Our bodies respond not only to physical medicines but also to the more subtle energetic realms that provide the “juice” or “qi” [CHEE] that sustains our lives. Without this enlivening force, our bodies would be nothing more than sacks of bones and fluids. Many cultures have developed health practices that cultivate the life force or “spirit” that informs our physical bodies. One such practice is Qi gong [CHEE GONG], a Chinese method of using mind, breath, and body to restore health. I first learned about Qi gong when I was a student at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon. We were blessed to study with Professor Chen, a Qi gong teacher with remarkable history.
Chen’s suffering began in childhood with severe digestive problems. During her adult years she also struggled with crippling arthritis and daily migraine headaches. Finally, at age 49 a doctor diagnosed Chen with terminal cancer told her family she had only two months to live. Rather than give her a prognosis, the doctor advised Chen to “go home and rest; eat lots of good food, and relax,” which was the doctor’s gentle way of saying, “we can do nothing for you. Go home and die.”
One day while waiting for radiation therapy, Chen chatted with the man beside her. He, too, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He listened, smiling, while Chen recounted her lifelong struggles with illness. His smile never faltered. “I began to wonder if there was something wrong with him,” says Chen, laughing.
When she finished her story, he recounted his own diagnosis of terminal cancer and his quest for a “miracle” cure. He had searched throughout the city and finally discovered a group of people in a park doing slow-motion exercises, Qi gong. He watched, fascinated and eventually joined. Many were cancer survivors who attributed their recovery to the effects of Qi gong.
Chen joined the group but initially felt none of the energetic sensations other long-term practitioners described. “I didn’t feel any of that at first;” she explains, “but I knew it was working because I began to feel better. Within three weeks, my health improved. I went from not being able to drink a drop of water to eating a bowl of rice. That’s how I knew it was working.” Within three months, Chen returned to her job teaching at the University of International Business and Economics in Bei Jing.
“This shocked everyone around me,” says Chen. “They all knew the doctor a said I was going to die in three months. What they saw was a new Chen: more energetic, younger looking. People asked ‘What did you do to change your life?’ I told them, ‘Qi gong.’
“Not only my health improved, but also my emotions. At that time I was not living a happy life, for many reasons. My husband wanted a divorce. After practicing Qi gong I learned that difficulties in life were like a test for me. I tried to calm myself down and work with the relationship, but he insisted on a divorce. I knew that to practice qi gong, to take care of my own spiritual life, was more important. I didn’t want my spiritual life to be interrupted by anything else.”
A year later Chen invited her Qi gong teacher to instruct students at the University. “That’s how I started to learn how to Qi gong” explains Chen “one year after I began to practice. After I saw how many people benefited from Qi gong, I devoted myself to teaching,” In the last 19 years, Chen has taught Qi gong to over 10,000 people in China, the United States, and Europe.
When asked if Qi gong makes sense in a western culture, Chen emphatically says, “Yes! Qi gong is not only for health. The purpose of qi gong eventually is spiritual growth. I think nowadays many western people are looking to for something to help them spiritually. Qi gong is a very effective method because you get in touch with the Universe, the source of Qi, or life force. The way you get in touch with the universe is to open up. You come to understand many things. “The Qi itself is consciousness. The Qi will help u understand. It’s not the teacher or the teaching, but the Qi that I will teach you. The qi or consciousness opens you up.
What kind of people practice Qi gong? “All kinds of people!” laughs Chen. “Usually, when I start to teach in a new place, I have lots of holistic healers, acupuncturists, Chinese medical practitioners, energy workers, and health care providers, including western medical doctors.
In Portland Kaiser hospital, the chief physician in charge of the cancer center came to learn Qi gong from me. I asked why, and he said all of his patients told him he must go. He sent many people to learn from me. Any kind of patient, except mental disorders, would benefit from Qi gong.”
19 years after her own diagnosis of terminal cancer, at age 68, Chen maintains a busy teaching schedule, guiding others in the practice of Qi gong. Always smiling, moving lightly, she easily could be mistaken for a much younger woman. She attributes her vibrant health to the practice of Qi gong. “To learn the form, you only need one weekend,” explains Chen. “But you need to practice. If you practice 30-40 minutes a day, you will benefit a lot, much more than you have expected, if you practice every day.”
Chen hopes her teaching on Colorado’s western slope will inspire others to teach as well. “If you want to become a teacher, you must practice 10 – 12 months,” says Chen. If enough serious students want to become certified teachers, she will return to offer a teacher training course.