Perhaps I should not cycle to an exercise group…
To the Meeting house, in sweltering September sunshine, for the Qi Gong group. This is exercise for the middle aged, and we have four middle aged women plus Simon, our leader. Could we have it outside? It is mostly performed outside in China, but the wind might be a distraction. Though it is better with your feet on the ground than on floorboards, as the energy (his preferred word) flows through the Earth.
We start simply by breathing. Stand with feet apart at shoulder width, knees not bent exactly, just enough to be not locked straight, pelvis held in the middle, not tilted forward or back for a straight rather than rounded or over-curved spine (you know which is which) and breathing with the stomach moving in and out rather than the chest rising and falling. This is not how I am used to breathing. I feel it in the diaphragm. Simon says that breathing when standing chest out tummy in, as in the army, is a submissive posture designed to promote unquestioning obedience. I thought it was a sign of manhood to intimidate outsiders, but he says his stance is the powerful one. These things are cultural.
Nor am I used to breathing so slowly. We are taking it easy, to start with. I move my right hand from thigh level to above the head, while the left hand does the reverse, and breathe in all that time- but I am not used to taking so long to breathe in, and am full early, or to breathe out, and want to breathe in.
Breathing, at the start, men’s hands are over the belly left over right, women’s right over left. Or the other way round. Whichever, this is a momentary discomfort and consciousness for me.
After simply breathing, we do light loosening exercises, rotating ankles, knees, hips and neck, and shoulders, letting the relaxed arms swing round and hit the kidneys. More hitting, tapping up and down the arms, legs, torso and head. Tapping the head reduces tension and can cure headaches he says. Tap round the pineal gland, where the energy comes in.
It seems to me that he is not a true believer. The Energy is a metaphor, or even a story which he tells without belief, a part of his constant patter- or, he has no interest in persuading or teaching us, he simply says these things matter-of-factly. I find him difficult. He is talking about spiritual matters, more personal than even our feelings, yet perhaps because of this he seems closed off, behind boundaries or walls.
The exercise I find most difficult is standing with my arms in front of me, hands slightly apart, as if cuddling a beach ball. We are standing like this longer than I find pleasant, and I have been pulling on my handlebars or putting my weight on my arms, cycling. If I were to practise I would do this, and also consciously breathing more slowly.
It is a boring, dull, and slightly unpleasant hour, but I will go back to try it again rather than judging it on one go.