As we have explored in previous posts there are numerous modes of physical culture that can be useful for people in early recovery, whether they are staying in a sober house, a primary drug and alcohol rehab, or simply accessing outpatient counselling or mutual aid groups like 12 step meetings in the community. Getting physical by way of sports, training regimes, and physical arts or traditions like Yoga, Muay Thai and Tai Chi can be a great way to come back to your body and feel like you are alive again. In the terminology of addiction treatment this is known as body-based therapy or bodywork (and sometimes also known as somatic experiencing). In this post we will look at Qi Gong, an ancient Chinese health system which underpins many of China’s traditional martial arts.
WHY DO WE PRACTICE QI GONG AT ALPHA SOBER HOUSE?
Qi Gong practice focuses on regulating the body and the breathing. There are higher concepts which Qi Gong concerns itself with as well, such as the ‘emotional mind’, ‘qi’, and ‘spirit’, but the meaning of these terms is often lost in translation. The fact is, whilst Buddhist and Daoist priests might be seeking enlightenment or Buddhahood through the practice of Qi Gong, the average practitioner probably has humbler goals. At Alpha Sober Living House, we practice Qi Gong in order to increase our concentration and vitality, as well as to increase our ability to relax and feel ‘rooted’ and ‘grounded.’ Those are a lot of words, so let’s explore what they mean.
QI GONG HELPS TO REGULATE THE BODY
Regulating the body is something that counsellors and psychologists treating addiction know to be of the utmost importance. At the most basic level Qi Gong helps us to regulate the body by teaching us relaxation techniques. In Qi Gong practice there are several ways of developing and improving our ability to experience relaxation. One simple example of this is postural relaxation. Qi Gong helps us learn how to adopt a comfortable stance and not create unnecessary strain in the way we sit, stand or move.
QI GONG IS A NATURAL ‘TRAUMA RELEASE EXERCISE’
Qi Gong can be used to relax the muscles and tendons, and some exercises are specifically used for shaking tension out of the body. These can be focused just in the tendons and muscles of the shoulders and arms, legs or hands, or spread out over the whole body. This leaves you with a buzzing or vibrating sensation which is great for increasing body awareness post-addiction. In fact, this particular Qi Gong warm up exercise is not unlike TRE (Trauma Release Exercise) which is a trendy new body-based therapy thought to help expel trauma from the nervous system. The reality however, is that such techniques have existed for thousands of years, and Qi Gong is one of them.
QI GONG IS A MOVING MEDITATION
Similar to forms of mindfulness meditation (vipassana) Qi Gong can act as a moving meditation. Forms of Thai and Burmese Buddhism promote the practice of walking meditation and also ‘body-scanning’. Qi Gong is similar. In Qi Gong the mind is used (or more accurately, directed) towards becoming aware of the sensations of the body. At a higher level, Qi Gong practitioners can even begin to direct the mind towards feeling sensations within the inner organs of the body.
IT HELPS US FEEL ‘GROUNDED’
Another thing we hear a lot about in addiction treatment these days is ‘trauma informed therapy’. One of the key components of trauma-capable counselling programmes is that they utilize ‘grounding techniques’ to ramp down the nervous system (effectively boosting the parasympathetic nervous system to ‘put the brakes’ on agitated feelings and anxiety). This sounds like a complex concept but grounding techniques have always existed in all of the world’s traditions. Meditation and yoga are good examples – and so is Qi Gong.
QI GONG HELPS US FEEL ‘ROOTED’
In Qi Gong practice it is also important to be rooted. ‘Rooted’ in this sense of the word means to be stable and in firm contact with the ground. Before you can build your root, you need to relax and let your body ‘settle.’ As you relax, the tension trapped in various parts of the body; muscle, fascia, tendons etc. will begin to dissolve. Essentially you learn to stop fighting the ground to keep your body upright and learn instead to utilize your body’s postural structure to support itself. Rooting your body properly is almost like growing invisible roots under your feet. It’s a good feeling.
WHY QI GONG IS HELPFUL IN EARLY RECOVERY
Ultimately, Qi Gong is a system of meditation, and the more we can learn about things like meditation when we are in early recovery (and even in long term sobriety) the better. Many rehabs and sober houses have these kinds of activities available when we are in treatment and it’s best to make use of them, even if you’re not sure at first. Like so many meditation and martial arts systems, the core principles of Qi Gong are highly relevant to recovery and have many parallels to the behaviours and attitudes that are promoted by 12 steps fellowships, CBT techniques and all personal growth models. For example: 12 step programmes ask us to come into closer contact with a higher power of our understanding. Well, Qi Gong does that. CBT teaches us to regulate our emotions and screen our thoughts. Well, when we’re in the midst of a particularly immersive Qi Gong practice, we get that too. Ultimately, Qi Gong is yet another body based tool that we can use for all round health in recovery from addiction.