Is stress slowly killing you? Forty-four percent of Americans say they feel more stressed than they did five years ago… with one in five reporting “extreme stress.” Stress raises our risk of heart disease by 40% and risk of stroke by 50%. Experts say that work stress directly causes 10% of strokes.
The sad truth is that stress today is slowly chipping away at our longevity and daily well-being as we work more, sleep less, and muddle through propped up on Starbucks coffee and MSG-laden Chinese takeout food. In short, our lifestyle is ruining us.
Stress is a dangerous epidemic that’s tough to avoid in America today. Many of my new students turn to qigong initially because they’re fed up with conventional treatments that aren’t working. They’re typically looking for something fast, efficient, and drug-free that fits into their daily routine and provides relief from acute or chronic health issues. They stick with it because they see results quickly… even if they practice just 15 minutes per day.
I healed my own anxiety and life-threatening clinical depression with qigong. In fact, qigong reliably delivers relief from chronic diseases like anxiety and depression, as well as back pain and fatigue. Students also use it as a preventative approach for wellness and an anti-aging strategy.
What is qigong exactly? It’s an ancient Chinese mind-body practice – dating back at least 3,000 years – that restores wellness, builds mental and emotional strength, reduces stress and increases vitality. Sometimes called “the grandmother of tai chi,” qigong is one of the four major branches of traditional Chinese medicine. Pronounced “chee-gong”, the term means “vital energy cultivation.”
Because it incorporates a variety of gentle breathing methods, flowing movements, and mindfulness meditation, qigong can be practiced by absolutely anyone…regardless of their age, health, religion, or fitness level. I have taught hundreds of students through my online Flowing Zen Academy (www.flowingzen.com), which offers a free mini course, an on-demand course for people battling depression and anxiety, and a year-long course Qigong 101: The Art of Healing for Busy People that next opens to new students in September 2017.
For students who want to supercharge a brand-new practice or invigorate an established qigong routine, my acupuncturist wife Akemi Borjas de Korahais and I lead an annual qigong and mindfulness retreat in a Costa Rica cloud forest at the stunning La Montaña Azul resort. (Registration is open now for the July 14 to 23 retreat at www.flowingzen.com/costarica.)
When is the last time you ate 21 healthy meals in a row? Turning off your cell phone and connecting to nature, your classmates, and your own spirit in the breathtaking mountains is an indescribable experience. You probably haven’t felt so connected since you were a kid. And really, what are we doing with this precious human life if we’re not trying to feel more and more connected?
Here’s why qigong will be the next yoga:
1. Qigong is a quicker path to healing. More than ever, people are looking for fast and effective forms of healing. Many of these people end up finding qigong, even if they had previously practiced yoga for many years. Because it is designed as a form of medicine, qigong can be a faster path to getting the results that you want.
If you get good instruction and then practice for 15 minutes per day, you will see good results within wee, if not days. And if you practice 15 minutes twice daily, then you’ll see truly remarkable results.
2. Qigong is easier than yoga. It’s accessible to everyone. I have taught extreme athletes and extreme couch potatoes. I’ve taught 20-somethings, 80-somethings, disabled veterans, and marathoners, as well as disabled marathoners. Anyone can do it. For example, there’s a qigong exercise called Pushing Mountains, which involves gently moving your palms back and forth in a flowing manner and coordinating your breath with the movement. It can be done sitting, it can be done in a wheelchair, and it can even be done with one arm. There’s just one prerequisite for success in qigong: a strong desire to practice for at least 15 minutes a day.
3. Qigong is easier than tai chi. There are many reasons why the art of tai chi didn’t see the same boom as yoga, despite it being practiced in the US for over 50 years. The main reason? People are intimidated by tai chi. I can’t tell you how many students have come to me over the years telling me they previously tried tai chi, but found it confusing, frustrating, and stressful.
With qigong you don’t need to memorize long, complex routines. Nor do you need to worry about the martial aspects of the art. Qigong allows you to dive immediately into the meditative and energetic aspects of the art, which is also what brings you quick results. (Get a taste of how this works with my free mini course at www.flowingzen.com/free.)
4. Qigong is challenging. Although some qigong exercises are physically easy, other exercises are incredibly challenging, both physically and mentally. Because there are so many different qigong techniques, it’s easy to raise the difficulty level for those who are ready. Just as there are techniques that are appropriate for those who are ill or out of shape, there are also techniques that even an Olympic athlete would find challenging. And this is wonderful because it means that the art of qigong can grow with us.
