But it is likely that having experienced the initial benefits these bring, readers will want to find out more about Qigong, its background, and exercises.
Qigong is a huge and fascinating subject, and there are a great many excellent books and other resources now available to help the Westerner with an interest in finding out more.
If you are keen to find out about the primary benefits of Qigong practice, here are some recommended books to explore – between them they include practical advice for Qigong practice, simple exercises for beginner practice, a philosophical grounding, and a general overview of Qigong history, science, its many styles and applications.
These books are suitable for beginners and those who simply want to find out what Qigong is all about.
I have included a short description of each, which I hope will help you to select the right book for you. And elsewhere, the Qigong Resources section on Pianodao includes reviews of other books and resources which may be of interest.
In my article about Breathing at the Piano, I shared some tips and simple exercises to help you reconnect with your breathing while playing.
Breathing at the Piano was warmly received. I have heard from, and worked with, many players who found the simple exercises helpful – even revolutionary for their playing. If you’ve not already printed off and tried the FREE exercises, please check them out before going on.
The aim here is to help players easily check in with our breathing when at the piano. To understand the importance of this, please read about “Awareness in Breathing” in my article What is Piano Qigong? and refer back to my article András Schiff and Natural Breathing for more background.
In this article, I will now build on the foundation of the exercises and ideas previously shared…
Regular readers will have seen that I sometimes quote from the contemporary Daoist (Taoist) author Deng Ming-Dao, and as we rapidly approach the Chinese New Year it gives me pleasure to recommend his recent book “The Lunar Tao”, published by Harper-Collins in 2013.
According to the publishers:
“The lunar calendar is a main pillar of Chinese culture, encompassing many stories and festivals. Deng Ming-Dao looks to the lunar calendar and highlights where these festivals and stories coincide with Taoism, giving readers a renewed and original way into this ancient philosophy.
Each day of the lunar year is represented with a reading meditation, original translations, illustrations and illuminating facts about festivals and traditions, providing readers with the context that gives Taoism such depth and resonance.”
Are you sure that you breathe when playing the piano?
It might seem like an odd question – of course we continue to breathe while playing! But to what extent are we aware of our breath, and how it affects our technique, musicality and comfort at the piano?
Here is a simple qigong practice that provides an easy hack for diminishing the effects of anxiety in our lives. It can help before performing, taking an exam, or simply enable us get through the basics of daily life.
Anxiety. It seems to be the curse of the modern age, inflicting and blighting so many of our lives. As pianists we often talk about “performance anxiety”, but the truth is that our anxiety about performing is often one element of a bigger picture, and shouldn’t lightly be isolated…
The “Open and Commence” movement from the 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi provides a wonderful way to mindfully reconnect with the sensations in the wrist area, developing supple flexibility.
The 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi is a modern qigong set created in 1982 in Shanghai, China by Tai Chi Master He Weiqi and Qigong Master Lin Hou Sheng. The routine is often used as a “warm up” by T’ai Chi groups, as it uses many of the stances common to the Yang form, as well as integrating several more traditional breathing and stretching exercises from qigong.
The opening movement of the 18 Taiji Qigong Shibashi is in fact the same as the opening movement from the Yang form of T’ai Chi itself, so will be familiar to those who have trained in T’ai Chi.
This qigong exercise is extremely simple – using the instructions below you should easily be able to learn the movement involved. However, the powerful benefits that are possible come less from the movement itself, and more from the mental focus and breathing aspects.
Earth Posture is a very simple Qigong stance which combines many of the most basic benefits of qigong practice, and offers a great entry point to qigong.
In this exercise you will focus on posture, alignment, balance, breathing, and release of tension. These are all crucially important for qigong practice – and for piano playing of course! Earth Posture also offers a fabulous way to quiet the mind prior to mediation, or as a meditation in itself.
Good posture – at least as assessed by external observation – seems elusive for many pianists. Qigong practice in general addresses posture through an internal awareness of alignment and balance. At the same time, Earth Posture facilitates good circulation, thus promoting improved general health.
These benefits are, of course, not instantaneous. I would advise practising Earth Posture daily for a few weeks to experience the maximum benefit. Even many experienced Qigong and T’ai Chi practitioners return to Earth Posture as a prelude to their practice.
The full instructions are written below, but you may find it more helpful to use this recording:
András Schiff – surely one of the most respected concert pianists of our time – made the following extraordinary observation in a recent interview with Pianist Magazine (No.76, Feb-March 2014):
“For me, it is breathing that is vital. You must breathe naturally, like a singer. Pianists and string players often tend to forget the necessity of breathing and they can become very tense; then they get back pains and wrist pains and so on. Usually it can be sorted out through the breathing.”
Breathing is a subject that I have rarely seen discussed in connection with piano technique, and even less so in the context of pianists’ injuries, their causes, cures and corrections. Schiff is hitting on a point that it would seem is indeed too often overlooked.
In this article I will consider the links between natural breathing and Qigong practice, as well as offering a simple breathing exercise that anyone can try…