Qigong for Seniors—Why It’s Ideal

By Contributor Post
August 5th, 2019 Health & Wellness No Comments
seniors performing qigong on World Tai chi and Qigong Day

If there is one thing we want as we age, it is energy. Thanks to research in neuroscience,  there is evidence that suggests that we can  regulate  and balance the brain’s networks and generate energy through mindful relaxation, mindful awareness and mindful movement. As a result, we can potentially preserve and sustain our energy as we get older, to bring about not only longevity but also a good quality of life. Qigong (pronounced chee gong), a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing training, is one type of mindfulness practice that can help in achieving these goals. For these reasons, Qigong for seniors may be considered an ideal mindfulness practice for this population.

What is Qigong?

If you have heard of Tai chi, then you know something about Qigong already. Qigong is considered the grandmother of Tai chi. Though Qigong is a much older practice, the two practices are similar in their slow meditative movements. But, unlike Tai chi, Qigong is nonmartial and easier to perform than its kin.

In Chinese medicine, “Qi” means life vital energy. “Gong,” which means cultivating, is the discipline of nurturing this energy.

These components make up the basis of qigong:

  • concentration
  • relaxation
  • meditation
  • breathing regulation
  • body posture
  • movements

Qigong includes standing or sitting meditation postures or gentle or vigorous body shaking. Most important, Qigong involves “the purposeful regulation of both breath and mind coordinated with the regulation of the body.”

How to perform qigong

Qigong Researchers Dr. Jahnke and his colleagues explain how we can cultivate healing in our bodies through this type of holistic exercise:

This combination of self-awareness with self-correction of the posture and movement of the body, flow of breath, and stilling of the mind are thought to comprise a state which activates the natural self-regulatory (self-healing) capacity, stimulating the balanced release of endogenous neurohormones and a wide array of natural health recovery mechanisms which are evoked by the intentful integration of body and mind.

Qigong is a type of mindfulness activity; and although it is easy, it requires discipline—focused, intentional, repetitive, and in-the-present movements.

There are thousands of different forms and styles of Qigong and hundreds of Qigong exercises. The exercises mimic movements in nature which the names of the exercises reflect.

What is your focus?

Qigong has various training paths. Each path differs based on focus, intention and methodology. The National Qigong Association (NQA) categorizes these training paths in two categories: personal and clinical.

Personal cultivation is a very broad category involving self-discovery and self-care.

  • Health: This is qigong practice on an individual or personal level. Its aim is to prevent dis-ease and to improve, sustain, and maximize overall wellbeing. Two examples of health qigong are Lifting the Sky and Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.
  • Clinical: A practice where the teaching of self-cultivation and clinical applications are intertwined throughout a curriculum wherein clinical abilities develop as personal cultivation evolves.
  • Martial: A practice that increases one’s defensive and offensive martial abilities. Examples are The Three Circle Stance, Luohan Carrying Water, or the Wuji Stance.
  • Spiritual: A unity practice to increase a practitioner’s connection to the transpersonal—heaven, earth, humanity, and source. Examples are Flowing Stillness and the Small Universe.

The clinical category is also referred to as medical Qigong in some places. According to the NQA, the category involves a certified professional who would “teach prescriptive Qigong exercises and/or meditations which are based upon a variety of diagnostic and assessment systems to restore health and wellness.”

How long has Qigong existed?

Qigong has existed for thousands of years in China. Therefore, this ancient practice has survived the test of time. Qigong has been used to keep the body healthy or prevent diseases and for healing and therapeutic purposes.

What are the benefits of Qigong?

According to a press release, the Chinese believed that the practice of Qigong had “great physical, mental and even spiritual benefits.” However, for the Western world, it was not enough that this practice had stood the test of time; it needed scientific evidence. So, in a study conducted from 1993-2007, involving the practice of Tai chi and Qigong, 6,410 people participated from 13 countries.

The study revealed improvements in the following areas:qigong for seniors, man performing qigong

Bone density

The gentle knee bends in Qigong provides the body with minimal weight bearing exercises.

Cardiopulmonary

Improvements in heart health such as reduction in blood pressure were evident in participants.

Falls & Balance

Related to balance, improvements were seen in strength and flexibility. Qigong includes lateral movements, which help strengthen the core muscles of the body.

Psychological

Anxiety decreased and depression improved in participants engaged in qigong.

Immune function and inflammation

When participants were given a flu vaccination, antibodies increased significantly among the qigong group compared to the group who received normal care.

Qigong for Seniors

Various studies have examined the impact of Qigong on the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as our heart rate, respiratory system, and urination. It also controls how we respond to stress, danger or anything life threatening. Because Qigong, like most mindfulness exercises, impacts the ANS, some research has found that it triggers certain neurotransmitters that help bring calm and equanimity and thus healing to the body.

Here are some research findings that support qigong for seniors:

Reduces stress

As we age, we become vulnerable to certain stressors due to changes in life—the loss of a loved one, loneliness, relationships with children, unstructured time, or a chronic disease. Since Qigong focuses on relaxing the body and mind, it helps seniors to manage stress more effectively.

Induces sleep

Stress can impact our sleep. Many seniors have problems sleeping as a result. Since Qigong can help reduce stress by relaxing the body, it can help improve sleep.

Boosts immune system

When Qigong is practiced on a regular basis, it is thought the stress hormone cortisol is reduced. Less cortisol in the blood stream reduces inflammation in the body. Because stress decreases the body’s white blood cells that help fight off diseases, it serves as immune booster for seniors who tend to be prone to infection, such as the cold or flu virus during the winter. Qigong can potentially strengthen the immune system of seniors.

Increases certain neurotransmitters

Studies show that Qigong can potentially increase levels of certain neurotransmitters. These changes can be  significant in the prevention of Parkinson disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic depression, insomnia and drug addiction.

Improves quality of life

The tips of our chromosomes are called telomeres. The longer these telomeres, the longer our life span. Stress, however, can shorten these telomeres. On the other hand, if stress is reduced, a more calm or relaxed body can increase the length of telomeres. In this way, Qigong can potentially help to enhance the quality of life.

Why not Qigong?

Qigong is easy to learn. This makes Qigong an ideal physical exercise for seniors. It is gentle on the joints keeping them healthy and mobile.

Qigong can potentially  help  prevent memory loss. When Qigong baduanjin, a form of qigong, was practiced for twelve weeks, MRI imaging showed an increase in gray matter in the brain of older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Since Qigong uses the body as weight, it also helps to strengthen muscles. Seniors are at risk of developing sarcopenia—the loss of muscle due to aging. Qigong can help preserve muscles from atrophying or breaking down.

Summary

Qigong is an amazing Chinese holistic exercise practice. Its various training paths allow you to personalize it based on your physical, mental and/or spiritual needs. By cultivating the healing art of energy within the body, you can experience a rhythm of life that is balanced and harmonious and supports health and vitality as you age.

 

Try This Sample Morning Qigong to Invigorate Your Body

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