The cat's out!
Stress levels are at all-time highs and anxiety disorders are more prevalent today than in any other time in history. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the condition affects 18.1 percent of adults in the United States, which equates to roughly 40 million between the ages of 18 and 54.
While this number is quite high, statistics are unable to account for everyone for a variety of reasons. Given the number of disorders that remain undiagnosed, unacknowledged, or even unrecognized, the percentage of Americans affected could be much higher — as high as 30 percent!
I know just about as well as anyone how frustrating it can be to live among these statistics because I used to be one of them. For years I struggled symptoms that I found debilitating — shortness of breath, tight muscles, heart palpitations, headaches, restlessness, fatigue.
While I searched in vain for a long time to find the appropriate remedy, reading lots of articles, modifying my diet, and consulting a variety of healers — an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, and a masseuse, at different points in time — I found that nothing was as effective as one practice that taught me how I could actually heal myself.
Enter: Qi gong
Qigong, the ancient practice of adjusting the body, breath, and mind, has been largely ignored by the western medical system, yet continues to gain prominence through an increase in academic studies that prove its beneficial effects and tendency to relieve symptoms of disease and improve functioning in the human body and mind.
Originating in China as far back as 4,000 years, qigong is perhaps one of the simplest and easiest ways to increase health that does not require financial expenditure or access to any locations, resources, or people beyond ourselves. Qigong has gained prominence through a variety of traditions, such as Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
The word “Qigong” derives from two Chinese concepts: “Qi,” which refers to the vital energy of the body, and “gong,” which refers to the skill of working with the Qi. Qigong operates on the premise that we are all born with an inherent degree of vital qi energy, also called prana in Indian traditions, and that this energy depletes or stagnates through exposure to a variety of conditions and experiences such as stress, injury, trauma, overwork, malnutrition, pollution, smoking, and alcohol/drug use, among others. As a result of these factors, the qi ceases to circulate freely in the body and we experience pain which increases, leading to disease and even death.
Qigong works by coordinating the body, breath, and mind in order to gather, direct, and circulate Qi within ourselves in order to unblock the stuck and stagnate energy so that it can flow freely within the channels or meridians, of which there are twelve in the body according to traditional Chinese medicine. When energy flows freely through particular meridians during qigong activity the practitioner can feel sensations of tingling and warmth developing in various parts of the body indicating the presence of Qi.
Awaken Healing Energy with These 6 Steps in Qigong Practice
One popular style of qigong practice is Zhan Zhuang, or standing tree meditation, in which a practitioner maintains an upright standing posture with knees slightly bent and hands outstretched and held before the chest for a duration of time.
As a result of ten to twenty minutes of this practice, qi and blood circulation increases to remove blockages that contribute to an inability to feel what is happening in the body. Although tension and anxiety contribute to this inability, Zhan Zhuang qigong restores our natural sensitivities forming new mental imprints that aid tension release.
The Zhan Zhuang qigong practice, like all other qigong practices, relies on the fundamental adjustments of body, breath, and mind. So let’s take a look at how to perform those adjustments with a handful of very basic actions.
Step 1: Warm-up
Qigong is just like any form of exercise — it requires at least a few introductory movements just to loosen up the body. Here are a few of them:
A. Trunks Twists
B. Back bends and side bends
C. Neck and knee twirls
D. Abdominal massage
E. Foam rolling
Step 2: Open
Bring yourself to a very basic standing position, such that you maintain good posture. Contract your stomach muscles just slightly. Pull your shoulders back just slightly as well. Then gaze forward.
Step 3: Align
Hold your hands in front of your chest to direct the Qi energy. You can also experiment with holding your hands out in front of different regions of your torso, neck, and head in accordance with the seven chakras.
Step 4: Breath!
Breath is life, so this step is perhaps more important than any of the others. Practice taking deep and slow conscious breaths. Imagine that you are drawing in clean healing energy with each in-breath and expelling out stagnant stale energy with each out-breath. Breathing in and contemplating images of fire pertains to yang, whereas breathing out and contemplating images of water pertains to yin.
Step 5: Smile
Smiling is a way of increasing positive emotions. I once heard a Qigong master say that if you smile while you practice Qigong, your Qi will be ten times more powerful.
Step 6: Notice
Observe any sensations, both positive and negative, in the body. Negative sensations may include aches and pains. Positive sensations may include tingling and warmth. Also, maintain awareness of your body in relation to your environment.