101: What Is Qigong?

Older than tai chi, qigong or "energy work" teaches us to engage with the natural subtle energies ("qi") that surround and permeate us. It combines specific physical movements with a gentle mental focus. Qigong allows you to reset your body systems to their naturally relaxed state. Although people excel at functioning very well while carrying heavy burdens of stress, this is not our optimal way of being. Qigong allows you to gently release current and old stressors that prevent you from achieving a state of wellbeing.

The sages who developed qigong were working with principles that Western medicine is only now re-discovering: the effects of our emotions and thoughts (stress) on our physical wellbeing; the importance of movement for optimal health; the profound physical and emotional benefits of focusing on the present moment (peak experience / flow, "the power of now").

A typical qigong class consists of performing gentle exercises, working with standing or sitting meditation, and putting movement and meditation together into short routines that offer a complete internal workout.

It can be performed by anyone, and is more easily adapted to working in a seated position if you have difficulty standing. That having been said, if performed correctly and deeply, it can be a very challenging physical workout.

Current Content
I offer instruction in two different Qigong forms: Ba Duan Jin, and Five Elements Qigong, as well as some related forms Six Healing Sounds, Pa Qua stepping / walking meditation, and sitting and standing meditation. The content of any individual class depends on the preferences and abilities of the participants.

About Ba Duan Jin
Ba Duan Jin, or Eight Pieces of Silk Brocade Qigong is a classic qigong routine consisting of eight exercises plus standing meditation.

From Ken Cohen's The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing:
These eight exercises are elegant, graceful, and essential methods of qi cultivation. They were first described in an eighth-century Daoist [Taoist] text, Xiu Zhen Shi Shu (The Ten Treatises on Restoring the Original Vitality), in the Daoist Canon. Daoist tradition attributes the exercises to one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese folklore, Chong Li-quan. Chong is frequently represented in Chinese art as a bald-headed, potbellied figure, with a white beard reaching to his navel. Chong had been a general during the Han Dynasty. When his army was defeated in a battle against Tibetans, Chong withdrew into the mountains rather than face the Emperor’s wrath. There he met a Daoist who transmitted to him dao-yin (qigong) “recipes” to create an inner elixir of long life. The Eight Brocades was one of these methods. Before he died, Chong inscribed the exercises on the walls of a cave. When another general, Lu Dong-bin, discovered this cave several centuries later, he followed the diagrams and also became a sage-Immortal. According to a statement in the Ten Treatises, it was General Lu himself who first inscribed the exercises on stone.

About Five Elements Qigong

One of the cornerstones of Chinese philosophy is the idea that underpinning all reality are five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. These are not literal elements in the same sense as the periodic table of elements (hydrogen, helium, etc.), but rather types of energy or phases in natural cycles. The five elements work together to create coherent, flowing systems, including ecosystems, cities, social and cultural movements, and smaller systems like our homes or bodies. Where the five elements are in balance, things flow easily and naturally.

In our bodies, each element is represented in a different organ system: fire in the heart / small intestine; earth in the spleen / stomach; metal in the lungs / large intestine; water in the kidneys / bladder; and wood in the liver / gall bladder.

Each organ system relates to the next one in the cycle in a supportive, nurturing way. In Five Element Qigong, we perform the exercises in an order called the "Constructive Cycle." The Constructive Cycle maximizes the effectiveness of each exercise, creating balance throughout the body as you work with each organ in turn.

I offer Qigong instruction on a weekly basis, Saturdays from 2-3pm and Mondays from 1-2pm. These classes are ongoing, and open to beginners at all times. Information on the schedule and fees is here. I also offer occasional workshops. Information on upcoming workshops is here. 

Classes run at the Regent Health and Chiropractic Center, 150 Locke Street South, in Hamilton, Ontario.

101: What Is Tai Chi?

Tai chi is a complete system of mind-body training that teaches you to relax deeply while moving the body as a single unit. Tai chi stretches the spine and aligns all body systems so that they work harmoniously together. While gentle, tai chi challenges you to move your body more efficiently, to stretch and release stale patterns and tensions, and to sink into the present moment.

Tai Chi and Martial Art

Tai chi ch'uan - tai chi's full name - translates as "supreme ultimate fist." The moves you'll learn in tai chi – strikes, blocks, kicks, and punches – are performed slowly and softly. They gently teach you how to apply force and awaken your inner warrior. Practicing tai chi helps you perform daily tasks safely and effectively, and allows you to meet mental and physical challenges with increasing confidence.

