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Religion & Culture | Qigong - Why the west is looking to the east for good health and happiness

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2019 | 12:00 AMGlenville Ashby/Contributor
Qigong is practised by people of ages.
Glenville Ashby

I walked awkwardly around the circle. It was more challenging than imagined. Circle walking or Turning the Circle requires balance, concentration and impeccable footwork. Frustrated, I stopped and lowered my arms, calling a time-out. Tina Zhang, my teacher, smiled as though she was expecting my frustration.

Bagua or circle walking is a 4,000-year-old Chinese practice that promotes physical and psychological health. It is described as an internal martial art because there is no aggressive, hard movements or physical sparring. Rooted in the spiritual disciplines of Taoism, circle walking is meditative in principle.

My interest in Bagua extends beyond health reasons. The discipline facilitates a deeper working of cosmology or the nature of the Universe explored in I Ching or The Book of Changes.

As I stumbled through my first classes, Zhang stressed the importance of practice. “Stop thinking, practise” – profound words that I adopted since training in eastern disciplines a decade ago.

A non-thinking concept

Over the years, I embraced this non-thinking concept when practising Qigong (cultivation of internal energy through movement and controlled breathing) and now Bagua.

My many teachers over the years have doubled down on the importance of letting go and experiencing the moment. Athletes call it ‘being in a zone’. This is when good things happen. In the zone, there is no need to telegraph your movements. You simply be or become the movement. The mind and body merge and work in unison. You are in autopilot; you experience the movement.

This is what Bruce Lee meant when he said, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot.”

This is the crux of eastern practices such a Qigong and Bagua.

When I learned Soaring Crane Qigong from Sifu Kathryn Davis, I observed, as she became the movement, performing a series of complicated steps and postures with timeless grace and precision.

Over the years, I have realised that discipline and patience are needed to mastering Eastern health traditions. That is something sorely lacking in the West. Physical and spiritual health for the easterner embraces both the mind and body.

The Bible teaches that the body is a temple. It follows that it must be maintained. Physical illness or discomfort sometimes means that the mind is ill at ease. You cannot be an authentic teacher of truth if you are a slave to your cravings. The mind and body work in tandem. The Delphic maxim: ‘Know thyself’ cannot be overemphasised.


Not unlike many black males, I suffered with hypertension. I read many clinical studies that supported Qigong as a complementary practice that tamed this ‘silent killer’.

Given that at a young age I lost my mother to cancer, I was also drawn to articles on the rehabilitative use of Qigong by cancer survivors at leading hospitals around the world, including Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.


Westerners are now realising the importance of movement and controlled breathing.

For example, the benefits of walking are immeasurable and well documented. Qigong walking involves a distinct breathing pattern that oxygenates the blood. This helps repair our cells (to produce energy), calm our nerves and cleanse the body.

Qigong walking also reduces low-density lipoprotein, LDL, or bad cholesterol in the blood and increases blood flow to the brain to improve memory. It is also a good antidote against insomnia, as Kenneth Sancier states in his book, Anti-Aging Benefits of Qigong.

As a wellness consultant working with individuals suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s at a medical facility in NewYork City, I can attest to the many advantages of practising Qigong.

That said, it must be emphasised that Eastern health practices do not replace allopathic medicine. They are complementary modalities, ancient practices that Western doctors are finally embracing.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His upcoming book ‘Conflict of Identity: From the Slave Trade to Present Day – One’s Man’s Healing in Benin’ will be released in October 2019. Email feedback to and, or tweet @glenvilleashby

NOTE: I will be introducing Qigong at Afya Holistic Village in Kingston, Jamaica, on Saturday, September 28, 2019. For more information, email me at