Qi Gong: Using breath and movement for healing

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for Ukiah Daily Journal

 With roots in ancient Chinese culture dating back more than 4,000 years, Qi Gong is a practice of aligning breath, movement and awareness for exercise, healing and meditation. It is practiced throughout China and worldwide, and Ross Lake, a licensed acupuncturist, has been teaching classes in this meditative exercise for eight years in Ukiah and Willits.

Qi (or chi), the central underlying principle in Chinese medicine, translates as life energy or life force and is defined as breath, air or the relationship between matter, energy and spirit, and gong translates as cultivation or work and is defined as practice, skill or mastery.

It is a form of gentle exercise with movements that are repeated, strengthening and stretching the body, increasing fluid movement, enhancing balance and improving the awareness of how the body moves through space.

Lake received his diploma in acupuncture from Five Branches University in Santa Cruz and, now in his 27th year, has been practicing ever since. He’s been to China twice, the first time in 1988 for a month to study at a hospital in Xiamen and again in 1997 for six weeks to study in Hangzhou.

“During my first visit I went with a small group and we followed the doctors on their rounds. Then, in the Chinese hospitals, they only had acupuncturists and herbalists as doctors, all trained in both Eastern and Western medical traditions. We treated many stroke patients just with acupuncture; if it’s used swiftly, it’s very successful. There were also many patients who came in with gall bladder disorders, and acupuncture treatment was successful in eliminating the need for surgery.”

On his second trip, Lake studied Chinese herbal medicine and worked with gynecological and pediatric patients. While there, he witnessed the successful treatment of childhood respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis and the common cold with the use of herbs.

Prior to moving from Santa Cruz to Washington in 1991, he returned to college to work toward his master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine. In order to maintain his license he continues to take continuing education hours. “I always do more than required,” he says. “I like to learn and to keep current.”

He was introduced to Qi Gong during his first semester in acupuncture school with Fong Ha, his teacher who was rumored to be Steven Spielberg’s inspiration for Yoda in “Star Wars.” Referring to his mentor Lake says, “He had a quiet presence about him.”

Qi Gong incorporates working with qi, or chi, vital energy. It is both an external and internal practice. Outwardly it looks much like tai chi and includes movements of the 12 major joints of the body in rhythmic and often repetitive form to increase flexibility, strength and range of motion.

Internally, it focuses the mind and attention on special areas of the body to build or move the energy.

“There is an energy center located three fingers below the navel and three fingers internally called the elixir field. That is our energetic center. All of our movement comes from that place, the core or center of gravity. By breathing into that area with purpose it helps posture and intention and by using the breath it builds the energetic center. Once the energy is there, is strong and full, then it can circulate up the spine to facilitate healing and eliminate pain.

“Qi Gong offers an opportunity to learn how to carry yourself in the world, whether physically, mentally or spiritually. It encourages free flowing movement. In Chinese cosmology water is revered for its softness, yet it can erode the hardest substance and it goes around whatever is in its way. That is what we are trying to learn here.

“There are movements we do called flow exercises; they are very simple and what they do is create a sense of flow that is a way of feeling. If you can get that feeling inside your body, then you can remember what it is like when you are in a more challenging situation.

“We do this practice so we can go out into the world and embody these principles and practice them; that’s the ultimate goal. For most people, it makes them feel good; it helps to relieve their aches and pains. In Chinese medicine there are three levels of healing: treat the symptoms, treat the whole body and treat the individual’s destiny.”

 Classes in Ukiah are available on Tuesdays at Yoga Mendocino and Wednesdays at Mendocino Ballet studio from 12:05 p.m. to 12:55 p.m. Classes in Willits are held at The Muse on Thursday at the same time. Ross Lake can be reached at 462-4448. Beginners are welcome to participate in this loose and informal practice.

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