When I first started learning qi gong, it was a required course in my acupuncture school curriculum. Even though I had never tried it before, I was already rolling my eyes. I was here to learn about pins and potions, not old people exercises in the park. I hated the pace of it and the lack of “real exercise”. Moving slowly, taking the time to breathe, and not striving agitated me. It took several months to understand that was exactly why I needed qi gong.
My discomfort with slowness, receptivity, and relaxation was indoctrination from living in a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial culture. I had internalized a toxic relationship to productivity, pain, action, and strength. These ideas fed the myths of what I needed to function and succeed in life. Anything outside of that I was unconsciously associating with being unsuccessful and, ultimately, a barrier to survival.
The more I practiced qi gong, however, the more it became a space for me to explore an embodied unlearning of indoctrination. The movements and my values, conscious and unconscious, began to interact. How do I position my body in way that is nourishing and not exploitative of myself? How do I move in ways that reflect the pace of the seasons? What can I learn from forms used for combat that have now been redirected towards internal cultivation? What is the healing potential of my own body? Where can and should I do for myself and what areas need external support? What beliefs and postures do I no longer need?
I could have used qi gong years before when I was struggling through extreme burnout and institutional violence in a toxic nonprofit environment many years ago. Being grossly underpaid and overworked was just the surface of it. The experience affected my whole system. I was exhausted and not sleeping, constantly sick to my stomach, dangerously depressed, in pain, developing multiple allergies, and struggling in my relationships. I had yet to learn a more nuanced awareness of my body, mind, and spirit. At the time I did not see how I could have agency regulating my nervous system and other aspects of my health as a queer, trans, person of color in a hostile world.
Qi gong taught me a lot about self-compassion, consent, and not fixating on achievement. It is the opposite of “no pain, no gain”. Movements are done within ranges of comfort – nothing is forced. Practicing qi gong is informed by where my body and energy are at in a given moment. Sometimes I even practice without any physical movement at all. Forms help us cultivate our qi, but it is the practice that is important, not the achievement of a specific shape.
Qi gong is holistic within and outside of ourselves. I am not a machine with replaceable parts. I am an ecosystem of integrated mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical traits. I live within other ecosystems: natural, social, professional, seasonal, etc. The more I understand the interconnectedness within myself, the easier it is to navigate my relationships with those outside of me. How can I move in better alignment with myself and others? It helps me understand how to be relational and intersectional – essential orientations in decolonization work.
For me, qi gong goes beyond individual wellness. It is an embodied practice of deprogramming violence and exploitation and a reprogramming of balance and relationship. It is not a replacement for material liberatory action, but a further cultivation of it. It is a place to practice, integrate, and rejuvenate so that I can better align my impacts with my intentions, my external world with my internal world.
My blog on decolonizing medicine