I don’t enjoy exercise. When I see people jogging for fun, I am shocked. Worse, I have heard that even runners don’t enjoy getting up early in the morning, or in cold, wet weather, to go for a run. I can’t understand why they do it, then. I’m not saying they’re wrong or right, but when I decided that I needed the benefits of more physical exercise, I knew running wasn’t for me. I find cycling and swimming slightly more enjoyable, but they both require special equipment. I don’t consider myself lazy, only realistic. If I have to put a lot of effort into exercising, or be at a certain place at a certain time, it just isn’t going to happen.
I read a book by an American psychologist(1) who explained that stress is not helpful and doesn’t need to be a part of our lives. He recommended yoga as a practice to reduce different kinds of stress in our bodies. Having lived in Taiwan, I am more interested in the Chinese version of the same idea. I decided to visit a Qi Gong (chi kung) class at the local Buddhist monastery. Before searching, I had no idea that there were Buddhist monasteries in most North American cities. The major benefit of attending Qi Gong classes at the monastery was that they required no registration or commitment and there is no fee (although a donation is expected).
I was only able to attend for about six weeks, but in that time I found Qi Gong enjoyable, and not very demanding. It involves gentle movements that are intended to improve circulation and flexibility. It takes only about 15 minutes to complete the 18 forms, but at the end I always feel really good. One of the gentlemen I met at the class had been in a car accident two years prior. He told me that he relied on a cane to walk as a result. When he felt he wasn’t making as much progress as he would like with physiotherapy, he tried to find out what the “slow exercise old Chinese people do” was called. I guess he figured that if they could do it, so could he. He swears that practicing Qi Gong regularly for two years is the reason that he walks without even the hint of a limp today.
But even if there is no strengthening or physical improvement, it is relaxing. I can practice when I first wake up, when I’m at the park with my kids or even at the office. I’m not saying that Qi Gong is for everyone, but if you’d like to find out more, I’ve found a great resource. The TaiZhong Cultural Centre has a web page with descriptions and videos of the movements. They seem to have removed it since, so I’ve made the descriptions and video available here.
Qi Gong 18 Forms video (wmv)
Tips: The movements should be fluid and comfortable. Focus on your breathing, inhaling with the first part of the movement, exhaling with the second part. When exhaling, curl your tongue with the back of the tip of the tongue touching the roof of your mouth (to conserve moisture). Practice daily for best results.
1. Strong and Fearless, by Dr. Phil Nuernberger.