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I was recently asked how my Qi Gong journey started and from where I sought expertise and training. Following is my Movement Odyssey that highlights my path to Qi Gong.

Overcoming a Health Crisis

After a devastating health crisis, I realized that no one is going to save me. I mean, the medicine might help, but it certainly won’t cure me, and no one can fix what has broken apart inside. No one, except myself.

A favorite quote of mine from the Buddha is, “You alone are responsible for your own happiness.”

It’s a hard truth: acknowledging that nothing, absolutely nothing from the OUTSIDE can provide a lasting healing effect on the INSIDE.

I write these words, not as someone who has figured it all out, but as someone who, on a daily basis, struggles to live well in a complicated, sometimes harsh and ever-changing world. After a few dark years, I have slowly started to notice a shift in my energy, my internal energy, and something tells me that my practice of Qi Gong has played a vital role.

The Intent of Qi Gong

Rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the intent of Qi Gong is to clear stress and emotional disharmony while increasing and tonifying internal energy. It is a practice for self-healing, stress-reduction and energy-enhancement. Qi Gong is less of an outward journey for physical fitness, although many physical benefits accumulate with practice, and more of an inward journey for overall health and well-being. It is about shifting our focus away from the external, over that which we have no control, and toward what we do control, our internal state of being. Qi Gong fosters the awareness that our true power and energetic resources reside within us.

If only we could get this in pill form….

Enjoying Movement at an Early Age

From an early age I realized that movement made me feel better. In the summer of 1984, at the age of 17, as I prepared to head to college in the fall, I decided to take an aerobics class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, and it must have shown, because the instructor came up to me after class and asked, “Do you teach aerobics?” and I said, “No.” Then the instructor asked, “Do you want to?” and I said, “Yes.”

I had no experience or formal training, but it was the early 1980s and no one seemed to notice. Thrilled by this new job opportunity, I went home, turned on the radio, set up my cassette tape player and spent hours recording songs for the aerobics class I would soon teach. It was my first ever “playlist”.

That is how my teaching journey began and 40 years later, with a hiatus here and there, I am still teaching. Although much has changed in my life, my love of movement and a rocking good playlist remains constant to this day.

Beginning of Yoga’s Influence in My Life

In the mid 1990s I started to hear more about yoga. It was around the time Madonna rocked the stage on her Blonde Ambition Tour with an incredibly strong, fit and sleek physique and to my surprise, I learned that Madonna practiced yoga. Around the same time, Ali MacGraw produced the VHS TAPE, Yoga, Mind & Body. After watching video clips, all I could think was how incredibly well Ali moved her body for a woman of her age. At the time, Ali was in her mid 50s and most women I knew, around that same age, could barely bend over, never mind touch their toes or get up and off the floor with such graceful ease. My ego may have wanted the Madonna body, but my mind knew that Ali MacGraw was onto something.

In 1997, 3 weeks after the birth of my daughter, I popped in Ali MacGraw’s VHS tape and practiced yoga with her religiously, 2-3 times a week, for the next year. Desiring more variety and a stronger form of yoga, I grew fond of Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga Series and Baron Baptiste’s Journey into Power Yoga (all of these videos can now be found on YouTube). To fine tune my practice and my understanding of yoga, I dove into as many books, magazines and videos as I could find. This is a mini sampling of the many yoga resources I have turned to over the years to support my practice.

Teaching and Studying Yoga

In 2001, after 3 years of home practice, I decided to try an in-person yoga class. Ironically, the same thing happened. After class, the instructor came up to me and asked if I would be interested in teaching yoga. By this time in my life I had accumulated several fitness-based certifications but lacked any “formal” yoga training. But I didn’t care and neither did the instructor, so of course I said “Yes.”

I immediately signed up for a local yoga training in Cambridge Massachusetts with Beryl Bender Birch. Beryl is credited, (along with Bryan Kest), for popularizing the phrase, “Power Yoga.” Even though I had been practicing power yoga regularly, I was completely sidetracked as Beryl instructed the class in Sanskrit. I had no idea what was going on and so I simply copied the yogi next me, who seemed to know exactly what to do. And as that yogi dropped her chest flat against her thighs in a standing forward bend, I thought to myself, “I’m not worthy!” and wanted nothing more than to drop to my knees, bow and wave my arms in salute like Wayne & Garth.

“Flying” with Yoga

However, as the class progressed, and the focus was more on strength instead of the flexibility of my hamstrings, I started to fly. Yes fly. Although it is hard to articulate the way practicing yoga makes me feel, the sense of taking flight always comes to mind. Flying — a sensation that fills my body as I flow seamlessly from pose to pose. I happened to sneak a peek at the yogi next to me and noticed she was struggling to keep up with the demanding physical yoga flow.

