If you're looking for a workout that can help stretch and strengthen your mind and body, look no further than qi gong. A gentle form of exercise, it's generally considered safe for most women, but it's best to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
About Qi Gong
In Chinese, qi means energy, the universal life force that exists in all living beings, while gong refers to skill or accomplishment that comes from steady practice. Qi gong is a Chinese practice begun more than 4,000 years ago. It is used to promote the flow of qi and enhance physical and mental health. Qi gong combines physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention. Although there are different styles, such as medical or martial qi gong, all involve the same basic principles, according to the National Qigong Association. The physical exercises in qi gong are based on flowing, stress-free movements that maintain the natural structure and integrity of your tissues, bones and joints.
Qi gong is not just a feel-good, New Age form of exercise -- there's science to support its benefits for improving your mental and physical health. Literature published in the July-August 2010 issue of the "American Journal of Health Promotion" found that practicing qi gong may result in improved physical functioning and better balance, enhanced quality of life, increased bone health and density in women, reduced blood pressure, and reduced anxiety, depression and stress levels.
Qi gong workouts are considered a form of moving meditation. Workouts can last from 15 minutes to an hour or longer, and generally follow a set structure involving qi gong breathing, warmup exercises, stances and meditations. The exercises focus on increasing flexibility, range of motion, balance and muscle strength. An important component of a qi gong workout is cultivating mental focus on the area just below your navel known as "dantian," thought to be a reservoir of qi and a center of healing and your life force, according to qi gong instructor and tai chi master Shoshanna Katzman in her book "Qigong for Staying Young." You end your workout with a standing meditation to help return the circulating qi to your dantian.
Qi gong is most beneficial when you practice on a regular basis. Wear comfortable, loose clothing to allow proper range of motion and flowing of the movements and postures. According to Katzmann, you should not eat or drink anything for at least 15 minutes before and after your workout. Qi gong should be practiced with an attitude of mindfulness and self-acceptance -- don't try to rush through the workout or stretch beyond your range of motion and level of flexibility.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.