How Qigong Can Help You Relax Out of Stress
by John Du Cane
Our birthright is to swim in an ocean of pleasure and harmony, luxuriating in the rolling swell of life. As young children–if we are fortunate–we live that birthright. We celebrate life with a buoyant, carefree, vital engagement in the everyday moment.
Then something starts to happen to us. We begin to tense up. We begin to close down. We begin to lose touch with our bodies and live in our heads. We become confused about our feelings. We start to regret the past or fantasize about the future. We begin to fragment. We start to lose our fluid integrity as fully expressed and responsive human beings.
What happened? In a nutshell, stress happened. While a certain amount of stress is natural to life, our search for technological shortcuts to comfort and convenience has ironically created unprecedented waves of stress in our modern lives. Our nervous systems are constantly reacting to a barrage of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, frenzied traffic and numbing schedules.
Life seems to have become more of a struggle, with less rather than more time to rest. Sooner or later we really hit the wall. We end up sick in bed. Or a major crisis stuns us into a temporary halt. Stress has got the better of us.
Not surprisingly, the World Health Organization is now listing stress as a prime contributor to the five leading causes of death–such as cancer and heart disease.
Although most of us are now are aware of the dangers of stress, we’ve become so addicted to the surges and swings of feeling associated with stress, we can no longer imagine life any other way. If things get too quiet we start seeking out a new stressor to react to, for another chemical jolt, another toxic surge of excitement and nervous expenditure.
The Most Effective Self-Care System in the World?
There are many ways to intervene in this vicious cycle and reclaim our peace of mind–restoring balance and serenity in our lives. Meditation, yoga and moderate exercise can all help. But, after twenty-five years of personal research into what works best to counter stress, I’ve found the ancient Chinese art of qigong to offer the surest results.
So Why and How is Qigong so effective in managing stress?
First, qigong emphasizes and teaches how to breathe correctly into the lower stomach. When we breathe this way consistently, our lymph systems are effectively activated, detoxifying the body and sending a gentle stream of energizing oxygen into the tissues. Activation of the lymph system automatically triggers a relaxation response throughout the body. We automatically feel balanced and “well”. Qigong also activates the lymph system with off-the-body stroking movements and an emphasis on pumping the legs with up and down squatting movements.
Secondly, qigong’s strong mental emphasis on internal relaxation shifts us out of the sympathetic nervous system (associated with fight-or-flight and our normal reaction to stress) into the parasympathetic nervous system (associated with feelings of pleasure and harmony). This is so important. Over-use of the sympathetic nervous system depletes our adrenals and floods the body with toxic levels of cortisol. We literally burn ourselves out. But like rats hitting the button for more cocaine, we just can’t stop. Qigong slowly seduces us back into the gentle world of the parasympathetic and over time we build up a “body-memory” that allows us to choose a different, relaxed response to stress rather than the frazzled, knee-jerk reaction we usually employ.
Thirdly, qigong balances the meridian energy flow in the body, through scientific movement and direction of mental intention. Areas that are depleted are restored to their correct levels; areas that are excessive are “calmed down.” As we become more energetically balanced, we are automatically capable of better adjusting to daily stress.
Fourthly, qigong practice builds the skill of becoming tranquil and appreciating the value of that tranquility. Qigong accomplishes this by meditative standing and sitting practices where we go deep inside and use our attention to release ourselves emotionally and psychically. Significant healing occurs at this level of qigong practice, with tremendous implications for stress management.
Lastly, qigong integrates our three major centers or “brains”, the third eye area, the heart center and the stomach. In the computer age, we have become “headier” than ever, losing touch with the wisdom of our hearts and the grounding of our stomachs. Western science and organizations like HeartMath have proved that attention on the heart center can entrain the head to process emotions in a less stress-inducing manner. Through its emphasis and cultivation of all three centers, qigong ensures maximum resilience when it comes to handling stress effectively.
Qigong is like a practical course in acceptance and letting go. We learn how to conserve our energy and stay calm, whatever the pressures. We learn how to gain control of our inner being and take responsibility for enhancing the quality of our lives. These are skills you can use and apply for the rest of your life
John Du Cane began his study of qigong in 1975 and has taught qigong for over ten years. Du Cane is the author of four acclaimed qigong videos, Bliss Qigong, Serenity Qigong, Power Qigong and Vitality Qigong and a qigong workbook entitled The Five Animal Frolics.