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Transforming stress and replenishing energy with Qi Gong

7 Apr 2021

y2l post

So here I am writing about Qi Gong on Easter Monday with snow swirling around outside my window even though Sunday was spent in deliciously warm sunshine in the garden! Life like the weather is unpredictable and we can resist it and argue with it; “if only it had been sunny everything would’ve been perfect” “why did it have to rain on this day” or “Just when I’ve planted there’s a drought”! This indignation with the way things are. But why do we waste energy in this way – tensing our bodies and minds in the process rather than relaxing into the present moment as we find it? It seems it is a habit we develop as we forget how to simply be with life, the way we were as children. We are always doing something, striving for something and attempting to control things and the people in our lives to fit with our view of how things should be. But life doesn’t work like that as we’ve learnt with this pandemic.

How about turning our energy to what we do have power over? So utterly logical that it seems madness to be doing anything else. We have power over ourselves – mind, body and emotions. The suffering and uncertainty of living with a cancer diagnosis or with the threat of Covid-19 can be mediated by accepting what is and having the courage to change what we can. In the Wigwam Community I feel honoured to witness the immense courage of those I see in the support groups and mindfulness groups who have made major changes in the way they live their lives and who are willing to turn towards the pain and fear they hold in their bodies. It is no easy thing, and it can take feeling that our lives our threatened for us to find the courage to change.

Qi Gong is a healing practice, or an art. It is a mind-body-heart exercise that uses meditation, breathing, and movement to increase energy and create balance so that the body can reach its natural self-healing potential. Based on the principles used in traditional Chinese Daoist medicine and rooted in an understanding of yin/yang (how seemingly opposite forces maybe complementary) and the Five Elements theory which is a way of viewing the world and seeing patterns and connections and how energy flows and gets stuck. There is so much richness in the teachings; a wonderful philosophy to learn from and be inspired by. The power of qigong has been demonstrated in China over thousands of years and millions of people across the world have experienced its incredible health benefits particularly with chronic illnesses.

Most of us hold so much tension in the body we are hardly even aware any more of how a relaxed body feels. This tension or holding uses up energy and also blocks energy from flowing throughout the body. Chronic tension or stress are a very common experience when you are living with cancer because the stress response is regularly triggered by anxiety over physical symptoms, test results, appointments and the suffering of living with uncertainty. But we know from science the effect of stress on the body, how fear puts the body into the fight-flight response where systems are activated for action and processes like digestion and body repair are slowed down.

In the mindfulness group I teach we have recently talked about how most ‘healing’ techniques whether chemotherapy or adhering to a nutritional regimen are ‘done’ to the body, but less attention is given to the heart/to the emotions. Sometimes the effort to heal becomes a stress or a force which closes the body in tension and resistance so the very effort being put in has a diminished effect. We need a balanced effort for healing and to do this requires us to listen to the body and ask ourselves ‘is this technique/treatment I am doing hardening the body or softening it to healing?’ I remember when I had radiotherapy the first time, I came out feeling like I had been abused and it felt so toxic. I knew I had to change this stress, so I practiced with visualization imagining the radiation as a healing light protecting healthy cells and melting away any cancer. This is bringing the heart into the matter, reducing the feelings of fear and balancing it with a healing or loving energy.

It takes practice getting to know the body and being able to listen to it in a responsive way and Qi Gong is a wonderful practice for this.

It helps us to meet life with relaxation and ease rather than stress, tightness and anxiety. I have been practicing and subsequently training with Lee Holden since the first lockdown. I feel a profound change and healing is taking place in my body as areas of tension that have been held for years eventually release. Lee describes Qi Gong as a practice that: –

Transforms stress into vitality

Negative emotions to positive

Worry to wisdom ……

And the joy of the Qi Gong is that you can feel it in the very first practice you do. And anybody can do it. Lee describes it as ‘playing with Qi’. Qi is just a word for energy and the practice is enjoyable and sometimes even feels childlike. It is a practice that I find I want to do, there is less need for the discipline that I often found necessary with my mindfulness practice.

Qi Gong includes mindfulness and meditation. As we do the movements, we are aware of the body, we stop and notice how the body feels, how the energy is felt in the body, how the release of tension has freed up the energy flow (a sense of liveliness or tingling in the body). We also direct attention to areas of the body to bring the energy there.

Where attention goes, energy follows

The practice incorporates the benefits of breath practice to regulate the systems of the body, and to influence emotions. There are movements to wake up or energize the body, movements to stretch lines of tension and improve the circulation of energy and then flows which are a series of gentle movements repeated over and over and often practiced in time with the breath. Flows are for relaxation and we deepen our presence as the body becomes more relaxed. The practice may be completed with a short meditation and at this point it feels wonderful to sit or lie down in a body that is relaxed and tingling with energy or aliveness. When we are relaxed, we have more energy and clarity to respond to life’s demands. The progressive relaxing of the body frees up the flow of fluids. The body is finally, sometimes after years of being on high alert, able to replenish itself with the nutrients and energy it needs and to start the healing process.

Each exercise has its own intention and as we become more experienced, we can be prescriptive about our practice. So, I might notice I am feeling very stressed with a problem, my body is tense, and my breathing is shallow. Ok I’ll practice with the clearing breath to let go of the emotional stress, I’ll do some stretching movement to release the built-up tension and shaking to let go of any remaining tension or stale energy in the body and then I’ll do some flows to relax into the moment and enjoy the healing power of stillness in movement.

The body has immense healing capacity and if you learn how to listen to the body and respond, then your body will help guide you to well-being. Qi Gong is healing through the pleasure of practice. It feels joyful. I warmly invite you to explore it……come along to the next forum on Wigwam and try a Five Element healing practice recorded specifically for Wigwam by Lee Holde