Early in January 2020, I was invited to the YMCA to speak to a men’s group about the benefits of Qigong.
The room I walked into was used for daycare for part of the day. The white linoleum stained with paint and bits of glitter was proof. I walked into the florescent-lit room where just over a dozen men sat around the long craft table. It seemed they were between 60–90 years of age. I was told this was the longest-standing group there.
I’m not sure what they talk about or do at their regular meetings, I saw coffee cups in front of most of them and could distinguish two separate conversations happening — one about the football season and the Superbowl coming up, and the other was how great President Trump was doing in cracking down on fake news.
I had a suspicion that having a woman present anything to this group didn’t happen very often.
I greeted them with a big smile, ignoring the slow glances up and down my body. I noticed who paused on my tattoos with a disgusted turn of the mouth, and who gazed upon my curvy form with a raise of an eyebrow. My host had been attending my Qigong classes and was in love with the practice. He introduced me to the group and the conversations came to a halt. He was elated with the effects from the class and was eager to ‘show-and-tell’ to his long-time buddies.
I read the room and guessed that I had a very small window to get my point across before I lost their attention. I stood in starting position, feet shoulder-width apart, with knees soft, and began with Earth hands. Inhaling arms up overhead, I spoke of moving slow to increase awareness.
“As we take a focused breath and move our body with less effort we actually can calm our thoughts, and when we calm our thoughts, we sleep better, digest better and increase awareness with our health.”
I switched to making a Qi ball with my arms. I rotated my torso as I carried a ball of energy to the left …and then to the right. I glided my hands around the Qi ball with my breath, telling the men the story of where Qigong began.
“Qigong began over 5000 years ago, created by Shaolin monks living high up the mountains of China.” I was hoping they would relate to old men in the mountains and that I wasn’t bumping face-first into some old-school American racism.
“The monks created this form to balance out the Kung Fu they invented and practiced. Kung Fu and other martial arts are very Yang, action-focused, the dynamic of fighting and protection. Qigong is the balance of that. The art of cultivating internal energy, Yin is more about listening, being receptive, and going within. The monks found the balance of Yin and Yang gifted them with great peace, health, and vitality.”
I shifted to a more elaborate form, and threw in some Ji Jin Jing because it’s just so pretty as I breathe one hand in a large arc and another in a smaller one before I stretch in opposite directions in ‘Separating Heaven and Earth’.
I shared a bit more, “In qigong, we listen for the furthest sound we can hear, as a way to open ourselves to the energy around us. When we are receptive to the Earth and nature, it naturally boosts our health, quiets our thinking, and helps us even feel more connected to the people around us.”
I inhaled both arms overhead, floated them down my front line, brought my feet together, and closed the form. “Do you have any questions?”
They all looked at each other, taking the temperature of who thought what. The man who introduced me was smiling but kept quiet. He was waiting to see what his buddies thought. It seemed the room was split — half seemed interested to hear more, the other half was shaking their head, “No,” with scowls on their face. I got the sense they thought it was all hogwash.
One outspoken man, about in his mid 80’s and was spilling over the folded metal chair in all directions barked, “I think this is all made up. It’s like you’re speaking in tongues. None of what you’re saying makes any sense.” I watched heads bounce up and down in strong agreement, and a rather thick fog of judgment was formed.
I felt my face flush, and energy rose up inside of me. Without much thought, I knew the best thing to do at that moment was to ask a question, “Do you spend any time in nature?” He sat up straighter looking rather defensive and huffed, “I go fishing a couple of times every week.”
I smiled because I could see the Qi translation I was looking for. With open eyes, and keeping my voice soft I offered,
“You know when you’re on the lake, and you notice how the light, and the water, and the temperature, and the fish beneath the surface are different each and every time you’re out on your boat? And just how subtle that is? That’s kinda what Qigong is. We read the subtle energy in your body, which is right beneath the surface and slightly different each and every day.”
He blinked and just stared at me.
There was a silence in the room that echoed off the arts and craft supplies stacked up against the wall. Then the men in the room kind of all exploded at once — a few chirped up, laughing….“Oh, he’s silent? He’s never silent!” They mocked the fisherman. “OOOOOOOoooooo,” the guy next to him poked him in the ribs with his elbow. “She got him, he’s thinking hard.” “He doesn’t know what to say.” They were all staring at my face now, most with big smiles. Fisherman dude looked down at his hands for a while.
Finally, he looked back up and said, “You know….that makes sense, I know exactly what you mean.”
The men were nodding their head in acknowledgment now, some even stood to shake my hand. I was thanked and as I left the room, I heard someone say, “That was really different.” And another man said, “That was kind of interesting.”
It seemed that even if they didn’t know what I was talking about, watching one of their judgmental buddies crack open a closed mind, it left a ripple… kind of like when a fishing line drops into the water.