Somewhere in Manhattan, 20 women sat barefoot among the noise of the city. Amid honking cars and blaring sirens, we spoke quietly, femininely, greeting each other and discussing health. In Nan Lu’s Qi Gong school, I was among them, invited by my mother.
If you’ve ever been coerced into attending an exercise class with someone, you know the feeling of walking in the door, braced for whatever weird thing is going on inside. I am always late, so I miss the explanation before it starts — therefore the twisting bodies on the ground and generic flute music go without context.
This class was called “Qi Gong for Breast Health.” Qi Gong is an exercise that looks like tai chi, and the exercises we learned would supposedly promote breast health and prevent breast cancer. Qi Gong is an ancient practice within the field of traditional Chinese medicine, which balances energy in your body.
I admit to being skeptical of anything like this, but my mother, who is a holistic nurse, has made me all the wiser. We often use herbs, teas, and soups to get well rather than pills or medicine.
All of us — different ages, sizes, even genders — were asked to introduce ourselves. Some were survivors of breast cancer, some were fighting it, and some were there to prevent it. We quickly delved into a discussion of food. What to eat to promote breast health?
The instructors told us that we should only eat cooked vegetables, contrasting the Western belief that raw vegetables were better because they provide more nutrients. There were furrowed eyebrows around the circle, and several objections. Really, they say, the goal is not the chemical makeup of the food, but the way it feels. “If you like to drink coffee, drink coffee,” the instructor said. We were all relieved to hear that.
The instructor said you should sip warm tea or soup throughout the day, and you should eat cooked vegetables. Sounds cozy enough.
We then switched over to the exercises, which involved putting your hands in the air for a double high-five, and then moving them forward like a pushup standing up. We did another one, where we kicked an invisible soccer ball. And another one, called “scooping the moon.” The exercises weren’t hard, and to think that they were actually helping us, well, I think we all liked that.
After the class, I was shocked at how good I felt, light as a feather.
“If something is wrong in your life, you are out of balance. Use your life as a reflection of your health.” This is what the instructor said to us, using examples such as a messy room, or rotten food in the refrigerator. Because I was guilty of both examples and could think of many more, I decided to go home and balance myself.
I tried two recipes from the website, breastcancer.com. They were simple enough, and obviously if you’re feeling weak or sick, you will need recipes that don’t take much effort. The only issue is that some of the recipes call for obscure ingredients, and on the Island, they can be hard to come by.
The first recipe I tried was ginger tea, which is supposed to help with colds. The recipe called for 4 pieces of ginger (four little fingers taken off the ginger root), 5-10 scallions (white part only), chopped up and boiled with 4 cups of water. After that, let it simmer for about 20 minutes. You can taste it and add more ginger if you like, depending on how strong you like your tea. Strain the tea, then add two teaspoons of brown sugar and sip throughout the day. I added honey instead, because that’s what I had, plus I know that consuming local honey is known to boost your immune system.
I also made pear cider, which is said to relieve coughing. For this, I bought six Asian pears grown on the Island, but I ended up using only three to make about 4 cups of cider. Again, just chop them up, add about 4 cups of water, let them simmer for about 25 minutes, then strain. As the website recommends, you can also eat the cooked pears separately.
I felt very light and full of energy after drinking these teas. In addition to warm foods, you can practice Qi Gong at home for 10 or 20 minutes a day. The moves are available on breastcancer.com, but there are also Qi Gong classes available on the Island. Airport Fitness has a tai chi and Qi Gong class Saturdays at 9:45 am, and Howes House in West Tisbury has a Qi Gong class Mondays at 5 pm.