Yoga seems to be everywhere these days. Studios have been cropping up left and right on my neighborhood street corners, and it seems as though every other photo on Instagram is of a yoga pose. In the health and wellness scene, it’s easy to understand how yoga receives much of the contemplative practice spotlight. But, if you’ve tried yoga and found that it didn’t resonate with you, or you’re just looking for a new mindful practice to try, check out the three movement and body-based practices below that are sure to shift your mind and soul. These practices are also great for those yearning to learn or start a meditation practice, but have no idea where to begin!
An ancient energy practice that’s existed for thousands of years, many qigong lineages were shaped by Taoist influences. In fact, “Qigong” literally means “energy work.” Avid practitioners say that over time, the poses help clear energy blockages in the physical body and promote the free flow of energy throughout the body’s meridian system. The purpose of the practice is to rebalance the body, mind, and spirit by connecting to universal energy.
I went to my first qigong class with an open mind, and I was pleasantly surprised. If you’re looking for a low-key, but energetically charged movement class that’s based on the principles of TCM, then this may be for you. I practiced Dragon’s Way Qigong, which is a straight-forward class focusing on 10 simple body movements. The philosophy behind this program is that we are all energetic, interconnected beings. When practicing regularly (try to do the movements once a day!), these exercises seem to “clean up” the internal body and provide you with increased energy. The best part about qigong is that the movements are powerful (some of them have a martial art, self-defense vibe to them, which I enjoyed), and it can be done by anyone, anywhere. I truly mean that, these movements can easily be done by both children and elderly. Plus, there is no special clothing, breathing technique, or venue required. To learn more about Dragon’s Way Qigong, check it out here.
If you have chronic health problems, limited mobility, or know someone who does, then maybe Qigong is worth exploring. There has been clinical research demonstrating that this ancient wisdom practice has therapeutic and medical benefit [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Tai+Chi+Chuan%3A+an+ancient+wisdom+on+exercise+and+health+promotion].
Many people unfamiliar with contemplative practices or energetic healing confuse Tai Chi and Qigong, and that’s quite understandable since they are both forms of meditative movement that share theoretical roots and application. Tai Chi means, “Grand Ultimate”, and is a body-based practice that strives to represent and balance dynamic forces of the natural world—light and dark, movement and stillness, etc. Tai Chi practitioners aim to internally heal themselves, as well as release emotional tension, de-stress, and promote longevity and inner tranquility.
Like Qigong, different practices have evolved and there now exist many different schools of thought. Originally developed as a martial art, Tai Chi has seen a boom in popularity as some medical practitioners have recognized its benefit. Recent research reveals that those with chronic conditions like COPD, heart failure, and osteoarthritis benefited from the practice [http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2015/09/04/bjsports-2014-094388]. In my opinion, the circular, fluid movements of Tai Chi have more of an active, callisthenic approach to wellbeing than gentle Qigong. In fact, the slightly more vigorous approach of Tai Chi has earned it a larger following in the United States.
The principles of Tai Chi are relaxing, allowing one to just be, and ultimately slowing down. If you find yourself frantically on the run or desiring a meditation with controlled movement, find a local teacher or studio and try it out.
Curious about somatic intelligence? If you sit at a computer for eight hours a day, or have your head buried in a cell phone when you’re not sitting at work, perhaps you’re interested in learning more about body alignment and how to minimize chronic injury and pain. The Alexander Technique was developed by Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander after nine years of intensive study after repeatedly being examined by a doctor when losing his voice and being unable to perform. Time after time, the doctor reported that nothing was wrong with his vocal cords, which led Alexander to wonder what he was doing to strain his body in a way that made him unable to speak.
Try sitting in a chair. Draw your attention to your neck, sit on your sit bones, release shoulders to the side. Take a deep breath to center yourself. This is part of the Alexander technique. Some practitioners even go so far as to say— change your posture, change your life. By becoming aware and consciously directing our attention to bodily sensations, one can be more grounded and receptive of energies. While he may not have known it, the Alexander Technique might nowadays be referred to as mindful movement or action.
While some have questioned the lack of conclusive evidence in support of the method, there are devout practitioners who claim it’s drastically improved their health and quality of life. There is evidence suggesting the Alexander Technique is helpful for those suffering from chronic back and neck pain, and may help people cope with Parkinson’s Disease [http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alexander-technique/Pages/Introduction.aspx]. It is also widely used with many actors as it has been shown to reduce performance anxiety [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4287507/]. So, if you have anxiety or are looking to dive deeper into how to better carry yourself in the world, give the Alexander Technique a try. Many areas have local practitioners who do workshops and one-on-one sessions, but be sure to find an authentic teacher of the technique as there are a few fraudulent ones out there.
What is your go-to non-yoga mindful practice?
Photo credit: Bady QB