Imagine something between an art and a science that almost anyone can do no matter their condition, even chair bound, that's scientifically proven to reduce stress and relieve chronic pain - yes it's true.
Sounding somewhat the stuff of legends this practice is how ninjas and samurai practiced mastering their breathing, body, and mind for thousands of years. It's called qigong (or chigong, qikung, pronounced chee - gong) translates chi = energy, gong = work. Some know this as dao yin which translates to guiding energy. Qigong is moving with the breath and allowing the breath to dictate the speed of your movement. It's a gentle, flowing exercise moving the body a number of times in repetitive movements. Qigong comes from the Taoists over 3,000 years ago who are known for bringing the concept of yin & yang and acupuncture to the world.
I incorporate qigong into zen yoga classes as this was an important part of my training. And the reason why I think this is so important is that many problems in life, including chronic pain, are caused by a lack of mental clarity which can be from anything like replaying situations in your mind, negative thought patterns, worrying and negative self talk. These thoughts cloud the mind and cloud the ability to see a more broad and different perspective. As these things tend to fester they cause people stress which means breathing in the upper chest so a lack of oxygen through the body, poor quality of sleep affects a work day and relationships. The knock on effect of what happens in the mind is huge but so many people say, "oh my knee/back/neck/shoulder hurts" and they don't know the link between inflammation, chronic stress and chronic pain. Here's an important study from Ohio State University linking loss of sleep and marital stress to inflammation. “This type of inflammation is associated with higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and other chronic illnesses,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
Most people shallow breathe which is breathing in the upper chest. Ask anyone you know to show you how to take a deep breath and, more than likely, they will move the chest and shoulders up when breathing in which is an ineffective and an unhealthy way to breathe. We need to bring the breath down into the belly (ok it doesn't go to the belly exactly) to breathe diaphragmatically like in this video here demonstrating how to reduce the stress effect. By practicing qigong, the body takes in more oxygen nourishing the blood, brain and body which reduces stress. "Deep, slow breathing is the oldest and best-known technique to decrease stress" according to Harvard Medical School.
Qigong isn't complicated though there is a right and a wrong way to do it. Most people often go too fast which means not taking full sloooow breaths. We want to take full breaths and try to empty the lungs with each exhale. In basic qigong sequence that we do in a zen yoga or mindfulness class, we take a moment after the practice to feel the energy in the body by holding the hands close to each other but not touching to notice the sensations between the hands. People describe this as a heat, magnets between their hands and tingling while children often describe this as ‘the force.’ The first time for me, I felt nothing and thought people sounded a bit crazy saying they felt magnets between their hands when I felt absolutely nothing! I didn’t get it - though with practiced I suddenly started saying "wow this is SO weird!" During a retreat last year a new friend mentioned Psi’s wheel which I also had no clue about. We did the basic sequence and then this happened…
I couldn't believe it. Annoyingly the video doesn’t show everything because the paper started going the other direction as well. I was in shock. And it’s true what my teacher says at the end of the video,"the edges we see of the body aren’t the true edges because as our body emits heat and energy - so where are the true edges of the body?" We are much more powerful than we believe. And our thoughts have even power than we realize. As I'm a bit of a skeptic I often look to science for answers and want to share with you what I found. If you are suffering from a great deal of pain you might think "there's no way that moving with my breath will cure THIS pain!" So I'm here to kindly and gently prove you wrong hoping to open up your beliefs that there is, in fact, another way to live, a better way to live that could greatly make your years on this planet more enjoyable, less stressful and less painful.
In America, where the healthcare system is completely different to the UK, there are organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic that are highly respected. For me, when I want to learn about the latest science, I check these organisations first. They are defined as 'nonprofit multi-specialty academic medical centers that integrate clinical and hospital care with research and education.' The Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota found in one study that "there was a significant decrease in the perception of physical pain and emotional distress for the majority of participants during the study time frame. Also, symptom variables (sleep, concentration, decision-making, appetite, loss of interest) improved in the majority of subjects".
The qigong videos currently on my youtube channel are short - 12 minutes, 10 minutes and 3 minutes and 45 seconds. In the amount of time it took you to read this blog you could have done a qigong practice shifting your mood. Many people have tried seeing a physio, chiropractors, pain management specialists, doing exercise, taking medications and the many other methods to reduce pain. I'm certainly not recommending that a person doesn't explore every option available. Most doctors, chiropractors, physios etc would recommend a that person with chronic pain or chronic illnesses takes up a yoga & qigong practice in addition to any treatment. You've got nothing to lose...and only peace of mind to gain knowing you have tried everything available. And more than likely a path to living with less pain which improves your social life, ability to get around, the undesirable side effects from medications and the stress of feeling like "isn't there anything else I can do to fix this?!?"
Current qigong videos on Youtube
I'm adding more videos each week. If there are any you would like to see then please send me a message.