What is Qigong?

Qigong is a Chinese form of breath, meditation and movement. Taichi, Bagua, martial arts are all forms of Qigong, and Chinese Medicine is born from Qigong.

Qigong comes from nature. It comes from observing, experiencing, learning from the cycles of nature, the inherent health, vitality and Way – or Dao – of the natural world.

As we are nature, Qigong is a system of healing and self cultivation; it aligns us back into our own inner harmony and wellbeing as mirrored in the web of life around us. It is a lifelong journey of discovery and evolution, and is a journey to good health, longevity and wisdom.

Qi means vital life energy. It also means information, and in some cultures is translated as joy. Gong means achievement, result, or cultivation. So Qigong (氣功) means the cultivation of qi, the cultivation of our vital, joyous life.

Qigong is the foundation, the soil from which I grow my wellbeing, happiness and vitality. It is the soil from which I grow my life.

I practice daily outside, as Nature is my greatest teacher and the Qi of life is infinite and abundant.

How I came to Qigong…

I came to qigong through a healing crisis. Due to illness during my first year in college, I required taking a medical leave of absence. I came home to heal, yet repeatedly saw doctors who couldn’t find a cause to my suffering. That is until a family friend recommended I see a Chinese Medicine doctor. This doctor immediately found the pattern of disharmony in my being, looked me in the eyes smiling gently and said, “You will heal. You will be well again.” I felt my whole body and spirit relax and could feel the healing already begin.

Little did I know that my healing process was opening a lifelong path of discovery, magic, adventure that I had never dreamed or knew how to dream was possible. Through my recovery, I regained harmony in my physical, emotional and spiritual being. I required relearning, remembering how to love and nourish myself, how to tune in and feel, know and trust in each moment what is best for me. I got my life back, and as my middle name is Joy, I also say I got my Joy back.

During my healing, my Chinese medicine doctor told me of qigong and said this was a system of self cultivation I could learn to keep myself well and build a life of good health, wellbeing and vitality. It was a way to give myself “treatments” without needles and herbs.

I was sold. My whole healing process, of feeling so seen and understood in this system of medicine, and experiencing how it helped me truly heal from the core of my being, sparkled a new yet fierce passion to learn about this medicine, learn the Chinese culture from which it came, learn Chinese history and to learn the Chinese language – all so I could better, more fully understand this system of Chinese Medicine. It had saved my life and I wanted to learn and share its benefits with many.

I also knew in my heart that I would learn Qigong. As Qigong is the Grandmother of Chinese medicine, and is the practice, discipline, self cultivation I desired to pursue for my own health, longevity, and self development, I birthed my dream to find and study with a Qigong Master in China.

While that dream glowed deep and quiet in my heart, as I regained my health, I returned to college a whole new being. My friends and family all felt my changes and it spurred ripples of healing, self-discovery and love around me. I realized experientially that we truly are all connected, and as I healed, so did others around me. Again this is why our own practice of Qigong is also a powerful form of prayer, activism, and manifestation of harmony and goodness in our world. As I cultivate balance, health, harmony, wisdom and joy in myself through my practice, this ripples out and benefits all life. It is also a way of giving back to our Earth.

I studied medical anthropology, learning systems of health and healing, about local and global causes of illness, and about suffering and meaning in cultures around the planet. I also studied Chinese, did my study abroad in Taiwan, and later my Honors Senior Thesis in Taiwan on a Taiwanese postpartum practice called zuo yue zi or sitting for a month, based on Chinese Medicine. During this time, I found some qigong teachers and studied what I could, yet the dream of meeting a Qigong master and studying with him or her in China quietly lived on in my heart.

My path took many turns and it wasn’t until 10 years after the birth of my heart’s dream, that I did meet one of my most pivotal teachers, Grandmaster Xu Mingtang, lineage holder of the Zhong Yuan Qigong system (中原氣功). I was just finishing my Masters in Public Health at UC Berkeley and had gone to visit a dear friend. When I arrived he was talking to a friend who was deep in conversation about his teacher Grandmaster Mingtang Xu and the Zhong Yuan Qigong (ZYQ for short) system. I was transfixed.

My best friend, Samantha, was with me at the time and she caught on right away as well. When we walked away she said, “Karen, I want you to look into this.” I said I felt it too.

Everything I read about ZY Qigong resonated deeply in my being and I felt a hum of excitement, a knowing in my heart. Through a series of synchronicities, I found an upcoming retreat with Grandmaster Mingtang Xu in Seattle, found out they were giving first time scholarships to students and I was able to go!