Our Tai Chi Set

I offer instruction in a 108-form set. Read and download the list of 108 moves here. It takes between fifteen and twenty minutes to perform the set. Once you've learned it and can perform it start to finish, it gives you a complete internal workout, stretching your limbs, massaging your internal organs, and refreshing your energy field, although you start to receive those benefits from the moment you start your first class.

Master Moy Lin-Shin, who developed this form, demonstrates it here.

Click Here for Current Class Schedule and Fees
Click Here to View Upcoming Workshops

Classes and workshops run at the Regent Health and Chiropractic Centre, 150 Locke Street South in Hamilton, Ontario. Beginners and others may also attend summer sessions in Dundurn Park to start learning Tai Chi foundation. Summer sessions start May 17, and run each Wednesday from 6-7pm until mid-September.

How to Do Tai Chi and Qigong in a Chair

In my last post about how to keep practicing Tai Chi and Qigong when you feel you can't go on or you don't even want to start, I mentioned that one thing you can do is practice while seated in a chair. I thought I would go into a bit more detail about how to do this.

Just to be clear, I'm working with some core practice ideas that may or may not have been suggested to you by your instructor. If you practice Tai Chi or Qigong but these notions seem foreign to you, then you may have to consult your own instructor or figure out your own way of working in a chair. These core practice ideas are:

Tai Chi and Qigong movements are whole body movements. You are never just waving your arms around independent of the rest of the body. Whatever arm or leg movements you perform are the result of whole-body expansions and contractions.

The whole body movements of Tai Chi and Qigong are initiated by pushing from the feet. The movements are performed by channeling the force of the push from the feet throughout the body in various ways. The low spine / tailbone is a key player here because it both grounds the movements by sinking and turns to channel the movements into cool hand-turny motions.

The movements are performed in a totally relaxed manner. To hammer home the point, in order to perform movements without adding strain, pulling, clenching, or other unwanted tension, you need to initiate from the floor. It is the only part of you that has contact with a solid surface. This is basic physics. (When you're in the chair, your tush will obviously also have contact with a solid surface, but you still need to push from your feet. Pushing from your bottom will not get you places. Not in this context, anyway.)

Okay, now that we're all informed and agreed:


The chair in question must be a hard-backed chair, like a dining room chair. No, you don't want to do this from your squishy sofa. You're going to place your bottom as close to the edge of the chair as you can get without falling off.

Make sure your feet can reach the floor. Like I said, you're going to be moving by pushing one or both feet into the floor - just like you do when you're standing. So both feet have to be flat on the floor when you're sitting in the chair. If you can't reach, get some yoga blocks or a tower of books to place under each foot.

Sit with your spine straight. You'll be able to straighten it better if you feel as if you're leaning forward slightly from the hips.

Practice pushing the feet into the floor. This is really the key to the whole thing. From your sitting position, push the feet down into the floor as if you are trying to use your legs to stand up. If you feel up to it, do stand up and sit down again a few times. You want to use this move to train your legs. Pushing the feet into the floor to stand up from a seated position is excellent exercise for the legs.

Try not to cheat. If you are trying the standing-up-sitting-down exercise, cheating means that you pull yourself forward into a lean before you push the feet down to help you stand up. Whatever amount you lean forward, that's work you're taking away from your legs. You might be thinking, "Good! My legs are doing a lot of work as it is!" No, cheater! The whole point of this is to strengthen your legs. Once you're a quivering bowl of jello, it's time to sit down in the chair for some Tai Chi or Qigong.

Now push the feet into the floor as if you're going to stand up, but remain seated, and instead allow that push to travel up through the spinal column, expanding it. The idea is to feel as if you are increasing the spaces between each vertebrae. At first, it may be difficult to feel this because of tension in the back muscles. Just allow those to stretch. When you've maxed out the stretch, relax your legs and contract your spinal column back into the chair. Don't hunch, just relax to your original position.

Try using the push from the feet to move the hands.  Try Two Hands Support Sky - a good one to choose for a first go at chair work because you push equally from both feet to accomplish the movement. As you expand, drive the feet into the floor to get the hands to go up above the head. As the hands come down, contract / relax the legs / sink into the chair.