At my very first yoga training I learned two important lessons:

  1. Never compare your yoga body to another’s yoga body: “comparison is the thief of joy” and
  2. Being able to lay one’s chest flat against the thighs has nothing to do with commitment to practice, wisdom or enlightenment.

After 27 years of yoga practice, I still cannot lay my chest flat against my thighs in Uttanasana (standing forward bend), and it has nothing to do with lack of will or effort and everything to do with the structure and biomechanics of my body.

Anything I learned about yoga, that resonated with me, (physically, mentally, emotionally), I wrote down in journals and sketched out flows.

This is the method to my madness.

My Quest Beyond Yoga

My list of yoga teachers, styles and traditions as well meditation practices and philosophies I have studied is far too long to recount here, yet every teacher and every tradition has contributed to my deep appreciation of all things yoga. I am often asked, “Where did you study yoga?”, and my response is always, “Where haven’t I?”

Tai Chi and Qi Gong started to pop up regularly in my life in news feeds and health blogs. In 2015, while living part-time in Boston, I would regularly happen upon small groups of people practicing Tai Chi in the Public Parks. It was mesmerizing. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how or where to start.

Then one day, a private client handed me a DVD and said,” I mistakenly bought two copies, do you want one?” It was Deborah Davis’ The Spirit of Qi Gong, The Secret to A Lifetime of Health and Fitness. I knew it was a sign and I gratefully accepted the gift. But that DVD sat on my shelf and collected dust for a few years.

Then, COVID hit and, like everyone else, I seemed to have extra time on my hands. In March of 2020, I pulled that dusty Qi Gong DVD off the shelf and popped it into the player and began practicing with Deborah Davis. Deja Vu, Ali MacGraw all over again. Although Deborah’s teaching style did not fully resonate with me, the healing quality of her practice did. I can’t explain it. It was similar to the feeling of flying with yoga, but different. There’s a saying that my Qi Gong teacher often quotes, “Same, Same, Different”.

Thirst for Information

I started to seek more information about Tai Chi & Qi Gong. Again researching, reading, watching anything that would guide me toward a better understanding of this ancient healing practice.

One of the books I put on “hold” at the library was The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart and Sharp Mind, by Peter Wayne. When I went to the library to get the book, I flipped through the pages and was disappointed to find there were very few pictures of the physical practice. I was about to dump the book into the return slot, but then I decided otherwise. I ended up reading that book from cover to cover and ultimately bought my own copy.

Complementary Online Training

With Covid still raging, I decided to look into some online training. Funny, how online training is such a respected norm now, yet back then it was often pooh-poohed as “not good enough”. As a certified Silver Sneakers Instructor, I had access to various trainings they offered. One of their courses was called ENERCHI, a training which combined traditional Tai Chi and Qi Gong practices made accessible to the active older adult. With the expert guidance of Deborah Davis, The Harvard Medical School and Silver Sneakers, my love for the practice expanded.

It was from these initial resources and trainings, as well as a few other books and digital materials that I crafted the Movement Meditation Series currently available on YogaVista.TV.

These are pictures of the sketches I made for the Movement Meditation Videos.

By now It was early 2021 and, as luck would have it, another client would share a Facebook link to Lee Holden’s, “Emergency Immunity Kit”. I knew right away that I had I found my Qi Gong teacher. I streamed Lee’s videos, borrowed his DVDs from the library, and purchased several of his immersion programs, workshops and trainings. My practice was expanding. I felt inspired, renewed and I was wicked excited. You can find out all about Holden Qi Gong on his website!

Cancer Hits Me Hard

But as life often does, everything came to a screeching halt when Cancer reared its ugly head in the Fall of 2021. As I moved through my cancer treatment, I slowly spiraled downward. I was tired, weak, sick and my heart had completely broken apart. I was also pissed off, angry, anxious and leaking anguish.

But somehow, this body knew exactly what to do, even when my mind was in upheaval. On an almost daily basis, my body dragged its worn-out self to the yoga room and we (my mind and body) practiced with Lee. I speak about myself as if I am looking in from the outside, as if my mind was separate from my body, because that is what cancer did to me. I wasn’t sure who or what I was anymore.

During treatment, Qi Gong was the only personal practice that seemed to resonate. Too unstable to walk far, too tired to cultivate an inspiring yoga flow and too weak to lift weights, Qi Gong offered me a practice that not only satisfied this love of physical movement, but more importantly, began to chip away at the emotional and mental turmoil that had been accumulating in my bones, in my blood and in my qi, for years. Years, even before cancer.

