"Qigong is an extraordinary tool for reducing the harmful effects of stress," explains Kenneth Cohen, renowned qigong master and author of The Way of Qigong. "The three pillars of qigong practice are body, breath, and mind. If your body is relaxed your breathing will slow down. When your breath is slow, you feel more centered, calmer, and more in touch with yourself" he explains.
"When we're stressed, qi gets blocked like a dam on a river," says Lee Holden, L.Ac., founder of Pacific Healing Arts in Santa Cruz, CA and author of the upcoming book Seven Minutes of Magic.
To experience the restorative effects of qigong for yourself, try this 10-minute routine that Holden developed. "You don't have to have any equipment and you don't need to change clothes," Holden says.
NOTE: All exercises are done standing with the knees soft and feet shoulder-width apart.
Neck circles Bring your palms together behind your back with your fingers pointing down. Begin slowly rotating your head in a circle to the right: Lower your right ear toward your right shoulder, bring your chin toward your chest, then bring your left ear toward your left shoulder. Move the head back through the vertical position to start again. "Don't let your head fall too far back during the transition, as this can compress the joints in the spine," Holden cautions. Repeat 5-10 times in each direction.
Low back stretch Place your thumbs or index finger knuckles on your lower back an inch away from either side of the spine. As you inhale, press in with your thumbs and bring your hips forward. As you exhale, bring the hips back to vertical. Move your thumbs or knuckles half an inch down and repeat until you've worked your way through the whole lower back (5-10 times).
Shaking exercise Begin shaking your wrists and hands. Next, shake your shoulders and elbows. Then bring movement into the entire body by bouncing up and down on your heels, "as if you were trying to shake the spine loose," Holden says. Keep the head, neck, and shoulders relaxed as you allow the vibration from the shaking to move throughout your body.
As you bounce, inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, visualizing tension leaving the body. After 1-2 minutes, stand still and notice if your body feels looser and more vibrant. "Shaking promotes circulation, clears stress that's stored in the body, and opens all the joints," Holden explains.
Wave breathing Place one hand on your lower abdomen and one hand on your chest. On each inhale, breathe deep into the lower abdomen first, then into ribs, then all the way up into the chest. Exhale from top to bottom, releasing the air from your chest, then the ribs, and finally the abdomen. At the bottom of the exhale, actively squeeze all of the air out. Continue breathing this way for 1-2 minutes.
Holding up the Earth Bring your hands in front of your abdomen, palms facing up. As you inhale deeply, move your hands all the way over your head, keeping the elbows soft and the palms facing the ceiling. On the exhale, float your hands back down to the starting position. Continue for 1-2 minutes. This exercise increases your lung capacity, which becomes hindered by stress.