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Common Mistake in Chi Kung/Qigong #4 – Bringing a round peg to a square hole…

This is one common mistake that drives me mad. When students bring their western concepts of what exercise should be to chi kung. I can spot it a mile away because it took me about a year and a half to make the shift from western exercise mentality to the chi kung approach.

In my past I have been:

  • A YMCA qualified personal fitness trainer
  • heavily into body building, triathlete
  • A 10K road racer
  • An active member of the Rowntree’s Athletic Club (before they were bought out by Nestle)

What I’m telling you is that I used to be deeply entrenched into the mainstream western approach to health and vitality.

I’m sure you’ve heard these ‘mantras’: Feel the burn, no pain no gain, rest is for wimps and so on.

Do you realise how dangerous these slogans are? When I used to body build (well, try and body build, being an ecto-morph and not wanting to take steroids meant it was really tough to get BIG) if I came out of the gym and I wasn’t’ aching, feeling dizzy, or hadn’t vomited – then I felt like I hadn’t really pushed myself hard enough.

When I was training for my first Triathlon, I was 60 miles away from home on the Yorkshire Moors and I ‘hit the wall’ – I tell you it’s not funny. I fell off my bike, I could hardly stand up, I looked like I’d drunk 10 pints, and I still had to get back home!

I realise these examples are a little extreme, but are they?

Have you ever being exercising and forced yourself through your comfort zone, because you thought that that would make you fit and healthy? You know, that voice that says “okay, that’s enough’ quickly followed by that other voice that says ‘come on just one more lap, don’t be lazy…”.

I’ll let you into a little secret. From the chi kung approach to exercise, health and vitality – most western exercise is insane. Traditional western exercises like running, cycling, aerobics put far too much strain on the human body and the internal organs.

Think of it like this. It’s like you are spending £100 to get £30 of benefit. And that’s fine when you are young and have an abundance of energy, or money in the bank to continue our metaphor. But what happens when you get older? What happens when you can no longer spend £100 for £30 of benefit?

What happens is your body suffers, you get injuries easier and it takes you longer to recover. Doesn’t sound like a good recipe for health and vitality to me.

Listen, I know it runs deeper than that. Here in the west we are very ‘lookist’. We are bombarded by media images every where we go telling us that we need to have a 6 pack or be slim if we want to be cool and loved and adored. So of course we all want to look our best, and that’s fine. I’m not saying that looking great is a bad thing! Just that some of the things we do to get there are not brilliant for our health and vitality.

Here is why Chi Kung is so brilliant for health, vitality and energy. Using our money metaphor, practicing chi kung is like spending £30 to get £100 of benefit. It is enjoyable and perhaps more importantly it is sustainable – you can practice chi kung in your 80’s (my oldest student so far started practicing chi kung when she was 83).

I guess the truth of it is that if you value health, vitality, happiness and longevity then chi kung is probably the ideal solution for you. But if you just want to look good then you’re going to have to go to the gym, pump iron or use the treadmill and exercise bike 3 or 4 times a week.

Remember, if you are going to practice chi kung, then you need to practice it properly. And that means abandoning those slogans that you’ve grown up with. For example:

  • No pain no gain – in chi kung, pain is a signal that you are doing something wrong. Usually you are pushing yourself too hard or trying to do too much too soon.
  • For it to be doing me good I need to be sweating and out of breath – No! Remember most chi kung is a composite of GENTLE external movements co-ordinated with the breathing (which is relaxed and gentle) performed in a meditative state of mind. I remember asking a beginner student why they were puffing and panting when breathing in and out, they replied that they thought it would increase their results!
  • Rest is for wimps – in chi kung we place great importance on rest and relaxation.

I’m sure you get the picture, as a chi kung instructor I find it can often take a few months to over write these slogans and replace them.

I guess if I were to create a slogan for the correct practice of chi kung it would consist of just two words:

Relaxed and Gentle.

In a nutshell, when you are practicing chi kung, leave your ideas of traditional western exercise at the door and embrace the chi kung approach to living a happy, healthy and long life – that of being relaxed, gentle and flowing.

Bye for now

Just a qigong instructor

Marcus James Santer