For movements where you'd push from one foot, then the other, do so while sitting in the chair as well. Turning motions are accomplished usually by actively pushing from one foot while receiving / grounding through the other foot. You can do this in a chair as well. The turning motion is going to be more internal through the spine, because the low spine is held in place.

Bonus factor:  The grounded quality of chair practice gives you an idea of how the movements should feel even when standing. A common beginner challenge is keeping the low spine dropped and grounded as you do your movements. Especially in cases where the low back and hips have been compromised by too much sitting / desk work / sedentary habits, it can be difficult to properly ground through the low spine while standing. Most people go years before they feel that their movements are travelling internally as well as moving the body externally. Chair practice is a way to immobilize the large external movements and experience the force travelling through the inside of the body.

Bonus bonus: It is ideal in a situation where you can't stand due to an injury to the lower body, where it would benefit you to exercise the area but it won't bear weight. 

Bonus bonus bonus: Chair practice done correctly is just as challenging as standing practice.

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part Five: How to Practice When You Can't Keep Moving

This post is Part Four of a series that addresses healing from serious chronic and acute illness, including but not limited to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Cancer. Click here to access all articles about using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery.

In Part Three of this series, I wrote about the ways you can maximize the effectiveness of your Tai Chi and Qigong practice: specifically, making the movements bigger than you're inclined to, and relaxing completely. For most adults, this is good advice. Even if you're not sick, generally speaking most people over the age of twelve are suffering from some kind of contraction throughout the spinal column. Those years of sitting in desks at school, studying / spending time on the couch and in front of the computer at home, and working a desk job or even a physically demanding job that's repetitive in nature can bind you up like nobody's business.

When you perform Tai Chi and Qigong moves, you're restoring range of motion throughout the body, but you are also moving in ways that increase the flow of chi or vital energy throughout the meridians or energy channels of the body. This is great for you and it is exactly what you need no matter what you're doing, but especially when you are facing serious chronic or acute illness.

I've also written recently about how much Tai Chi and / or Qigong you need to do if you are working actively on health recovery. (Answer: what will probably seem at first like a completely insane amount. Basically, welcome to your new part-time job that will feel like a full-time job with ridiculous overtime.) There will be times when that feels impossible, or when it is impossible. I strongly suggest that you try to do the whole amount of time you've set out for yourself. Chances are, when you've completed the workout, you're going to feel a whole lot better than you did when you started.

Confession time: after more than twenty years of practice, I still often don't feel like I want to start a workout. I will put off starting, or just drag myself into my practice space. Once I get going, I always think, "Darn it...I've only got an hour here. I wish I had more time." It's like a switch flips and I remember why I love doing Tai Chi and Qigong. "Oh yeah! This stuff feels good!" I get not wanting to work out. I do.

So before I go any further with this post, let me just say that it is a very good thing to commit a block of time to your practice, and get into your workout clothes, clear away your coffee table, or do whatever you need to do in order to get into the mindset of your practice session.

I recommend doing this even, and maybe especially on those days when you really feel like you can't. When you are just completely spent, those are the days when even a few minutes of movement are going to have a big impact.

Here's what you do: set aside the time, get into the practice room, and do what you can. When you hit an absolute wall that will not allow you to do any more movement, don't quit. There are options. These are some of your options.

Smaller Movements
If performing the full extent of the movements is taxing you too much, take it easy, and perform a smaller range of motion. This is no excuse to lapse into bad form - just take it down a notch. Walking through a Tai Chi set is better than doing no Tai Chi at all. Whatever you do, ensure that you are not creating internal strain.

Sit Down, Keep Training
When I was in year six or seven of my training, one of my good friends had to have knee surgery, and could not do Tai Chi standing for a few months. Our teacher put us all in chairs so we could all learn how to perform Tai Chi while not standing.

This is the option for you if you are not completely wiped out, but you have a specific problem or issue that is keeping you from practicing, like an injury or muscle strain to the lower body. If you have back pain, prick up your ears: this is the option for you. Sitting in a chair will keep your low spine anchored and allow you to move the rest of your spine safely without overdoing it.

There are a couple of particular things you'll want to know about chair training before you start. If you're in a class, ask your instructor for help with training in a chair. The last thing you want is for your form to go out the window. I'll try to post about this in more detail, but for now I'll just say that this is still a whole-body practice. When you're in the chair, you still need to push from your feet to accomplish the movements. More about this later.

Visualizing the Movements
This is for when you must sit or lie down and the thought of moving another muscle sounds like murder, but you still have half an hour on your practice session, and you still want to move chi. Use your mind!

