessary tension held in the body and mind. As you practice, within the stillness, all the built up mental and emotional stress will start to manifest, often with sudden feelings of irritation and restlessness; ‘what is the point of doing this?’ ‘I’m probably doing it wrong anyway’ types of internal dialogue frequently occur. Take all this as a symptom of how much nervous tension you have been carrying around unaware; it is a clear sign that you really need to be doing qigong to clear it out. After a few weeks of daily practice for 10 or 15 minutes that physical, emotional and mental tension will have begun to dissipate and your energy and wellbeing will be greatly enhanced.
Finding 10 spare minutes a day isn’t all that difficult considering the potential benefits of qigong exercise, though I appreciate it might not seem worth it without any proof of its positive effects beyond taking my word for it. So I guess to start with you could do Zhan Zhuang while doing other routine activities such as watching TV, listening to the radio or to music, and then you haven’t lost any time and you can begin to see if it is useful to you.
Acupuncture and qigong can both do wonders for enhancing wellbeing; however, I generally find that the most long-lasting transformations for patients occur when they have an insight into the patterns of thought and emotion that have contributed to the manifestation of their health complaint. While there is no failsafe way to provide such an insight, there are certainly ways in which it can be facilitated. In the final part of this blog post, I will discuss one such method, which doesn’t require learning any techniques, but instead offers an understanding of the mechanism by which we perceive and interact with the world.