We come now to a key question regarding the practice of qigong, a question my friends have asked me and I have asked myself:
For a year and a half I have practiced qigong at home at least an hour a day. I generally take at least one two-hour class per week with Brendon and attend at least one weekend seminar per month with Dr. Sun.
I could be doing a lot of other things with my time and money, things that might be more fun or more worthy, at least in the eyes of the world.
Why, then, do I do qigong?
The most obvious answer would be for the health benefits Yi Ren and many other systems of qigong promise. I’m 70 and headed for even bigger numbers. I have some health issues now, and I’m bound to have more soon. I’ve seen western-style research that shows qigong can help people with a wide variety of health conditions.
Some types of qigong are probably more effective than others. However, I have no way of knowing which of the hundreds, even thousands of systems of qigong work best, nor do I know which teachers are best. If I lived in Colorado or California, I’d probably have moved from doing Ken Cohen’s “Essential Qigong Training Course” on CDs and DVDs to studying with him in the flesh. If I lived in Florida or Texas or Chicago, I’d have found someone who was teaching there, and I’d be doing something other than Yi Ren Qigong and getting either the same or different results. But I live in the Seattle area, I found Yi Ren Qigong, and it seems good.
I like that Yi Ren Qigong is very direct about helping people discover and work with their qi. I like that it is complex and comprehensive and aligned with Traditional Chinese Medicine. And I like that Dr. Sun has begun doing research on its effectiveness. A pilot study he did at Bastyr University a few years ago found that practicing a particular set of Yi Ren exercises helped people with Type II diabetes control their blood sugar levels.
Stories abound in the Yi Ren community about cures from heavy-duty health conditions like cancer, MS, lupus and chronic fatigue. I know some of the people involved and I take their testimonials seriously, even though I know testimonials are not science.
But the bottom line, the thing I need to be clear about before I promise my friends or anyone else that practicing Yi Ren Qigong will improve their physical and emotional health, is this:
What has it done for me?
My scorecard so far—well, actually my scorecard for Yi Ren Qigong plus Five Element acupuncture, is mixed.
Overall, I feel stronger, more complete, more confident. A few months ago I wrote in my journal that sometimes I feel powerful—and that is not a word I would have claimed before.
However, anxiety and depression are still fixtures in my life, although they seem to be more manageable. I continue to have hot flashes at age 70, and my constipation is on-again, off-again, although I’ve seen enough improvement that I recently gave away a giant bottle of Miralax.
And then there’s my jaw tremor, which I first noticed about five years ago. The first neurologist I saw told me I had Parkinson’s; the second-opinion doc said I just had familial tremor. Fortunately, the tremor has not worsened and may even be less pronounced, and I haven’t developed other symptoms—but the possibility that I might have Parkinson’s lingers in my mind.
But here’s a really interesting thing about my jaw tremor and qigong:
A few months ago, I was sitting in a café, working with a friend on our church web site. When she started doing the programming piece on her computer, I had nothing to do but sit there and observe that, for whatever reason, my jaw was tremoring away. I thought hmmmm, the stomach/pancreas meridians are supposed to be related to the nervous system, and the Yi Ren exercise for those meridians brings qi to the chin and jaw area.
I didn’t want to stand up and do the full-blown stomach/pancreas exercise in the middle of the cafe, so I just sat there, moving my hands under the table. I found I could move energy up and down the meridians, that I could flood my jaw with energy, and that when I did, my jaw would settle down and stay still.
You’d think I’d be doing the stomach/pancreas exercise at every opportunity, given that five percent of me still fears that I might develop Parkinson’s and die a long, difficult death. But I don’t. Maybe a five-percent fear isn’t motivating enough.
Besides, how much qigong would I have to do every day to be certain I never develop Parkinson’s? I don’t know, and I doubt anyone can tell me.
I wish I could be as certain of the healing powers of qigong as Brendon and others in the Yi Ren community are. But because I’ve not experienced a miracle cure myself, I’d be reluctant to promise one to anyone else—and I most certainly wouldn’t describe qigong as a quick fix for any and all medical conditions.
I would, however, whole-heartedly recommend the practice of qigong for promoting physical and emotional and spiritual well-being.
I practiced Buddhist meditation for several years. It’s a wonderful practice that works enormously well for many people. However, for me, sitting and watching my breath and my wayward mind for even 30 minutes was always just plain hard. With Yi Ren Qigong, I can go into my study, maybe put on one of PC Davidoff’s music CDs, and easily practice for an hour or even an hour and a half.
I stand with my feet apart, slowly sink and rise a few times, and feel my body surrender to the pull of the earth. I become lost in the energy in and around me. It is a lovely feeling. When I find that the little me in my head is thinking again, there’s something more compelling than my breath to return my awareness to. And almost always, I feel better when I finish than when I began.
It’s the same with the Shibashi Taiji Qigong sessions which I lead at church—not just for me but also, judging from their beautifully peaceful faces, for the other members of the group as well. We feel better when we’re done.
And then there are the little discoveries about qi that come when I least expect them.
Recently I found that if I just stand still and put my mind to it, I can draw energy up through the soles of my feet and down through the crown of my head. This is not a superhero thing; my muscles don’t burst through my blouse and I don’t bound over buildings or trees. It’s more like, “Oh, here I am, I’m together again, let’s proceed.”
If I also take a moment to focus on and energize my sacrum, my posture improves and I feel a new relationship to the earth. If I then walk with this awareness, I’m no longer 5-plus feet above the ground inside my head; I’m connected to everything around me and beneath my feet.
Sometimes I’ll hit a rough patch and my practices don’t go well. I doubt. I despair. I think about what I could or should be doing with my life instead. I forget all the times qigong has made me feel good. I forget the experiences that have filled me with amazement, experiences that my intellectual mind cannot deny. I forget that most of the time, I feel stronger and more whole than I did before I began to practice qigong, and that slowly but surely, my practice has grown deeper.
But whenever I think about quitting, I go back to the first moment I felt energy between my hands and knew that qi was real. Somehow that memory grounds me, and I realize that I have no choice. No alternative makes any sense. I will continue on my journey into qi.