Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
Old is a dirty word. It puts people in a box and invokes an image of a person in a rocking chair waiting for what? Aging, on the other hand, can be an adventure. At 67, I feel more grounded and content than at 27, 37, 47, or 57. I am completing the gestalt of my life, coming full circle. According to Maslow and his pyramid of needs, I have climbed to the top, and the view up here is excellent. What makes someone feel vital, energetic, balanced, and comfortable in their skin? Let\’s start with Qi.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) defines qi as vital energy that flows through the body, helping to maintain a person\’s health. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners believe that exercises such as tai chi or Qigong can improve balance and health in certain people. I am one of those people.
At 67, my life is active. Every day I practice Qigong for 30 minutes. I can move freely, dance with abandon around my house, and climb ladders without fear of falling. My chores include trimming bushes, cleaning the pool, gardening rigorously, a task usually involving full wheelbarrows. My husband and I take care of three active border collies. Oh, and I forgot to mention how I love spending time in play with my two energetic grandsons, Jack, five, and Jonah, one.
In my work life, I am a Transpersonal Psychologist and have a private practice where the focus is on using mind, body, and spirit to become the best version of oneself. Currently, I\’m planning an online course entitled I Survive to I Thrive. I chose that title because I know something about simply surviving. Life out of balance, a state of dis-ease, having to drag myself from putting out one fire to putting out another was my life. Dis-ease turned into an actual disease for me, and that was a terrifying wake-up call.
A definition of thriving in the dictionary tells us that thriving means developing well or vigorously, to prosper or flourish. That resonates with me now, but it wasn\’t always that way. After being diagnosed with cancer, I began taking oral chemotherapy that helped save my life as it stole my vitality, a weird juxtaposition. Other tragic family-related stressors, such as my father\’s death from mesothelioma and the prescription addiction of one of my children, kept my body in a state of fight-or-flight. Being in the reactive state of fight-or-flight long-term is like having the gas pedal on your car stuck with no way to slow it down. Eventually, you crash.
I was enrolled in a Ph.D. program and had been researching a practice called Qigong. Qigong, also known as Chinese energy medicine, can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves mental and physical health. In practice. Qigong uses a combination of postures, movement, and breathing techniques. After searching the internet, I found an instructor not far from me and committed to a year of learning this practice. At the end of the year, I would be a certified Qigong coach, and I believed I could offer it to clients in my holistic therapy practice. It might also help my state of depression, anxiety, and dis-ease, I told myself. What did I have to lose?
The first class came exactly one week after my father\’s death. I had been living in the zombie-like trance of deep grief after losing him. Everything felt surreal. At the time, I was reluctant to go to class, but I had paid the money and made a commitment, so I decided to try.
At first, I would go through the motions, following the instructor even though my mind felt detached from my body. Gradually, as time in class progressed, and I focused only on the postures and breathing, something started to shift. There was a fluidity to my body\’s movements, which eventually connected to fluidity in my emotions. It was as if I had started to thaw from being like ice to water. If this was the power of qi, I wanted more. As the year progressed, I noticed a new kind of awareness. Food tasted better, colors seemed brighter, smells were more pungent, and I slept through the night. Sometimes the body needs to lead the way when the mind is unavailable.
The results were stunning. I kept practicing Qigong, and my body, mind, and spirit kept responding. Not only is Qigong a beautiful, graceful art, but it is also one that any person can do throughout life, even while sitting. We all have a deep well of vitality within us. Why not tap into that life force and let it transform your life?
At times my grief is still with me, but so are the beautiful memories of my dad. Some of the troubling circumstances in my life may not change yet finding my balance has led to resilience. Balance has become my superpower, and qi is the force that allows me to maintain it.
My wish for you in Chinese is 出入平安 (chū rù píng ān): May you have peace wherever you go.
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Dr. Pamela Poston is a Transpersonal Psychologist, Counselor and Life Coach with a passion for helping people become the best version of themselves. Her focus is in treating mind body and spirit because she believes that the intersection of all three is where healing begins. Dr. Poston’s holistic approach includes techniques such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Prenatal Psychology, EMDR, Family Systems therapy, Meditation, Yoga Nidra, Qigong, Art, Music, Bibliotherapy and HRV Biofeedback training.She is also an educator and child development specialist. Dr. Poston’s private therapy practice is in North Carolina where she has practiced for 20 years. She was honored to be featured as the Cambridge Who’s Who 2009 Mental Health Professional of the year.