Restoring Inner Peace with
Qi Gong for Stress and Anxiety
In the west, we live busy lives. The constant demands of daily life can sometimes put us into a reactive state, as we seek to harmonize our internal and external worlds. While it’s important to address what’s going on around us, we have a responsibility to ourselves to take care of our own peace and emotional health.
Humans are sensitive creatures, and our internal energies play a huge role in how we show up in the world. While feeling stress and anxiety may be unpleasant, it can also inhibit your ability to tap into your fullest potential.
In the United States, corporate culture has a tendency to idolize the Yang qualities of hard work and vigorous activity. We all have an image in our mind of the hustling businessperson who works long hours and navigates tense situations. While many of us can perform under stress, none of us are able to put forth our best self when we’re anxious. The stressed-out businessperson is also on a fast track to emotional burnout and mental fatigue.
When our minds and hearts are inhibited by stress, many of the subtler human strengths are unable to flourish. When our mind is full of worry or anxiety, we’re unable to receive insights or intuition. Repeating thoughts and a cluttered internal state prevent us from picking up on the more sensitive nuances of what is happening around us. In Qi Gong, we view this as a lack of connection to the Dao and separation from the flow of the universe.
This manifests on a deep, spiritual level, but can be noticed simply by observing your relationships. The loss of intuition and sensitivity to the world around us leads to disharmony between ourselves and others. How often have you gotten into an argument with a loved one because you’ve checked out from the present moment of the relationship?
Similarly, stress can inhibit our intuition when it comes to making decisions. Whether we know it or not, much of our decision making wisdom comes from feeling the situation, not just analytical thinking. Ironically, important decisions are a common cause of stress and anxiety, so we need to be very mindful of how we respond to the questions of the world.
Stress and Emotional Strength
Stress and anxiety can also prevent us from showing up as our strongest self emotionally. While someone may appear strong, serious, and firm in a tense situation, oftentimes this is a cover for pain or suffering. Stress can cause our heart center to become imbalanced, leading to reactive feelings and actions.
Similar to stress and anxiety in the mind, when our heart experiences these emotions we can become disconnected from our true feeling. Instead of viewing a situation with empathy, compassion, and clarity, our hearts become tense and clouded. Feelings that don’t reflect our truest and most grounded self can manifest, causing pain or suffering for ourselves and others.
When we’re able to let go of stress and anxiety and calm the heart and mind, we can let our truest gifts flow throughout us.
Emotional balance is the source of true internal strength. Learning how to transform stress into vitality is an essential part of flourishing and being happy.
Understanding Stress and Anxiety
What exactly is anxiety? Like all things, one of the first steps to making progress in your relationship with stress and anxiety is to understand what it is. In Qi Gong, we view anxiety as a natural reaction to tense situations, which can be induced both internally as well as externally.
Anxiety can be experienced in different ways. Sometimes, anxiety manifests as excess thinking. At other times, we may feel tension in the chest or other part of our body. One thing that all anxiety has in common is that it is unpleasant, and is based on future projections.
When our attention is directed to worrying about hypothetical future outcomes, it’s very difficult to be in the present moment. A cluttered mind or tense body is often the result. Not only does this not feel very good, but ironically, it actually inhibits our ability to effectively address the challenges that we’re worried about.
With such a fast-paced society that places a high value on getting things done, it’s no surprise that anxiety the leading cause of mental health disorders in the U.S.. In fact, over forty million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, if our anxiety is experienced as emotional disharmony, it is related to the heart center. If we experience excess thinking and worry, we may have an imbalance of the earth element within us. Qi Gong for Anxiety works with our internal energies to transform both of these dis-harmonies and restore peace and flow.
Restoring Peace and Finding Presentness
Every practice in Qi Gong is based on the understanding that thoughts and emotions are deeply connected to one another. If our emotions are turbulent, our mind will follow. If our mind is tense, our emotions suffer.
Since anxiety is based on future projections, Qi Gong focuses on helping us to return to the present moment.
Often when we think of finding presentness we think of meditation and quieting the mind. Letting go of thoughts and experiencing mental relaxation is important. However, another essential element is returning to presentness within our heart and emotions.
