Qigong involves sensing the energy within and then following a series of slow movements
Experts say such practices go hand-in-hand with healthy habits that can improve longevity
Among the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, eight senior citizens gather at the Happy Valley Recreation grounds in the Wan Chai district. It’s time for their weekly class in qigong, an ancient Chinese mind-body practice similar to tai chi.
It’s summer on the island, and at 8:30 in the morning, the temperature is already 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with an unforgiving level of humidity.
But the hot weather does not deter qigong Master Joe Lok’s students; they believe wholeheartedly in the positive effects the practice has on their health.
The word qigong is a combination of “qi,” meaning energy, and “gong,” which loosely translates as an accomplishment or practice, explained Lok, who has been practicing qigong for nearly 30 years.
It is the accomplishment or practice of energy and involves becoming aware of your breathing, sensing the energy within you and then following a series of slow, coordinated movements.
Movement, meditation and controlled breathing are the staples of every qigong session, with the ultimate focus being holistic well-being.
Lok explains that “in order to do qigong … we have to be pretend to be empty, so the first thing to empty is the mind, so we try not to think of anything and only listen to our breathing, relax all the strength and relax the mind, so it’s some kind of meditation.”
Meditation has been shown to improve stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts believe it goes hand-in-hand with healthy habits that can improve our longevity.
As a result, qigong itself is a health practice, Lok said.
Feeling the energy
For Lok, it is vital that all his students experience “qi” before they begin any movements. He practices Taoist qigong, which has a strong connection with nature, he explained. In his class, he says that you can start to experience the “qi” by simply holding a specific posture.
Your feet should be between hip and shoulder distance apart and your toes turned out slightly. From here, Lok encourages you to breathe deeply and straighten the curve in your lower spine by moving your hips slightly forward. With your hands hanging loosely, relax your body so you don’t feel any pressure or tension on your joints.
Lok directs his students to focus and straighten their fingertips slightly with their hands in front of their stomachs and pointing at an angle down to the ground.
He then asks his students whether they can sense “qi”– a warm feeling or feeling of life in their fingertips, often causing a tingling sensation. Once his students all feel the it, the movement routine can begin.
He warns that you can easily wave your hands around without really experiencing “qi,” and that would completely defeat the purpose of his practice.
The goal of the movement is to clear blockages, release pain and refresh the body and mind.
Slow and steady
The movements in qigong are very slow. Students raise their arms over their heads, rotate their wrists, lower their arms and then make circular motions with their hands. Lok says that “as soon as you get into it, the qi begins to flow.”
Emotions are also calmed, and people tend to live happier, Lok believes.