Playing Up: We try qigong
Like tai chi, the ancient Chinese art of qigong (pronounced "chee-kung" and meaning '"life energy") combines slow-motion movement and controlled breathing to align the body and mind. While some suggest that the only difference from tai chi is the spelling, qigong is a free-flowing, dance-like discipline that is practiced for relaxation and with the common belief that it improves health and longevity. You'll also find all that with tai chi, though its foundations are predominantly based in martial arts. They both fall under the same banner: moving meditation.
GIVING IT A BASH
For this class we would be focusing on an eight-part sequence of qigong. Some soft traditional music set the mood as we progressed through a short warmup. There were sections reaching to the heavens at snail's pace, some bending to the floor with a straight upper body and balancing on our toes before landing back on earth and dropping the shoulders.
The instructor demonstrated what the routine should look like in its final form. It was fluid, graceful and almost ballet-like with the occasional fist pump thrown in – showing its relationship to tai chi. We worked through the sequence step by step. For the majority of the lesson the knees were held soft and positioned over the feet, but not extending past the toes. One motion which drifted from side-to-side could be likened to pulling back the string of a bow. The instructor talked through the breathing cycle and advised us to keep the back straight; another oft-repeated direction was to move from the centre of the body. Between phases a class member revealed that her hands had slightly deflated in size after two months of practising qigong – we agreed that it may have been something to do with improved circulation. The final sequence of the class moved slowly back and forth across the room with light toe-tapping and accompanying pushing and pulling hand signals. Co-ordination proved necessary when separating the body parts and following the instructor. Apparently it can take decades to master the transitions from one position to the next.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT
If you're looking for an alternative outlet for stress relief, this gliding form of moving mediation should be on your must-try list, regardless of your age. Its recognised benefits include the ability to relieve depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure and assist with flexibility and balance. The Qigong Institute lists myriad benefits and hosts several scientific papers on the practice, including the possibilities of anti-ageing and the effects on chronic conditions to its use as therapy for prisoners.
While recognised as a standard medical technique in China, qigong shouldn't be relied on to treat any physical or major mental ailments. It is an incredibly safe practice, though professional guidance should be sought when learning how to properly position your body and avoid muscle strain.