Many meditation and mindfulness practices emphasize thought and mind. Qi Gong is unique in that it teaches us how to understand ourselves not just intellectually, but also on an emotional level. Thinking and intellect are important, but often thought is only useful for describing how we feel, not for actually working with those feelings. As the Dao Te Ching points out in its first verse: “The Dao that can be spoken is not the real Dao.” The same is true of our emotions.
Qi Gong provides us with the unique opportunity to connect directly with our feelings and bring about powerful transformations.
Qi Gong for Stress and Anxiety focuses on practices that help us return to the here and now in our heart center. By slowing down and bringing attention to the energies of the heart, we can mindfully work with our emotions to let go of that which doesn’t serve us. As we do so, we can feel the release of physical tension in our body, which in turn relaxes and liberates the mind.
Although Qi Gong for Stress and Anxiety focuses on working with stress and worry, the skills that we learn are applicable to all emotions and struggles. By learning how to truly be present with our thoughts and emotions, we can welcome in a renewed sense of peace and invigorated joy.
For guidance in using Qi Gong practices to manage your stress and anxiety, check out our Qi Gong for Anxiety healing series program.
Qi Gong for Better Sleep
In a culture focused on success, achievement, and productivity, it’s no wonder that so many people have a hard time relaxing and falling asleep. In fact, over sixty-five million Americans are diagnosed with some form of sleep disorder, and many have symptoms that go undiagnosed.
Our bodies contain great wisdom, but even they have difficulty transitioning from a state of tension to a state of relaxation. When we’re unable to fully let go of our day’s pressure, stress, and busyness, we take those energies with us into the night.
Like all living beings, humans require balance to exist in a harmonious state. Just as nature is in a constant dance to maintain equilibrium within an ecosystem, people too must find their own internal stasis.
In a 24 hour cycle, Yang is the energy of being awake and active, while Yin is the energy of relaxation and sleep.
Yin is the energy receptiveness, stillness, softness, darkness, passivity, and night. Yang is the energy of activity, seeking, producing, and day. It’s easy to notice that our society places a higher value Yang activities.
Working hard, being busy, and getting a lot done is praised, while relaxing at home, taking time off, and self-care is often frowned upon.
One of the principles of Yin and Yang is that they are mutually supportive, and what is called “mutual arising.” This means you cannot separate them. You can’t have day without night, joy without sorrow, light without dark. They are essential to one another. It’s an illusion to think that someone has more energy because they work sixteen hours a day and neglect their sleep. While alertness and quick thinking may appear to be high energy, it can easily just be the more glamorous side to an unhealthy imbalance.
The modern way of living often leads to a polarizing of Yin and Yang in the body, which directly impacts sleep quality. Thinking, stress, and anxiety cause Yang energy to move upward into the head, and Yin energy to move down into the rest of the body. When this happens, the mind is awake and busy, but the body is tired and depleted. While this state of imbalance can be pushed through, it is not true energy.
Furthermore, because the mind is full of tense energy, relaxing is difficult, even though the rest of the body is tired and depleted. Herein lies the source of many sleep troubles.
Ancient Wisdom Meets Western Medicine
Both ancient and modern forms of wisdom have their ways to explain the important balance between Yin and Yang.
Ancient Taoist texts compare Yin energy to the oil in a lamp, and Yang to the flame. The flame is what is easy to notice. Its light is useful and commands attention, just as a person expressing themselves or giving a performance. But every lamp needs its oil, and every person needs their sleep to show up as their brightest self.
Western medicine explains how our sympathetic nervous system is amazing at helping us deal with tense situations. Our sympathetic nervous is known as “fight or flight,” and originally helped us to stay safe from predators in the wild. Today, it still helps us to solve important problems, but it is often chronically triggered by stress and anxiety.
How often do you really need to outrun a tiger or grizzly bear? Hopefully, it’s a rare occasion! Today’s tigers and grizzly bears are traffic, meetings, kids activities, work, obligations, and even holidays. It’s whatever triggers the stress response. The sympathetic nervous system is associated with Yang energy and is the flame of your internal lamp.
