Thirty years of ups and downs in my relationship with this ancient art.
In my late teens, I suffered with crippling anxiety and the subsequent depression. Initially, I was encouraged to try medication, psychologists and psychiatrists but none of that really helped, maybe for a while but then I just got worse again.
Deep down inside I resented the conventional medical approach and hated taking medication, there were physical side effects which bothered me, but the feeling of emotional numbness that the tablets gave me scared me more than the depression itself.
I visited a local chemist who I had heard was into alternative medicine, he gave me a few herbal remedies, teas and essential oils but the thing that piqued my interest the most was when he described this ancient Chinese practice he had been doing for years, Qi Gong. He looked great for his advanced years and he had an energy and vibrance that was infectious. I was curious to look into this strange practice he talked about.
This was the pre-internet era and finding a local class or teacher wasn't quite as easy as it is now, in fact, it was downright impossible. It took me weeks to find something and when I did it involved me walking the streets of Manchester city centre, asking around bookshops and alternative lifestyle shops.
Eventually, I found a class, it was on a Monday night above an Australian themed pub in the centre of town. I had nothing to lose by going, but my anxiety and depression meant that even something as simple as attending a class with people I didn't know was a really big thing.
I overcame my inner resistance to attend the class, and although I was out of my depth and years behind many of the other students in the class, the teacher put me at ease and I really enjoyed it. It gave me an immediate respite from the constant negative talk in my head.
Qi Gong is considered to be over 4,000 years old. Qi means energy or power, and Gong means skill, work or expertise. So it's essentially the skill of working with internal power. It's a series of very slow, flowing movements that generally relate to the five elements of nature (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, Earth) and through movement and stances they help to activate the invisible energy centres within the body and achieve balance of mind, body and spirit.
"The more qi-full you are, the more cheerful you are." - Ken Cohen
The slow, relaxed practice is counter-intuitive to the fast pace we live the rest of our lives at, and so it took me some getting used to. My body was rigid and tense, my movements jerky and clumsy. Everybody else in the class seemed to move with elegance and grace. The teacher sensed my inner judgement and encouraged me to relax and that with practice I would come to relax and be more fluid.
I attended the class for years, every Monday evening. It helped me in ways I never thought possible. Although it's effects were subtle and cumulative.
And then I did what most people do when they start to feel better, I stopped going. In my youthful arrogance and naivety, once I regained a sense of confidence and feeling much better I put my energy into all the wrong things and slowly got poorly again, possibly worse than before.
The next few years were a rollercoaster of wellness and illness. I thankfully met a mentor and guide who helped me to tip the balance towards wellness, and eventually, with his support, I built myself up to a place of strength and well being, where I have remained pretty consistently for the last twenty years.
"Stillness and action are relative, not absolute, principles. It is important to find a balance of yin and yang, not just in qigong, but in everyday life. In movement, seek stillness and rest. In rest, be mindful and attentive." - Ken Cohen
But I never forgot Qi Gong and it niggled me when I didn't do it, so I found classes to attend and dipped in and out of it over the years, but with no consistency.
A few years back though I found a Qi Gong course online and began practising that once or twice a week. It reminded me of what I had fallen in love with all those years ago, but I decided I wanted to find a physical class to attend too.
Thankfully, nowadays, with the internet and growing interest in Eastern practices, it was easy to find a good class close to where I live and so I began attending a class once a week. It revitalised my love for this wonderful practice and I realised just how much it resonated within me as something very dear to me.
I signed up for a certified Qi Gong study course with the potential to become a teacher one day. I'm reading books on the subject, watching videos and doing online classes, as well as a physical class. Now, it's becoming a bigger part of my life.
In the recent Coronavirus lockdown, I have practised Qi Gong every single day, my physical class has also been run as a live online Zoom class. Qi Gong has become a valuable part of my life. I can feel the benefits in every area of my life.
I also hope that after thirty years of ups and downs, love and hate, that perhaps we can put the past behind us and spend the rest of our lives together.