Up until Tuesday my only knowledge of chi gong was in connection with Shaolin Warriors breaking bricks on each other’s heads and bending human-sized spears with their throats. Hmm. In reality, chi gong is supposed to be more of a meditative technique, so I braved it and went to a class at The Happiness Centre near Shepherds Bush.
The entrance was an inconspicuous door, sandwiched between two shops, which was easy to miss. Once up the unassuming staircase and into the small reception area, I received a warm, friendly welcome.
The atmosphere was very informal with an air of familiarity between everyone. I was even hugged goodbye by one (apparently) well known homeopath whom I had never met before, just because we were sharing the same ‘space’. Are you getting quirky hippy vibes yet? I was, but I didn’t mind (and I’m not a hugger!).
The instructor, Yann-Chee Yu, an ex-maths teacher and martial artist turned osteopath and chi gong teacher, was hanging out in reception, so we had a chat. He immediately got to work at setting straight my misconceptions about what chi gong is.
In short, it is the ‘practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation,’ – thank you Wikipedia. I would add general wellbeing, focus and strength. It is about connecting the mind and body and making them work together for the most efficient, effective use of energy without force, stress or pressure. Or at least that is how I understood it.
For the class itself, we left our shoes in the hallway and took a seat facing Yann. We were immediately told to part our lips for the whole hour (not easy I may add, and may incur dry lip syndrome) but no tension allowed, and a closed mouth is a side effect of too much concentration.
The session consisted of holding postures, visualising relaxation and ease of tension, along with some pair work where we stretched and manoeuvred each other’s wrist joints. All the while we visualised our energy through everything as Yann talked us through what we were doing and gently tested the regular goers’ knowledge.
It is quite difficult to describe the class without making it sound all a bit fluffy and like air filled la la talk, so all I will say is that I found it quite hard. For someone who thought they were quite good at ‘switching off’ (which means – I fall asleep easily), I was surprised at how difficult it was to be wholly aware, but not to concentrate, or let my mind wander… eh? Like I said… not easy. But I felt good after the class, calmer, slightly more focused and aware of… well, myself.
Would I recommend it? Yes. But not to everyone. It will most definitely be scoffed at by some people, and it’s a hobby that requires homework and practice. It is also not something you will master in a few classes. On the other hand, those who are the least open to it are probably the people who need it the most.
Living such a fast-paced life in London, we forget to stop and reflect, our minds constantly going a million miles an hour. So to find some focus and stillness in all that can only be a positive thing. If you have the discipline to do this properly, I have no doubt of the benefits chi gong could, and does have; emotionally, mentally and physically.
Studio at The Happiness Centre
204 Uxbridge Road
Tuesday 8.10pm – 9.10pm
Image by il saggio cialtrone courtesy of Flickr