An 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!
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.
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 few 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.