On a road trip last autumn, I watched my friend Steven move through his bodywork each morning. Used to pushing my own to its physical limits, I was surprised to see this muscular man so gentle in his body. Despite his movement, a stillness filled the hotel room. After meditation one morning, he must have noted my fascination. “Do you want to play?” he invited.
We stood relaxed, feet shoulder-width apart, taking deep belly breaths to settle into the body. We then rubbed our hands together briskly, like when you’re freezing, to warm them up.
“Now drop your hands to your sides and relax.”
I did so. My arms pulsed. My hands tingled intensely. “Do you feel it?” Steven asked. “That’s your chi.”
“Now. Gently, slowly, palms down, raise your hands.” I did so, following his lead. “Palms facing each other, slowly move your hands inward, until you feel a resistance, energy, pushing outward.”
Feeling like the Karate Kid with Miyagi, I did so, not knowing what to expect. And suddenly…there. Within moments, I found myself giggling in wonder as I massaged an “energy ball” between my open hands.
I could truly feel it squish as I moved in. Spreading my hands slowly outward, I could feel them push up against energy as well. “Just play with that,” he encouraged. I moved my hands all around the ball, feeling it, alive, in space.
I was awestruck. In a lifetime of hearing about all this “energy” stuff, here it was, within my grasp—literally. After a minute or so, he had us relax our hands downward. “Now take the fingers of one hand and lightly rub the back of your wrist. And the other hand.” Doing so, I found my hands to be quite warm; the gesture moved moisture on my skin with a cooling effect.
I was incredibly moved. I carried that morning with me, and after our trip, I Googled “qigong”. Wikipedia explains it most simply: “Qigong…is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing and meditation used for health, spirituality and martial arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy and martial arts, qigong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi, translated as “life energy”.
Having practiced meditation since my mid twenties—doing it with an ego-infused body sense—I was intrigued to bridge that mind-body gap. I continued to play with my energy ball, making sure it was real, still “there.”
I began to ask around the valley about qigong. A blank. Internet searches got me know where. Calling martial arts studios lead to nothing. Youtube was a confusing morass. Unable to let it go, I finally ordered videos.
When the videos arrived, I was excited to finally be doing actual qigong. As I became familiar with its names and movements, I could begin to close my eyes, staring not at a TV screen, but moving into my own body, flowing within my own movements. Thinking not of the movements or what was next, I could simply be the movement. I could experience physical sensation and reality inwardly, versus outwardly.
Qigong leads me to an altered state unlike anything I’ve experienced. Running, I would darn near lose my mind with euphoria. Sports and play consumed energy, leaving me ecstatic but whipped. But qigong is gentle. It brings my body to a place where I’m not pushing, demanding or trying…but letting go.
Letting go of thought. Letting go of force. Feeling into my body and losing me, Geneviève. Quixotically, from that place of relaxation, I feel not exhausted, but enlivened. I feel ready.
I wanted more than videos. I knew I needed a community to truly learn. Serendipity has finally led me to a group here in Carbondale. It’s a closely-knit, inclusive one. Even with a master instructor, the students also teach one another. At any moment, I can look to my new friends to watch how this hand glides or that leg swings. I can ask questions and receive correction.
Qigong seems a metaphor for life. I start with knowing nothing; I can’t intellectualize the learning. The only way I’ll learn is by doing it, experiencing the movements in my body. I feel pleasure in flow, but I am just as at ease with fumbling and recovering. At 44, I’m enchanted with qigong, discovering a new way to “be” in my body, at last bridging the mind-body gap. I look forward to a lifetime of it.