From Self-Care

Go With the Flow

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.50.03 amAn interview with Mind-Body Medicine faculty member Carol Penn on her QiGong practice. Carol recently hosted a 4-part QiGong series “Go With the Flow” in Philadelphia! 


Carol Penn QiGong1

How did you find QiGong practice, and how does it make you feel? Who has supported you as you have learned?

I found QiGong practice, initially through the influence of my Mom who thought that I was well suited to a practice like Tai Chi and QiGong. She found the slow fluid movements beautiful and thought they complimented my natural movement style. So my mom first planted the seeds actually decades before I began the practice. When I did begin, my father and I decided to study together after I had foot surgery and was non weight bearing and my father had been living with 4 different primary cancers for about 15 years. We had a sense that the end of his life was close at hand. Always active together, this was to be our last father daughter dance!

What kinds of questions do people usually ask you about QiGong? What piques their interest the most?

The most common question is: What is QiGong? Often I ask the person if they have ever heard of Tai Chi – the vast majority are familiar with Tai Chi. I then respond by explaining what the words ‘qi’ and ‘gong’ mean.

What challenges have you faced in your practice, and how have you handled them?

Sometimes for me the biggest challenge I face is the overwhelming emotion I feel when talking about my practice with others. Often, there are tears just behind my words as my practice is a living monument of my love and relationship with my parents, especially my father, who did die in the spring of the year that we began studying QiGong together. His presence is instantly all around me every time I practice and every time I teach my QiGong flow “Let it Be”.

How do you see your QiGong practice fitting in with other elements of your life?

My primary language has always been movement. While QiGong has its origins in another culture, I do believe that this is the movement that I will be studying and doing when I am 90, the movement of both my now and my future. I think the essence of QiGong is universal and transcends both spoken language and culture, politics, race, and gender. I think both the art and science of QiGong will prove to be a mind-body skill and practice that has the potential to change the human tendency to default to the negative.

Carol Penn QiGong 2

Has your practice taught you anything new about integrative medicine, nutrition, or health?

Yes, QiGong, like dance, is a transformative practice. At the end of practice, you are never the same as when you begin. One of the things I always loved about dance performance was noticing as an audience member, how watching the dancers changed you as an observer. An aspect of QiGong is that one can channel and transmit Qi, purposefully to others for their healing and well being, even while we continue to heal ourselves. The other aspect that is so valuable is the balancing of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and that allows all body systems to optimize their functions.

What would you advise someone who is timid about getting started?

There are many different forms of QiGong. I would advise anyone to begin exploring, take a fewCarol Penn QiGong classes, and try a few forms until you find a practice that is suitable for you. There are a few good DVDs available as well as information online.

Do you have a favorite movement or time of day or place to practice?

My favorite movement currently is one called ‘watching clouds.’ My favorite time to practice is anytime, day or evening!

What has practicing QiGong taught you about who you are as a person and how you relate to the world?

For me, my practice is a safe haven. Moving has always been when I feel closest to Spirit, to Life, to Love, to God; my highest and best self. My QiGong practice has deepened this lifelong awareness within me.


Hurricane Katrina—10 Years Later

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the Katrina Disaster. Many people were able to restore and rebuild illustrating what is now referred to as “post traumatic growth.” But the truth is that many people never regained their lives as they knew them and still struggle to return to their homes.

Dr.11950662495_c298b659ac_o James Gordon recently touched on the tendency of hurricanes to “shake things up.” Katrina shook things up but it also had a way of sorting things out and exposing the edges of our community—the ugly and corrupt as well as the beauty, the heroic, and the resilient. Lines between the have and have not, black and white, those who would reach out and those who would withdraw, the outspoken and the silent, the exploited and the exploiters. All was revealed—out in the open for us to see. And from this came and opportunity to grow, to heal, and to begin a monumental dialogue about the issues which had been beneath the surface.

For me, Katrina forced me out of a safe and comfortable lifestyle and into the unknown. The world became larger the day I walked into the Louis Armstrong airport and realized the magnitude of the devastation. Something was forever changed. The facade was gone. Being a witness changes you that way. And while it’s scary to stretch yourself, to take those risks, it is here where we are most alive.

So11950817553_850a9a681a_o today, I’m grateful for the chance to fully live and for the healing out of destruction and the despair of a painful time. I’m glad I stayed home here in Louisiana when I wasn’t sure that I could. And I honor all of those we lost, those who continue to struggle, and those who transformed from trauma. And most of all, I am grateful for neighbors here at home, across the country, and around the world who came to our aid, especially The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, which gave us a gift that would sustain us through tough times and beyond.


5 Ways to Relieve Stress

For our ancestors, stress was a survival skill during brief, life threatening situations. Once the danger passed, their stress levels lowered. However, in today’s world, we are constantly bombarded by stressors, such as work deadlines, traffic, and family obligations. We rarely get a break long enough to relax and relieve the stress. The over-activation of our stress hormones have been linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, lower immunity, depression, anxiety, and more.

So how can you relieve stress? Here are five easy stress relievers to get you started.

garlic honey mustard greens
Antioxidant-rich mustard greens are an excellent choice for lowering stress through diet. Attend Food As Medicine to learn more about nutrition and making smart food choices.

Eat well! According to Dr. Mark Hyman, eating whole, real foods restores balance and reduces the effects of stress on your body. Replacing harmful substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars, with clean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats helps regulate your hormone levels, including stress hormones. Food As Medicine Education Director Kathie Swift, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, EBQ cites the connection between the gut and brain in relieving stress. The gut and brain are constantly sending signals to each other, so by keeping your microbiota (the bacteria in your gut) healthy, your brain feels less stressed.

School children in Haiti have fun shaking and dancing. We teach this technique all over the world.

Shaking & Dancing – The quickest way to relieve stress is to release endorphins through exercise. An easy way to do this is through shaking and dancing, a form of expressive meditation that loosens your joints as well as clears the mind. It’s one of our favorite techniques to teach in conflict and disaster areas, such as Haiti. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders relaxed, and shake your whole body for a few minutes (we recommend 7-8 minutes). Then, stop for a minute or two and pay attention to your breathing and physical sensations. Finally, turn on fast music – anything that gets you energized, and allow the music to move you. Don’t feel the need to follow any specific dance moves, just do whatever feels good for you in the moment (it might help to close your eyes). Dance for about 5 minutes, or until you feel satisfied.

Get a good night’s sleep – Sleep and stress tend to cause a vicious cycle – if you’re stressed, then you can’t sleep, which makes you ill-prepared to handle the stressors of the next day, leading to more stress. To relieve stress before bed, try some relaxation techniques (see below) and disconnect from technology as much as possible an hour before bedtime. To ensure the proper amount of rest (7-8 hours is recommended), set an alarm reminding you to go to bed.

Learn more self-care techniques at our Mind-Body Medicine Fundamentals training.

Guided Imagery – The body responds in essentially the same way to made-up imagery as it does to real experiences. Positive, relaxing images can be an effective tool for relieving stress. Try it for yourself with this Guided Imagery podcast from our Founder and Director Dr. James Gordon, or check out Dr. Gordon’s book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression for dozens more techniques, including scripts for guided imagery exercises.

Learn more about self-care with these basic techniques.

B R E A T H E – We do it all day, every day, and yet we often forget the healing powers of deep breathing. By slowing down your heart rate and lowering blood pressure, breathing deeply relieves stress. Our Soft Belly meditation is our go-to for relieving stress, but any form of slow, deep breathing can help you relax and stay calm.