What is Qi Gong? And how does it benefit dance?
Qi Gong is an ancient form of meditative exercise with roots in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), martial arts and philosophy. It’s a practice that aims to balance the energy system for body, mind and spiritual development. The word Qi is loosely translated as energy or air, and gong, usually involves force or power, so combined the words describe methods of cultivating and utilizing life energy, especially for health and well being.
While there are many different styles of Qi Gong, they all share the very same basic training theory:
Control of posture, Regulating the mind, Conserving the breath
A typical Qi Gong practice involves coordinating rhythmic breathing with slow repetitive movements. These slow mindful exercises bring the brain into a very calm state known by scientists as the alpha state. This is a highly creative state of mind and helps reduce stress and balances the emotions. In TCM medical theory, imbalanced emotions are thought to be a major cause for disease.
The Practice of Qi Gong: The practice of Qi Gong is like doing an internal scan of the entire body to clear and release any place the body is holding tension. Tension often manifests from worry, angst or the feeling of not being able to let go of something, so Qi Gong is a fantastic tool that can help us let go of blocks on deep levels in our mind, heart and body, allowing us to open to our flow of life energy. The more you practice the more you may start becoming aware, and possibly feel discomfort. It is important to see these discomforts (emotional or physical) as opportunities to heal and release them, rather than a sign that the exercises are not working.
ACTIVE PRINCIPLES OF QI GONG INCLUDE:
Breath, Posture, Movement, Relaxation, Concentration
The breath is our connection to life force or Qi
A common type of breathing used in Qi Gong is lower abdominal diaphragmatic breathing (Natural Breathing or Baby Breathing) When inhaling, the lower abdomen protrudes and the abdominal muscles are relaxed. Upon exhaling the lower abdomen moves toward the center of the body as the diaphragm releases and the intra-abdominal pressure is released.
*Breath is slow deep, long, regular and smooth
How proper breathing impacts dance training
- Regulating the breath allows for a calm mind which can assist in learning and assimilating new information. When the mind is quiet and peaceful we can reduce the tendency to think negative thoughts about personal development and increases patience and acceptance of personal development.
- The breath is linked closely with the emotions, so through regulated slow deep respiration, emotions become balanced and performance (if you choose to perform!) is enhanced. * So next time you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, practice some slow regulated deep breathing!
- Deep regulated breathing increases oxygen in the body, which increases overall energy levels. When we have more energy we are able to learn and perform at our best and improve our stamina for training and performance.
Concentration (or focus) implies a level of attention involved in performing an activity. In practical terms, Qi follows whatever the mind focuses on. The mind leads the Qi to a certain place, and when the Qi is focused during concentration, different ideas and activities are enhanced. Conversely, when practicing any activity in a mindless, mechanical manner, the action of the most practical and simple activities is severely impaired, drastically limiting its positive effects. Interestingly, concentration can also be expressed as imagination. The creative power of the mind may manifest in a wide variety of ways, but the essential element of all of its manifestations is concentration.
How concentration benefits dance
- Through concentration and ‘presence’, we are better able to focus on what we are doing and progress more rapidly.
- The slow mindful exercises of Qi Gong bring the brain into a very calm state known by scientists as the alpha state. This is a highly creative state of mind, and creative expression flows when daily worries and plans are reduced. How does this relate to dance? Well, creative expression through movement is enhanced.
- Repetitive movement of the body affects the nervous system, circulatory system, and the free flow of Qi through the channels.
- Together with posture, repetitive movement affects the body in a variety of ways via the increased free flow of Qi and blood and its effect on the nervous system.
- Repetitive movement activates the circulation by mechanically squeezing stagnant Qi and blood from blocked areas, which manifests as pain or muscle tension.
How we benefit from movement
- The rhythmic contraction/relaxation of the muscles assists in feeding and nourishing the cells of the body
- Movement enables us to become more aware of the way we move and of our postural alignment
- Flow of lymph and fluids is increased, which activates and helps immune system function
- The restorative functions not only support the immune system but also act to prevent aging and chronic diseases.
