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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ChiFit Program Shows Kids Qigong Practices

ChiFit Program Shows Kids 
Qigong Practices:
Pequot Library hosts 4-session 
pilot for grades 3 – 6
(Posted to 3/8)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – They soared like cranes, squatted like bears and stretched like tigers, and in the end, they all felt more energized and relaxed.

Late Monday afternoon, Southport’s Pequot Library hosted the first of four sessions of a program called ChiFit for Kids, designed to introduce children in grades 3 to 5 to the ancient Chinese practice of Qigong. The program was made possible through an Adults & Children Together (ACT) grant provided by the Town of Fairfield that allowed Qigong instructors Julie Moffat and Darryl Manning to offer it to the community as a free pilot. In the hour-long introductory class, fifteen students learned movement, breathing and self-massage exercises and sampled health beneficial foods.

“Literally translated, Qigong means to practice or cultivate energy,” said Manning at the start of the class to participating students seated on the floor around her in the library’s auditorium. “With a few simple exercises, we are going to show you how to keep your energy strong during the day. We will imitate cranes with our arms becoming wings, and we’ll become ponderous bears and strong tigers. We will embody the spirit of these ancient animals.”

The animals Manning mentioned were part of a five-spoke qigong system called Animal Frolics, which also includes the monkey and deer. The system is meant to develop strength, grace, flexibility and balance and provide an abundance of healing benefits.

“We want to learn from what animals do to keep themselves in shape,” said Manning. “You never really see unhealthy animals, do you?”

As a first step, Moffat briefed the group on frequently used terms of the discipline. “’Dantian’ is the word for the most important energy centers in our body,” she explained. “The lower dantian is the area around the navel and pumps energy through the body. The middle dantian is found around the heart. And the upper dantian is found between your eyebrows, like a third eye. ‘Lau Gong’ is the area in the center of your palms. It’s where energy enters. When your palms are sweaty, that’s the lau gong working.”

With a recording of traditional Chinese folk music playing in the background, the instructors led the class in warm-up exercises, having them vigorously jump around and shake their arms to get their energy moving. Then students rubbed their hands together and, once warmed, applied them to each key dantian area.

“Qigong is about taking care of the inside of your body,” said Moffat as she showed the class how to tap these same areas. “Tapping the heart draws compassion and love to the body. Then we brush away any impure qi.”

Following the warm-up, Manning introduced the group to crane movements. The routine involved spreading one’s arms while poised on one leg. The benefits include relaxation, balance, opening the joints and strengthening the heart and lungs.

As they concluded their crane exercises, Manning asked, “How did you feel being cranes? You looked beautiful.”

“I feel a lot energy,” replied Juliette Savarino. “My arms feel like the wind.”

“Now, we’re going to be bears,” Manning announced. “The bear is kind of the opposite of a crane. They have to store up a lot of energy to survive the winter, so bear movements are about keeping energy inside. The focus is on the kidneys and keeping them pure, and on bones and keeping them strong.”

“The bear is also a wonderful teacher of deep sleep,” added Moffat.

The final exercise focused on the tiger, with movements designed to increase strength. As she introduced key gestures, Manning asked, “What do we know about tigers? They’re very strong and courageous aren’t they? The tiger is the most supreme of the animal elements.”

Students flexed their fingers like tiger claws, squinted their eyes and even roared fiercely.

Following a cool-down, students sat in a circle to share how they were feeling and sample ginger tea, radishes and pieces of ginger coated in sugar. The latter provide benefits to major body organs.

“At the beginning of the class, I was nervous and stressed, but now I’m calm and relaxed and looking forward to what we’re going to do in our next class,” said Michael Holtz, 9.

“If you feel stressed during the day, remember your exercises,” advised Manning. “Shake out and reenergize and you’ll be able to focus better in class or if you’re helping your mom at home.”

The balance of program sessions through March 26 will teach Chinese brush painting, healthy eating and other relaxation and stress reduction exercises.

“Ideally, we would like to continue and expand this as an afterschool program throughout Fairfield County,” said Manning. “The whole field of mind body/mindfulness is growing throughout the country. The meditative practice really helps students improve attention span, relax and improve their academic and sports performance.”

“Teaching kids now gives them a foundation for knowing how to take care of themselves,” added Moffat. “That’s what Qigong is all about.”