Gainesville Qigong Group de-stresses with Chinese technique

Published: Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 at 3:19 p.m.

The meditative practice of qigong, with roots in ancient China, uses slow, graceful movements and breathing techniques to benefit overall health and create a connection with nature and the universe as a whole.

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The Gainesville Qigong Group practices exercises during a recent class.

Jon Silman/Special to the Sun


Gainesville Qigong Group

What: Class uses slow movements and breathing techniques to maintain health and as a spiritual path.
When: 11 a.m. Saturdays
Where: Prosperous Living Center, 1135 N.W. 23rd Ave., Gainesville
Cost: First class is free; after that, $10 on a sliding scale.

According to Dr. John Byrne, who practices Oriental medicine, it may also benefit cardiovascular, respiratory and immune systems by lowering blood pressure, slowing respiratory rate and targeting antigens.

The Gainesville Qigong Group, led by Byrne, meets at 11 a.m. Saturdays at the Prosperous Living Center, 1135 N.W. 23rd Ave.

Byrne said suppressed negative emotional energy can wear your body down.

“It’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. Eventually, you get tired,” he said. “If you’re using 30 percent of your energy holding down stress, then you’re not functioning as well as you could be, and qigong can help you to release that negative energy.”

During a recent qigong (pronounced “chee gong”) class, participants, who ranged from male college students to older women, gathered in a circle. Byrne demonstrated a three-part breathing technique he said was good for relaxation.

“Focus your breath below your belly button, pull it into your abdomen and up into your chest,” he said. “Now do the opposite when you exhale.”

Byrne led sampling of different types of qigong. One was “sound” qigong — a technique meant to release negative energy through yelling or growling.

He demonstrated the “tiger.” Participants crouched, made claws with their hands and growled as loud as they could. Byrne coached while the growls intensified in volume until the room sounded like a street brawl.

“The purpose of the tiger is to connect with a power that will release your anger,” Byrne said.

He said qigong uses slow movements and breathing techniques to harness human energy flow, also known as “qi.” Qigong promotes vitality, inspiration and a natural sense of well-being, he said. In the classes on Saturdays, Byrne uses special methods of focusing on particular energy centers in and around the body though visualizations.

“Imagine a magnetic field between your fingers cleansing you of toxins,” he said. “Now run your hands through your hair to clean your aura.”

Qiqong is practiced by millions of people around the world, and especially China, to maintain health, as a therapeutic intervention and as a spiritual path, he said. The practice focuses on healing the cause of disease and not just the symptoms.

“Your emotions, your physical body and your mental state are all inseparable,” he said.

Becky Covington, 30, of Gainesville said she felt a magnetic energy between her fingers as she held an imaginary fireball during a move called “pushing hands” that is meant to help the liver and gallbladder. Covington said she attended the class for the first time just to see what qigong was all about.

“This is a great way to start your day or end a stressful work week,” she said.

Classes are free for the first visit and $10 after that. Byrne offers a sliding scale so the price does not discourage attendees.

At the end of the class, Byrne asked everyone to “pack their qi.” To finish the class, everyone held hands and said something they were grateful for. Covington said she felt at peace.

“I felt a release of toxins during the class,” she said. “I’ll definitely be coming back.”

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