5. Qigong is medicine. Yes, yoga can be medicine. And so can walking. And so can laughter. But qigong is unique in that it was engineered to be medicine. Although it’s important to note that not all styles of qigong were designed to be medicine. (For example, Iron Shirt Qigong is not meant to be medicine, although it can have therapeutic effects). Qigong is a branch of traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. In China, you can find qigong in the hospitals. In fact, in some hospitals there’s an entire qigong wing.
6. Qigong is complementary. If you see an acupuncturist in the United States, you will often be prescribed both herbs and acupuncture. This is because the two forms of medicine complement each other well. Perhaps the main reason why qigong is so complementary is because you can take it home and use it safely on your own, something that isn’t possible with most forms of medicine. Over the years, I have collaborated with acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, psychologists, MDs, Reiki healers, osteopaths, and nutritionists, and seen with my own eyes how qigong can greatly complement other forms of healing.
7. Qigong is empowering. Yoga is empowering too. But unlike yoga, qigong doesn’t require physical strength or flexibility. In fact, too much physical strength can be a hindrance with qigong. Body builders, for example, often struggle to relax the muscles and let go of deeper layers of tension. An art that doesn’t need brawn for success is empowering to women, to the physically unfit, to the disabled, to children, and to smaller-sized men.
8. The world is ready for mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation have been on the cover of Time Magazine and embraced by celebrities from Oprah to LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner. It’s finding its way into schools for kids, lunchtime at the office, and even officer development training programs for police officers in communities committed to helping officers react less and respond better. The world is falling in love with mindfulness, and this is a beautiful thing.
9. Qigong is accessible. Compared to other arts, you actually need very little training to start getting remarkable results with qigong. This is because qigong emphasizes internal aspects like mindfulness, breath, and energy flow rather than physical postures and alignment.
I can train a fresh beginner to start getting amazing results in just three hours. In fact, I’ve watched many students continue to practice on their own and get all sorts of wonderful health benefits after only three hours of training. You can even start getting results with just 10 minutes of instruction.
10. Qigong flows. With yoga, you don’t usually take a single exercise and do it 20 times in a row. With qigong, this is the norm. Repeating a simple, flowing exercise like Gathering Qi from the Cosmos 20 times in a row allows you to forget about the form, and instead focus on the internal aspects. This creates a wonderfully enjoyable flow when practicing qigong.
11. China is on the rise. The world is changing, and the East is becoming a powerhouse, especially China. People are learning Chinese in order to do business with China. If you can speak and read traditional Chinese, then you can make the leap to classical Chinese easily. As Westerners learn to speak and read Chinese, the qigong and tai chi classics will become better studied and translated.
This will only serve to strengthen the art of qigong. I think it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing pop psychology books about applying the qigong and tai chi classics to business and relationships.
12. It’s all about the qi. There is a growing awareness about acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and feng shui. In these arts, qi is the star. Although the concept of qi is historically Chinese, it is a phenomenon that transcends culture.
It’s all qi, whether you call it qi, prana, or vital energy. I believe that in the 21st century, humans will start to see that it’s all about the qi. And once they do, it’s natural for them to become interested in the ancient art of cultivating the qi—qigong!.
13. Tai chi is empty without qigong. Although tai chi is more widely known in the US, it is often devoid of real qi cultivation. This is unfortunate. Tai chi is a martial art that should have the concept of qi as a central training tool. Many people practice only the external, physical aspects of tai chi, and these people are becoming increasingly interested in qigong to supplement their tai chi training.
14. Qigong is spiritual. Both qigong and yoga can be used to cultivate spirituality regardless of your religious background. I’ve taught religious leaders from all of the major world traditions, and none of them had any issues with practicing qigong.
Qigong gives us a wonderful and practical way to work on spirituality. It allows us to heal not just our body, not just our mind, and not even just our spirit, but rather the combination of all three. Qigong is all about unifying mind, body, and spirit, not separating them. For example, some stubborn medical ailments will actually require that you practice exercises that work on mental/emotional/spiritual blockages.
15. Qigong supercharges sitting meditation. Legend has it that Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin Temple only to find that the monks were sick, weak, and unable to go deeply into their sitting meditation. To solve the problem, he taught them qigong. And it worked. The Shaolin monks turned into some of the best meditators in history, not to mention some of the best kung fu masters.
It’s the same phenomenon today. People are practicing sitting meditation, but not reaping the rewards that they deserve. Simply adding a daily qigong practice can supercharge your meditation, just like it did for the Shaolin monks 1,500 years ago.