Closing your eyes, imagine yourself performing the movements of the Tai Chi set, or the Qigong exercises of your choice. Really try to see and feel your way into the movements, exactly as if you're performing them with your body.

The beauty of this kind of practice is that you can often feel your way into a better version of the movement than you might be able to do physically. I've gained many insights into where a particularly stiff joint or tight muscle was limiting my movement when I visualized myself performing the movement and magically, it seemed to flow much better. This is also a wonderful trick to use when you're lying in bed at night and you can't fall asleep. Practicing Tai Chi or Qigong in your mind will help you drift off to sleep not just because it takes your mind off of all the other stuff you're worried about. It also moves your chi. Sometimes stuck chi is the reason we can't fall asleep in the first place.

It needs to be said that merely visualizing the movements is no substitute for doing them with your physical body, but it is better than giving up before your workout is done.

Sitting Qigong Meditation
This is a mega powerhouse of a practice. I honestly can't say enough about how amazing and magical sitting Qigong is, and yet, it seems to be a less popular practice than Tai Chi or Qigong exercise. There are many guides online that will tell you a complicated story about what's involved in sitting Qigong, but my training followed the KISS principle. You know what that stands for. You sit on the floor or in a chair, spine straight. Mental focus is a few feet in front of your face. Everything relaxes. Hold for as long as is comfortable. When you feel like you're done, release the posture. Sit for a few minutes to allow your energy to return to normal before you stand up again.

There's a bit more to it than that. I teach sitting Qigong as part of my classes the first Friday and Saturday of each month, and at occasional workshops. I don't recommend doing this if you don't have access to an instructor. Things get weird when you sit meditation, and you pretty much need a teacher to help you. Whatever you do if you don't have regular instruction, make sure your spine is straight and that you're not getting too weird with your breathing. Relax means relax everything.

For my money the fancier methodologies and theories all seem to have grown out of individual instructors' attempts to help their students deal with the total simplicity of meditation. It is simple but not easy. That last sentence describes almost everything that's worthwhile, don't you think?

Six Healing Sounds
There are several different versions of the Six Healing Sounds, but I was taught and prefer Mantak Chia's. This practice combines natural breathing with shaped exhalations to produce sounds. You can perform the six sounds on their own without movements, or with the movements Mantak Chia describes, depending on how you're feeling. Combined with his "inner smile" technique, these exercises have the potential to radically transform stale energies. You can also use the Six Healing Sounds with any Qigong set to enhance the movements, so long as you line up each sound with the correct elemental movement.

What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You

This is the real question, isn't it?

Maybe someone has recommended Tai Chi or Qigong for you, or you've read some article that claims it's excellent for health or wellbeing or your particular health situation. Nine times out of ten the writers or recommenders do not practice themselves, so can't tell you exactly what amazing wonders are in store for you. I've written this guide to help you understand what you're getting into before you start.

A general caveat: Tai Chi and Qigong are not a quick solution to anything. They both take time and discipline to learn, but for those who take it, this journey is amazingly rewarding. Most people know within a few classes whether it's for them. You have nothing to lose by trying.

Any questions? Email me. I offer Qigong and Tai Chi classes each week. View the schedule and find out about my extremely reasonable fees here. I also offer occasional Sunday workshops. View upcoming workshops here.

Tai Chi and Qigong Can Help You:

Build a Better Relationship With Your Body
Modern living tends to disconnect us from our bodies. Most of us work at jobs that require us to sit for long periods of time, process information, and otherwise behave like floating minds barely anchored to the physical realm.

While any form of exercise will help your body, Tai Chi and Qigong are unique in their ability to increase body awareness so you can begin to remember how to enjoy having a body again.

Learn more here.

Feel Amazing
A while back, one of my students had a big grin on her face at the end of class. I asked her what was up.

"Everything feels like it's tingling and warm," she said. "Is that chi?"

It was.

"That's amazing," she said. "I've never felt anything like that before."

Start your journey toward feeling freaking amazing.

Learn to Use Your Mind Effectively
Through Tai Chi and Qigong, you learn to settle the mind down and focus it on what you are doing. I've learned over time to put a stop to the mental grinding and restless negative thinking that are the mind's favourite tricks. You can too.

Learn about becoming a Jedi.

