Since she was a child, Sarah Brandt has always been physically active.
Her athletic background included swimming, track, cross country and dance — all of which required her to be in peak cardiovascular health.
But as the Nebraska native entered adulthood, she began experiencing anxiety, digestive problems, migraines, seasonal allergies and debilitating fatigue.
Prescriptions didn't improve her symptoms, and exercise wasn't calming her nervous system.
Then she took a qi gong class from Yun Xiang Tseng, a Daoist priest and martial arts master from China, and everything changed. The relationship between her physical and mental health became clear. She knew from that moment that she wanted to study under the tai chi master. She traveled the country to take part in workshops and learn more during private sessions.
Today, Brandt is one of the few qi gong instructors in Nebraska. We caught up with her recently to learn more about it and the benefits of practicing on a regular basis.
Q. What is qi gong?
A. It's pronounced “chee gong.” It's a self-healing physical practice. People in China have been practicing qi gong for thousands of years — since ancient times — for physical exercise and self-healing. It allows the mind to rest and the breath to relax while the body moves.
Q. What does the term mean?
A. In simple terms, it translates into “energy work” or “cultivating energy.” I call it a moving meditation. The body and the mind work together. Qi is the Chinese word for energy and gong means “to work” or “to do.” Qi is our life force, it's within you, it's within me, it's within each one of us. It's our body and our mind. It affects every part of our body, both our physical and emotional states.
Q. How is it different from tai chi?
A. Tai chi is a martial art, but it's also a form of qi gong. Tai chi is qi gong.
Q. Is qi gong exercise or meditation?
A. It's both. Qi gong brings balance and awareness to the mind, breath and body. It strengthens and conditions your body and relaxes your mind and breath. The flowing movements are coordinated with the breath and provide a sense of presence, awareness and concentration. It's physical exercise that builds stamina, strengthens the body and increases balance and coordination. The mind has a place to rest. We're not thinking of a thousand different things. I call it a moving meditation.
Q: Is qi gong also a type of healing medicine?
A: Qi gong is practiced as a self-healing method. It's beneficial for prevention as well as rehabilitation. In clinical trials, researchers are studying the benefits qi gong has on your health. They're finding that it addresses important health conditions like cardiovascular health, balance and osteoporosis. A daily practice benefits your body's joints and ligaments, improves your sleep and energy levels and reduces stress. It also improves bone density, blood pressure, depression and other health conditions. I've worked with people who began practicing qi gong and were able to reduce blood pressure medication, resolve neurological conditions, decrease seasonal allergy symptoms and resolve digestive issues. I've personally found that these practices are effective for self-healing and maintaining physical and emotional balance.
Q: Are there physical limitations on who can practice or learn it?
A: Qi gong is for everyone. It's a very “user friendly” practice. There are many beginner forms for all ages, conditions and abilities. It can be done standing or sitting in a chair — or even lying down. Through movement, breath and intention, we have the ability to heal and transform ourselves with these ancient practices.