“Live Longer” Exercises
I try to incorporate new styles of exercise into my regime. Several months ago, I started practicing Gyrotonics, an exercise based on expansion and flow corresponding with breathing sequences and Qigong, an eastern Chinese practice derived from Tai Chi that concentrates on cultivating and balancing life’s energy.
I am confident that my journey to explore these less known (in western culture) styles of exercise is more than a phase. I craved the movements and the energy aftermath while I was working out of town the last few weeks.
Undoubtably, I feel more “connected” and rejuvenated after each session. And I have witnessed incredible health transformations in others who practice Gyrotonics and Qigong. I sat down with my talented trainer and friend, Jennifer Harmer, to fill us in on her journey through these practices and share some of her knowledge and insight.
Interview with Jen Harmer
BE: Where did your passion come from for this practice?
JH: I really enjoy giving people the tools they need for a healthy body free from pain and discomfort.
I danced professionally for many years, and I could feel my body breaking down from the demands I was placing on it. I knew there had to be something out there to help me feel free and at ease in my body again. I began teaching Gyrotonic, and that work, paired with the Qigong, really enabled me to dance with ease for the last five years of my dancing career.
Synthesizing the sophistication of moving three-dimensionally on the Gyrotonic machine with the ease of movement and breath in Qigong made for a perfectly balanced pairing in my mind. A lot of the concepts used in Gyrotonic, the “Awakening of the Senses”, drumming the body, the spiraling, the lengthening and strengthening of the body with-in the same action, are rooted in the ancient movement system that is Qigong.
BE: How did you get interested and involved in eastern movement?
I started studying the martial art Bagua with an incredible teacher, Joseph Zeisky, and I was really intrigued about the concept of ‘internal alchemy’. The more I learned about Eastern healing systems, the more I realized how movement is as much a daily part of life as eating and sleeping– it is not considered a separate entity in those cultures. Healthy movement is not just ‘working out’ or ‘breaking a sweat’ but it is about maintaining vitality, longevity, and a supple, strong body as we age.
BE: What are the biggest benefits you see as a result of practicing qigong?
Qigong is the precursor to all of the Eastern healing systems, including acupuncture and tai chi, and it’s incredibly accessible to all (body types, ages, etc..). I find that it is akin to a “superfood” in the way that it nourishes moving bodies. You don’t need props or machines, you don’t need to be able to understand a lot of fancy movement techniques. In addition to getting a great workout, you are essentially exploring a thousands of years old movement system as a healing technique.
BE: When you studied in China, what is the most special memory you collected?
Climbing Mt. Huashan (The Flower Mountain) and staying with monks in the Qingkeping Monastery was definitely a highlight. I was able to practice Bagua and Qigong every morning in the most incredible surroundings. Training on the Great Wall was also a fantastic and rare opportunity.
How can people start learning about qigong if they don’t live in NYC and can’t work out with you?
Tom Bisio has some great books on the topic, and Spring Forest Qigong is accessible online as well. You can search ‘Qigong’ on YouTube and start sifting through some of the various approaches. There are also many variations out there of the ‘8 Brocades’ or the ‘8 Treasures’– I learned a great version from a husband and wife team in Beijing.
Do you see Qigong becoming more accessible and popular?
It seems that every year it becomes more and more name recognizable. I am also getting as many referrals now for Qigong as I am for Gyrotonic.