I don’t love my computer. I need it. But I don’t love it.
It does terrible things to me….
I stand up after working and feel like I’ve been pushing heavy weights. I’m stressed even if there’s nothing to be stressed about, wired, stiff, and tense to my fingertips.
Everyone knows the computer has revolutionized our world: how we work, how we communicate, how we function, how we think. Everyone is not so aware of how totally the computer has impacted physical being: our energy, our ability to focus, our inability to relax, in short, how we feel. I am very aware of it. I see it every day in my work.
I started my body therapy practice in a pre-computer age when three quarters of the people who came to me came with low back pain, and stress was a situational issue. Now, most people come with pain and dysfunction in their upper body (shoulders, neck and arms, wrists). Stress is a huge, over-arching factor permeating every aspect of life.
So, what does all this have to do with Qi?Nothing. And that’s the problem.
Qi is universal energy: the life force of cosmic consciousness manifest and manifesting. As a concept, Qi is huge, mysterious and unfathomable. However, Qi isn’t a philosophical concept to think about. Qi is energy to be experienced. And we experience it, physically, as a flow.
When Qi flows easily we feel good, whether or not we know the reason. When Qi is blocked, even if we’re unaware of the blockage, we feel pain, stiffness, physical and mental fatigue, anxiety… all the psychic and physical indicators of stress. And here’s the fact of it: Qi cannot flow through the barricades of physical and psychic stress that working at the computer produces.
Just watch kids playing computer games, frozen and rigid before the screen, oblivious to their surroundings. Look at people crunched over their consoles, shoulders over their ears, shrinking into themselves and lost to all but the screen. Smart phones only extend the reach of this concentrative freeze.
I live in New York where the streets are packed with people walking around texting, unrelated to and unconscious of their surroundings, utterly dependent on the alertness of the un-hip few (like myself) to not get run into or run over.
Basically, the technology we live by induces a hyper-focused trancelike state of isolation and obliviousness that’s antithetical to our wellbeing. Qi flows; the computer is static. Qi focus is an open, inclusive and soft. Computer focus is narrow, fixated and hard. Qi mind is one and the same with Qi body. Computer mind is body-unconscious. So what do we do?
Computers and smart phones are part of our lives, that’s not going to change. How we live with them however, how we use them and relate to them, has to change. To keep ourselves sane, optimally functional and stress resilient we have to bring our Qi to the computer and learn how to keep it flowing as we work.
What does this have to do with Qigong? … Everything!
Qigong is an energy practice that is eminently practical. The name itself explains its fundamental simplicity: Qi means energy, gong means skill or work. Qigong (skill working with energy) is a direct, user-friendly way to keep our energy even and circulating. When we bring this energy skill with us to the computer, Qigong becomes a way to work that maintains body consciousness and reduces brain fixation and fatigue, benefitting both general well being and productivity.
To keep energy moving, we need to move. And we need to breathe! I’m not talking about formal exercise and breathing technique. There are ways to move and breathe that keep energy flowing even when we are sitting.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:
1. When you’re stuck, instead of sitting staring the screen, stretch out. Shake your arms and hands. Wiggle your body. Come to tip-toe and rock back on your heels swinging your arms at the same time. Every so often, get up and walk around. Free up stuck Qi.
2. To get energy flowing in your arms and lungs, clasp your hands and stretch your arms up over your head, moving from side to side, opening your shoulders and ribs. Even if you don’t move from your chair, you’ll feel like you have.
3. Reduce neck and shoulder tension with gentle (emphasis: gentle) neck rolls, shoulder rolls, head rotations and jaw stretches. It will clear your mind.
4. To ease tension bring your arms behind your back and hold them however far your hands can reach. Take some deep conscious breaths and feel your lungs opening. Deeper breathing = more oxygen = more energy.
5. Curl (flex) / then lengthen (extend) your spine, either sitting or standing. Spinal flexion/extension is central in Qigong practice and releases Qi through your whole body.
6. Take a few moments to be aware of your breath and imagine it flowing along your spine, from the base of your skull to your tailbone like a current of water cleansing all tension. This simplest of all breathing techniques, abdominal breathing, is a powerful way to soothe an overworked brain.
These exercises might seem too simple to have anything to do with actual Qigong, yet that’s what they are. Each one relates specifically to the areas most impacted by computer use: spine/shoulders/arms, breathing, brain fatigue, stiffness. Each movement impacts the whole of us. That’s the beauty of Qigong.
Maybe, if we think terms of the big picture, the computer offers us a chance to greatly expand our self-awareness and understanding. Why not? The universe itself evolves through the constant interplay and interrelation of opposites: yin/yang, inertia/movement, darkness/light.
Maybe, just maybe, the next step in our personal evolution is to learn to relate to the technology we have created in a way that expands, rather than constricts, our consciousness and opens up possibilities that we can’t imagine.
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Assistant Editor: Jennifer Moore/ Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Jennifer Moore