By Eilaf Abdulrahman Farajalla
I stared at the screen and sounded out the words. I felt silly. A quick Internet search later and I figured out how to sound it out. Qi Gong. Chi gung. It sounded difficult and disjointed, static even, as the sound came out of my mouth. After a few tries, I felt a little less silly.
An avid fan of yoga all of my life, I thought that this would be just another variation of yoga. I was wrong. Whereas yoga focuses more on moving and holding postures, Qi Gong focuses more on meditation and breathwork. The ends are the same but the means are different. Whereas I feel that yoga centers the self, bringing me closer to myself, Qi Gong almost did the opposite, giving me a break from myself, connecting me to something bigger, indeed the Qi (pronounced Chi) translates to “life energy” and with the class finished, my joints feeling looser and my fingers deliciously tingling, I felt the flow. A mix of intentional movement, rhythmic breathing, visualization and even some chanting, Qigong is its own little marvel.
And by little, of course, I mean ancient and nuanced.
So inspired was I by all the Qi flowing me through I picked up Kenneth Cohen’s “The Way of Qigong” in preparation for writing this blog post. In just under 800 pages, I learned a lot. I learned that Qi itself comes in different currencies, from food (nutritional Qi), from respiration (breath Qi), from parents (original Qi) and even as an energetic barrier against external pathogens (protective Qi). I read about how the Chinese have identified Qi and customized Qigong to harness this power and use it to fuel, creativity, culture, meditation, healing from illness and even martial arts. The postures are for the outside, the real work is being done on the inside. Interestingly enough, the Igbo tribes of modern-day Nigeria have also assigned the word Chi, pronounced in the same way to the metaphysical. For them it means the “personal spirit of a person”.
It was difficult to focus, at first, to let go. My mind kept running off to all the errands and readings and assignments I had to do later in the day. Rhythmic, repetitive, with movements that had some shaking, Qi Gong had me feeling silly at first and then very free. As I felt myself physically and literally loosening up, I grew less self-conscious and more focused. I felt the energy flowing, from the outside in.
While Salah (the five Muslim daily prayers) and yoga will always be my go-to meditative practices, when I feel myself getting a little stale, Qigong might be just the thing to get me back into flow, to cultivating and balancing my life energy,
The overarching purpose of Qigong practice is this:
Pronounced like this:
Dao qi ling he yin ti ling rou
Circulate Qi for internal harmony, to exercise and soften the body.