When Grace Yoon used to pass by groups of seniors practicing qigong in New York City’s Chinatown, she never gave them a second glance. “I thought, ‘Qigong is for elderly people who can’t move as quickly but still want to get some exercise,’” says Yoon.
So when her doctor recommended she try it for stress management nine months ago, Yoon was skeptical. But as a Korean-American, Yoon was also intimately familiar with the concept of qi, the energy of life that flows throughout the body and the starring element in the ancient energy practice that is qigong. In fact, the business she was in the process of starting—the arduous endeavor from which her stress was stemming—was a Korean wellness herbal line called Qi Alchemy.
With the pressures of entrepreneurship taking their toll on her in the form of indigestion, muscle tension, and anxiety, she decided to give qigong a try. Nine months later, Yoon is hooked, showing up to her West Village qigong studio once a week for what she calls her “meditative workout”.
“The slowness of the movement helps me with my patience, and the Daoist principles are similar to those in kundalini yoga, which I’d started practicing just before qigong. They both use breathwork and meditation to revitalize internal energy,” she says. “Qigong helps me take my internal stressors and convert them into energy and vitality.”
Even though the movements are slow—exquisitely so, sometimes—“it’s actually very, very hard,” she says, “especially in New York City where everything is so fast-moving. I know I’ll leave class feeling a sense of internal peace and balance.”
Qigong: Moving Energy Intentionally
Qi is all around us—it’s the breath of life that flows through every cell in the universe. Qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”) means “working with the qi” and is an ancient system of energy medicine consisting of slow, gentle movements and meditation. As with acupuncture, tui na (therapeutic massage), and so many other forms of Eastern energy work, its goal is to stimulate the flow of qi throughout the body. Practitioners focus on becoming aware of the energy surrounding them, then follow a carefully orchestrated series of slow, intentional movements designed to move that energy in specific ways.
Part of qigong’s beauty lies in its marriage of movement with thought and intention, says acupuncture physician Dava Michelson, a doctor of medical qigong who has studied, practiced, and taught qigong for two decades.
“If someone simply raises her arms up over her head, that’s a calisthenic movement,” she explains, “but the moment you imagine an intention—that you’re gathering the energy of the heavens, the planets, the sun, and the moon and moving that down through crown chakra and through body—it’s not just a calisthenic movement; you’re harnessing and cultivating energy.” Because qi is all around us as well as within us, qigong, Michelson says, is “a way of connecting ourselves to nature and to the universe.”