Literal translation of Qigong (chee-goong) is "skillfully working with your energy." Core concepts for its practice:
Breathing: in this case, diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm, a flat sheet of muscle below the lungs, controls how deeply you take a breath. Most people only use the top third of their lungs, breathing shallowly.
Alignment: which is basically good, balanced posture. Feet are parallel, shoulder-width apart; knees bent slightly;pelvis is tipped slightly upward, that is, tuck your bottom; head is lifted (imagine a puppeteer pulling you up by string at center of your head) so spine opens up; gaze is level and relaxed, chin tucked a bit in; arms and hands hang relaxed at sides. If this doesn't feel natural, you most likely have learned poor posture habits over the years.
"The back of a chair is only for hanging your coat." (If your spine sinks into the back of a chair, you are most likely out of proper alignment.) -- Chinese saying
and, Energy: called Qi here, this flows through our bodies well when we are in proper alignment and breathing all the way down to our diaphragm. The movements in T'ai Chi are designed to stimulate the energy flow and promote healing. Chinese philosophy, medicine and martial art all have this perception of energy flow in common.
For a demonstration of proper posture and breathing, take 2 1/2 minutes to view the following video of Master Bakari Alexander as he demonstrates the Five Organ Spirit Enlivening form of the Lao (old style) Yang Qi Gong. You'll find 30 seconds of narration followed by movement to music from Senegal, West Africa.
Tips for Performing 18-Movement Qigong Form, or 8 Pieces of Brocade Qigong
For these two popular forms of Qi-gong, and for all T'ai Chi, the following reminders for best results apply:
straight yet relaxed posture
feet shoulder-width apart and parallel
knees slightly bent
And Why it is so Good for Seniors...
As we age, our bodies give out in predictable ways--limited arm swing, slowed movement, reduced range of motion and strength, increased flexed or stooped posture, reduced rotational movements and decreased unilateral weight bearing. (From the book T'ai chi for Seniors (c) 2004 by Sifu Philip Bonifonte.)
By directing the energy (qi, or chi) in your body in a balanced way, qigong movements improve health in these ways:
deeper beathing ability
joint mobility--without stress to joints
stimulates blood flow and circulation
For those who cannot exercise on foot, qigong can be performed while seated, too, or even lying down...
...another reason it is of great benefit to seniors!
Therapeutic benefits for T'ai Chi found by a 12-year study at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.:
small to large degrees of motion depending on the individual
flexed knees with distinct weight shifts between legs
straightening head and trunk for less "flexed" posture. Attention developed to prevent leaning of trunk or protrusion of the sacrum.
trunk and head rotates together. Eyes follow movement, promoting head and trunk rotation.
asymmetrical and diagonal arm and leg movements promote arm swing and rotation around the waist axis
unilateral weight bearing while shifting from right to left leg, and back, built strength for such weight bearing as well as ability to balance.
Compare the benefits with those areas that seniors most need help. They are well matched.
Additional benefit: alternative mental health treatment
Yes, the practice of qigong--and T'ai Chi in general--alleviates stress, both mentally and physically. If you have 3 1/2 minutes to spare, you might enjoy watching this "teaser" video showing a husband and wife team performing stress-relieving Qigong movements.
Where to go Next
Now, to find a class or instructor and get started reaping these benefits! Our city curriculum--community courses through Park and Recreation--has T'ai Chi classes by the session or by the month. Another resource are local wellness centers; if they don't have an instructor, they may very well know of one.