By Jamie Lovley
When Robert and Vernita Leins opened their Qigong Studio in Bangor in 2000, next to nobody in Maine was offering classes in the ancient Chinese traditions of qigong and t’ai chi. Since then, t’ai chi has gradually gained traction in the U.S., particularly as a low-impact exercise for older folks. Now, some 20 years since the Leinses hung their shingle, both qigong and t’ai chi (the latter is a more physically demanding form of the former) are earning buzz among wellness-industry types as “the next yoga,” with outlets like CNN gushing about millennials flocking to such stress-relieving forms of “moving meditation.”
As a college student in the throes of finals week, I figured I was an ideal candidate to test qigong’s reputation for relxation. The Leinses’ downtown studio is quiet and warmly lit, and inside, I found a diverse crowd — younger folks and older, men and women — sitting in a circle. Robert opened our class with a half-hour of guided breathing exercises. Inhaling deeply, my eyes closed, listening to his gentle voice, I fought the urge to fall asleep in a room full of strangers.
“We have to be like water,” Robert explained. “It changes to conform to its environment, and we have to do the same — like the bamboo that bends in the wind but does not break.”
Qigong (it’s pronounced chee-gong) involves a combination of mindful breathing and the kind of slow, sweeping execution of dance-like poses you might picture when you hear t’ai chi. Its practice, Robert explained, is best understood through the lens of the Taoist concept of duality, which holds that interaction of opposing forces directs the flow of an animating energy called qi. Poor health is associated with qi imbalances, and qigong makes practitioners aware of their qi energy, helping to fix imbalances or blockages that inhibit health and happiness.
“We have to be like water,” Robert explained to the class. “It changes to conform to its environment, and we have to do the same — like the bamboo that bends in the wind but does not break.” He gestured at the illustrations of bamboo and lotuses on the surrounding walls.
Both Robert, 77, and Vernita, 72, have studied qigong with teachers around the world. Vernita is a native Mainer, but Robert is from New York and came to Maine in 1972 after studying Eastern philosophy at college in California. He brought qigong to Bangor without any particular expectation it would catch on.
Everyone in my class, I noticed, was able to complete the fluid exercises, including a woman who’d broken both arms the year before and practiced qigong as physical therapy. Robert reminded us to listen to our body and its limitations. We needed to tangibly sense the qi in and around us, he said, and we closed the 90-minute session by symbolically creating condensed balls of the qi we’d accumulated, then passing them around in a circle before absorbing them back into our bodies, to facilitate balance.
I left the studio feeling peaceful and more aware of my surroundings, my energies, and my breathing. And, chalk it up to the qi balls or not, I passed my finals with flying colors.
► 27 State St., Ste. 36, Bangor. The Leinses offer a first class free; they’re $10–$15 thereafter. To inquire about schedules and rates, visit qigongstudio.com or call 207-945-4545.
“Call on lobster when going through major life changes,” writes Steven Farmer in his 2006 book Animal Spirit Guides. Mischa Schuler, an herbalist and shamanic practitioner at Portland’s Wild Carrot Herbs, sees many clients who feel in flux or lacking direction. “Power animals indirectly instruct us on how we can implement their qualities in our lives,” she says — a reminder, for example, to molt sometimes.
“The moose has an uncanny ability to camouflage itself. . . . Those who would align with the moose can also develop this ability,” writes animal-symbolism guru Ted Andrews in his 2002 book Animal Speak. Moose exude feminine power, he says, citing Penobscot and Micmac tales of moose deriving from the sea, “the great womb of the universe.”
“You have to live near a body of water in order to maintain balance in your life,” explains Farmer in Animal Spirit Guides. Schuler is less prescriptive, though. You might instead glean that a puffin can hold two perspectives, she says, since it lives on land and water. “What a power animal really offers,” she says, “is an opportunity for self-reflection and for self- awareness.”