On Wednesday of this past week I completed my 108th consecutive day of a 20-minute Qi Gong practice, and then immediately dissolved into an exploding ball of white light and immortality. Okay, the second part is a joke, however I did complete the aforementioned exercise in continuity. I write this not to brag of course, but to share my experience.
First, for those who are unaware Qi Gong is a martial system of slow movements coordinated with the breath to nurture our inner structure and/or organ system. On the surface it looks a lot to laypeople like Tai Chi, however the latter, in spite of its gentle appearance is a fighting form.
Conversely, Qi Gong is wholly internal, a form of self-cultivation, which might explain why you occasionally see a Tai Chi practitioner in the park “doing it wrong,” not much moving his/her legs. He/she is not practicing Tai Chi.
It is hypothesized even by western science that doing any practice for 21 consecutive days, whether good or bad, creates within us a neurological habit. In eastern science it is thought to take 100 days before we are able to fundamentally transform our physiology. This is consistent with many modern nutritional paradigms' advice to avoid a particular substance for three months in order to truly know whether one is allergic to it. I decided to extend 100 to 108 days, partially because 108 is a conspicuous number in both Chinese and Jewish numerology, also for reasons of my own neuroses - good measure, in case I'd mis-remembered and actually began my practice a few days after I'd thought.
Both my teacher, Frank Butler, and my cousin, Jonathan Breshin, are very knowledgeable Qi Gong teachers, and each of them for some time had been encouraging me to get back on the old horse stance (pun intended). I'd dabbled many years ago, but never fully dedicated to Qi Gong, and subsequently never felt much difference from it. I'd been swept up in the whirlwind of graduate school and my artistic pursuits, and frankly, like most of us, neglected my health in exchange. But it is never too late. Concurrent with recent encouragement from all directions came an email from another of my favorite teachers, William Kaplanidis, promoting his upcoming 6-week Qi Gong workshop. I signed up and committed to diligently practicing whichever "set" he had on the agenda. I waited until the end of the six weeks to begin my 100 days, so as to ensure that my practice was as accurately informed as possible, and even checked in with William for a private when I was at day 50. He offered some corrections, so now I know I did at least 58 consecutive days of respectable form.
My own symptomatic tendencies for 17 years now are towards insomnia, anxiety and gout disease, and in the past few months I've honestly had less of the former two than I've had in five years. As for the gout that used to plague me once annually for a full decade, it simply doesn't bother me anymore, which must be a result of the cumulative effect of improved diet, as I surely haven't gotten any younger or stronger since it arrived at age 25. Chinese Medicine has worked wonders towards balancing my illnesses, but obviously only I can heal me.
On my occasions practicing outdoors, when self-consciousness would creep in as passers by pass by I’d be reminded of a story my mother likes to tell. Growing up in Washington Heights in the 1950’s (sorry, Mom) the father of one of her best friends was regularly seen running around the neighborhood… for no apparent reason! Everyone knew he wasn’t a criminal running from the police, because a) he seemed to be running more for distance than speed, and more importantly, b) there were no cops chasing him. He was just running.
“Everyone thought he was nuts,” Mom likes to joke, even my grandparents, her mom and dad, as they continued sipping their whiskey and smoking cigarettes like normal people. Mom’s been powerwalking over two miles every day for 25 years now, works long and late hours and looks better than anyone her age.
Yoga obviously already has international mass appeal, and for good reason, but my opinion is that Qi Gong is the new running, and in coming generations we will see more Tai Chi practitioners in the park not moving around much, not training for self-defense, but specifically for self-improvement.
In self-growth and experimentation we must always consider two things: First whether placebo is a factor and secondly, are there other variables skewing our result? To the former I can be as sure as we can of anything it is not the case. For 17 years I've tried many health practices, from gluten free diets to particular yoga rituals and visualization practices, and never felt the difference in my neurology that I have in the past 108 days. What's more, my prior practices did apparently mitigate my body's gout disease, and wouldn't it be strange for placebo to be applied with such compartmentalization? I kept my "Qi Gong experiment" as controlled as possible, maintaining the same diet and lifestyle throughout and have surely seen change. I am grateful.
I probably won't ever be fully free from insomnia, anxiety, or even gout, as I'll still notice the occasional familiar ache in my first metatarsal joint (usually about 48 hours after a beer indulgence). These are part of who I am. They are my "constitution" as we say, the genetic hand I was dealt at the beginning of life, and relatively inescapable. The dichotomy of this truth that is important for people to recognize is they are neither death sentences. Almost every condition is subjective, as is our response in self-treatment of it. On one hand we all know this from the simple daily observation of all of our symptoms and imbalances in constant flux. On the other hand, most of us make the mistake of either resigning ourselves to being at the mercy of our illnesses or desperately striving to be fully rid of them, the latter of which can become insanely frustrating, which then perpetuates the cycle. My opinion is that neither are the case: We are never disempowered, nor ever "healed," but instead in a perpetual dance between the two, and it is up to our choices and action to determine which side we presently err closer to.
My plan is begin my next Qi Gong set (a different one) at the upcoming Fall solstice, of which 100 days should take me right up to New Year's. I'm both excited and nervous, also as free from expectations and demands of it as is humanly possible. My only hope is that I will feel even better than I do at the moment, a bit stronger, more energetic and mentally clearer. Regardless of outcome, there will undoubtedly be another set shortly thereafter, maybe another yoga routine or dietary experiment. Either way I will continue to fight, sans the mentality of a fight, as going to war with ourselves defeats the purpose of doing so.
Madonna's birthday was last week, and I'll close with a quote from the great Leo: "No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you've come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself."