By Katherine Allen, a senior instructor member and honorary vice president of The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain
When I was first asked to write an article for The Mutton Club, I laughed. I had often heard the expression ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ and was surprised that anyone would want to embrace the idea. But then it grew on me, and although mostly vegetarian and happier to view myself as a juicy peach, I started to think of myself as a tasty piece of mutton.
My hubby has always said that he prefers the full taste of mutton and how it seems to go with a spicy sauce and can be surprisingly succulent. And so gradually I started to warm to the idea, realising that the only thing wrong with the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ was the comparison. Mutton dressed as a spicy, tasty morsel, with no pretensions of being something it isn’t, is a comfortable and fun idea.
At the age of 70, and never having intended to write a book, I thought you might like to know how my inner Mutton came to write my book The Qigong Bible. Part of Qigong philosophy is to remain open to the present moment, cultivate energy and go with the flow. So when I was invited by the Commissioning Editor to come to her London offices for a chat, my natural curiosity (which has always been a driving force in my life) led me to the meeting.
I immediately felt a connection with my Editor and everything seemed right and so we agreed a schedule. She encouraged me every step of the way, which sometimes included mild bullying about copy deadlines, but I realised that I needed a bit of pushing and I have always responded well to working as a team, so all turned out well. The book took a year to write, and the photos took 4 days to shoot. All of the models used in the book are my wonderful students, apart from one who is a longtime friend and Qigong master.
The world seems to be full of opportunities if you are relaxed enough not to be frightened by them, aware enough to recognise them, and internally free enough to go with the flow – and of course have enough energy to follow them through! And this is where Qigong is a winner! Qigong translates as ‘energy cultivation’, and if you follow the principles, you can create, store and circulate all the energy you need.
Qigong is a Chinese holistic system of exercise that comes from a history of thousands of years of Chinese health practices. However, it has many principles that distinguish it from the ordinary Western concept of exercise.
It involves awareness of posture, breathing, stability, grounding, relaxation, meditation, flow and the belief that a healthy body can heal itself. It is viewed as a longevity art because so many people who practise it look and feel younger, healthy and strong into old age.
Qigong is associated with ideas from Traditional Chinese Medicine that view a person as a complete entity which cannot be compartmentalised into physical, emotional and mental divisions. Each area of a person’s being is interrelated with everything else within themselves and their environment.
If a person lacks energy, in China a traditional doctor might prescribe a course of Qigong so that the patient learns to cultivate her own energy. This is very different from the average Western view that nothing can be done personally and a doctor needs to do something to us or give us some type of drug to help us.
Qigong provides us with a route out of the energy drain dilemma with a holistic system that is enjoyable and accessible to everyone. This whole idea of taking responsibility for our own energy levels is empowering and inspiring.
I have been practising Qigong for almost 30 years and have appreciated every minute. Qigong exercises are easy to learn and can be varied to suit all levels of ability. I have taught people with a variety of problems including restricted mobility, stroke disabilities, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, mental illness, depression, osteoporosis, dyspraxia, Parkinson’s and a host of others.
Most improve their condition and have fun in the process. I have also taught people of all ages who are in excellent health and wish to explore the benefits that Qigong can bring to their sports performance, martial arts prowess, meditation, mental focus and spiritual development. The Qigong journey can offer improvement in a surprising variety of areas.
As this website is devoted to Muttoneers, I would like to round off with a few ideas about ageing gracefully. I am grateful to be enjoying my ageing process and I think that is down to a few basic qualities to which Qigong has greatly contributed.
The first is relaxation, which I view as both an art and a mindset. When you are relaxed, everything in life is easier. Tension and stress are time and energy vampires that suck away at someone’s life energy and vitality.
The second is flow of movement, which engenders a sense of flow in other areas of life, including attitude and ability to adapt to change.
The third is a strong sense of belonging to human evolution with a centred, grounded feeling that promotes inner security and helps us through the turbulent times that every life encounters.
I have just started a YouTube channel called Kat’s Qigong Corner which you may like to check out.
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Katherine Allen is a senior instructor member, past committee member and honorary vice president of The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain, a Level 8 senior instructor of Practical Tai Chi Chuan International, and an instructor member of the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts. She has taught thousands of people of all ages and requirements, and given workshops and performances to a wide variety of groups and institutions, including London Mind Body Soul exhibitions and GMTV. Her longtime interest in physical and mental health, and the mysteries of a joyful, peaceful, youthful spirit are driving forces in her life. She wrote The Qigong Bible.