Let Go of Your Baggage
Chances are you've got quite a bit of baggage. It's okay: we all do. It's part of the human deal. Unfortunately they don't hand you a pamphlet at birth that tells you that your job here is to let all of that go. Tai Chi and Qigong can help with that.

Here's how you can learn to let go.

Tweak Your Genes in the Right Direction
Every day, scientists are learning more about why genes express themselves the way they do. As it turns out, some genes are turned on or off according to what's going on in your environment. Surprise, the key here is stress: genes will tend to work in your favour if you are having more good experiences than bad. Tai Chi and Qigong are a way to ensure that you are getting in some solid, uplifting, energizing, feel-good experience each day.

Learn more about the fascinating research into the relationship between stress and gene expression.

Stand Up for Yourself
Tai Chi is a martial art, and I teach it that way. That does not mean that we start kicking and punching you on day one and requiring you to defend yourself. It means that stepping onto the Tai Chi path means that you will learn a better, stronger, more relaxed and confident way of being in the world.

I've written more about Tai Chi and the emotional implications of standing up for yourself here if you want to learn more. Go here to read a longer post about Tai Chi as martial art. Go here to learn for some quick info on Tai Chi and self-defense.

Receive Healing
Tai Chi method is martial art; Tai Chi purpose is healing and optimal health.

There is an enormous body of evidence to suggest that Tai Chi and Qigong both support healing on all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Learn more about some common health benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong.
For more specific information about using Tai Chi and Qigong for Health Recovery, see my series on that topic.

Distinguish Between What You Need and What You Don't
Tai Chi and Qigong work to enhance your "radar" - your intuitive sense of the world around you - at the same time as they increase your body awareness. All of a sudden, your body and emotions can talk to you in ways they haven't been able to in a long time. Sometimes they have a lot to say. This is a good thing, although it can be strange or a little uncomfortable at first.

Read more about developing discernment through Tai Chi and Qigong here.

Practice Something Deeply
We are a culture of samplers. One weekend we are skydiving; the next, we're learning shiatsu; then it's on to fly fishing and wine tasting and cheese making and and and. There is nothing wrong with trying new things, but after a while, all this experimenting, tasting, and flitting around is going to make you feel a little unreal. You owe it to yourself to sink into one thing for a while, and explore it thoroughly.

Learn more about sinking deeply into the world of Tai Chi and Qigong here.

Stop Being a Muggle
I'm going to be honest with you, this is the part of Tai Chi and Qigong practice that I had the most difficulty accepting and now it is the part through which I have learned the most profound lessons. The more you practice Tai Chi and Qigong, the more you become immersed in a perspective on life that is...different from the common, regular, mundane, material way of looking at things.

When you enter the world of chi / energy and start to really work with it, you gently and gradually shift your perceptual abilities, and the terms with which you interact with the world.

Read more here.

Tired of Being a Muggle? Try Tai Chi and Qigong

When I first started taking Tai Chi, I was all, "energy, schmenergy." I was thoroughly immersed in the perspective that we are biological mechanisms, and that's all there is to it. In other words, I'd been beaten down by my upbringing and, to some degree, my education. I remember the first time I was pouring sweat after an intensive class, feeling totally amazing and buzzing. I showed my instructor my hands: they were mottled and red and pulsing.

"Chi man," he said.

Slowly, I started to connect what I was feeling with the terminology of Tai Chi and Qigong. I opened my mind, in other words, and started exploring the world of energy healing, of connecting to nature and natural energies, synchronicity, and chi. There is a whole other way of doing things, of being in the world, of perceiving, that is nothing short of magic. Like the man said, nobody can be told what it is. You have to see it for yourself.

If you've read this far you've probably gotten tired of the mechanistic view of reality ("reality") you were taught in school. Remember when you were a kid and everything was potentially magical? If you're of the right age or disposition, remember how jealous you were that Harry Potter got to go to Hogwarts and your acceptance letter never came?

What I've learned through my twenty plus years of study of Tai Chi, Qigong, meditation, guided visualization, Reiki, and all this woo woo energy schmenergy stuff is this:

There are many gateways in this life that you can use to take back that magical world you were at home in when you were a kid. Tai Chi and Qigong are one route to slowly and gently re-immersing yourself in a way of being and understanding that is more holistic, all-encompassing, and takes into account all of you - mind, body, emotions, and spirit. A complete understanding of life and its mysteries is your birthright. It's everyone's birthright.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Progressive Relaxation and Grounding Visualization - Audio Version!

