Are you good at letting go of accomplishment? As a Yoga Practitioner of around 25 years, Kat Farrants thought she had this licked. But the trouble was, she found she hadn’t. Find out how Kat made peace with accomplishment on a Qigong retreat.
I’m just back from a qigong retreat with our teacher Mimi Kuo-Deemer.
And I can safely say that I learnt that I am really nowhere near accomplishing the goal of non-accomplishment. I found this out in my newest journey into qigong. I’ll own up to thinking that qigong was something incredibly boring mostly for old or sick people. I’d seen folks doing it and it looked incredibly dull, a series of very slow arm waving. No no, the shapes that I made ‘doing yoga’ were way more interesting.
In fact I can now say that I’ve become a bit of an accomplishment and ‘sensation’ junkie. The feeling of the stretch ultimately leading to the ‘pose’, were all things that I was continually searching for. As I’ve got older, my yoga has become softer and gentler. Yes, I still search for the of accomplishment that getting into a shape will give me.
Addiction to perfection
Mimi and I discussed where this sense of accomplishment comes from. We talked about how, since Graeco-Roman times a certain physical form has been idealised and the body seen as a project to shape into a perfect physical form of perfection. Apparently I have quite the hangover from the project instilled on me from thousands of years ago.
Mimi explained to me how this contrasted to the traditional Chinese way of seeing exercise. That it wasn’t to attain anything, or achieve a change or different body shape. Rather, exercise was about maintaining health and supporting our body’s natural movement. This is something we were born with but may have lost due to unhealthy lifestyle patterns and stress. Exercise was to maintain our body, which unlike in the West, wasn’t separate to our egos, but was seen as absolutely part of ourselves. The outward expression of who we are.
The Light of Spring
The theme of the retreat was ‘the Light of Spring’. The focus was on practices to harness and work with the natural energy of the springtime. Like many people, I’m normally so wrapped up in my own little world and so fraught with the busyness of day to day life that I really do find it very hard to find time to fit any mat-time or me-time into my life. But that’s the reason why I’m so passionate about sharing the practices I find with you guys, the Movers community – because I really do know how hard it is for us everyday people to find balance in life. So when I do find heart-opening practices, things that really are so powerful to be able to fundamentally shift and transform me, I have to share them with you.
Qigong: New ways of seeing and feeling
I had this absolute fundamental shift on retreat with Mimi last weekend. The practices were, on the face of it, not dissimilar to those I’ve been doing all my life. We moved, breathed and meditated. I’ve been doing stuff like for the last 25 years, and have used yoga my whole life as a tool to navigate life’s challenges. I love yoga, I do practice every day (if for just a few minutes), and am in love with the feeling after practice.
However, I found that on this retreat, doing gentler qigong practices alongside the yoga enabled me to shift into a very different space. This made me start to look at life a little differently. It was so liberating to feel the realisation that the body needs no perfecting and that there is no idealised form to work towards. It was also something I intellectually knew was positive for me, It was so beautiful to finally embody the fact that our nature really is perfect as it is: there is no need for any project or self-improvement. The qigong brought an integration to what I have sometimes felt is a somewhat fragmented sense of self.
Qigong: embodying fluid strength
As I mentioned earlier, when I first tried qigong I found it deathly boring. Without as many strong sensations of deep stretching and strength, endorphins and feelings of euphoria to seek out (as there are in yoga), I must admit, I pretty much discounted qigong.
On this retreat something changed. I experienced something very different. The apparently pointless arm waving and rather unexciting and repetitive movements , now seemed to be wonderfully slow, deliberate and graceful. They were also really hard! It’s not easy to move in a truly fluid manner! I also found that by incorporating stretches into the routine, I built strength, but in a very subtle manner unlike in yoga. We didn’t work out, but we worked inwards.
I found that I was able to stay in postures that I wouldn’t have been able to before, because there was a sort of softening into it. Instead of fast-paced shapes, a lot of the movements were sequenced into a slow and very deliberate flow. Moving this way was much more fluid than I had expected. There wasn’t much of a ‘this is a pose’, rather, in qigong, there are sequences of movement. The qigong moved each joint, freeing it from tension and enabling me to access a much more meditative and graceful state than I would do normally in a yoga practice (although perhaps that’s just me!).
The power of intention in Qigong
What I also really found very unique and interesting about the qigong was the use of intention. We harnessed the power of the mind during the practices. During the sequences we directed our minds towards something very specific. We thought of and visualised something connected to the natural world. This use of the power of the mind was just wonderful! My favourite form was a sequence from the Muscle Tendon Changing Classics (Yi Jing Jing). This involved reaching behind for a star and filling the starlight from the star into the form of my body. I know it sounds childish, but honestly, I can say that this practice, once performed with a little more familiarity and understanding on the third day, was utterly moving.
I can see why qigong is heralded as the new all-round health fix. My hope is that it continues to grow in popularity, especially when taught in the careful, soulful way Mimi teaches it. She very kindly, for us movement junkies, incorporates some yoga moves into her practices. Even these very familiar yoga shapes when taught in a specific, fluid, softer and kinder way also somehow uses new muscles in the same poses as well bringing more focus on the ‘energy body’.
The aim of qigong, as I understand it, is to harness qi – which is our universal energy as residing in the body, in the same way that yoga harnesses prana. The beautifully, harmonious effect has been lost in the way that a lot of the yoga is now taught.
Of course the only way to judge any practice is by how it feels in our own bodies as well as how it translates into the way we are in the world. If the practitioners are often sickly, or have mental disturbances like being aggressive, harsh or unkind to others, I would say that the practices aren’t doing their job.
Wood Energy: an energy of kindness and growth
Right now, I’m feeling a lot softer, kinder, and have a better understanding of springtime energy that relates to the ‘wood’ element in qigong. I can work with this element to bring in ‘good wood’ in my life. This is planning and leading in a benevolent way. I feel greater goodwill and excitement for all the wonderful ways that I hope that our community can help others. I want to retain this softness, openness and sense of vast expansiveness in the body and mind. That’s always the tricky part!! There could be no better role model than Mimi. A kind, graceful and wise soul who helps us constricted, stressed- out accomplishment-focused souls so patiently.
I can’t recommend trying something new highly enough. Especially if it’s not something that would naturally appeal to you, perhaps that means that you need it even more. I hope you check out Mimi’s classes, go on a retreat and of course find a daily practice
p.s. curious to learn more about Qigong? Read this blog on Qigong for Beginners