The parasympathetic nervous system is known as “rest and digest” and helps us to feel calm and process both our emotions, as well as our food. It’s an essential part of digestion and helps the body to restore and build. Just as a lack of Yin energy in the body will cause physical fatigue, the same is true if we fail to spend enough time in our parasympathetic nervous system.
The two views really explain the same thing: With too much Yang in the Upper Tan Tien (head), sleep will be difficult. With too much stress and sympathetic activation, sleep will be a challenge.
By balancing Yin and Yang — sympathetic and parasympathetic — we can be both fully alive during the day, and sleeping deeply at night. Instead of experiencing tense, frantic energy in the mind and tiredness in the body, Qi Gong practices seek to calm the mind and re-energize the body. When Yin and Yang energies become integrated throughout your entire being, it becomes easy and natural to sleep deeply, and in peace.
Qi Gong for Back Pain
Almost everyone in their lives go through back pain. Sometimes it is a quickly passing nuisance and sometimes it’s a chronic everyday hindrance. The classics say, those that conform to softness and flexibility are disciples of life and health, those who are stiff and brittle are disciples of pain and disease. Most of us have experience back pain at one time or another. In fact, there were more than 20 million visits to the doctor for back pain each year. The goal of this Qi Gong program is to help you release chronic tension, explore new ways of moving and stretching your body, and to restore and energize your back.
If you look out into nature, things that are supple, fluid, and flowing are healthy, and things that are brittle, stagnant and constricted are unhealthy.
Just like the river, when the water flows freely it is healthy and alive, when the water is blocked, it becomes stagnant and diseased. Qi Gong is designed to keep the flow open and unimpeded.
Back pain occurs for a variety of reasons; too much sitting, not enough stretching, poor posture, overweight, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, aging and injuries. It’s no wonder that more than 80% of Americans will suffer from low back pain at one time or another.
Qi Gong for back pain fosters flexibility and suppleness as well as strength and structure. Like children, the back should have healthy range of motion and proper structure. Qi Gong exercises develop balance and resiliency, that dynamic harmony between strength and flexibility.
The goal is simple: To facilitate the flexibility in the back, to bring more circulation and blood flow, and to create strength and support. Through various postures, deep breathing, and relaxed stretching, Qi Gong increases the range of motion in the spine.
The purposes of Qi Gong regime for back pain is two fold; one is to release and relieve back pain right now, the other is to prevent back pain in the future. Qi Gong is a great form of exercise for both clearing tension and tightness, and a phenomenal way to prevent that pain from returning.
10-20 years ago, you were put in bed if your back hurt. That’s changed. Now we know that we want to move the back almost immediately.
The first thing to get rid and prevent low back pain is to set aside 10 – 20 minutes everyday to stretch, strengthen and energize the low back. The second factor is to eliminate or limit those things that cause low back pain in the first place. So, you are going to want to lift things with the knees bent, eat a healthy diet, find proper balance in your weight, if you sit take a break to stretch for five minutes. These things are fairly intuitive, but surprisingly many of us forget or think, “I’ll just do it this one time, I’m in a hurry.” It’s those times that we get in trouble and are hobbling around wondering, “where’s my cane when I need it?” Let’s not get to that point.
Some experts say that back pain is an epidemic. There were 20 million trips to the doctor in 2004 for back pain. A lot of us carry tension in the body. A lot of it is unconscious. Qi Gong is a way of waking the body up and clearing the tension.
Try a simple stretch to help relieve back tension. This one exercise will help alleviate tightness from the tip of your tailbone to the top of your neck.
Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. This posture eases the back into opening and clearing stiffness. Try rocking a little bit from the right to the left. Notice how it massages the low back into the floor.
Next, take both knees over to one side all the way to the floor and twist. Let’s start by going to the right side. Hold the knees down with the right hand and turn the upper body to the left. Again, this is a classic stretch to open the back, stretch the rib cage, and bring the breath deeper into the lungs. Deep breathing is the secret to getting more out of this stretch. See if you can bring your breath down through the ribs, and feel the expansion in your low back and abdomen. Twisting is a great way to create suppleness in your spine. After our teenage years, the only way to increase the flow of spinal fluid in the joints is to do the appropriate stretching. This is one of the best. Sometimes you can literally feel the disks between the joints filling up with that nutritive spinal fluid.
