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Finding your qi

Shauna Farnell

You don’t know power until you walk like a cat. Or, so think the students of Joel Proctor’s qigong class.

Balance and internal awareness of movement are two of the key focuses of qigong, an ancient Oriental martial art that many swear by for help in heeling from injuries and for overall improved flexibility.

“The idea is to get really deep inside your internal body,” said Proctor, who is the founder of the Mystic Warrior School and teacher of many different facets of qigong, including medical qigong, gong-fu and tai chi. “You want to be aware of what’s going on with your joints when you move, where your weight is and the way your posture is. Some people are not even aware if they’re relaxed or not.”

People have different goals with qigong. Proctor’s classes feature everyone across the board, from twenty-something dirt bikers to aging athletes.

“I have really poor circulation, and it’s really helped with that,” said Kacey Smith, who, along with her boyfriend, Scott Okerstrom, recently began taking qigong. She said the techniques of the art are something she’s already begun to incorporate into her other hobbies such as kayaking and dirt biking.

“When we ride off-road, every day, there’s probably something going on inside you’re not even aware of – pulled muscles, or something moving out of place,” she said. “We’re doing it for a lot of reasons. There’s a lot to think about. You use imagery and get into your head too. It’s very internal. No matter what you’re doing, (qigong) helps you think about it from the inside-out.”

“I’d be great to do before any sport,” Okerstrom added. “We kayak a lot, and there’s a lot of odd muscles involved in that and it’s easy to tear things. It’s good for older injuries, too. It’s like deep, deep stretching that you don’t get with most (exercises).”

The rehabilitation benefits of qigong are what has others involved in the practice. Jack Wiens had a disc removed from his back, and qigong helps him keep limber for biking and for any other strenuous endeavor.

“I’ve been doing this for two years,” Wiens said. “I came into it because I was having chronic back pain. The area kind of tightened up after surgery, and this was the best thing for it. I still get tension, but if I get a spasm or get sore, I’ll do one of the qigong routines. It takes about 15 minutes. It helps a lot with the internal stuff – breathing and opening up. I found, after a year of doing it, that, OK, I’m really relaxed now. After doing it for two years, you realize there’s a whole new layer of muscle tissue, and parts of your body that relax even more. It’s uncovering layers and layers of tension. There’s so much to it.”

Qigong uses the Yin and Yang, which Proctor regards as “the two primary energy vessels in the body.” With every qigong routine, he emphasizes to his students the importance of balance through opposite movements.

“Without a down and back motion, there’s no moving forward,” he told a class last week, while demonstrating a catlike walk that he referred to as the “tai chi walk.”

“There are two ways of looking and seeing,” he said. “One is by seeing with the eyes opened and (focused). The other is to unfocus the eyes and use other energies to see.”

Longtime qigong students say that the exercise sets, one of which is known as “the Eight Treasures,” have helped them acquire a certain fluidity in all of their daily movements.

“You do everything with a new grace,” said Karen Rex, who started qigong a year ago with her husband, Peter. “We’ve noticed major changes in our balance and strength in the time we’ve been doing it. If everyone in Summit County could do this, they’d save themselves doctor’s bills, taking pills and having tight muscles.”


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