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Ancient Chinese Secret

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Qigong classes at the Lake Mary Senior Center bring relief and relaxation through the ages

In the world of martial arts, Qigong (pronounced chi-gung) often gets overlooked. At the Lake Mary Senior Center, however, it’s kind of a big deal. Since August of last year, instructor Grace Stehle has been guiding groups of seniors through the gentle Chinese exercise at 2:00 p.m. every Thursday.

“There are records of Qigong that go back to a couple thousand years B.C.,” says Grace. “Records of tai chi don’t appear until the early Middle Ages.”

The two disciplines look very similar because tai chi is an offshoot of Qigong, but Qigong is a much gentler martial art that can help improve one’s health in a number of ways. 

“It strengthens your bones, gives you more stability in movement, and improves your balance,” Grace says. “So, basically, we’re talking about fall prevention and healing.”

When Grace begins her class, she starts off with small movements to help the practitioners loosen up. In the background, soothing sounds play over the speakers in the room to help the class focus and relax. They stretch and shake out their hips, arms, and legs, and then they move into long stretches. Then Grace has the class tap all along their legs, arms, and chest. This helps to relieve tension and open up channels of natural energy. 

“Qigong is generally a more meditative experience, while tai chi is generally more active,” Grace explains.

Lydia DeBlasi has been making the short drive from Longwood to the Lake Mary Senior Center for the past few months to practice Qigong. She first became interested in Qigong simply out of curiosity. After practicing yoga for a while, she wanted to see what Qigong was all about.
“I really enjoy it, so I’m just practicing it to get better,” Lydia says. “It has different benefits than meditation alone – it’s meditation and exercise. It’s a different form of concentration.”

Lydia says she’s already seen improvement in her concentration, and she’s more centered now. Other members of the class experienced other benefits such as a boost in energy and flexibility. 

Gladys Matos recently retired, so she has more time to spend exploring different activities with her husband, Ralph. The Lake Mary couple decided to check out the Qigong class after taking some tai chi classes in the past. Gladys said she was hoping to glean the same benefits from Qigong as she did from tai chi.

“Tai chi made me sweat more than any exercise,” Gladys says. “It’s controlled movements, and you’re relaxing at the same time, but to me it was more work than anything else.”

The couple is hoping for more flexibility and energy after practicing the gentler Qigong. They dove right into the movements along with their classmates, as Grace directed everyone through each movement and pose slowly.

Qigong doesn’t just focus on small, smooth movements and holding poses. It also helps those who practice it be more aware of their bodies and how they move. Breathing deeply and deliberately is a big part of Qigong, as well. 

You don’t need experience in yoga, meditation, or any form of martial arts to get started with Qigong. It’s a practice that is easy for anyone to begin, and you will likely reap the benefits of the art after your first class. 

The Lake Mary Senior Center is open to all seniors, not just residents of the city, but there is a small annual membership fee for non-residents. Other available classes include yoga, crafts, bingo, Zumba, and more.

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