Today, a treat!

A few posts ago I mentioned a handy progressive relaxation visualization that I developed in order to help my students relax. Relaxation is one of the hallmarks of Tai Chi and Qigong, and what makes it different from conventional forms of exercise. Even if you don't do Tai Chi or Qigong, but you want to move your energy, relax deeply, and ground yourself, this is a great little visualization technique.

I posted a written version of the progressive relaxation and grounding visualization a week or two ago. It's here if you prefer to read it. Please feel free to use this or distribute it any way you like. I'd appreciate an attribution / link / shoutout if you do, but it's not necessary.

Now, there's an audio version! Click on "play" below in order to listen, or go here to download it. Start to finish it takes less than ten minutes. That's no-excuses meditation!

The music on that file is "Paris" by Chris Harvey, and is courtesy of Magnatune's Music for Meditation complilation.

Music for Meditation by Magnatune Compilation

Want to Practice Something Deeply? Tai Chi and Qigong Might Be for You

When you get into Tai Chi and Qigong, if you decide it is for you, you'll have something in your life you can sink into deeply. These disciplines can be learned in a weekend workshop, but they offer greater and greater rewards the more deeply you get into them. There is always more to learn! I know and offer instruction in six different internal martial arts and three different Qigong routines, not to mention Push Hands and standing and sitting meditation. I am always learning, so there is more always being added to the mix. Even if you decide that you only want one Qigong routine or you would like to stick with Tai Chi, working with these disciplines is a never-ending process of opening up the body, deepening technique, accessing healing, and increasing self-awareness and awareness of the world around you. This is deep stuff!

Why is it good to practice something deeply? This is the only antidote to modern culture's constant barrage of distractions, the heavy and persistent influx of messages, the insistent buzz of technologies, the never ending demands for attention that keep us focusing outward, but never let us settle into ourselves. As much as I like social networking and the abundance of information online, I firmly believe that we are not built to withstand this constant superficial onslaught. We are deep divers. Our very makeup creates a longing in us to access stillness, to flow with life, and to grasp the pearls that sit on the deepest parts of the ocean floor. There's a satisfaction in deep practice that you can't get anywhere else.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post. 

Using Qigong and Tai Chi for Healing, Part Four: Roadblocks and Expectations

This post is Part Four of a series that addresses healing from serious chronic and acute illness, including but not limited to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Cancer. Click here to access all articles about using Tai Chi and Qigong for health recovery

This Will Not Be a Linear Path
Here's what your progress will look like:


Maybe you'll really enjoy your first few classes and you'll feel great after them. Often people get really excited at this stage, because they can really feel that it's working. Then you'll try to work out on your own and it will be...okay. Somewhere around week two or three, when you're adding more and more time, you'll start to slow down. You'll skip a day. Then you'll get back on the horse and do a mighty twenty minutes before giving up.

Maybe you'll manage to get three hours a day in, and maybe, after a long or short period, it will start to work for you. Depending on your personality you might get cocky and quit altogether, figuring that your body is healing on its own and the healing has nothing to do with the work you're putting in. Maybe you'll keep going. Maybe you'll succeed. I can't tell you exactly what will happen, because it all depends on you and your will and your decisions, every day, about how you're going to approach this. It has nothing to do with me, or with the instructor you choose to work with.

Okay, it has a little bit to do with them, in the sense that you want to find the best instruction you can, with someone who can work well with your personality and know when to push you and when to not push you. You want to find the most skilled instructor you can. Ask about the person's background and experience. Choose someone who's been teaching for ten years over someone who's been practicing for six months.

In the end, though, this is one of those things that you have to put effort into in order for it to work for you. There is a direct relationship between your choice to keep going, your determination not to quit, and your shot at improving your condition. Good luck. Seriously.

It Will Hurt
For people who are not dealing with serious illness, Tai Chi and Qigong will occasionally leave you with sore muscles and joints - like all exercise. You should sweat. I know, you're thinking, isn't this for seniors? Sure, but do you think those seniors aren't working hard? They are, I promise you. Anyone receiving benefits from Tai Chi and Qigong is working his or her little heart out.

Like I said before, serious illness sits in the body in particular locations. When you start to heal, it will express as pain, soreness, or what seems like a sudden inexplicable injury, cold, or flu. I almost wrote "often" in that previous sentence, and yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I pretty much guarantee that you will hit a wall with your practice at some point, and when you do, it won't feel like the same old wall you hit when you don't feel like practicing that day. It will feel like an actual wall that you run into with your face or some other tender body part.

