May 2009

Qigong: Good for What Ails You

Author:  Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Photography by anne

Head to Jarvis Creek Park at 9 a.m. on a Monday or Thursday, and you are likely to see a large group of people patting themselves from head to toe, waving their arms in synchronized patterns, breathing heavily and smiling at themselves. Don’t be afraid! Peculiar as it may appear, they are actually practicing a healthful form of exercise called Qigong. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll walk over and join in. Here’s why:

Qigong (pronounced chee kung), often described as a “moving meditation,” is an ancient Chinese practice that has been used for thousands of years and is proven to help relieve stress, lift depression, strengthen the immune system, increase energy and improve flexibility and balance. It has also been shown to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions.
Like other forms of traditional Chinese medicine, Qigong is based on the concept that a vital energy, “Qi,” flows through the body. It is thought that blockages in the flow of that energy or imbalances in certain parts of the body cause a variety of illnesses. The aim of Qigong is to restore balance and health by removing blockages and stimulating the flow of Qi.

While the philosophy may sound complicated, the exercise itself is not. “Anyone can do it,” said Linda Archinaco, certified instructor and local group facilitator. Archinaco was attracted to Qigong because of a knee problem that limited her ability to exercise. “I tried Yoga, but I couldn’t get up and down from the floor. Friends recommended Tai Chi, but I couldn’t stand on one leg,” she said. “Qigong, I can do, because you can adapt it.You can do it sitting in a chair or lying down.”
Archinaco first stumbled upon Qigong in 2002 when she took her grandchildren to a family week at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in New York. “There were only a few classes for the grownups,” she said. “I had no idea what it was, but I was fascinated that something so simple could be so profound.” In 2005, Archinaco went back to Omega where she earned her certification to teach. She later taught a class at the Lifelong Learning Institute on Hilton Head Island, which ultimately led to the formation of the community practice group.
The group is comprised of both men and women of all ages, sizes and physical abilities. Eight people take turns leading the practice, which is free and open to the public. It is not a class. It is an informal practice group, so you can join in any time, Archinaco emphasized. “All you have to do is show up and follow along,” she said. “The main thing is to breathe and be present in the moment.”

Everybody’s doing it
People practice Qigong for many reasons, and benefits vary accordingly. Many say they sleep better, have more energy and fewer aches and pains. Everyone agrees that there really is something to it.
Three years ago, after surgery to remove part of his lung, local resident, Frank Klipp, was suffering with severe breathing problems. He saw the Qigong group schedule in the newspaper and decided to give it a try. He credits his regular practice for a 10 percent increase in his lung capacity and his ability to return to the tennis court.

Sheila Morgan was intrigued when she saw the group outside Saks Off Fifth where she works as alterations manager. (During the winter months when the weather was too cold for the park, the group practiced at the Mall at Shelter Cove.) One morning, Morgan decided to join in. “It felt odd at first,” she admitted. But after a few visits, she found that it helped her relax and face the challenges of the day.
Betty Parsons attributes her rapid recovery from a serious automobile accident to her regular practice of Qigong. “It allowed me to keep moving,” she said. The exercises and deep breathing also help her maintain her flexibility and balance, she says. “I’m 74 years old, and I can still put my foot to my ear.”
According to Archinaco, in addition to many physical benefits, Qigong has helped her learn to live more mindfully. “More and more, I am able to bring myself back to the moment and get out of the chatter in my head. There is a clarity of mind that comes with stillness,” she said.

Although Qigong can be performed alone, group practice has its own set of benefits. “There is a wonderful energy in the group,” said Archinaco. “Afterwards, we meet for coffee and tea. And that’s not just happenstance. In China, the practice usually includes what they call social Qigong. They see the value of friendships and relationships,” she explained. “This is very diverse, and that is a big part of it.”

Audre Allison joined just for that reason: to meet interesting people. “That’s what struck me. The people were all so friendly, even though we didn’t know anything about one another,” she said, citing the diversity of the group. (Several nationalities are represented as well as a variety of professional, educational and religious backgrounds.) Allison has been attending regularly for the past six months and just recently realized the wonderful “side effect.”

“At first it seemed like nothing,” she said. “But I have noticed that I no longer have pains in my knees or my back. Besides, it’s a lovely way to be in the park with the birds and the trees and the water. Everything is real easy. It feels like dancing underwater.”

Come see what it’s all about. Join the community practice group at Jarvis Creek Park every Monday and Thursday at 9 a.m. or at the Shelter Cove Community Park every Saturday at 11 a.m. For more information, call (843) 715-0104 or (843) 422-2411.

Making Qigong a Way of Life
Numerous studies indicate that a great percentage of all illness is caused by stress—up to 70 percent, said Archinaco. “That is documented, which means it is preventable.” Qigong, which can be done anytime, anywhere, is a proven method for reducing stress and activating the healer within. You can weave it into daily life by:

*Remembering to take a deep breath… and then a few more. Filling and emptying the lungs fully has an immediate impact on your health. *Practicing mindfulness—experiencing life as it happens, moment by moment.
Using self-massage to increase blood flow and activate acupuncture points in the hands, feet and ears. *Using visualization or guided imagery to relax. *Remembering to stretch and relax the body throughout the day. *Practicing the inner and outer smile, which produces endorphins. *Becoming more attuned to emotions and physical changes in the body.
Taking responsibility for your health and practicing self-care.

For more information: The National Qigong Association, nqa.org; The Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi, IIQTC.org; feeltheqi.com; healerwithin.com.

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