When it comes to mindfulness practices, Western civilization has borrowed extensively from Eastern culture. That’s particularly true with qi gong (pronounced chē-ˈgu̇ŋ), an ancient Chinese meditation practice that, like tai chi, combines movement and breathing to cultivate your flow of energy, or qi.
Qi = energy; gong = skill
According to Brent Bauer, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, although qi gong is similar to tai chi, it is easier to learn because the movements are so slow and repetitive. A study from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic found this mindful energy-based practice may reduce chronic pain as well as the side effects from cancer treatments. Other studies have linked it to improved sleep, a better attitude and increased balance and flexibility.
Take a breath
Breathing is the building block of all qi gong practices. With this conscious breathing, your belly (not your chest) should rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, your heels on the ground but your weight on the balls of your feet.
Place your hands on your abdomen, just below the belly button and breathe in, expanding your abdomen. Feel how your hands are pushed outward as your belly expands, and how, as you breathe out and your abdomen relaxes, it contracts inward. Breathe in and out through your nose in slow, natural breaths, without forcing it. You’ll immediately feel more relaxed; many practitioners recommend doing this standing conscious breathing for 15 minutes every day.
Have a ball
From this standing position, you can add a movement called Charging the Energy Ball. Continue breathing deeply as you raise your hands in front of you, shoulder-width apart, palms facing in, as if you’re holding a beach ball filled with energy. Keeping your hands waist-high, push your arms apart as you exhale, then inhale and bring them back together to “hold” your ball of energy. Repeat, breathing in and out to a count of three, and pay attention to how your hands feel; the movement builds qi in the palms and arms, but also creates a relaxing flow of energy throughout the entire body.
Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy magazine.