“When I came to this class I was in pain and now I can’t feel any” (Fibromyalgia sufferer after the first hour of movement practice)
“Your voice is so relaxing, I can’t help but drift off” (Class participant at the end of the first session)
“I felt amazing when I left and I really enjoyed the class” (feedback a few days after a class)
When did you last feel deeply, deeply relaxed? Can you remember how it feels in your body? Western culture does not attribute much worth to relaxation but instead values hard work, busyness, achievement and striving. Spending time relaxing, just being, appreciating the simple things in life, taking our time and going slowly, goes against prevailing social norms. For some people (especially women who take the majority of caring roles in society, such as looking after children and the elderly), taking time out can be very difficult. The toll that this takes on our bodies over time can deplete our energy, create insomnia, fatigue, chronic illnesses. We may get stuck in the ‘flight or fight response’ (the sympathetic nervous system), flooding our bodies with cortisol and adrenaline, just to keep going. The socially acceptable forms of relaxation and entertainment (like TV and alcohol) can numb us and create a form of escapism but rarely generates a sense of deep, restorative rest which is beneficial for the body.
These classes are designed to help us slow down and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is when the body has an opportunity to maximise the digestion of food, restore and replenish its cells, and heal. Both the movement and the relaxation exercises offered in the class have this purpose in mind.
The classes are suitable for all ages and abilities. You are encouraged to tune into your own body and only practice what feels right for you. In qigong (see below) a 70% rule is encouraged – that we only do 70% of what we are capable of, to prevent us from over-exerting ourselves.
There are two inter-related aspects of the movement in these classes: the warm up and the qigong exercises.
The warm up and movement practices draw primarily from qigong and Chinese medicine practices and include gentle stretching, shaking, swings, meridian brushing and tapping the body (known as do-in which means energy self-massage). We may also cover a few exercises from Donna Eden’s energy medicine.
Qigong (chi gung or chi kung)
Qi means lifeforce or energy and gong means practice work or to cultivate. Qigong is a very gentle practice normally involving quite simple movements that are repeated. It is similar to tai chi but has a stronger focus on healing and cultivating energy. It is grounded in Chinese medicine and therefore is based on the same principles as acupuncture – that we have energy channels in the body (called meridians) and our energy needs to flow smoothly for our health. Qigong works on cultivating our energy and smoothing the flow of energy. There are many different forms (e.g. animal forms that mimic animal movements, martial art forms, medical qigong which is more meridian focused). Most forms work with synchronising the breath with slow movements to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and enhancing the practice through visualisation. Attention is given to ‘proper posture’ which is key to all forms of qigong.
In the one-month block classes you will learn half of a form called shibashi (which translates to the 18 exercises). A second one-month block will cover the remaining 9 exercises. In the one-off classes we cover self-contained forms such as Hua Gong (self-healing), the Golden Ball and Separating Heaven and Earth.
A substantial part of the class is dedicated to guided relaxation practiced lying down (normally about half an hour in a one and a half hour class, or two half hours in a two hour class). Hypnotherapy (guided relaxation where the rational mind becomes quieter and the ‘right brain’ is more open to suggestions) is one approach used for deep relaxation. The other is yoga nidra (which translates to sleep yoga in the Indian tradition) which is a structured relaxation practice associated with deep healing benefits.