The Darkness of Cancer

As the darkness of cancer clouded my thoughts, I began to question the value of my life, my worth and my purpose. Perhaps it is all in the timing, but it was Lee Holden’s teachings that suggested I was looking in all the wrong places for healing. Lee speaks to reclaiming your internal personal power, because it is from here that we generate our strength. If our stress levels are too high, our energy is depleted, and it makes it nearly impossible to do anything effectively. Sayings like “Tend To You First” and “Fill Up Your Cup”, might come to mind, but the QI Gong teachings and the practices go far deeper than pithy quotes and provide a pathway to continuous healing. Lee’s teachings have given me some much need tools to cultivate my inner strength and begin to transform my stress into vitality.

Qi Gong & Yoga have much in common. Qi Gong is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Yoga, Ayurveda, a system of medicine originating in India. One is not better than the other, and you will still catch me flying around my yoga mat. In fact, much of my yoga training, particularly in regard to Yin Yoga, the Meridian system, Meditation and Pranayama has blended seamlessly into my Qi Gong practice. Same, Same, Different. Like Ali MacGraw, I too can still touch my toes and get up and off the floor with ease and grace, even as I approach my 58th birthday. For this, I am so very grateful to my yoga practice.

More Training, but with Different Intent

In May 2023 I signed up for Holden Qi Gong’s 200 Hour, 16-week training program. As I write this blog (almost one year later) I head into my 14th week of training. I know what you’re thinking, 16 weeks have come and gone and I have not yet finished the training.**

Truth is, the training is so good and so rich with many additional modules to navigate, that I have decided to take my own “sweet qi time”. I do not know when I will finish the training, it will happen when it happens. What I do know, is that I have already accrued Malcolm Gladwell’s threshold of 10,000 hours of Qi Gong practice, which is suggested to “result in the mastery of complex skills and materials.” You know, it’s never really about where the degree comes from or how many certifications you have accumulated, and always about what you do with what you learn.

The great yogi Pattabhi Jois, had a similar take on the 10,000 hours theory, he advised, “Yoga is 99% practice, 1% Theory.” Same, Same, Different.

One more “shout out” to Jamie Alonge, another great practitioner of Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Jamie popped up on my Instagram feed some time ago and I have been following him ever since. His Instagram posts makes me smile and reinforce my love of all things “qi”. Yes, I am cheating on Lee with Jamie. You can find Jamie on Instagram.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this Qi Gong journey flows. Can’t wait to see what the next 40 years bring my way.

Sending you health, awareness and light for a renewed spirit,

Kim OBrien

(20-min) Movement Meditation Tai Chi and Qi Gong Practice with Kim O’Brien

Kim found solace in her Qi Gong and Tai Chi Meditation Movement Practices while going through her Cancer treatments and recovery. Oftentimes, moving more slowly and mindfully helps calm the nervous system in times of stress.

This is the first in Kim’s 7-class video series that offers up gentle, fluid movements from a standing position and is accessible to most practitioners. You will be working on Balance, Strength, Bone Density, Cognition and Reaction Time. Choosing to use a chair to aid in balance or even sit while performing some of the upper body movements and breath work is always an option. Here is the first Warm-up class in the series.

** FREE! Try this Series out with this YouTube Video!

Join us on YogaVista.TV and enjoy the Full Series with Kim!

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Cancer Recovery

Note: This collection and the related videos are included in various YogaVista.TV subscription plans.

Wellness Practices for Cancer Recovery

We have made it easy for you to begin a Yoga program focused on helping you cope with stress and other conditions usually associated with Cancer. We have created these Wellness Practices for Cancer Recovery that offer targeted videos to encourage and comfort you. As a result, they will strengthen your physical, mental and emotional well-being!

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Be Well Yoga for Cancer Recovery Online Teacher Training Program

Experience transformation with the Yoga for Cancer Recovery Online Yoga Teacher Training Program. Led by Mary Baker and Heidi Borsch, E-RYT500, with medical insights from Dr. Sheila Patel of Chopra Global, and the specialty expertise of Sherry Zak Morris, Certified Yoga Therapist, alongside Melanie Kriete, RN. This collaboration of luminaries ensures a holistic, profound training that merges ancient traditions with modern insights.

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CREDITS:  Author, Kim OBrien, E-RYT 200

Editor, Maria Perez, Certified Yoga & Group Fitness Instructor