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*See August 13th blog post I practiced Qigong for two months. Here are eight things I learned. for the four previous things I learned about this practice.
5. Prepare to let go
2017 was a tough one. It marked the end of a relationship, the second year of a move and finally admitting to myself that I wasn’t happy working behind a desk. Then, during the last few months of the year, a blow of chronic illness quite literally brought me to my knees. For a couple long months I cobbled together all that I could to get through each day, and at night, I fell apart again and again and again. Cutting my losses, I filed for disability, packed my bags and booked a plane ticket home. As I recuperated physically, more significantly, I had to learn how to recover emotionally. Looking back I wish I’d had Qigong in my tool-belt earlier, when all this was at its height. But, as I began to practice, I learned there is always something more to let go of and Qigong can help us lighten a load we may not even realize we still carry.
Journal Entry: I remember Suzanne telling us that Qigong brings up whatever needs to be released. She also said these things will only come up when we are ready and able to release them. Well today was one of those days. It all just came welling up at the end of my practice during “shaking Qigong.” I could feel a pit in my throat and I thought to myself “shoot, not this again.” Because the truth is, I’m tired of perseverating about the “what ifs,” wondering if I could have sucked it up or been stronger. I’m ready to let go of “not fair” because it doesn’t exist, and I’m ready to move on. But, they say, the only way out is through, so I kept up my shaking. And when it was all too much, I sat down on my yoga mat and cried. In the midst of it all, something got released. Afterwards I felt grateful. Grateful to watch yet another layer sluff up and off, settling neatly back into its place in the earth, becoming the stuff of growth.
6. It gets us back to the ever elusive present moment
On a foggy summer day about midway through the semester, our Qigong class, the majority of us wilting from impending midterms, was tasked with learning the eight brocades.7 One of my classmates was having a particularly tough day, and I heard our teacher Suzanne voice a gentle reminder: “Look around this room! There is so much to be present for.” All too often we fail to experience the joy of living today’s day because we’re ruminating about the past or preoccupied with the future. Qigong has this wonderful way of teleporting us back to the here and now. By concentrating on our breath and our movements, we save ourselves the hassle of dwelling anywhere but the present.
Journal Entry: Crawling into bed after a long day, I can already feel the anticipation of the week creeping in. I’m actually really looking forward to it, in fact, so much so that I can feel a tiny bubble of anxiety welling up inside. Classes to attend, people I haven’t seen since the move, the itch to be doing other things instead of homework. These are just a few things, and I could really make an endless list. So instead of finding a distraction by reaching for my phone to flip through snippets of someone else’s weekend or thinking about the boxes I still have yet to unpack, I’ll choose to do some Qigong and crawl into bed, get all comfy, marvel at the simple luxury of my pillows and blankets, and breathe. Deeply.
7. It ignites the wildfire of self-care
I don’t really have a specific journal to back up this one, but it’s worth mentioning that I’ve noticed
how Qigong inspires other positive routines in my life. When I practice Qigong, it’s as if I’ve been bit by a contagious bug of self-care. It’s an excuse for me to build in more time to do yoga (a lot of times I do a short flow before Qigong), and I find it sets the stage for me to do other pleasant things that I often forget to do, like eating without distractions, reading things that aren’t textbooks, or detouring to appreciate a field of sunflowers. Qigong is a simple way to inspire us to kick back into our better habits. All we need is to unearth a little motivation to get out and do it.
8. Share it!
Like most things in life, Qigong is better when shared. I’ve enjoyed some powerful practices with classmates, friends and family. Doing Qigong with other people is a great way to shore up motivation and accountability in your practice. Set up a Qigong date; I know that when someone is counting on me to share a practice it inspires me to show up when I’m feeling flaky or flat. It’s an opportunity to impart the benefits of this practice to others. Visibly seeing the tension melt off a loved one’s shoulders or hearing them say it gives them relief from their achy back is a pretty sweet feeling and can amplify the benefits of your practice. Make it a ripple effect!
Journal Entry: I had the chance to do Qigong with my family tonight. We were all pretty beat coming off the end of a long week, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have found the motivation to do it by myself. We stood in a circle and did a sequence or two. One of the movements is called "ten dragons running through the forest" where you run your fingers through your hair as a scalp massage. We joked about how my dad’s dragons would have a few less trees to run through. It was really nice to have company tonight. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share this practice.
