"The Alchemy of Qi Gong Volume 1: The Essential Health Practices"
Price: $19.95 or $49.95 for the series, including three volumes
Get it at: taoistpath.com
Instructor: Pedram Shojai
Workout time: 70 minutes total; 10-15 minutes per practice
Music: Soothing meditation music
Sweat factor: Light
Fitness level: Beginner to intermediate
After a long introduction of drumming, hymning and scenic ocean shots, qigong master Pedram Shojai explains in Volume 1, the principles behind the qi. Qigong, which literally means “energy work,” is a far cry from the average jazzercise-inspired workout video.
Instead, video creator and host Shojai – an Irvine acupuncturist and former Taoist monk – says the video is about conversations, ideas and exercise. The ultimate goal is to unclog the “blockages” that weigh us down, balance our bodies and stimulate the energy of the universe to move through us. In doing so, we can connect all aspects of ourselves and achieve an energy-filled, balanced, “light” body.
Engaging in this 70-minute video in pure silence can be soothing – particularly for a girl like me, who is accustomed to exercise always involving a ball, other players and a lot of noise.
The five practices in Volume 1 are designed, according to Shojai, as health exercises meant to ward off disease, depression and anxiety, and improve blood flow. Like all of qigong, the exercises making up the practices focus on the eyes, the mind, the body, and the breath. Shojai demonstrates each exercise from a stage set on a mountain, the wind breathing through his loose yellow shirt and white pants, his quiet voice instructing along the way. Likewise, it’s best to try qigong in quiet and spacious surroundings. (Also note that practice two requires a 12-inch ruler, while other practices involve a cushion or pillow.)
Silk Weavers Exercise
Practice one, Silk Weavers Exercise, begins with simple movements: brushing your feet on the ground and moving your hands and arms uniformly. It eventually becomes more complicated when stepping and various hand movements coincide, requiring increased balance. Shojai advises viewers to keep the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, and even more importantly, to carefully watch your hands. Eyes are extremely important because, according to qigong, they are the gateway to the spirit. Because it’s impossible to watch the instructor and your hands at the same time, Shojai suggests learning with the video, but eventually practicing without it. My introduction to qigong is somewhat successful; though I haven’t wholly bought into the concept of energy movement, I appreciate movements that stretch my body in a relaxing, painless way.
Tai Chi Ruler Level One
Practice two, Tai Chi Ruler Level One, focuses on holding the ruler in specific poses. Balance and breathing become even more vital in this exercise, which is meant to be a morning or afternoon workout. Throughout the practice, my muscles aren’t strained, but post-workout they feel rejuvenated.
Tai Chi Level Two
Practice three, Tai Chi Level Two, is more calming than its counterpart. According to Shojai, these relaxed muscle movements are a good nighttime exercise that help soothe and heal the mind. Only move as fast as you can breathe, says Shojai. While I do not necessarily feel more mentally fit after tai chi, improving my balance and creating an awareness of my breathing is both relaxing and revitalizing.
Triple Burner Exercise
Practice four, Triple Burner Exercise, centers yet again on balance, like through "the four-point stance," and focusing energy on particular parts of the body. For example, "the upper burner" – the area from the throat to the rib cage – exercise focuses on moving energy back and forth from our mid-section through our palms. My attempt to imagine moving light throughout my body is not successful, but the physically relaxing element of qigong feels worthwhile.
Meditation for Health
Practice five, Meditation for Health, is a two-minute meditation requiring a cushion, a straight spine and focused breathing. It’s meant to cleanse and liberate the mind, while connecting the “blind spots” of the body – in other words, achieving a unified consciousness throughout the mind and body. Meditation is not my usual cup of tea and this is easily the least inspiring portion of the video for me, but those of you who love meditation will probably feel differently about practice five.
Qigong is an ancient, spiritual technology of understanding energy flow and we need to wake up and become aware of this, insists Shojai. Qigong’s spiritual approach to the body, though difficult for me personally to engage in, forces its audience to appreciate the value of proper balance, stretching, concentration, and controlled breathing. In a fast-paced world of treadmills, Pilates step-ups and dumbbells, qigong is a soothing alternative that most people can get something out of – whether you're spiritually-inclined or not.