Martial art qigong uses meditation and movement to forge inner connections

Vintage Pacific NW: We’re revisiting some of our favorite stories from some of our favorite former magazine contributors. Check back weekly for timeless classics focused on food, fitness, gardening and more.

Originally published November 10, 2013
By Nicole Tsong, former editor of Fit for Life

WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, my grandfather, who was from Hong Kong, did qigong every morning in the driveway when he visited us in suburban Chicago. Our neighbors were mystified; me too. I never asked him what he was doing there. He looked focused; I stayed away.

Take a qigong class at Wudang International Internal Martial Arts Academy in the international district of Chinatown, it was like a chance to understand what he was doing all those years ago.

I knew qigong is related to Qi, translated from Chinese as vital energy. It is the father martial art of some more familiar offshoots, such as tai chi.

Our teacher, Dr. Mei-Hui Lu, is a wealth of knowledge about the art – from physical and meditation practices to how it works with traditional Chinese medicine. Tai chi tends to be more vigorous while qigong includes meditation, which can be done sitting or lying down, in addition to the discussion and movement practice I witnessed growing up.

We started the class with standing warm-ups to connect to our energy and get our Qi moving. Lu spoke to dantianthe energy center below the navel, then bounced us in place, slowly at first, then more vigorously as we twisted from side to side.

Her cues were precise and clear, and she kept reminding us to look at the wall in front of us to keep our Qi to settle on Earth as she moved around the room adjusting her shape. I felt calmer after that.

Then we settled into a seat for meditation. She explained a simple will grind, or hand gesture, resting one palm in the other to balance our yin and yang energy. We sat for five minutes, then covered our ears with our fingers. It was much easier to hear my own breathing and stay focused.

After the meditation, Lu gave us a rather long lecture on the different types of Qi. It was a lot more detail than I could fully absorb, but it was a fascinating lesson in the history and study of energy in the body. It took a while, and I wondered if we would get to the active part of qigong.

I should have had faith. Lu, who has remarkable flexibility in her 60s, started with deep hip stretches. Then we got into the qigong movement. Most students knew the routine as we moved slowly and with control, clenching our fists, pressing our palms into the energy channels of our legs, arms and torsos.

It wasn’t hard to follow, but I could tell I was missing some energy reading subtleties as I tried to keep my balance and move in sync with the class. We stretched from direction to direction, and Lu kept our focus on our breathing as we moved, with Chinese instrumental music playing in the background.

There are many ways to practice qigong, but in Wudang it is considered so important that all tai chi students should study it. With more time, I could tell that I would be able to connect in a new way to my own energy; even with just one class, I felt reconnected to myself. I could also tell that I had barely scratched the surface of an ancient art that is clearly a lifelong practice.

Comments are closed.