(By Grace Rollins, LAc) Since the COVID-19 “Stay at Home” order went into effect I’ve been offering an online Qi Gong class at least once weekly. In spite of the awkwardness of a video interface (with occasional tech snafus!) I’ve become more and more enthusiastic about this offering as the weeks go by. It’s been ten years since I taught a regular Qi Gong class to the public, and earlier this year before the pandemic went down, my instincts were already saying it’s time to go back to making Qi Gong more available to our patients and community. Looks like my instincts were on point...
I wouldn’t consider myself a Qi Gong practitioner with any elite skills or special insight, but even at my current level of practice I have to say it’s one of the more profound self-healing activities that I know. I took formal classes when I was in New York City for graduate school, and was fortunate to learn fundamentals descended from an ancient, reputable Xing Yi lineage. To be honest, what I learned is very basic, and at that time I even took it for granted. I was in my 20s, healthy, living an intense New Yorker lifestyle, and also immersed in rigorous daily Aikido and Zen training. Qi Gong, which amounts to some slow, controlled movements coordinated with the breath, did not dazzle by comparison.
I started to realize the importance of Qi Gong when the injuries started coming.
Aikido, when practiced athletically, involves a lot of flips, falls and joint locks, and can be pretty rough on the body. During my biggest "dojo rat" days I was also a grad student and I didn’t have health insurance, access to MRIs, orthopedists or physical therapy. Looking up exercises on youtube wasn’t really a thing yet. Instead, when I got sidelined I used the old-school martial arts approaches-- acupuncture and Chinese herbal preparations. And, I would find a quiet spot by a pond’s edge in Prospect Park and practice my Qi Gong. In doing this I started to notice the effects Qi Gong could have on healing trauma. A memorable time was when I badly tore a hamstring, and I was somehow able to get back to the dojo after only a month of recovery.
About three years ago I injured my hand and wrist pretty badly... some of my patients already know the story. I turned down multiple surgeon’s offers to reconstruct my wrist and thumb, and over the course of two years managed, with natural methods, to get myself back to being capable of handstands and mountain biking. I would count Qi Gong high up on the list of therapies that offered the most help, especially when I needed it most. Numbness, tightness, pain-- Qi Gong could often alleviate it in a matter of five to ten minutes. With practice all I had to do was stand in the correct posture and focus on my breathing to go from feeling desperate to feeling as good as normal. Could it really be that simple?
In addition to self-treatment for physical trauma, as I age I can feel more of the system-wide fascia balancing effects and mobility benefits of Qi Gong. It’s like a valuable elixir of youth, when I choose to be disciplined enough to practice. And then there are the deep effects on internal organs. With focus and practice I’ve been able to stop episodes of palpitations, menstrual cramps, allergies, motion sickness and digestive symptoms. The immunomodulatory potential of Qi Gong is also exciting. A Chinese medicine colleague Andrew Miles at Botanical Biohacking recently recorded a fascinating podcast on the use of Qi Gong practices to regulate Nitric Oxide levels in a way that might even kill an active viral infection.
This sounds very high level but those of us who know how to do this are not some kind of special super elite; we’ve just had opportunities to learn and have been geeky enough to stick with it. I believe anyone can access these abilities. It’s as innate as breathing.
The current topic on everyone’s mind due to COVID is the health of the lungs, and for this reason my weekly classes lately have been focused on “Lung Power” and training breath-intention to reach different parts of the lung. Breath training is obviously not reserved only to Qi Gong, and as a practitioner of yoga, meditation, Aikido and other breath training traditions, I have about 20 years of cross-disciplinary experience. It’s this experience that makes me a connoisseur of the unique efficacy of Qi Gong style breathing and posture. I can perceive the increase in oxygenation almost immediately, and the warm feeling of nutrition that starts to reach the far corners of my body after a few minutes of practice. For extra fun after the Friday Qi Gong class I’ve been jumping over to then do my 90 minute yoga routine-- it’s like I’ve taken some kind of performance enhancing drug! This gives me confidence that we are preparing ourselves in advance for the possible scenario of infection-compromised airways and hypoxia.
As an acupuncturist, I make my living from the very fact that the body can self-heal. Given the right conditions, we can recover from health challenges, regain homeostasis and thrive. When dysfunction persists, we can benefit from gentle encouragement to unblock our healing ability. This encouragement can certainly come from acupuncture, but self-healing ability exists whether we use needles or not.
Therefore, at this time when we must all be socially distant and I can’t see you personally for acupuncture, I hope you’ll take advantage of the online Qi Gong class, which you can sign up for on our online scheduling page or just contact us. It’s free or by donation during these uncertain times. Just promise that if you get really good and don’t need us acupuncturists anymore, you’ll send us some new patients when our doors are open again!
Hope to see you on the screen or in real life one of these days soon.