If you’re feeling like you couldn’t possibly face yet another round of those conventional high-tempo workouts so popular during lockdown, maybe it’s time to embrace something new.
Qigong is an ancient technique that combines slow, considered movements with rhythmic breathing and mental engagement – but it can also give you a lean, sculpted body, too.
In Chinese medicine, it’s believed that qi (pronounced ‘chee’) is your energy life force and that it should flow freely around the body.
The stronger your qi, the better you feel. Qigong (pronounced ‘chee gong’) translates as ‘life force practice’ and is often called ‘Chinese yoga’.
Once you have mastered how to manipulate your qi, the benefits can include reduced cortisol, anxiety and blood pressure while at the same time improving your immune function, quality of sleep and mood.
It’s thought to date back around 5,000 years and is designed to teach you to recognise the connection between your attitudes, emotions, and physical wellbeing.
Tai chi and kung fu are from the same family as qigong and there are lots of different forms, ranging from gentle, controlled breathing flows to dynamic, cardio animal flows.
Katie Brindle is the founder of Hayo’uFit (pronounced ‘hey you fit’), the first online qigong platform.
As a Chinese medicine practitioner, Katie has been practising qigong for more than ten years. She is also the founder of the beauty brand Hayo’u which is rooted in Chinese wisdom, and started streaming her morning sessions to her Instagram followers in the first lockdown in the hope it would help people find calm.
She never expected it to take off, but Hayo’uFit was born and now has 12.7k followers and a schedule of different qigong classes and courses.
‘In the body you have different levels of energy,’ explain Katie. ‘You can liken them to a bank account, an overdraft and a savings account. Day-to-day you draw from your bank account for energy, but when you have a particularly demanding working week and survive on wine and limited nutrition, you would delve into your savings account for energy – you’re not eating or sleeping, yet somehow you still have energy.
‘In qigong you are working to strengthen and renew those energy lines – they are called meridian lines in acupuncture – with controlled breathing and movement. In Chinese medicine everything is aligned. Strengthen your qi on the inside and you’ll create a lean, sculpted body on the outside.’
Personal trainer Arron Collins-Thomas is one of the UK’s leading personal trainers and is also a qigong practitioner. He advocates high-efficiency training for a healthier body.
Arron began incorporating qigong into his PT programmes six years ago and now teaches with Hayo’uFit. ‘Qigong is not only deeply relaxing and superbly beneficial to the health of the body, but it also gives you the most amazing physique,’ he says.
‘Where your mind goes your qi follows. The power in qigong comes from understanding the moves. We are not just moving, we’re stimulating energy channels, moving emotions and strengthening our qi.
‘In regard to weight loss, when we are stressed we hold onto toxicity and, in conjunction, we often don’t eat, move or sleep right. The breathing in qigong helps to regulate this stress in the body.
‘Emotions can also make us hold onto weight and when you are suffering from a condition like depression, the posture of the body reaches forwards around your heart.
‘This blocks off the energy flow around the body, but by performing qigong moves to open up the chest and heart, you are allowing the qi to flow more freely and release the posture, which in turn will lift the depression. A better posture will also help to make you look slimmer.’
Now in lockdown 3.0, it is of no surprise that many of us are stuck in a fitness rut, perhaps thinking HIIT and running are the best ways to lose weight and transform the body. However, there are many reported health and fitness benefits from qigong.
‘In our Western workouts we are addicted to that endorphin rush,’ adds Arron. ‘But it’s a vicious circle. We hit it hard and then don’t eat and rest properly but push ourselves into another high-intensity session the next day. We are just wearing our bodies down.
‘Qigong nurtures the body, while also building up those energy reserves. Plus, a class like Animal Play Flow would be hitting the key muscle groups. It really is a mind, body and spirit practice.’
Find out more at hayoufit.com.
Choose the form of Qigong that’s right for you
Heaven and Earth Flow:
This sequence works to enhance your connection with the energy from the earth below and the heaven above.
It strengthens and renews all the different levels of qi in your body (those different bank accounts). Once these reservoirs are full you will have a seemingly endless supply of energy.
12 Rivers Flow:
According to Chinese medicine there are 12 significant organs in the body (slightly different from the West) and five of them are major – such as the heart and liver).
Each one has an associated meridian channel that moves all over the body. The theory is that, for the body to be healthy, these energy rivers need to flow smoothly and the organs need to be healthy and balanced.
Animal Play Flow:
This is a dynamic form of qigong that can sculpt the body on the outside as well as boost your qi on the inside.
There are five animals, each represents a major organ and has a stance (strength for the tiger, balance for the crane etc) that activates certain muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia. In turn, this increases mobility, agility, balance and strength. This is like meditation, mindfulness and HIIT all in one.
The qigong Animal Play Flow class in particular would appeal to more advanced fitness enthusiasts because the moves are very dynamic and can be taken to a high cardio and plyometric (where muscles exert maximum force in short intervals) level, if desired.
There are five animals to represent the five major organs in the body. Arron explains how the moves give your whole body a workout…
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