Qi Gong: Time to Slow . . . It . . . Down

Qi gong master Shuren Ma, left, helps Beatrice Ollier of Germantown during a Capital Qi-Gong class in Falls Church.
Qi gong master Shuren Ma, left, helps Beatrice Ollier of Germantown during a Capital Qi-Gong class in Falls Church. (By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
Friday, May 9, 2008

"Squeeze in the air balloon."

"Release the air balloon."

"Squeeze in the air balloon."

"Release the air balloon."

On each command from qi gong (pronounced "chee gong") master Shuren Ma, the half-dozen people in the basement of an Adams Morgan home follow suit, moving their hands in front of their bodies and back out to the sides. Gently, meticulously. Again, again, again.

It might look like a slow-motion game of Simon Says, but enthusiasts say there's a lot more to this practice (which translates roughly to "energy work") than first appears.

The art of qi gong became hugely popular in China and spread to the West in the 1990s. Millions of people around the world practice the tradition regularly as a method of stress reduction and exercise. Some also use the moving-meditation system as a corollary to martial arts; others see it as a full-scale health-care system.

In the Adams Morgan basement, which doubles as the Washington Center for Consciousness Studies, Ma leads a weekly hour of qi gong, as he does at four other locations in the area. Surrounded by religious icons of every flavor and origin, he renders a series of images ("you are in a warm shower," "your hands are touching a bar in front of you") while leading breathing exercises that culminate with a 15-minute period of silent stillness. (And if those 15 minutes seem to last an hour? Well, probably a sign that lower stress levels would be a good thing.)

Ma, a soft-spoken man who was born in China and began practicing qi gong at age 5, has been teaching in Washington for more than 20 years. Throughout that time, he has kept the prices of his Capital Qi-Gong classes steady at $12.

"This is not about making money," Ma says after the Adams Morgan session. "This is meant to be shared."

CAPITAL QI-GONG 202-409-8490.http://www.capitalqigong.com. Five classes weekly in various area locations. $12. Visit Web site for full schedule.

INSIGHT MEDITATION COMMUNITY OF WASHINGTON Qi gong class Sunday at 5 at the All Souls Unitarian Church, 1500 Harvard St. NW. $12 suggested donation.


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