Many people have heard of the mysterious Qi, sometimes spelled Chi, but not all of us have explored it. I’d urge you to try one Qi movement, shaking, which I’ll explain here, as you may find it relaxing and energizing, as well as a delightful addition to your life.
Robert Peng says in his book The Master Key that “Qi is the fundamental Life Force within all of us that sustains all life and permeates the Universe as well.” He also notes “The Egyptian priests called the energy Ka, the Indian rishis named it Prana, the Bible’s prophets referred to it as Ruah, the Greek philosophers knew it as Pneuma, the early Christians alluded to it as Spiritus, and the sages of China called it Qi.” Getting in touch with one’s Qi is decidedly not a waste of time. I have been very fortunate to have Master Robert Peng as my QiGong teacher; anyone who wishes to learn more can find information on his website www.robertpeng.com. There are listings of classes and events, and there are also materials for us to use, some of them free.
QiGong is a vast subject; I could not begin to summarize it here and won’t try. I have personally learned to break tiles and marble slabs over my head without hurting myself at all. I’ve also learned to break tiles and rocks with my fingers and the sides of my hands, learned to “lift my Qi” so I could stand on light bulbs without breaking them. When I went to my first class, Robert did all of this, and more, in front of us. I was so scared for him at one point when he did something especially dramatic that I covered my eyes with my hands, thinking he was about to really hurt himself. Far from it! But amazingly enough, six months later I could do it myself.
As I think back over all I learned in Robert’s amazing QiGong classes, and all I’ve taught to others, I’ve selected one movement to share with you: shaking, which is just about my favorite. Nearly every student to whom I’ve taught shaking tells me later on that they use it daily. I use it daily too. And by the way, the shaking movement I am going to discuss is also one found in Feldenkrais. Moshe Feldenkrais called shaking “Oscillations”, drawing straight from his physics background. This is another clear example that there are universal truths found in all cultures and times. And there are more.
In fact, all cultures, in all areas of the world, shake. People of all ages wiggle and jiggle. It can be called “shaman shaking” or labeled as the first of the Four Golden Wheels of QiGong, or called Seiki Jutsu in Japan, and it can bear other names in India or Africa, but its efficacy both for calming and energizing is amazing. Quakers shake, Shakers shake, Tibetan monks shake, African bushmen shake, and ancient tribal rituals everywhere involve shaking. All little children wiggle and jiggle too. (For more detail, see Shaking Medicine by Bradford Keeney.)
Human beings can find themselves involuntarily shaking after a trauma. (See Dr. Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma for an example.) Shaking is a natural automatic self-healing response our body will generate after experiencing trauma. However, you can also benefit greatly doing it on purpose.
What do you do to get started? Easy! Stand up and start bouncing a little up and down. You don’t have to do anything special with your arms, just let them hang loosely by your sides as if they are ropes. They can move in whatever way the shaking movement prompts them to move. No, your feet don’t have to come off the floor, though the heels or the whole foot can do so for short periods of time. Mostly just jiggle up and down as though you were a little kid. Let your arms flop around freely and check that you not holding anywhere. You can even make noise with each bounce, wah, wah, wah, just as a kid would, (probably driving any listening parents crazy!). If you keep it up for a few moments, you will find your hands and arms and maybe other parts of you will be tingling when you stop. This is a direct experience of the powerful life-giving force called “Qi”. It feels wonderful. You might also imagine it spreading throughout your body, anywhere you’d like it to go.
I would hope that it’s obvious that this shaking should be done gently. The old saw “no pain, no gain” has no place here! If something hurts or feels uncomfortable, that is your body’s way of telling you to stop. Sensation will inform you of what is going on with your physical self. If you are unable to do something I suggest here, try doing less, or even just imagining yourself doing it. Over time, with daily gentle movements, you will find your ability to move easily and well, even in a troublesome area of your body, will improve and increase.
I would like to heartily suggest that some movement activity of some sort be done every day. This cannot be overstated. You’ll never survive dealing with SMI in a family without it. If you are so stressed or crunched for time that you can only do just a little, well, why not just shake for a few minutes. Movement is central to our self care.
Most of us who deal with SMI in our families accrue a lot of body tension, that’s a just a fact, and you surely know it without me pointing it out. But we are also all spending a lot of time frozen in a hunched up position while we hover over our computers or stare at our phones or other devices. Face it, most of us are stiff and tight, somewhere, much of the time. There is another old saw “use it or lose it”, and it is spot on. One of the remarkable things about something as simple as shaking is that all of our joints and limbs are moving or being moved gently while we shake. There is no part of us that gets left out. It keeps us “oiled”, and moving freely, everywhere. This is just about the simplest and most generous gift from QiGong that I know.
But shaking does something else as well. Robert Peng once explained that this simple shaking is tremendously effective for our general health because the movements jostle our internal organs against one another in a gentle and friendly way, allowing them to give each other soft massages which mutually stimulate them, improving their abilities to function, thus keeping us healthy. When you shake, you can even imagine all your organs wiggling up and down and saying a friendly hello to their internal neighbors. We don’t think much about how all those organs inside us are doing or how they relate to each other, or what they might need from us to function well. In fact, we don’t think much about them at all, unless a problem with one of them begins to call our attention to it with pain or discomfort.
And as if all that isn’t enough, there is something else going on too, for as Robert Peng points out, we are also giving this gentle massage to other structural parts of ourselves we rarely acknowledge – our tendons, ligaments and fascia. When do most of us ever think much about the structures that keep us all held together, without which we couldn’t do anything or move anywhere? If tendons, ligaments, and fascia are not functioning well, we can feel stuck or blocked, or stiff for sure, and we can have pain, or actually develop disease in a given area. This is one way that “use it or lose it” surely applies. On many levels, shaking does a body good.
Anytime you are stressed or nervous about something, or just want to do something for fun that feels good, try a few moments of shaking and jiggling up and down. If you can, do it a few times a day. Like breathing, you can do this anywhere and you can’t do it incorrectly. If you can’t stand at the moment, you can shake part of yourself while sitting, gently bouncing on your chair or the edge of your bed. If you are lying down, you can push and pull your body up and down along your spine with your feet and/or hands. When you do these oscillations you are moving your whole self toward your feet and then moving toward your head, without lifting yourself up off of the bed or floor. It’s not hard or complicated, and can be a lot of fun. Also, if a stressful period or even an illness has kept you from regular exercise for a week or more, and you are thinking about a gentle way to begin moving again, try shaking. You can do it as little or much as you wish, and a few minutes of shaking a few times a day gets you back into movement very gently. I recommend it highly.