This DVD from Exercise to Heal is part of a series of videos offered by Lee Holden, an instructor of both Qi Gong and Tai Chi who has appeared regularly on PBS. As Holden explains in his introduction, Qi Gong (pronounced "Che Gung") consists of 3 main components: 1) flowing movement, 2) deep breathing, and 3) a meditative state of mind. In this DVD, Holden offers a program which uses these elements to focus specifically on relaxing and releasing the tension from the neck, shoulders, and upper back. He instructs via voiceover, providing mirrored cueing.
The Main Menu of the DVD offers options to select Play All, Exercises, or Partner Massage. Choosing "Exercises" provides a chapter breakdown for the program, which includes the Introduction (4 minutes), Sitting (9.5 minutes), and Standing (21.5 minutes). From a seated position, Holden takes a few deep breaths and then begins with some basic neck stretches. Although these stretches don't differ significantly from what one might find in more traditional stretching routines, Holden does add some unique positionings of the arms and hands, thus allowing the viewer to work more deeply into the target areas. The second half of the seated segment centers more around the shoulders and upper back, and by the end of the seated work, you are likely feel a significant opening across this entire region.
Moving to a standing position, Holden continues with deep stretches, some of which engage the entire upper body and some of which concentrate on more specific areas, including further work on the neck and shoulders. The exercise called "Rooster Spreads Feathers" provides excellent opening work for the shoulders in particular. (Note: Holden supplies names for only some of the exercises, but the entire list is printed on the back of the DVD case.) The second half of the standing portion is less focused on stretching and more geared towards flowing movement. Here Holden encourages you to concentrate on your breathing while you allowing your body to move in a natural flow; the movements center on the arms but engage the entire body to create a sense of heat and energy around you. Finally, this DVD also contains an optional Partner Massage. In this 6.5-minute instructional segment, Holden demonstrates simple massage methods to use on a partner's neck and shoulder area; these easy but effective techniques include heel of hand pressure, thumb pressure, and gentle squeezes/pounding.
As someone who tends to have chronic shoulder/upper back tightness as well as occasional neck pain, I really enjoyed this video. I have tried yoga and other approaches to addressing this region, all of which have given me some relief, but I still felt that Qi Gong had unique benefits to offer. This was my first experience with Qi Gong, and I would not hesitate to recommend this DVD to someone who was new to this discipline.
© 2008 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo. She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.