Two weeks ago, at my Saturday morning cross-fit class, I pulse-squatted a baby.
Like, a real baby. A cute one.
I did it partly for the cuteness and because she laughed in such a delightful way, and partly because the class was a bit tense because of some gym drama earlier that week, and I wanted to lighten it up a bit. But, it turns out later, the joke was on me, because I clearly was doing something weird in my hips when I was holding her safe.
Then the next day, I got all Energetic and instead of running my planned 5km, ran 11km, which I hadn’t done for a while. It was a beautiful day, and a great run.
Then my knees hurt.
And then my quads hurt. And my hamstrings. And lower back. And neck.
I tried to switch up my workouts, do more yoga, stretch, just walk for a couple of days — and then I seemed to mysteriously pull a muscle in my groin.
I yearned for the Monday evening yoga class that used to be part of my regular week, but my studio recently switched things up, and my favourite instructor has gone missing on the schedule. Instead of Flow Yoga with Farley Monday at 5, it was Qi Gong .
I’d heard of Qi Gong, and knew it was mostly an energy practice (Qi translates as chi, or chee). I had some notion that it’s one of the things Chinese people do in parks. It didn’t seem outwardly “vigorous” — so I decided maybe getting in touch with my chi might halt the rampant disarray in my soft tissues. (I also scheduled a therapeutic massage).
With no idea what to expect, I hauled myself over to class.
The instructor — a white guy named Mike — was super welcoming to newbies, and explained the purpose behind the practice as he guided us through a few sequences. Qi Gong is basically intersected with Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is designed to balance the different matrices of energy in our body. If you’ve ever had acupuncture, it’s aimed at the same meridians — to open up the flow between them. Or, in western terms, increasing the flow or oxygenation of synovial and lymphatic fluids and blood. There is an increasing body of evidence (in the western way of knowing) for the value of Qi Gong (and the sister practice of Tai Chi) for bone loss, immune function, physical function and agility, anxiety and cardiopulmonary function.
The movements were deceptively simple — what might look like from the outside like a stretch, or a reach, or a gentle twist, or an undulation — but I noticed heat building very quickly in my body, and difficulty really focusing on the full range and balance of some of the movements. Mike led us through three versions of each movement or sequence, starting first with the simple movement, then adding breath, then adding intention.
One of my biggest challenges was following the note that we should be the only ones who could hear our own breathing. I’m used to Ujjayi breathing in yoga, or focused pilates breathing, both of which become an energy of their own. In this Qi Gong practice, it was supposed to be attentive and focused breathing following my own energy — but quietly. That was surprisingly hard for me.
This video illustrates dragon whips its tail better than I can describe it:
Mike looked really graceful doing it. I did not.
Something in my body recognized that I was doing … something… that opened up… something. Especially in the dragon tail bit. I didn’t feel like I was “getting it,” exactly, and the aforementioned groin issue didn’t love the stance. But something… was happening, and I liked it.
We finished the class with what Mike described as a “qi shower” (lots of tapping and slapping different meridian points), and then a yin practice of holding a “ball” of energy between our curved palms. I didn’t feel much in the qi shower, but the ball of energy became surprisingly real.
I’m still a little bemused by it — I think I still have a block about the value of any kind of exercise that unfolds from the inside of the energy rather than from more aggressive movements. I.e., — is it a workout if there’s no potential to hurt myself? And the moments where I felt any kind of flow were — not surprisingly for a first foray — few. But there was … something.
If I can get over my notion that being deeply present to my body “isn’t exercise,” I’ll give it another try. And in the meantime, here is a good video for a beginner practice.
Have you done Qi Gong or Tai Chi? How was your experience?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and overuses her fascia in Toronto.