Overworked and sleep-deprived, I arrive at the door of Motion Unlimited in Santa Barbara for a class on Qigong. I consider bolting when two people arrive and their collective energy pulls me through the door.
Qigong, pronounced “chee-gong,” is an ancient Chinese healing art that involves posture, mental focus and rhythmic breathing to direct the flow of Qi (our life force energy) throughout the body in order to restore balance, reduce stress and improve health.
LeAnne Thomason, L.Ac., our teacher, appears and explains that while Qigong is often practiced while standing, we will be sitting as she guides us through the Inner Smile, which is about mentally directing energy to the major organs of the body. A few of the benefits include “grounding, balancing of hormones, improved cognitive ability, relaxation and focused concentration,” according to Thomason.
We begin by placing our awareness to the spot between our eyebrows and visualize an appealing image that makes us smile.
“Now imagine that smile is amazing energy and direct it downward. Let it sink down your throat into your chest and into your heart,” Thomason says as she gently guides us to each organ. “As you communicate, connect and smile in gratitude for each organ, the organ comes into homoeostasis balance.”
Thomason believes that when someone is grateful for us, we open up and feel relaxed and in turn will do everything we can to support that person. She feels it’s no different when it comes to our internal organs: “When we take a moment to appreciate the power they offer our bodies, they participate by giving back to us healthy bodies.”
Listen to Your Heart
Thomason asks, “What if your heart actually has something to tell you? What if it just wanted to be heard and listened to — what would happen?” She believes it would become more peaceful, efficient, have cellular integrity and run smoothly, not to mention how it would make you feel.
“Your heart gives everything it has to every pump and then it takes a rest and that is how it lasts a lifetime," Thomason says. "It doesn’t say I’m going to put that ‘rest’ off until later. The rhythm of our heart shows us the ideal rhythm of our lives — yet we run our lives at a crazy pace, not listening.”
And heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.
Chased by Dinosaurs
She explains that as we cultivate our ability to use our mind to direct energy, we begin to move into a more meditative mind — out of the reptilian brain, which is the fight or flight space or sympathetic nervous system where most people live. It’s a fear-based ancient brain run by a walnut-size gland called the amygdala.
“We act in our lives like there’s a dinosaur chasing us even though it was just that ‘that person got to the gas station spot before I did,’" Thomason said. "We have so many stimuli that we often sit sadly in the dinosaur brain a good part of our lives. Stress-related illnesses often mean that a person has been living by their amygdala response and they’re not able to repair their bodies, relax and restore themselves because it’s not about restoral but emergency.
"The problem with modern society is that there are dinosaurs in every corner, and we don’t have a restorative process which allows our cells to regenerate, our hormones to balance, which affects our blood circulation.”
A Resurgence of Healing Energy
As we’re led through the exercise, the stress I walked in with is melting away — the dinosaurs are retreating. By consciously becoming the conductor of the electrical current running through my body, the flow of energy is harmonizing.
“When you give careful, loving attention to something it improves the quality of life. The second you provide caring attention to your well-being, even your cells and organs, they respond,” Thomason said.
When I arrived earlier at Motion Unlimited, I was physically tired and emotionally stressed. The effect of practicing the Inner Smile exercise for just one hour was transformational. When I left, my energy was strong yet calm. I felt more grounded and peaceful than I had in weeks.
Western medicine is now referring to eastern medicine as “complementary medicine” instead of “alternative medicine.” Like the blending of yen and yang, which creates balance, I find it very exciting that western and eastern medicine are moving toward becoming a unified force for healing. It's most definitely a positive step toward making it a better world.