Thursday, August 28, 2008
QiGong--Keeping us 22 years-old Forever
Ok, I know that Power Rangers in Space doesn't have anything to do with QiGong, a traditional Chinese spiritual practice, but I simply can't find anything that sufficiently captures my experience at QiGong class today.
We (my flatmates, another ETA Gered, and I) were invited to the class by a local friend's mother who promised that the practice would preserve us at whatever age we were when we started the practice. We were also told that it would hurt a lot but not actually be strenuous. The woman warned us against eating anything before going to QiGong class. She also claimed that when we left class, we would be so full of qi (roughly translated as spiritual energy) that we wouldn't need to eat. These promises seemed somewhat far-fetched, but we were curious about a practice that wasn't strenuous but extremely painful. Also, the promise of staying 22 for eternity was too good to pass up...
Due to the language barrier between us and Jane (the woman who invited us), it was never completely clear what exactly QiGong was before we showed up at the class. Nor did we know what would be appropriate attire or where the class was. All we knew was that someone (presumably Jane) would pick us up outside the Family Mart at 6:50 pm.
So we showed up outside Family Mart and Dani called Jane to ask what we should do next. All of the sudden, a man none of us have seen before ran up to Dan and excited yelled "Daniel! Daniel!" while stretching his arms towards the sky and lowering them several times (Dan later said, "I don't know why I nodded and said "Yes! Yes!" when this strange man ran up to me yelling my name, but I'm glad it happened). The man opened the door of a black SUV and we piled in--6 of us for 4 seats. Somehow I ended up stretched across Dan and Gered's laps--and I definitely didn't ask if it was ok first--while Katie perched on Dani's lap. We bumped along for several blocks until we pulled up in front of a community center hidden behind a fruit stand.
As it turns out, QiGong class is sort of like yoga class, except with a few key differences. Most notably, most yoga studios have a gentle, quiet atmosphere with soft lighting and warm-colored wood floors. The QiGong class definitely took place in a room that made me feel like I was being dissected for science class. There was bright fluorescent lighting, made more intense by the shiny white-tiled floors and stark white walls. We also did our exercises on shiny silver mats that looked like spacesuit material (hence the Power Ranger video).
Our instructor was also not like any of the yoga instructors I've had in the past. My previous yoga teachers have all been female, spoken in soft voices and emphasized that we should challenge ourselves but know our limits. "Do what you can," "feel your arms stretching towards the sky. Breathe deeply, let go of your troubles," or "feel your inner beauty" they always say. This instructor was a 45 year-old guy who liked to show off how young he was by doing crazy headstands and the splits and getting the older members of the group to do crazy QiGong stunts like headstands and the splits. He barked his instructions ("Lift your leg into the air! Now the left one!) and kept coming by to tell me that if I did this or that pose, I would be prettier. He told one of my flatmates that her body was unhealthy but QiGong would fix it. He also didn't seem to believe in limits--Dan was having trouble laying flat on the ground with his legs bent, knees together and heels pressed against his thighs. The instructor kept telling him to "RELAX!" and Dan kept saying, "I am relaxed, but I'm also in excruciating pain. I don't think I can do this" and the instructor kept pushing. It was a strange 2 hours indeed.
In spite of the fact that the class was strange and at times ridiculous, I would highly recommend it. I felt great when I walked out, and it's true that there were some young, fit-looking 58 year olds in the room who could do cool things like balance on their heads while holding their legs in the air in a perfect straddle. I'm really looking forward to being 22 for the rest of my life!