Use our Qi Gong for the Upper Back and Neck video guide for a simple and easy to follow routine to relieve upper back and neck tension.
How to Feel Your Qi
Stop thinking, start flowing: Sometimes people don’t experience Qi because they’re too focused on understanding the directions about what they “should” be doing. If you’re not familiar with the movements, you’ll likely put all of your attention into understanding what the external appearance of your practice “should” look like. Many practitioners encounter several questions running through their mind: How much do I bend my knees? How far do I move my arms? When do I shift my weight? When do I inhale and when do I exhale? It’s a good idea to follow the right movements, but if that’s all you’re thinking about then you’re doing exactly what we talked about above: Paying attention to the physical and not tapping into what’s happening within.
To avoid this, many practitioners find it useful to practice the movements so they can happen naturally. Once you know the movements “good enough,” let go of worrying about your form and just practice. You’ll always return to the process of improving your form, but dropping into a deep, nourishing practice and experiencing your Qi only happens once you’ve stopped striving for the perfect form.
Wake up your Qi: Another helpful tip is to start your practice with some nice stretches and awaking exercises. Most of the routines that Lee teaches guide students through a similar progression that allows students to get the Qi awake and moving before dropping into a flow. Once Qi is livened up, it’s easier to really feel it in your flowing practice.
Take slow, deep breaths: Breathing is an important element of any Qi Gong practice. In fact, some practices focus solely on breathing as a way to work with Qi. In a movement practice, the breath is still an essential element to dropping in and experiencing Qi.
Short, shallow breathing is a typical response to many of the stressors we encounter in daily life. Unfortunately, this kind of breathing isn’t helpful for much and only further prevents us from finding peace or experiencing Qi. Instead of taking the stress from your day into your practice, let it go by focusing on slow, deep breaths. Sometimes, it can be good to start your practice by bringing all of your attention to this kind of breathing. Once you’ve established a healthy breathing pattern, continue that as you begin your movements and let it be the foundation for the rest of your practice.
Consistency: Like all things, Qi Gong takes practice. If you’re only practicing a few times a month it can be difficult to drop in and really experience your Qi. However, with consistency, you’re able to strengthen your practice and make it easy to return to that wonderful state of feeling your Qi and being in flow.
Meditation is a great way to calm the mind, release stress, and center emotions. With a consistent practice, meditation has been shown to have numerous benefits for both mental and physical health.
Similarly, physical exercise is widely recognized as an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. It’s obvious that moving your body is important, and most of us make it a priority to get out and exercise regularly.
Follow our Qi Gong for Better Breathing Video Guide for step by step instructions on how to use Qi Gong to improve your breathing.
Meditation and Exercise
Meditation is an amazing practice that can heal us in innumerable ways. Returning to center, remembering what’s real, and letting go of tension are all key benefits to a regular practice. As Qi Gong practitioners, most of us have a consistent, stable meditation routine that helps us to process our lives.
Sometimes meditation is effortless and easeful. At other times, our body or mind just doesn’t want to sit still. Isn’t it frustrating to sit on your mat and realize that your mind just keeps spinning out of control? Sometimes, sitting still and meditating almost seems to make it worse. Although humans are intellectual creatures with immensely powerful minds, we’re also physical beings. Our consciousness lives not just in our mind, but also in our body.
It’s well known that movement and exercise causes a release of dopamine and other endorphins that affect our thoughts and emotions.
Haven’t you noticed how after a long run or engaging work out that your mind feels more clear and able to focus? Movement causes our Qi to awaken and flow throughout our entire being.
However, if we just continue on with our day after our exercise, we’re not going to be able to harness the full effects that exercise brings us.
Qi Gong is a practice that invites us to bring the consciousness of meditation into the art of physical movement. By moving with mindfulness and intention, we can truly tap into the energy and Qi that is in all parts of our physical body. When we bring our attention to what is taking place in the body, both our mind and body flourish as a result of the synergetic union.
Mind and body are naturally predisposed to work together. However, unfortunately, the modern way of living brings a disconnect between the two. Qi Gong is an effective and natural way to reestablish that connection and bring integration of your full being.