Let me say that again: you will hit a wall. The wall will present as intense pain, soreness, a sudden inexplicable injury, a cold, or the flu, or other bizarre symptom. There will be something weird about it, though. The flu will be unproductive in the mucous sense. Or you'll have tons of mucous without the flu symptoms. You will just get turfed and need to spend a day in bed. The injury will be of mysterious origin, or will be the same injury, soreness, whatever, that came up once before, when you suffered an emotional blow or major life transition. That's the wall.

Here's the thing about the wall. When you hit it, it means that everything you're doing is working. This is the time to keep going, not the time to quit. Whenever I have a client who starts to hit this point, I get excited and scared. Excited because I know this is go time. Scared because it's when most people decide they can't handle it any more. I've made the mistake in the past of not telling people about this up front. I'm telling you now. It will hurt. That's okay. Show up anyway. Do your three hours. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Your Mileage May Vary
What will hurt and how will depend in part upon your diagnosis, and in part on the ineffable mystery that is you. My research on this is still in progress. I'll be dedicating future posts to individual conditions and what is likely to come up if that's what you're working with, but I wanted to give you some idea of the way this can go depending on the health situation you're facing.

Sometimes, the symptom is likely to be very specific. For example, people with Parkinson's will generally speaking manifest a foot injury as they start to really dig into their symptoms using any kind of energy healing, including Tai Chi and Qigong. If you'd like to know why, the Parkinson's Recovery Project has an abundance of information online for free.

From a holistic perspective, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue are related to the body's process of elimination becoming overwhelmed, causing build-up of toxins in the connective tissue (Fibromylagia) or blocks to the processes that bring glucose to the cells for the production of energy (Chronic Fatigue). More about these two conditions at Andreas Moritz's Ener-Chi Wellness Centre.

When you start to move energy and increase blood and lymph circulation through these areas, it is likely you will find yourself dealing with the emotional pain that your physical symptoms have been covering up. This at least was the experience of Barbara Sinclair as she healed from FibromyalgiaEdie Summers recovered from Chronic Fatigue through a combination of herbal and holistic remedies that included becoming aware of her emotional patterns and managing their impact on her health. As bad as your physical pain and exhaustion is, the emotional turmoil underlying it can be a complete shock, and requires a specific set of strategies to address, which is something Qigong and Tai Chi can help you with.

Next post in this series: things you can do to keep your energy moving when you can't move another inch.

Learn What You Need and What You Don't Through Tai Chi and Qigong

One of my best friends (and Tai Chi / Qigong buddies) complained to me a while ago that she couldn't stand Doritos any more.

"I never used to think twice about eating junk food," she said. "Oh sure, I know it's not good for me, but last week I thought I would have just a bit, and I felt horrible."

There are many things that you can buy at the grocery or convenience store that look like food, but are not food. They might even sort of taste like food, but they won't really feed you. The more you are in tune with the needs of your body, the more you'll be able to recognize what will support your health and wellbeing, and what won't. (This can come in the form of upset stomach / sudden awareness of flu-like symptoms. Chances are you always felt that way after eating junk food, but you just didn't notice.)

This goes beyond diet, though. The more you get in touch with what feeling amazing is like, the more you'll become aware of the situations, activities, and (sadly) the people that leave you feeling drained, upset, or uncomfortable. There are many things you can do to manage these situations, activities, and people. You can consider leaving the situation, working to change it, or accepting that it is difficult and work to protect yourself as much as possible when you have to engage with it. You can stay in the situation and draw new boundaries to make it functional for you. The important thing to realize is that it is good to recognize how your everyday activities affect you, and that you have direct control over whether and how you engage in those activities.

Tai Chi and Qigong help you establish a better and clearer baseline for feeling good and steady on your feet. The more you practice, the more you want to perpetuate that good feeling throughout your entire day, and the more you'll discover which things, activities, and people support that. This is called discernment - knowing the difference between one thing and another. It doesn't mean that the things, activities, and people who don't make you feel good are bad and deserve to be told so or rejected wholesale or whipped in the streets. It means that you have a choice about whether and how you want to engage with them.

This post is part of a series called What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You. Look for more parts in the coming weeks, or click "What Tai Chi and Qigong Can Do for You" at the bottom of this post.