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.

Mindfulness 101: Breathe (Yeah, Like It’s So Easy?)

I’m kicking Taoist butt with the “leaving no trace.” I can’t believe how much I’ve been getting into this “leaving a room at least as clean as when you go in.” Only took me 58 years and three husbands to get there. CH keeps walking into the kitchen and saying “what’s wrong with you?”, even though he was the first one to try keeping it clean. I’m such a natural-born clutterer that he thinks I’ve been replaced by an impostor–a pod person left by aliens ready to suck his spirit out when he’s asleep. Nah, did that to the first two hubbies.

That’s getting to be so natural that I’m tempted to just go with it for another week before trying another mindfulness exercise but that seems like cheating.

This week, then: Take 3 breaths.

Yup, that’s it. Whenever during the day you think of it, sit back, try to let your shoulders relax and take three deep breaths, inhaling into your abdomen, exhaling so your abdomen relaxes back toward your spine. Consider each 3 breath break as a mini-meditation, so much more doable than trying to set


 aside a half hour in a quiet space, pretending your mind is clear when you’re really totting up the chores you need to accomplish in your whirling, never empty, never settled brain.

3 breaths. Deep, slow. Let that Buddha-belly hang out. Let your mind wander–or not. No goals, no wrong or right. Just 3 breaths.

An App For Fat: Day 1

Step one at the four apps I’ve picked to check out is to see how much help they’ll give me in setting goals. If I don’t have a clue how many calories I should be downing or how much fat is too much (or too little), then what do I learn from listing my foods (ok, the four pints of Ben & Jerry’s might be obvious)? And how consistent are the numbers from app to app. So I went in to set up my personal information on each one. I chose to say I wanted to “maintain” weight (smirk) to avoid getting “diet” numbers.

Calorie Counter, which is allied with FatSecret and is one of the more popular apps on the iPhone and iPad, didn’t give me any recommendations. I was able to put in my height, weight, and age but I had to come up with goals on my own. It’s possible that syncing with the web site,  http://www.fatsecret.com, would have done more for me but I’m trying to stick strictly to the app versions.

I went to SparkPeople next. I’ve been to their web site before and found it massively confusing, with ads galore, and lots of flashing widgets and links. The app is much more cleanly laid out, although I could do without the inspirational “quote of the day.”  After putting in my stats, it recommended a broad calorie range for me, 1500-1850, calories. Rather mysteriously, it made comments about what kind of exercise was scheduled for the day, telling me that “No cardio is scheduled for today.” Too bad I hadn’t seen that before I did cardio, huh! And on the daily food page, it did give recommended–again in broad strokes–ranges for carbs, fat, and protein but didn’t explain that those numbers were for grams of each, not calories, which could be confusing: darn hard to eat only 33 calories of fat, no matter how “good” I’m being.

Next stop was Calorie 1.  I had to reset this once because it didn’t save my info from the first time I put it in.  When I did get the right stats in, I got a very specific calorie recommendation, 1687, but it took me some time to find the goals for other nutrients and somewhat strangely, I thought, it gave numbers for fat but not for carbohydrates or protein although there was room to enter that myself.

Livestrong and Calorie 1 must be using the same calorie formula (and I suspect Calorie 1 might have been an earlier version of Livestrong–too many similarities of style) because I was again, at Livestrong, given a very specific number: 1686. Somebody’s rounding down and somebody up, no doubt. And while this number is lower than what I get when I figure my own based on the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation, both sites figure the difference between calories and net calories in their math, subtracting calories expended in exercise (but not in “activities of daily living”). I find this a bit dangerous, since computing calories burned is a tricky science. Nowhere does the Livestrong app mention fat, carbs, and protein but maybe once I start entering foods, that will pop up.

Not much to conclude from this, except that on first look, Calorie Smart doesn’t seem to give as much guidance as the other three, SparkPeople stays comfily vague, and Calorie 1 and Livestrong are perhaps too paternalistically prescriptive. Round one: no clear winner but I’m dumping Calorie 1 as being too much like Livestrong.

>Don’t Try This At Home. . .Yet


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!