- The rhythmic action of repetitive movement helps remove the cellular by-products of stress and facilitates the activation of parasympathetic functions (which are associated with relaxation)
Repetitive movement harmonizes the nervous system and is used in many cultures to induce trance states associated with shamanic practices.
Benefits in Chinese Medicine terms
Repetitive movements facilitate the free flow of Qi through the channels. Qi tends to stagnate at areas of the body that contain muscular tension. Stagnant Qi has a causative and symptomatic relationship with muscular tension. When emotional or mental disturbances or habits activate the muscles causing chronic contractions, the flow of Qi can be inhibited, causing localized stagnation.
How Qi Gong movement benefits dance
- The repetitive movements relax muscle tension, which increases flexibility and freedom of movement.
- It helps to strengthen the immune system, protecting the body from getting sick, therefore ensuring optimum dance performance and development.
- Activation of the sympathetic nervous system enhances a calm state of mind. It has been well documented that people perform and learn at their optimum when their mind is relaxed.
The use of specific postures for changing consciousness and Qi flow throughout the body is very ancient.
- Neolithic cave paintings portray shamans dressed as animals and dancing. Drawings found in the Ma Huang Tui Tombs depict ancient Chinese people in specific postures or “Dao Yin” with explanations regarding the health benefits of each one
- Posture, or the physical position of the body, plays a very important role in the functioning of all aspects of the physiological process
- The most important aspect of posture is the position of the spine
Posture not only relates to the positioning of the shoulders, but rather the positioning of the entire body
Important information about the spine
- It functions as the main vertical support for all of the internal organs and acts as a pathway for the nervous system
- It relays sensory and motor information to the brain
The wonderful facts about improving posture:
By consciously altering body position, Qi can be consciously made to flow more or less through specific areas
- A general balancing of the entire body’s Qi flow can be accomplished through correct use of posture
- Chronic internal organ disorders can be helped through correct posture. By correcting inappropriate chronic flexion and rotation in the spine there is an increase in the Qi and blood flow through the organs, improving organ function.
- Correcting posture also helps improve the overall functioning of the musculoskeletal system. This helps harmonize the nervous system by reducing chronic muscle tension and lowering the overall stress and tension of the body. By reducing pain and sensory motor nerve activity, the nervous system as a whole functions more harmoniously.
How posture benefits dance
- The characteristic feature of Tribal fusion belly dance is an upright posture, so through increased body awareness, this can be achieved
- Posture, or body alignment is the key to balance and therefore to movement
- Your posture not only reveals your feelings, but can actually produce feelings in you ie- when your head is held low, belly is sticking out, shoulders are slouched and pelvis is slumped under- you feel terrible and find it hard to move. Whereas aligned posture improves movement and evokes feelings of self confidence and high self esteem.
The principle of relaxation integrates the attributes of the other principles (breath, posture and movement) and adds a harmonizing aspect
- Relaxation refers not only to the neuromuscular and endocrine condition of the body, but also to the emotional and mental manner in which the activity of Qi Gong is performed.
- This attitude of relaxation is critical to the complete functioning of the other principles involved
- Performing activities in a relaxed state increases learning by reducing anxiety. Chinese Olympic swimmers practice relaxation Qi Gong before practices and competitions in order to remove inhibiting anxiety states that impair performance under competitive pressures.
How relaxation benefits dance
- Relaxation allows for greater awareness of essential muscles in movement and posture.
- When we bring a relaxed attitude to dance, the whole experience is more pleasurable, which increases our motivation to further explore expressive movement.
- The ability to feel more relaxed in our every day life assists in situations, which may cause anxiety, such as dancing for an audience.
If you would like to learn more about Qi gong, I run weekly belly dance classes that incorporate basic Qi Gong exercises. See more about that HERE.
You can also check out my online course “The Art of Tribal belly Dance” that includes a 60 minute Body balance section with Qi Gong, and meridian exercises: Check it out HERE