Rachel Grunwell

Fitness writer.

Fitness challenge: Qigong

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell takes a Qigong class with Henri-Noel Venturini at Auckland Domain. Photo / Doug Sherring
Rachel Grunwell takes a Qigong class with Henri-Noel Venturini at Auckland Domain. Photo / Doug Sherring

What is it? A Chinese martial art form of exercise. The practice also incorporates breathing, synchronised with moves and poses, while having an awareness of your body. There's some meditation and healing kinda stuff thrown in there, too.

What's needed? An open mind to the ideas connected with the exercise, plus having no qualms about becoming "animal-like". Casual gear, of course. No need for shoes.

The experience: Being a mum, I can transform into a "fire-breathing dragon" on occasion, particularly when I'm giving my school-aged kids the hurry-scurry in the mornings so they're not late for class.

So, when Qigong teacher Henri-Noel Venturini asks me to mimic his actions and pretend to become a "tiger", I tell him "easy-peasy".

I can be a much scarier creature, if required.

So here we are, two "tigers" at the Auckland Domain, among the pohutukawa and with a backdrop of the majestic Auckland museum.

We've taken our shoes off so our paws, I mean feet, can feel the blades of grass underneath and thus feel more connected to the earth, I'm told. I just try to avoid the odd worm wriggling about.

"Visualise being a tiger and take on the personality of a tiger," encourages Henri.

"Think of their quiet stepping, their hearing, seeing, alertness and their powerful being".

So I'm a crouching tiger (with a hidden dragon), with my paws (hands) curled over and my claws (fingers) tucked up underneath.

I'm reaching a hand forward, and then alternating it with the other hand, and looking like I could be pawing in some meaty prey.

This "exercise" of turning and tightening the hands is good for the muscles, flexibility, joint strength and warming up the body, the teacher tells me. He also reckons it's good for cleansing the lymphatic system.

"It's self-defence against outside pathogens," says Henri.

Next, we become white crane birds with our hands splayed out and up, and we shift our weight delicately as though we have stalk-like legs.

Awesome. But making out that I'm a snow rabbit was the quirkiest fun.

We got up on tippy toes, while we curled over and stretched our spines and pretended to dig our hands into the earth. "It's an interesting process," laughs Henri.

I'm just glad he said that.

However, much of the repetitive exercises we do are more martial arts-type exercises: think tai chi. But instead of doing fierce movements that can be used potentially to hurt someone, the poses are, instead, in slow slow motion and it's more about "healing" exercises for the body.

Henri is frank that Qigong is mostly viewed as "an old man's sport" and people come to his classes generally when they're sick and sore, or, to be honest, he confides, "if it's the last straw".

But, he says, more people of all ages should try it to balance their "chi" (intrinsic life energy, or life essence).

He claims Qigong helps people reach their true, happier selves.

It's also about meditation and helping to line up the left and right sides of the brain so they are in equilibrium, he says. And also about "relinquishing negative thoughts and feelings".

He adds that the exercise is about encouraging positive thoughts and living our lives more in harmony, thus warding off sickness and stress.

The 55-year-old has been doing martial arts since he was 10. In a former life he was a stressed-out chef, but now he's happier living a calmer life, teaching practices such as Qigong.

I tell him it feels good to slow down, chill out and search for my "chi". It's all pretty choice. It's also good for playing "make-believe" with the kids when I get home ...

Worth it? Great low-impact exercises. Especially good if you have sore joints, etc.

Try it: Henri will be taking a free Qigong class at the Healthy Living Show in Auckland, during the weekend of November 2-4 at the Viaduct Events Centre. Check out www.healthylivingshow.co.nz for this class and other healthy stuff being promoted.

Also, Henri does Qigong classes at $10 a person through his company, Balanced Energy, in Whangaparaoa.

He also does private lessons throughout Auckland for roughly $80 an hour.

Rating: 8.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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