Medical styles like Dragon and Tiger can offer gentle yet effective relief.
Many people think of qi gong, the ancient Chinese practice of coordinating breath, movement, and awareness, as an exercise for promoting better health and relaxation, but you might not know it’s also been reputed to ease the symptoms of chronic illness.
Of the hundreds of styles of qi gong, Dragon and Tiger, a 1,500-year-old form practiced by Shaolin monks, is often called upon in a medical context, say practitioners. The form can be a good option for older people, because it’s relatively easy to learn and practice. While other styles may incorporate between 30 and 100 distinct movements, the Dragon and Tiger style uses just seven, while still providing around 80 percent of the benefit of more challenging practices, experts say.
“The beauty of D and T is that even just doing a little bit can be healing,” says Kurt Miyajima, who has taught the practice in Hawaii since 2000. “Every piece of every movement is designed to stimulate certain energy pathways.”
Patients suffering from chronic fatigue, cancer, or other illnesses that drain their energy might start by performing just a few segments of each movement.
“Even if you start slow, your energy levels will increase with practice and time,” says Bill Ryan, who has taught qi gong and tai chi in the Boston area for more than 20 years. “The idea is to build to doing the entire set of seven exercises to benefit your entire body, but along the way the benefits will definitely be felt.”
Many medical qi gong practices, including Dragon and Tiger, use hand movements and controlled breathing to direct energy along the 20 main meridians of the body that are defined by Chinese medicine. Practitioners recommend trying a style like Dragon and Tiger to ease the symptoms of conditions such as repetitive stress injuries, respiratory problems, arthritis, and cancer.
“Basically, medical qigong is like practicing Chinese medicine on yourself, with your mind and your breath instead of the herbs and needles that acupuncturists use,” Miyajima explains. “It’s not about the choreography of the movements as much as what you’re doing with focusing your mind.”
Any qi gong process should have the tangible result of improving circulation, which is often felt as a tingling sensation or warmth in the limbs, as well as promoting overall calmness.
“There’s so much negativity that comes with having a chronic illness,” says Marilyn Paradiso, 67, who was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago and who now practices Dragon and Tiger for around 20 minutes daily. “Qi gong gives me a way to feel in control, and I know it increases my energy and my positive outlook.”