Qi Meets Sweat

Watching my Friday morning Qi Gong students, I see them reach for the qi, eyes closed, bodies rocking slightly as they finish the session with Bamboo Sways In The Wind. Many stand but some, tired by the thirty minute session, sit, backs upright in their folding chairs. None had heard of Qi Gong before. None is younger than 75.
Some had tried the Senior Center Tai Chi class but found it too tiring, too strenuous, too demanding of arthritic hands, artificial knees, and spinal stenosis to continue. But in Qi Gong, they have found a combination of movement and stillness within their sometimes restricted reach. I may have to remind them to keep breathing deeply, nudge them away from trying to do more than they are comfortable with–it’s not easy to “relax” and “move like water” when you’ve done the opposite for seven decades–but after we finish, they laugh about being ready for a nap and there are always questions: Can you show us those acupressure points for headaches again? Is this why my granddaughters always want me to rub their feet? I don’t want to wear the back brace I bought so my posture improves so can Qi Gong help me do this on my own?
We don’t talk about religion or spirituality, but I gather from their comments that most are Christian and good churchgoers. They aren’t seeking an alternative to their monotheism, yet remain open to the idea of meditation and visualization. Not the “hippie transcendence seekers” of the 60’s, these are women who quite simply don’t want their necks to ache, who want to shop for groceries when they’re 80, who might wear sensible shoes but also rock their scarves and rings and joke about their next career as a runway model. While they follow their doctor’s orders, they’re ready to try other modalities. Health is health for them, whether the “fix what’s broken” mechanic’s approach of Western medicine to the “tend to the healthy” gardener’s view of Eastern.
While in Asia the traditions or Taoist and Qi healing go back thousands of years, from the Dao Yin of the Yellow Emporer to the bringing of Zen to China by Bodhidharma, becoming locked into the rigidity long tradition encourages, in America, lack of tradition engenders freedom of approach. My students don’t know The Eight Brocades or The Animal Frolics so aren’t insulted if I don’t teach them but would learn them happily, as well. In America, where we go to Yogalates, Spin Qi and other blended East/West workout classes, “pure” Qi Gong, with its emphasis of strength and suppleness, thousands of forms, and mix of healing, spiritual and martial arts styles steps naturally into our let’s-try-it-all culture. And for those who’ve avoided fitness because of their weight, their bad knees and backs, their lack of flexibility or balance, Qi Gong’s precept that one can and should only do what is comfortable, feels approachable in ways that Zumba, P90X or even Tai Chi doesn’t.
And seniors are not the only group that can benefit from and appreciate the teachings of Qi Gong. Stress-related doctor visits constitute the highest percentage of all appointments; insomnia has been linked to weight gain and high blood pressure; by 2030, statistics project 50% of all Americans will be overweight or obese, many suffering from metabolic syndrome. Qi Gong’s movement, mindfulness, and stress reduction with little space and no special clothing needed could be practiced in offices, homes, parks, even museums and churches, the ideal complement to Western medicine and an antidote to Western lifestyle.

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Exercise du Jour–or Door–or Wall

Wall Squat w/ Bicep Curl   What a great day to just hang out against a wall.  Well, we can’t make it quite that easy. But this Squat with Bicep Curl is a dandy for hitting lots of muscles at once. And it’s not hard to learn.  Although getting the ball behind your back if you’re by yourself can be quite a trick. Ah, that’s why you should have a personal trainer!

OK, So stand with a stability ball wedged between your back and the wall. Grab a couple of dumbbells. No, wait, grab the dumbbells first–see how tricky this is getting. Once you’re wedged up there with the dumbbells in the “up” position of a bicep curl, you can start the actual exercise. Slowly go into a squat, pressing your back against the ball, feet a little in front of you to keep pressure off the knees. As you squat, lower the dumbbells, again slowly, using that eccentric power to control them.

Now, stand back up, curling the weights as you stand. Remember that as with any bicep curl, you keep your elbows tucked to your sides.  With your back leaning against the ball, you won’t have to worry about the “hip hinge” and knee position as you would a regular squat but if you do feel it in your knees, just move your feet forward a little more.

And, man, doesn’t it look like she has incredibly long legs! Not a picture of me, I’m afraid!

(And no, there really isn’t a video with this. But I’m going to do one. Promise. But you’ve all heard that one before.)

Women’s Health Week Studio Open House

Monday May 9 from noon to 5, drop by the studio at 2564 Branch St. Suite B10 and play with the equipment, learn a new exercise, scope out the muscle charts (“what the heck is that called?”) or just say “hi.” No sales pitch, I promise, but a deal: sessions bought that day get a $5 discount. And yes, guys are welcome, too. Because every week should be Women’s and Men’s Health Week.

>Don’t Try This At Home. . .Yet

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Squats–gotta love ’em. No, really, they’re one of the five most important exercises to learn, part of the quintad of “activities of daily living” along with lunge, push, pull, and rotate. But they’re the devil to do right and a knee-killer if you do them wrong. If there were only one thing to see a personal trainer for (and, no, there’s plenty more), it would be to learn the proper form for a squat.

What’s more, there isn’t just one type of squat, so there’s more than one form to learn. The squat pictured–the off-set squat–is a “lady-like” version. No shoving your butt out so you can keep your knees behind your toes: the “booty squat” trainers teach first. Because the off-set is a partial squat, knee to toe alignment isn’t such an issue. But because balance comes into play far more, learning form is at least as essential–crashing over sideways onto the Corgi is so unladylike. Queen Mum would not approve.

I’ll describe the move, but I don’t recommend hopping off the couch to try it unless you already know and are good at booty squats.

Stand upright. Even I can handle that! Holding a light, no more than 5lb. dumbbell in your right hand straight out in front of you, lift your right leg off the ground. Then, bend your left leg, bending only as far as you can without compromising your knee-toe alignment (you should always be able to see your toe). Straighten your leg. Repeat, oh, about ten times (no 100 reps here). Then switch the weight to the left hand and do ten squats with the right leg.

Better yet, look for my announcement of the video of this on YouTube–coming soon!