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Two exercises to heal your mind, body and soul

Our modern lifestyles are becoming increasingly more hectic, frantic and chaotic. We seem to be putting more and more demands on ourselves and those around us in an effort to accomplish and achieve more. Faster wi-fi, faster phones, faster everything. We live under the assumption that speeding up allows us to live fuller lives, but this assumption comes with a price. What if what we actually need is to slow down and find more balance and meaning in our daily lives? What if slowing down actually gives us the resilience to meet the demands of our lives in a more graceful and peaceful way?

The wisdom of ancient China provides us practices that can help us meet the demands of modern living in a more graceful and gentle way through tai chi and qi gong.

Tai chi and qi gong are two types of mind-body-breath exercises in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both forms of gentle physical exercise help promote relaxation and circulation in the body and mind, which promotes healing and wellbeing. They can help us discover where we are holding our stress and tension and teach us to soften that tension. This can be physical, mental or emotional tension that, over time, impedes the healing process.

The Traditional Chinese Medicine exercise system known as tai chi (pronounced "tie chee") incorporates slow, soft, gentle movements, breathing and mindfulness into a unique form of self-healing. Tai chi was originally taught as a martial art. Today, it is practiced primarily as a form of moving meditation. When I was in China, I was amazed how often I would see large groups of people practicing tai chi in parks across Beijing. People of all sizes, shapes, ages and abilities would gather daily in parks and practice this beautiful form of movement. There have been numerous studies about the health benefits of tai chi that include: relaxation, stress reduction, improving balance, flexibility and coordination and reducing risk of falls in the elderly. 

Closely related to tai chi, is another form of gentle exercise and self-healing, qi gong (pronounced "chee gong"). Qi gong is often translated as "cultivating the energy of life." Qi gong is a soft and dynamic form of movement that combines choreographed, fluid movement with coordinated breath, and mindfulness or guided imagery. There are many different styles of qi gong that have evolved over the millennia, including practices that can be helpful for people dealing with chronic pain or going through chemotherapy.

Tai chi and qi gong are wonderful forms of physical exercise that can be modified for any ability or special needs one may have. Beyond physical exercise, they are forms of meditation that allow us to become more present with each moment of our lives. They can help us let go of unnecessary stress and tension that deplete us of precious energy.

There are many different styles of tai chi and qi gong and it's important to find a style and qualified instructor that works well for you. I always recommend you go and watch a class to determine if it is a good fit for your particular needs and abilities. In my 17 years of practice and seven years of teaching, one thing remains clear to me: slowing down and softening up areas of tension makes me feel better.


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