It's the same every morning. I negotiate my way out of bed and, eventually, brave the steep Munchkin stairs and stagger into the kitchen. I put the kettle on, wait for the first crackling sound and switch it off. I pour the water into a mug and go back upstairs, sipping it. It's pleasantly just short of hot, cleansing, comforting. I open the curtains in my scriptorium. The sky is still dark. For a moment, like every morning, I am tempted to skip the next stage of my morning routine. That lazy, sneakily undermining voice that says, "What's the rush? You can always do it tomorrow."
Just for ten minutes.
I start deliberately shaking on the spot, sending the movements from my feet through my body and all the way up to my head. I direct little jolts to every inch of my skin, every organ, every muscle, every vertebra, waking every nook and cranny. I imagine I am one of those blankets Roman housewives would shake from their windows every morning, when I was a child getting ready for school. They would flap them vigorously. To banish the dust, evict mites, fill the fabric with fresh air, toss out memories of bad dreams, liven the wool with sunshine.
I quake from toe to top, like a rag doll, loosening every joint, becoming aware of parts of my body I didn't even know existed. I banish stale air from the hidden recesses of my lungs, evict dark thoughts, fill my cells with imaginary rainbows, toss out all physical and emotional gunk and liven my muscles with a dose of resounding universal YES.
After a few minutes, once I have given every part of my body a good shake, I stop. It feels wonderful, like being reset, with every nerve tingling and feeling alive.
Then I stand. Knees soft, head floating into the sky, feet plunging firmly into the earth. As the tingling subsides, I focus on my breath. Regular, deep, inhaling from my belly, imagining sunlight filling my lungs. Trying to think of nothing else.
Ah, I must remember to buy some cheese later –
I forgot to e-mail my friend, yesterday –
I gently bring my mind back to my breath. Inhale. Exhale. Slowly.
If I can finish work by three, I could –
Never mind that for now. Just breathe. Slowly. Regularly. Let the belly expand, the lungs fill in full, then let the air out, no rush, sense the warmth spread through my body, grow in strength. I suddenly feel taller. Towering over the house.
At least ten minutes have gone by without my noticing. This time, as the breath rises, it carries up my arms. Effortlessly. Naturally. And so I begin the sequence of movements that constitutes the form of Qi Gong I am practising today.
Dragon and Tiger meet.
I'd tried different kinds of yoga over the years – many of my friends swear by its benefits – but it had never agreed with me. For some reason, it made me feel ungrounded. I also did pilates for a few months, but it felt like too much effort. Then I discovered Qi Gong and it's 70% rule of practice. Always give it your 70%. No more. The interesting result is that I end up achieving far more than when I set out to give it my 100%.
Dragon looks to the horizon.
When I first started Qi Gong, I was suffering from yet another episode of adrenal exhaustion, or Yin deficiency, as my Chinese doctor elegantly puts it. In other terms, your garden variety of burnout, with all its classic symptoms that make life seem unmanageable. When you wake up every morning, and your heart sinks at the prospect of the day to come as though you have to climb Mont Blanc in summer clothes. When I enthusiastically asked my teacher how long I should practise every day, he replied, "Five minutes."
I frowned. Didn't he understand I intended to take Qi Gong seriously?
"Five minutes. No more," he reiterated.
He was right, of course. By setting out to do a five-minute practise session at home, I would inevitably end up practising for twenty minutes, then half an hour, and now nearly an hour every morning. Of course, if, when I wake up, I were to tell myself that I would spend an hour doing Qi Gong, I would simply never start. So, every morning, as soon as the nagging little voice of laziness and procrastination whispers, "Why don't you leave it till tomorrow?" I cheat it by replying, "I'll only practise for ten minutes. No more."
Three months after I first started Qi Gong, my health was better than it had been for years. When people asked "How are you?" I could actually reply, in all honesty, "Very well, thank you."
Tiger separates her cubs.
I find that practising Qi Gong has also helped sharpen my focus in other parts of my life, such as work. Also, the slowness of it is not only very grounding, but also surprisingly empowering. After a few minutes of practice, I feel like a willow, soft but sturdy, swaying in the strong wind but not breaking.
Most people I mention Qi Gong to don't know what it is, so I explain that it's the mother of Tai Chi. Many react by saying they couldn't cope with practising such a slow-moving exercise. I try to tell them that it's that very slowness that makes you feel so in harmony with life, that's so empowering. The trick is not to build a boat solid enough to withstand a powerful wind without capsizing – it's to weave a sail of silk that can gather the wind in its embrace, so the boat glides faster and more effortlessly. But, of course, different disciplines are suitable for different people.
Dragon and Tiger pierce heaven and earth.
Outside the scriptorium window, it's now light. My body feels like a friend, an ally, and I am looking forward to starting my day.
Dragon soars to heaven and brings back the pearl.
And, let's face it, with movements that have such beautiful, poetic names, I'd certainly rather practise Qi Gong than do "press-ups", "push-ups", "weight-lifting" or going on a "treadmill". But that's just my own, personal choice.
For further information: