Fitness & wellbeing

Feel stronger and calmer with qigong at your desk

Harness your body’s natural energy to improve your posture and beat stress, with our guide to the ancient art of qigong
Qigong teacher Yan practises in the forest

How are you sitting as you read this? Hunched over your keyboard? Slumped back in your chair? With a few simple changes, you could tap into a powerful source of natural energy.

The ancient Chinese practice of qigong – pronounced ‘chi kung’ – is a form of gentle exercise, much of it involving small internal movements, which you can do anytime, anywhere. It’s about opening up energy channels and controlling your vital life force – your ‘chi’.

Whichever way you think of it, qigong can improve your health and wellbeing, according to teacher Yan Sophokleous (pictured), who is running free after-work sessions for Paddington Central this spring.

“Qigong creates harmony and balance inside the body, which is reflected outside,” he says. “It is both energising and calming, which helps people handle life more easily. You find you have better control over your emotions and reactions and that you can see things more clearly. Sleep improves, anxiety and stress decrease, and you become more confident.”

Physical benfits

The benefits of qigong are physical, too. “Qigong improves joint strength and mobility,” says Yan. “It can strengthen tendons and ligaments, decrease blood pressure, regulate heart rate, and balance muscles.”

Qigong is classified as health and wellness training, although its principles are the foundation for well-known martial arts disciplines such as tai chi. It is growing in popularity in the UK as a tool for coping with modern life.

“A morning session generates energy to attack the day and deal with whatever curve balls come your way,” explains Yan. “At lunchtime, qigong gives you a second wind, and after work it helps you let go of stress and relax.”

While some of the principles have much in common with techniques such as yoga and Pilates, qigong involves far less movement, making it suitable for all ages and abilities. It’s easy to do unobtrusively, whether you’re on the train to work, sitting at your desk, or standing in a queue at the supermarket.

Try it yourself

Here are Yan’s simple instructions for getting in the qigong habit at your desk:

  1. If you can, take your shoes off. Sit up straight on the edge of your chair, legs at a 90-degree angle, so only your bum is in contact with the seat. Your shoulders will settle into the correct position, parallel with the hips.
  2. Place one palm on your solar plexus, just beneath your breast bone, and the other on the energy centre known as the ‘lower dan tien’, found just below your naval. Take full, deep breaths: feel both hands move away from you and feel the muscles in your mid-back kick in to support you.
  3. Put a finger on the crown of your head and press up against it. Feel your spine lengthen.
  4. Press your big toes into the floor. Feel your pelvic region engage.
  5. Breathing deep and full, draw up your pelvic floor muscles. Then draw in your dan tien muscles too.
  6. Lightly clench your teeth and move your tongue back and up against your palate. Feel a connection right through your body from tongue to groin.

This seated qigong posture is especially important for those who have to sit at a desk most of the day. All other postures and movements are based on these foundations.