Around 8 or 9 years ago I was experiencing some unusual energy imbalances in my body. I innately knew that it would be useless to consult a physician (although I would not recommend that to others)…that my energy just needed to be “evened out”. Although knowledgeable in other areas, I was pretty unfamiliar with Chinese Medicine and the various practices associated with it….but somehow I felt that my problem would benefit from taking a T’ai chi class.
I really didn’t want to get into the whole marshal aspect of the practice, so I signed up for an intro class at our local evening adult school, hoping it would provide me with a good foundation and introduction to the subject. Well, to make a long story short…it turned out to be a qigong class instead of a T’ai chi class. There was also a completely different teacher…Joanne.
It’s interesting how life works out sometimes. Meeting Joanne and studying with her opened up a whole new energetic perspective and understanding for me, influencing not only my personal life but eventually my artistic endeavors as well. Although I have had additional instructors over the years, each bringing their own unique style and meaning into the practice, Joanne laid the foundation. A very, very strong foundation. Joanne Kornoelje is an Associate of the Healing Tao and has been practicing t'ai chi, qigong and meditation for over 20 years. She has taught for over 10 years with students ranging from 9 to 90. I’d also like to add that Joanne is a science teacher. Her ability to convey energetic movement as it relates to the human anatomy is quite extraordinary, and her guided qi meditations are simply beyond compare.
What is qigong?
Trying to quickly capsulize qigong is not so easy. Basically it's a system to move and balance your internal energy (qi). The classic Chinese idea about health is that your qi - your energy - moves in channels throughout your body. Each of your organs has its own channel, and there are larger channels that function something like major rivers or reservoirs of qi. Comparing your channels to flowing water is a useful metaphor. When streams in the forest get clogged with tree limbs and other debris, the flow of water stops. An intervention is necessary to get it moving. When the spring melt comes, the streams can overflow their banks, causing another unbalanced situation. The same thing can happen with your energy channels. When your channels get obstructed, or are trying to cope with an excess flow, pain or illness can be the result. The classic Chinese doctor would then prescribe acupuncture, herbs, meditation, t'ai chi, massage or qigong (or some combination) to restore you to balance.
What is your background? How did you get involved with qigong?
I started taking t'ai chi for no discernible reason in our local adult school held at the High School in 1987. This gave me the foundation that I still rely on today. From there I found teachers at the local Y and a municipal recreation center. Once you start looking there are opportunities all around. I also took advantage of many workshops offered along the way. Workshops will often be advertised at health food stores, holistic health centers or in free newspapers. You can also find out about more through T'ai Chi Magazine or the Empty Vessel (a Taoist magazine) or on-line inquiry. There are also regional annual get-togethers with t'ai chi and qigong instruction, sponsored by different relevant associations or schools. You may have to try a couple places before you find something that works for you.
All teachers are different, and students need to be proactive in finding a situation that benefits them. I got involved with the Healing Tao in the mid-90s, which added a more esoteric understanding to the t'ai chi process. I've been teaching since then: t'ai chi, qigong and meditation. I've taught children from 4th grade to 8th grade, adults, and also adults in assisted living centers.
What is the difference between qigong and T’ai Chi?
T'ai chi is often referred to as a form of meditation in movement. This is the same for qigong. T'ai chi and qigong come from the same root. The primary difference is that t'ai chi is a martial art. It is what is known as a "soft" style, as opposed to karate (for example) in the hard style. T'ai chi infiltrates and wins by being deceptively soft, but always searching for the moment when the opponent is off balance. A good t'ai chi player will take advantage of that moment, and uproot the opponent, while staying rooted herself. The movement in t'ai chi is also slow and repetitive, but with the added dimension of stepping (which does not occur too frequently in qigong exercises). Naturally you do not have to practice t'ai chi as a martial art - you can simply learn the moves and do them as a qigong exercise - for health and relaxation by actively participating in your internal energy flow.
I practice qigong as a preventive medicine to keep my energy balanced and flowing, and also as a way to stay focused and grounded in this life on this planet. The practice has movement - slow and repetitive which chips away at our preconceived ideas of what exercise "should be". The practice also can be stationary, meditations which focus the mind inward, connecting with your body deep inside and encouraging balance there.
End of Part One...
For additional reading, two very informative books are: The Way of Qigong by Kenneth S. Cohen, foreword by Larry Dossey, M.D. Also, The Healing Promise of Qi by Roger Jahnke, O.M.D.
artwork by Diane Fergurson