When I met Grandmaster Mingtang Xu, I knew I met the teacher I had been looking for. And I LOVED the retreat. My soul soaked up the teachings. At the retreat, Mingtang mentioned he was teaching advanced 1-month training at Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province, China that summer. I so wanted to go, but currently had other plans. At the retreat, Mingtang gave me his email and said to contact him if I did come to China.

When the retreat ended, I knew I must go to Shaolin. Even though I had other plans, this is where I was called to be. Two days after the retreat, I emailed Grandmaster Mingtang. I was nervous. I didn’t think he’d remember me and felt silly bothering him with a question about which Shaolin training group I should go to (as he was offering 3 different levels). I was new to this system of qigong and who did I think I was anyway, writing to the Grandmaster?!!

But! He had given me his email and a stronger, wiser voice said to send it. So I sent it and then promptly left to go to a class where we were learning how to do clairvoyant readings.

That night I was paired with a woman, Julie and we each got to ask the other a question to read. So, since I was about to graduate and knew I wanted to travel in the fall, probably to South America for the first time, I asked her what I should do to prepare and make my travel plans.

Julie closed her eyes and in a few moments, smiled. She said, “Uh…you don’t need to make any plans. It’s just going to happen. And…..I see you wearing warm clothes and sweaters this fall.” What?! But I was going to South America. “Why would I be wearing sweaters,” I thought? Also, don’t I need to make some plans to travel to a continent I’ve never been to? Ah well. That’s what Julie got and on went our evening class.

That night I got home late and checked my email.

And. Oh. My. Goodness.

I had a reply from Grandmaster Mingtang Xu. It said:

Nihao Karen. (that’s hello in Chinese)

Come to my 3rd group month-long training at Shaolin Monastery this August as that is for my most advanced students and you will learn the fastest. Then, if you have time, consider this option. You continue your practice and travel for two weeks. Then meet me in Beijing. You fly with me to Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Switzerland as my assistant. I will pay your flights, room and board and give you a stipend and you learn all 4 levels of Zhong Yuan Qigong, meet the international community and then you go back to the U.S. and teach. Let me know.


WHAT?!!!! OH MY GOODNESS!!!!! I was so ecstatic!!! So AMAZED!!!! Could this really be happening?! Here was my quiet yet fierce dream that blazed in my heart coming to fruition in a way much more magical and magnificent than I could ever have imagined!!!!

So YES! I did enthusiastically take Grandmaster Mingtang Xu up on his offer and embarked on a journey of a lifetime in China, at Shaolin, meditating and hiking in the Song Mountains and surrounding monasteries and traveling throughout Europe with a Grandmaster. And there is NO boring moments when traveling with a Grandmaster! J It was more than magical and is a whole book of adventures and learning onto itself.

And, it was just the beginning of my journey. After this epic adventure, I returned to the states and found myself falling into one of my deepest anxious depressions. This was part of my learning. It helped me claim and make my practice my own. I had been given so many tools and teachings, and I wanted to share them,…..but I needed learn to trust myself first. I needed to digest what I was given and integrate these teachings and experiences into my being, understand how they nourished me and my life and then I could share these gifts fully.

There are many more details I will forego for brevity’s sake, but through this time, I went through a dark night of my soul. With the anxious depression I was experiencing, I couldn’t stand being indoors. I felt confined and trapped. Being outside was one of the only ways I felt a sense of calm and wellbeing returning. So. I began to take my practice outside. And began to do as much as possible outside. I struggled with a deep anxiety about “wanting to do it right” – my practice, my life, being of service. And I had so much fear of “doing it wrong.” Yet this way of being was extremely painful and was sapping the joy out of myself and my life.

The pain finally led me to surrender and make a new choice. I made a choice to dedicate my practice, my life to the cultivation of Joy. And I began to do those practices I loved and that nourished me and my practice began to thrive…as did I.

Soon after that choice and dedication to my practice being one of cultivating joy, I moved to Seattle. I desired to teach, to share the gifts and treasures I had been given. I had a dream where Mingtang told me to come to Seattle. I awoke feeling that truth and sense of clarity in the rightness of that guidance, booked a flight and came. Since moving to Seattle, within my first week, I was given opportunities to teach. Many, many doors have opened, my life path unfolding with more mystery and magic than I could imagine. More of my life teachers came into my path here and I have been giving back, sharing the blessings I’ve been giving through my teaching, writings, workshops, classes, conferences, travels and public speaking engagements, any way I can in the U.S., Canada and China.

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