Mind and Body Supporting One Another
Mind and body influence one another. As conscious beings, we can use each to nurture the other.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb, “it is through movement that I know stillness.” In Qi Gong, we use the movements of the body to bring stillness and focus to the mind. When the mind can become fully immersed in the movements of our Qi Gong practice, there is a unification that occurs throughout our entire being. Because the mind is grounded in the movements of the practice, trivial thoughts and worries fade from view and we sink deeper into reality.
As Isaac Newton famously pointed out: “[An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.]” The same is true of our mind, and Qi Gong movements can be the “outside” physical force that helps the mind find peace and stillness.
In meditation without movement, it can be harder to find the inner peace and connectedness that Qi Gong allows. Of course, all things are possible, but Qi Gong provides us with a multi-layered approach that is both somatic as well as psychological.
In movement Qi Gong, our body is active while our mind is still. In meditation Qi Gong, our body is still while we bring our awareness on an intentional journey of mind consciousness. Unlike some other forms of meditation, in Qi Gong meditations, our mind is usually not blank and at complete rest. Often, Qi Gong meditations are practices with an intention for emotional clearing, physical nourishment, or emotional balancing.
Many Qi Gong meditations use visualization to cultivate the physical qualities that we’re seeking in our body. For example, the “White Light” meditation brings cleansing Qi to all parts of our body for health and vitality. Just as we use physical movement practices to nurture the mind, we use meditation practices in our mind to cultivate the body.
Yin and Yang are always alive within us, and Qi Gong is one of those rare practices that bring mindful awareness to both mind and matter within us.
Our Qi Gong for Energy & Vitality Guide will teach you to move with relaxation and efficiency.
Multifaceted Health Benefits of Medical Qi Gong
It is a challenge for the Western mind to understand the function of Qi in the context of bodily functions as defined by science. According to Chinese medicine and Qi Gong theory, Qi has an infinite number of functions in the body.
The foundation of Qi Gong and TCM theory dictates that intention (Yi) directs the movement of Qi, which in turn directs the flow of blood in the body. Increased or decreased electrical activity in specific areas of the body determines blood flow and fluid balance, accumulation and dispersal of substances. The practice of Qi Gong is the act of bringing awareness and skill to direct the function and movement of Qi. The correct movement of Qi is a force that engages the body’s natural tendency toward homeostasis.
Continued practice provides reinforcement of the body’s inclination toward homeostasis and therefore toward optimal use of all its functions and potential. What are called ‘special abilities’ or ‘psychic powers’ that sometimes develop in Qi Gong practice are simply the product of our natural capacity in the refined human state For health maintenance, the Qi Gong practitioners do not have to be an expert.
Almost anyone can learn to practice Qi Gong to maintain and improve his or her own health.
The objective of the exercises is to strengthen the Qi in the body and remove obstructions to Qi flow that may have developed due to injury, emotional states, diet, disease or other factors. Conversely, obstruction of Qi flow can also produce disease.
Of all the energy medical practices, Qi Gong has the most developed theoretical basis and has been subjected to the most extensive research. In China, the collected knowledge about the therapeutic benefits of Qi Gong was developed over thousands of years. Medical Qi Gong is now practiced in clinics and some hospitals that integrate traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and conventional Western medicine. In Western hospitals Qi Gong is among several complementary practices used including Therapeutic Touch, Mindful Meditation and Reiki.
Clinical Research Demonstrates The Multifaceted Effects of Qi Gong
In the early 1980’s Chinese scientists initiated research on the health and healing claims of Qi Gong. Of the hundreds of research studies that were performed, few were published because suitable journals were unavailable. However, about 1400 reports were published as abstracts in the proceedings of conferences. English abstracts of these reports as well as those from scientific journals are collected in the Qi Gong Database™ that presently contains more than 2000 records of Qi Gong studies and is available from the Qi Gong Institute. One of the authors has discussed the medical benefits of Qi Gong.
Wang and Xu, two western-trained doctors in China explored some of the multiple health benefits of self-practice Qi Gong as summarized in the table.
