Go With the Flow: The Qigong Workout

By Nicole Radziszewski |

You know that feeling when you’ve been sitting at your desk for way too long? Your brain is half asleep, and your body is on the verge of revolting. You could pop out for a quick run, but that would involve sloshing back into the office in sweaty workout garb. So instead, you go fill your coffee mug for the umpteenth time and return to your office.

What if you could elicit the stress-busting, mind-clearing, energizing benefits of a run or tough workout without the sweat factor? Qigong (pronounced “chee-GUNG”) can help you do just that.

With Chinese roots dating back more than 4,000 years, qigong is a broad practice defined as the integration of physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intentions, according to the National Qigong Association. (Translated, “qi” is energy, breath or spirit. “Gong” means work.)

“Qigong helps you balance emotionally, physically and spiritually at the same time, so you have the energy you need to cope with every part of your life,” says Chunyi Lin, a practitioner based in Eden Prairie, Minn., and creator of Spring Forest Qigong, one form of the practice that incorporates gentle movements, meditation, breathing and sounds.

Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is fundamental to any qigong practice and is intended to enhance your ability to relax. (See Web Extra! for breathing instructions.) Many qigong exercises involve simply breathing and focusing one’s energy on different areas of the body.

Thousands of qigong variations exist, including external forms practiced to heal others, and internal forms that focus on cultivating self-balance. Among these are gentle, meditative practices and intensely physical ones, such as Chinese martial arts.

While Western scientific studies on qigong are limited, it has been linked to the following benefits:

  1. Improved general health measures, including reduced stress, enhanced immunity, lower blood pressure and greater stamina.

“The greatest gift qigong can give is restoring energy,” says John Du Cane, a qigong teacher since 1995, who began his practice in the 1970s. Du Cane has produced several books and DVDs on qigong and regularly hosts instructor workshops and certification programs.

Du Cane suggests the following exercises to help restore your energy during the workday. They are suitable for anyone and require no equipment. He recommends practicing the sequence daily for optimal results.

High Energy, No Sweat

Try this low-key workout for a big midday boost.

Endurance Activator

One element of qigong is tapping on acupuncture points in the body to direct energy to specific areas. This exercise involves the point just below the knees and outside of the tibia, known in Chinese medicine as the “walk-three-miles point,” because fatigued monks routinely stimulated it to gain the stamina to walk another three miles. Benefits include enhanced leg strength and overall endurance.

  1. Breathe naturally through your nose and keep your attention focused on the area you are tapping.

Chinese Wall Squat

Chinese medicine views the body as a hydraulic system that tends to become sluggish and stagnant, says Du Cane. This physically demanding exercise is designed to move energy through the body. It also helps improve leg strength, relaxes the hip and pelvic region, prevents lower-back pain, and is believed to improve kidney function. It’s often performed facing a wall to keep your weight back on your heels and discourage leaning forward.

  1. Continue for five to 10 minutes, moving as slowly as possible.

Coiling Recharge

Qigong involves using the hands to direct energy, often in a spiral pattern. Spirals are found in both nature and in the body’s fascia, or connective tissue. By practicing spiral movements, you make the fascia more flexible. The gentle spiraling hand and wrist motions in this exercise are intended to help you relax out of tension and move in a more fluid manner. It also develops energy, power and well-being.

  1. Repeat this circular movement for three to five minutes before switching to the other side.

Crane Stands on One Leg

This exercise comes from the “Five Animal Frolics,” a series of traditional qigong exercises based on the natural movements and postures of the crane, bear, monkey, deer and tiger. The crane exercises are intended to develop balance and agility, gently stretch your ligaments, improve circulation, and release your spine.

  1. When you first practice qigong, your movements might seem jerky and your breathing shallow. “Take it one step at a time and you’ll get better at it,” Du Cane says. “It’s like learning to play the piano. Don’t expect to knock out a sonata the first time.”

Standing Still With Absorbing

This meditative exercise incorporates a practice called absorbing, which uses the mind to generate vitality in the body, says Du Cane. “It improves the efficiency of your breathing and encourages the body to contract and expand itself.”

  1. Continue for two to five minutes.

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