Qigong is gentle enough to be practiced by anyone and the benefits for those with long-term illnesses are plentiful. Are you ready to be inspired?

Pronounced ‘chee-gung’, qigong is defined as a system of co-ordinated body posture and movements, breathing and meditation. Similar to tai chi, it typically involves moving meditation, coordinating soft-flowing movement, deep rhythmic breathing, and a calm, meditative state of mind.

The gentle movements can be completed standing up or sitting down, and benefits include strengthening and balancing the body, as well as calming the mind.

Judith Reardon, 86, lives in Chester and has pulmonary hypertension and scleroderma. She began practicing qigong at home last year after losing her husband and struggling with a poor prognosis.

Speaking to us in April 2021, she said: “Even though I knew I wasn’t doing very well, I’ve always been very energetic and positive and I always expect to get over things. So, to be told that maybe my time was quite limited was a big shock and I got quite low for a while.

My natural state of mind is to be positive. I knew I had a life-limiting condition, but I wanted to do something for myself, and feel better about myself, especially whilst shielding.”

Judith had attended some local tai chi classes before the pandemic, and after giving overly-energetic Joe Wicks workouts a go, she set out to find something gentler to take part in at home.

Searching on YouTube, she happened across these 20-minute guided qigong sessions for seniors, and the practice soon became part of her daily routine.

“I really liked it, from the very start”, she said. “I would describe it as mindfulness with movement. The presenters describe it as ‘effortless power’ and it’s all about relaxation, with deep breathing to promote energy.

I have seen physical, mental and emotional benefits from it. I personally like the emphasis on us all being part of each other, nature and the universe – some people may find that a bit ‘airy fairy’ but I like it. It resonates with me, as it makes me feel like no life is ever purposeless.”

Judith practices qigong in her living room, following the movements on her TV screen via YouTube. One of the big benefits she said, is that you need very little space and no special equipment.

“You can do a lot of the movements sitting down and I do it in my slippers. You don’t need any lycra; all you need is an open mind.

My joints feel more mobile now and it’s really helped with my balance too. That 20 minutes I do every day is 20 minutes of calm, and it’s my little happy place. It also helps to give me a routine and a focus.”

Judith credits qigong for giving her back her confidence after the death of her husband, her worries over her health, and the isolation of lockdown and shielding.

“I was really frightened of going out, but I can now enjoy getting in the car, pootling about the shops, visiting friends again, and life opening up”, she said.  “I’m not anxious anymore, and because I’m more confident, I’ve made a new circle of friends amongst my neighbours. I’ve got all these lovely supportive people egging me on in life and I feel so fortunate. Having a bit of a social life again is helping me feel so much more positive.”

Embracing online technology has allowed Judith to enjoy guided qigong sessions from her own home, but as society continues to open up, it may also be possible to find in-person group classes at your local gym, church hall or community centre.

And having seen such huge benefits from qigong herself, Judith is keen to let others with PH know how helpful the practice can be. She added: “I’m 86, so if it suits me, I think it will suit other people – especially those who don’t feel too confident. I know it won’t be for everyone, but you won’t know until you try.”

Qigong has its roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy and martial arts. Qi translates as ‘life energy’ and the practice is thought to harmonise, strengthen and have a healing effect on the functioning of all the internal organs and bodily systems.