My Qigong practice is just beginning, and I’ve already been amazed at how this subtle practice can be so very impactful. Dive in, explore and see where Qigong might take you!
Don’t know where to start or want to learn more? Check out this book Heal Yourself with Qigong by Qigong master Suzanne Friedman.
Erin Stewart
I found my way to the profession of Traditional Chinese Medicine out of a desire to provide clinical care that is integrative, affordable and rooted in prevention. This medicine has been deeply influential in supporting my own health and vitality, and I’m thrilled to be taking the next steps to be able to share this medicine with my community. I’m currently a candidate for a Master’s in Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, California. When I’m not studying acupuncture, I find great joy in waking up in a tent, Farmer’s Market “retail therapy” and a good powder day up in the mountains.
References
1. Zhang YH, Rose K. A Brief History of Qi. Boston: Paradigm Publications; 2003.
2. LingGuiQigong. Activating your lymphatic system [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR_mzAkqARk. Published August 5, 2014. Accessed July 27, 2018.
3. Jahnke R. Physiological Effects of Qigong. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fadc/a1b560a22d87c7ee8b071c986d37311e0acb.pdf.
4. Qigong Breath Work: Wuji Posture. China Hand Kung Fu. http://www.chinahand.com/chikung/chikung2.htm. Accessed July 27, 2018.
5. Holden L. Dan Tian Breathing: Connecting to the Center. Acufinder.com . https://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture+Information/Detail/Dan+Tian+Breathing+Connecting+to+the+Center. Accessed July 27, 2018.
6. 禪武醫學會. Natural Dan Tian Breathing [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K-0JpiJu-o. Published October 17, 2013. Accessed July 27, 2018.
7. Mimi Kuo-Deemer. 8 Brocades Qigong practice [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K-0JpiJu-o. Published October 19, 2014. Accessed July 27, 2018.
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Students from AIMC Berkeley's newly launched 30 week doctorate program began classes this week. The 13 student cohort consists of educators, practitioners, and other licensed professionals seeking a specialized curriculum and advanced training in integrative medicine.
In addition to celebrating the start of the Professional Doctorate program this week, AIMC is also looking forward to the formation of the first cohort in its 4 year DAIM (Doctorate in Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine) program. This program provides individuals the option of obtaining a Masters degree and possibly becoming licensed before continuing on to advanced doctoral-level studies.
Visit the AIMC website to learn more about our Doctorate and Masters Programs
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Qi is fundamental to Chinese Medicine. It moves with the blood through the meridian channels, and its flow can be influenced by stimulating various acupuncture points. Qi can flow smoothly or it can become deficient, stagnant or even rebellious. If you’ve ever felt under the weather in any way shape or form, chances are your qi fell into one of said pathological states. But what exactly is qi? And more importantly, how does it manifest in our everyday lives? When acupuncture school first peaked my interest, I pretty quickly realized how little I knew about qi. Sure, I’d heard qi tossed around before; someone emerging from a yoga class, glowing, raving about the qi of the instructor. But if you’d asked me to define it, I probably would’ve shrugged and said something along the lines of “synonymous with energy” or “life force." I’ll bet that if most of us were asked to sit down with a pen and paper and describe qi, it’d leave a lot of us scratching our heads.
Witnessing the qi that is change as the transformation of spring into summer on Mt Tamalpais.
During the first week of school, we were peppered with a variety of qi definitions: “Vitality”(von Elgg, 2018), “the pulsation of the cosmos”(Kaptchuk, 2008), “a continuous form of matter”(Bliss, 2018), “what you see present or absent in someone’s eyes”(von Elgg, 2018), etc. All in all these descriptions were helpful, but they still seemed a little vague. They left something to be desired. It wasn’t until I finished reading an essay by Ken Rose, appropriately dubbed What Is Qi, that I had an “ah-hah” moment where I really understood what qi actually was. It turns out it can be summed up by four pretty simple words: connectivity, communication, change, and movement (Rose).
