One of life’s basic lessons is that we cannot halt the natural progression of aging. However, we can gift ourselves with opportunities for regular movement and exercise. Tai Chi and Qigong are two ways of promoting wellness. They are low cost, require no special equipment, and can be as easy (or as challenging) to learn as you might wish. And they can be meaningful social experiences. Which means we might very well stick with them for awhile!
Let’s start with Qigong, the older of the two practices. The Mandarin Chinese characters for Qigong are pronounced “Chee” as in “cheese” and “gong” like a metal disc struck to make a sound. (Alternate spellings include “Qi gong” and “Chi Kung.”) Possible English translations include “Life Energy cultivation” or “working with Life Energy.” Modern teachers of Qigong develop sets of exercises that range from simple to challenging. On one hand, picture an older person with limited mobility, breathing and moving with ease and grace. Or imagine a Shaolin monk demonstrating superb physical and mental control during martial arts training. Those are two ends of a spectrum–Qigong is adaptable to the person and the situation. Most Americans start Qigong later in life, beginning with simple sets of movements that promote muscle tone, balance, and focused attention. There is no winning or losing, just practice.
Generally speaking, a session includes some dynamic exercises to enhance breathing, circulation, and ease of movement in the joints and spine. Self-massage targets acupressure points and easing of muscular tensions. Flowing movements offer gentle exercise of various muscle groups. The meditative and centering quality of Qigong can be especially appealing.
In Tai Chi, we learn a prescribed series of movements over a period of months, and through repetition, the experience of movement and attention deepens. Typically, Tai Chi involves movement in a larger space than needed for Qigong, and more footwork. A longer study of Tai Chi may lead to martial arts training. Yet as with Qigong, simpler Tai Chi forms are easy to learn and enjoy. Some modern teachers are developing new styles that attempt a fusion of Tai Chi and Qigong principles. (A popular style in this category is the Shibashi 18 set, which actually is six different sets of movements fusing Tai Chi and Qigon principles.)
Within a larger framework of Integrative Medicine and wellness care, current research points to a range of benefits from both Tai Chi and Qigong. Peer-reviewed studies (e.g., National Institutes of Health, the New England Journal of Medicine) suggest that regular practice can offer improvements in joint and bone health, muscular strength and balance, blood pressure, and relief from symptoms of stress and chronic pain. If you are challenged by physical or mobility issues, Qigong might be especially helpful, as exercises can be adapted or modified for particular needs.
Several published books and online resources for Qigong and Tai Chi are available. These can be recommended as an introduction. However, the best way to learn about Qigong and Tai Chi is with a qualified instructor, in the company of others who can support you in your exploration and practice. GenPride currently offers online sessions, while Seattle Parks and Recreation offers in-person opportunities. Instructors may also offer small group or individual lessons upon request.
To read more about the wellness benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong, visit:
Gerald is a certified Level 2 instructor of Long White Cloud Qigong. He currently teaches Tai Chi and Qigong for Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Lifelong Programs division. This is one assignment in a portfolio of responsibilities as a staff Recreation Leader.
Gerald is also enrolled as a continuing student in Chen style Tai Chi at Seattle’s Embrace the Moon studio, where he studies with Sifu Kimberly Ivy.