Finding the Right Teacher When You Have Chronic Pain

by Kim Ivy

Even though Qigong is an ancient practice, in America it is relatively new on the landscape of exercise in general and even newer when considered as an alternative or complementary therapy. Larger cities may have several teachers or schools but there is a dearth of teachers in smaller communities. Certification programs are rare and those that do exist are idiosyncratic and along with the teachers they produce, do not fall under any authority. And so, as with finding the right doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist or even the right friend, finding the right Qigong teacher is in and of itself a challenge and it is one that is made greater with a chronic pain condition. As always, however, with patience and persistence it is possible to add a great Qigong teacher to your group of healing allies and to reap the benefits of the practice for the rest of your life.

Here are my 3 main points for finding a great teacher:

Look for the teacher’s heart and style: Avoid rigid teachers who insist that theirs is the only form, that it cannot be modified and that you must practice it only their way. Find a teacher who flexible and willing to listen to your needs and limits. The teacher must be willing to explore modifying the form for your comfort.
Work with a teacher who has been practicing for several years: The teacher you find should have a good sense of both energy and physical alignment. Unfortunately, alignment is often not emphasized in Qigong but it is especially important for those with chronic pain.
Find an instructional environment that works for you: You should want to come to class. I like classes to be non-competitive, friendly and fun. My school is peopled with students who have chronic health concerns and they are loved and embraced and often much more skilled than they 20 year old athletes! (Also, if necessary remind your teacher that fragrances should be a no-no in classes.)

Here are my 3 main points for being a great student:

Be pro-active in your learning
: Ask if the form can be done sitting down, ask if you can rest in between. If your teacher is good they will say yes! Here is the modification. Or, “hum.. I’ve never thought of that, lets try it. Don’t be afraid to teach the teacher how to teach you.
Go slow: Sometimes we feel so good doing Qigong, and because it is so gentle, we over do it. Qigong is subtle. A little goes a long way.
Be patient: Qigong takes time. Qigong is a practice that is unlike how we are used to moving and being in our culture. Allow the practice to become a Way for you, rather than a goal. Have fun applying the principles to your daily life. Let living become your Qigong practice.

In the end, I feel the best advice when choosing a teacher is to follow your intuition. Give yourself all the time you need to research your options, experience a few classes, then sit for a few days with the experience to learn how your body responded to it. Over the years, Qigong’s popularity will continue to increase and you can be instrumental in shaping the teachers who work with those with chronic health conditions. Who knows! You may even teach someday.