East meets west at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard

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Photo courtesy of Deborah Moore

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, deep. Meditate and get ready to channel your inner chi.

Starting Sunday, March 9, the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard will host a weekly two-hour alternative exercise and mind healing class called Qigong, which focuses as much on a person’s mental health as their physical health.

“I’d say the biggest gift one gets is learning how to have unconditional joy throughout your body,” Aquinnah resident and Qigong instructor Deborah Moore told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday. “You could be having the worst day, and then a few minutes later you learn to release that stress. That’s the best part about it.”

Ms. Moore, a 30-year veteran in yoga, Qigong, meditation, and sound healing, said that the class is great for people of all ages who are interested in tapping into their happy place.

“Qigong is very broad in terms of what it means and what it actually does,” Ms. Moore said. “So many people are having trouble with various levels of stress, so this is one good way of learning to teach your mind how to be able to let go.”

Qigong, pronounced chee-gung, is a practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation. Exercises typically have three components — posture, breathing techniques, and mental focus by guiding life energy through the body. This life energy is known both as chi and qi.

With roots in Chinese medicine, martial arts and philosophy, Qigong is considered by some to be exercise, and as a type of alternative medicine or meditative practice, Ms. Moore said.

“Not every teacher is the right teacher for everybody,” Ms. Moore said. “I make my best effort to connect with everybody that’s in the class. What I’ve found on the Island is people come with a very clear intention to optimize their physical and mental health. And that creates such a strong force field of positive emotion. It’s a real gift and it makes it very easy for me to do my job as an instructor.”

Ms. Moore, who also teaches private Qigong lessons on the beach and in her home in Aquinnah, said this form of exercise helps develop human potential, allow access to higher realms of awareness, and awaken one’s “true nature” by creating awareness and influencing dimensions of our being that are not part of traditional exercise programs.

“The best part of being in this particular class is the energy that is shared throughout the room,” Ms. Moore said. “I think of it kind of like a rock concert. The more people that come together, the more there is this positive energy flowing through everyone. It’s wonderful to be able to be a part of it.”

Ms. Moore stressed the importance of adding intention and breathing techniques to each physical movement. When these dimensions are added, the benefits of exercise pay dividends.

The gentle, rhythmic movements of Qigong reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality, and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions, according to Ms. Moore.

“What’s beautiful about this is whether you’re 5 or 95, you do the same practice of getting at the core of staying physically healthy, and understanding they are intrinsically connected,” Ms. Moore said.

Registration for Qigong ends February 27 with a maximum of 20 students per class. Members can pay $80, non members $100. Please call 508-696-7171 to register.

Co-sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital,  the YMCA will also host a free monthly meditation and discussion drop-in program starting March 22. The monthly community gatherings will practice guided meditations, explore related topics, and engage in community and dialogue.