Activities of two messenger cyclic nucleotides
Blood flow to the brain for subjects with cerebral arteriosclerosis
Cerebral functions impaired by senility
Endocrine gland functions
Erythrocyte deformation index
Factor VIII-related antigen
Longevity, 50% greater; after Qi Fong 30 min/twice daily, 20 years
Plasminogen activator inhibitor
Serum estradiol levels in hypertensive men and women
Serum lipid levels
Strokes, 50% fewer after Qi Gong 30 min/twice daily, 20 years
One of the prime benefits of Qi Gong is stress reduction, and a main ingredient of practice is intention (i.e., Yi) that uses the mind to guide the Qi. While Qi itself has not been measured, multiple types of measurements demonstrate the effects of Qi on the body. For example, simultaneous measurements of the interaction between a Qi Gong master and receiver included respiration, EEG, vibrations, blood pressure, skin conductivity, and heart rate variability. Different physiological measurements have sought information about the effects of Qi Gong on the brain and emotions. These include measurements by high-resolution electroencephalography (EEG), functional MRI (fMRI), neurometer measurements, and applied kinesiology.
Neuroimaging methods were used to study regional brain functions, emotions and disorders of emotions. Differences were found on the effects on the brain during meditation by Qi Gong and by Zen meditation. The effects of emitted Qi (waiqi) has also been extended to cell cultures, growth of plants, seed germination, and reduction of tumor size in animals. Spiritual healing, which involves the mind, has been the subject of two volumes by Benor. His discussions also include scientific studies describing the beneficial effects of prayer on subjects’ health.
The work of Richard Davidson and Paul Ekman, researchers of the Mind and Life Institute, may go a long way to illustrate the role of intention alone on the brain and body. In current studies underway at University of California at San Francisco Medical School and University of Wisconsin, they are observing the electrical mechanisms in the brains of highly trained Buddhist lamas during various states of focused intention. Using functional, fMRI, high-resolution EEG and state-of-the-art reflex monitoring, their early results illustrate that electrical activity and blood flow in the brain can be directed by conscious intention.
Through systematic and repeated practice of intention, well-practiced lamas have succeeded in training the brain to direct electrical activity away from areas associated with the biochemistry of stress, tension and disturbing emotional or physical states (i.e., the amygdala and right prefrontal cortex) and increase activity in the area associated with the biochemistry of healthful emotional and physical states (i.e., the left prefrontal cortex). Moreover, they have observed that the state of conscious intention on compassion engages a state of relaxation and well being which surpasses even that achieved during a state of rest.
The early results of this research suggests that parts of the brain thought previously to be fixed in function, such as the stress reflexes of the reptilian brain, may in fact be plastic in nature, able to be changed, shaped and developed through ongoing practice of conscious intention.
Cost containment of healthcare is a subject of vital contemporary interest. For example, in the treatment of asthma self-applied Qi Gong led to significant cost decreases, such as reduction in days unfit for work, hospitalization days, emergency consultation, respiratory tract infections, and number of drugs and drug costs.
The vast research of medical benefits of Qi Gong offers a rich source of information for benefiting mankind. Medical cost containment is an attractive benefit of Qi Gong practice and should be further explored to provide healing potential without side effects. The science and art of Qi Gong may open a window into new thinking about health, medicine, psychology and spirituality. It is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that continuously supports our natural tendency toward homeostasis. If that tendency is supported with regularity, allowing one to hover more closely to that point of balance, then the entire being can experience a tremendous evolutionary advantage.
Innate abilities have an opportunity to develop; the senses more keen, organ function more consistent and strong, the sympathetic nervous system relaxed, parasympathetic nervous system efficient, the mind relaxed, alert, clear, freely channeling messages in a multitude of new and diverse directions.
From a scientific point of view, the promise of Qi Gong practices provides new avenues for understanding some of the subtle aspects of human life and its natural inclination to strive for balance. For clinicians it shifts our focus from a battle with disease to a cultivation of health. For practitioners of Qi Gong, it gives us an experiential understanding of greater balance within ourselves and of the cultivation our individual physical, mental and spiritual potential.
Kenneth M. Sancier, Ph.D.
Devatara Holman MS, MA, LAc