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The Wu Yi Jie He Family System of Chinese Healing and Martial Arts

QiGong - Quality of Life

Posted Mar 1st, 2008 in Articles

Everything Old is New Again

Article in Fitness Business Canada - March 2008

The physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention of QiGong are ideal for the 50-plus crowd.
By Kathryn Korchok

When Roland Thomas hit age 40, he also hit another barrier. The lifelong runner, tennis player and yoga practitioner was forced to quit sports because of recurring back, neck and knee pain that had plagued him for years. As Frank Sheehan approached his 70's, he gave up golf and many other daily activities because of a severe shoulder injury. He had always prided himself on his strength and ability to participate in many kinds of sports. But he feared that was now ending.

Group doing QiGong

These stories are familiar to numerous baby boomers and seniors who enjoy being physically active, involved and competitive. Many are slowly finding that their bodies no longer keep up with their will or their minds.

Fortunately, for Thomas and Sheehan, their lives changed for the better when they discovered Qi Gong, an ancient form of meditative and healing exercise. Thomas, a naturopathic doctor and author, now 58, has since returned to running. And 74-year-old Sheehan, a retired businessman and former MPP once again plays golf daily, carries his clubs and has a full range of motion in his arm and shoulder. They both tout the benefits of Qi Gong practice, including overall well being, decreased stress and restored energy.

"Exercise is good, but it's not the standard bearer for health," notes Master George Picard, founder, owner and head instructor at the Glenridge Martial Arts Academy in St. Catharines, Ontario, where Thomas and Sheehan are students. Picard is a 35-year-plus practitioner and advocate of the Eastern healing and martial arts upon which Qi Gong is the foundation. He has an unparalleled understanding of the mind-body connection and a deep knowledge of how to tap the source of creativity, awareness and "alive-ness."

Picard has won numerous international martial arts competitions and was inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2001. He is the knowledge beneficiary of an internationally renowned lineage of doctors and experts in Chinese healing, including Master Helen Wu, who currently teaches in York University's Kinesiology department. "Many people who are fit, die. And some of them die young," Picard notes. "So while being fit as a fiddle implies you're healthy, that's old school thinking." "New school" thinking is actually a centuries-old mind-body/spirit exercise or healing modality that can improve the lives of baby boomers, seniors and anyone interested in total wellness.

With its philosophical roots in Chinese Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, Qi Gong is designed to improve and maintain good health and increase longevity. For thousands of years, it has been used as a healing modality. At the same time, it improves flexibility and builds body strength while building inner strength.

The practice of Qi Gong is performed in a stationary position. Exercises or postures move the energy through the body in a simple, easy-to-learn way. Its simplified movements require little space to perform. Afterwards, most people experience a sense of calmness, well-being, peace and mild energy.

Tai-chi, on the other hand, is a choreographed set of movements that flow together in a walking or moving form. While Tai-chi at its highest levels can be considered a form of Qi Gong, the practice of Qi Gong involves more than just Tai-chi.

Qi (pronounced "chee") means vital breath or life energy. Gong (pronounced "kung") means work. This breath work is the basis of Chinese energy medicine which advocates keeping the energy channels open and energy flowing through the body to improve and maintain health. It is centered on a holistic mind-body/spirit connection that differs from the traditional Western scientific approach to fitness and health which focuses solely on the physical.

"Qi Gong is the science of using exercise, postures, breathing and focus to gather Qi to heal the mind and body," explains Picard. "Health and healing can't take place from the outside in. It has to come from the inside out."

Meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises are performed in harmony with a specific series of stationary and repetitive physical movements. It is gentle, non-impact, self-paced and non-competitive great stuff for aging boomers and seniors who want to build strength and stamina without stressing their joints.

"Qi Gong, like other forms of movement and exercise, is beneficial to adults 50-plus because it can help them to improve or maintain their health," notes Colin Milner of the International Council on Active Aging (www.icaa.cc). "A few of the key benefits are increased strength, balance, range of motion and flexibility."

It is reputed to rid the body of toxins, provide a cardiovascular workout, loosen the joints and increase suppleness, build bone density and muscle mass, improve breathing capacity and increase energy. It can also reduce or eliminate anxiety and tension and aid in rejuvenation.

National news programs in Canada and the U.S. have made references to this growing natural healing phenomenon. Celebrities like Tiger Woods, Robert Duvall, basketball star Robert Parrish, and Oprah Winfrey have endorsed its practice.
The American College of Sports Medicine's survey, "Top 20 Worldwide Fitness Trends for 2008," revealed that the # 6 trend is "special fitness programs for older adults." This trend made the top 1 0 for the second year in a row.
Qi Gong may be the perfect fitness solution for the 50-plus group who are looking for more than sculpted bodies and are more concerned with overall health and wellness. "As you get older you tend to ask the question, 'What's it all about?'" says Milner. "By participating in programs that enable you to connect with more than yourself, you fulfill one of the dimensions of wellness that is often overlooked but immensely important."

The ICAA touts the "active-aging industry" as an emerging sector in the fitness and health business. It reports that fitness centers, wellness centers and physical activity programs targeting older adults attracted 95% more residents and/or members and had a 93% retention rate. Milner notes that existing club programming should be adjusted to meet the needs of the growing 50-plus market. "By adding Qi Gong you have a program that meets all six dimensions of wellness - the physical, intellectual, spiritual, social, emotional, occupational...: and the needs of the older market." FBC

Kathryn Korchok is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines in Canada and the U.S. She writes about wellness, health, fitness, wine and travel. She is currently exploring life in the American Southwest with her family. You can contact her at kathryn.korchok@gmail.com.

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