Connectivity
“There is a single unifying qi that connects everything that is or was or will be” (Rose). Basically, qi is the common underlying component of anything material or immaterial. If we can conceptualize or realize something, it has qi. It can exist in dense, inert forms or it can be rarified and active. Qi exists in both the pavement beneath our feet as well as in the prolific thoughts of our minds. Think water in a solid, liquid or gas state. It changes forms but the underlying molecular structure remains constant. It’s the common denominator of everything. For better or for worse, we’re inextricably linked to this universe whether it’s through our interactions, concepts or sensory perceptions. And this interconnection is mediated by qi.
Communication
“All things seek to express their common origin and destiny with other things” (Rose). We’re not defined as a single tissue or organ. The lungs must communicate with the heart or they die. In Chinese Medicine, no component of a clinical pattern can be isolated from the others. A patient presenting with a headache and accompanying irritability and dry eyes is a far cry from someone who walks in with a headache, low back pain and anxiety. We even can go insofar as to say the headache cannot be successfully treated without subsequently accounting for the accompanying symptoms. Same symptom, different communication breakdown within the body. The parts only have meaning in light of the whole.
Change
“Qi is change” (Rose). Simply put, the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes (and qi). Thinking of qi as change helps explain how it can be described as the force and fact of “the ceaseless dance of yin and yang” (Rose). Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re constantly electing to feed our yin or yang with the decisions we make (i.e. should I head home and crash or meet up with friends and risk staying out to an ungodly hour). When we invite the right mix of yin and yang into our lives, it’s conducive to smooth qi flow, and yin and yang are grooving. Change is key to a balanced lifestyle because without this dynamic flux of left and right, we’d just tip way over to a single side or extreme. But let’s be real. A balanced life is easier said than done, the art of living per say.
Movement
“Qi is movement and vibration” (Rose). Nothing stops moving. Ever. Even when we’re asleep our bodies are doing all kinds of crazy stuff like shrinking our brains so that cerebrospinal fluid can flow through and wash out all the defunct proteins and toxic gunk. (National Institutes of Health, 2013) Even rocks are subject to geomorphic processes and will never enjoy sheer and utter stillness (British Broadcasting Corporation); an odd concept to think about when we’re so conditioned to group things and states into absolutes. While we can’t ever quite hit the pause button and take a timeout from life, we can use our minds to direct our qi. This lends itself to a pretty neat little opportunity to achieve relative stillness in movement. Ever go on a run where your mind just shuts up or find a coveted little blank state of mind while scrubbing the bathroom floor? It’s all a matter of the interplay of the flow of mind, qi, and body. In short, qi is pretty darn important. So how do we keep our vitality, the foundation of our relationships, health, and purpose, flowing? With a little creativity, there are a ceaseless number of ways to refine and strengthen connectivity, communication, change, and movement. Next time I post, I’ll be sharing my experience with a school assignment that involved a daily Qigong practice, a journal, and some very candid recollections. In the meantime, do you have a favorite movement practice to get your qi flowing?
Erin Stewart
I found my way to the profession of Traditional Chinese Medicine out of a desire to provide clinical care that is integrative, affordable and rooted in prevention. This medicine has been deeply influential in supporting my own health and vitality, and I’m thrilled to be taking the next steps to be able to share this medicine with my community. I’m currently a candidate for a Master’s in Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, California. When I’m not studying acupuncture, I find great joy in waking up in a tent, Farmer’s Market “retail therapy” and a good powder day up in the mountains.
Works Cited
Bliss, N. (2018) Introduction, Yin Yang Theory, Vital Substances, Qi Transformation [Lecture]. Presented to OM 100 class at the Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College Berkeley.
British Broadcasting Corporation. The rock cycle - How rocks change over millions of years. (n.d.). Retrieved June 01, 2018, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/earth/surface_and_interior/rock_cycle
Kaptchuk, T.J. (2008). The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill.
National Institutes of Health. How Sleep Clears the Brain. (2013, October 28). Retrieved June 01, 2018, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-sleep-clears-brain
Rose, L. (n.d.). What is Qi? 1-7. Retrieved June 01, 2018.
Von Elgg, D. (2018) Chinese Herbal Theory [Lecture]. Presented to OH 099 class at the Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College Berkeley.
For those interested in further reading by Rose, see:
Zhang, Y. H., & Rose, K. (2003). A Brief History of Qi. Boston: Paradigm Publications.
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