Young at Heart

The lights inside the South Gym at Montana State University are buzzing loudly, so loudly that it sounds as if it is inside my head. To my left, a college class bounds up and down on steps, sneakers squeaking on the highly polished floor. In the midst of all this noise and movement Rod Cline leads us in the slow, meditative movements that are Qigong and somehow, all of the hubbub disappears.

We lift our left foot a few inches off the floor and slowly glide it through the air, forward and to the left. Then we place the foot gently on the floor, transfer our weight to our left leg, pick up our right foot and slide it forward. Arms are at elbow height. We are cranes skimming across the water.

Actually, we are a group of women, all over fifty years old—except me—taking a Young at Heart Qigong class. In Chinese, “qi” means energy and “gong” means skill or practice, making Qigong the practice of cultivating energy.

“I had heard of Tai Chi,” remembers Elsie Rinker a twenty-plus year participant in Young at Heart, “but not Qigong.”

Cline explains, “If you think of Qigong as your hand, then Tai Chi is your thumb.” Qigong is a broader aspect of energy practice. While your thumb (Tai Chi) is different than the rest of your fingers it still has the same focus.

The other Qigong “fingers” include movement (such as Crane Skims the Water), meditation and hands-on healing. While Qigong has been practiced in China for thousands of years it is new to many in the west and it is primarily the movement aspect that is been taught and practiced here.

Qigong originated thousands of years ago by Taoist monks who were being robbed as they sat in meditation. By developing a series of movements that allowed them to meditate and move at the same time, the monks were able to protect their belongings while still working on enlightenment.

The Young at Heart group is less concerned with protection from robberies than the other benefits of Qigong. Qigong improves posture, balance and joint function, according to Cline. Participant Helen Frazier agrees, “The slow movement gives you that balance that you sometimes do not have. I don’t think most of us are used to that slow movement—there’s strength in that.”

After the first class a few of the ladies thought, “We haven’t done anything,” recalls Rinker, “But then I went home and sat in a chair for two hours; I was so stiff.” Frazier concurs, “I’ve been taking aerobics and strength training for years and this is unique.”

Balance
January 31, 2006

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