Guest Blog: Managing Stress with Qigong (Chi-Gong)
Published: February 3, 2017
Recent headlines have a lot of people feeling more stressed out than usual. Compounding what may be happening on the world stage is the day-to-day stress that comes with normal life activities: work, school, paying bills, etc. What can we do to cope with all of this stress? How can we find some peace—a moment when we can feel centered and grounded—amidst our frenzied everyday lives?
When U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy spoke at the Michael & Susan Dell Lectureship in Child Health in 2016, he discussed his vision for building a “Foundation of Health” in our nation. He said, “We cannot focus solely on the body; but, we must also focus on the mind and spirit.” It was a big deal to hear America’s Doctor single out mental well-being as a key component of a healthy society.
We know that fusing health into everyday is important, so how do we incorporate mental health into our every day routine? Well, we’ve been trying by taking 15-30 minutes out of our workweek to manage stress and lift some of that weight off our shoulders. Whether it’s 15 minutes of meditation or 30 minutes of office yoga, we try to find a moment of peace in our every day.
Over the past year or so, we’ve been fortunate to be able to offer our Center personnel regular mind and body breaks including Yoga, Qigong, and meditation classes led by one of our very talented graduate research assistants, Sarah Bentley.
See how you can find peace in your day by reading her guest blog below:
Managing Stress with Qigong (Chi-Gong)
Stress – a Modern Epidemic
Someone just cut you off on the highway and you see your life flash before your eyes. You can literally feel the adrenaline flooding your veins: your heart is racing, you feel like you can’t catch a full breath, you start sweating…the classic fight or flight stress response. Normally, your body will naturally recover once the perceived threat is gone, but what if you live or work in an environment that is chronically stressful?
The CDC estimates that stress may account for 75% of all visits to the doctor. And prolonged stress can lead to a multitude of health problems. It makes sense that, just as we can injure our physical bodies with overuse, we can also cause ourselves mental distress by exposing ourselves to unhealthy levels of stress.
According to the World Health Organization mental health problems, such as stress are likely to become the second most common health condition by the year 2020.
What’s the solution?
There isn’t a single pill that can solve the modern stress epidemic, but many hospitals and clinics around the country integrate relaxation techniques into their healthcare programs to help reduce stress hormone levels. The goal of these relaxation techniques is to get the body and mind to relax, so that your immune system is better able to fight off illness. Some types of relaxation techniques include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Qigong and Tai Chi
- Mindfulness practices
How does it work? The Relaxation Response
The Benson Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has done extensive research on the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress. When eliciting the relaxation response, your:
- metabolism decreases,
- heart beats slower,
- muscles relax,
- breathing becomes slower,
- blood pressure decreases,
- levels of nitric oxide are increased.
This return to homeostasis is a function of the Autonomic Nervous System.
Staff and students enjoy a Mindful Yoga session led by Sarah Bentley on the roof top balcony.
Qigong for Stress Management
Qigong is a simple mind-body practice that combines fluid movements with intention, breathing, and meditation. It is sometimes called "Chinese Yoga" but looks and feels more like Tai Chi. Qigong, like Yoga and Tai Chi has been practiced for thousands of years.
The NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines Qigong as “a discipline from traditional Chinese medicine that combines gentle physical movements, mental focus, and deep breathing”. [Watch a short video on the NCCIH youtube channel]
There are many types of Qigong and most of them are very accessible and easy to learn. You do not need special clothing or equipment and it can be practiced anywhere from sitting at your desk to waiting at the bus stop.
A number of scientific studies have concluded that Qigong is a good stress coping method. It affects hormone regulation related to homeostasis. Because of this positive mental effect, Posadski and colleagues, regard Qigong as "brain gymnastics”. In addition, Qigong can help lower the stress hormone, cortisol, even in short-term practice. Qigong has also been found to help:
Qigong is just one practice that helps to elicit the relaxation response. Find a technique or practice that works for you and commit to practicing it at least a couple of times a week!
Sarah Bentley is a graduate student of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the UT School of Public Health with an interest in doing mind-body research for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Sarah first became a certified Sheng Zhen Gong (qigong) teacher in 2004. She has studied closely with Master Li Junfeng since 2002 and also served as his assistant for 10 years. Sarah teaches qigong, mindful yoga, and mediation classes at the UT School of Public Health, Austin Regional Campus/Dell Center for Healthy Living for faculty, staff, and students.