03/03/2014 09:41 am ET Updated May 03, 2014

Truly Bringing the Body-Mind to Psychotherapy

Two years into an autoimmune illness and a serious cancer scare, I was graced with an acupuncturist who told me about an ancient Chinese healing tool that gently aligns the body much like the needles he used. While he welcomed me to continue my acupuncture treatments, which I found soothing and energizing, he thought I might achieve the same results by practicing some simple movements called Qigong (or Chi Gong) that I could learn and do myself. I had heard of Tai Chi, but I had never heard of Qigong.

Tai Chi is a meditation and martial art that involves a flowing form much more familiar in the West. The most common Yang style long form is both beautiful and healing, but the 108 steps can be daunting and difficult to learn. I had tried and given up in frustration. In contrast, Medical Qigong has simple movements that don't require much skill and can lead to profound health benefits with a very short learning curve.

I personally found that by starting with a simple Qigong routine I quickly fell in love with the gentle moving meditation. I achieved the state of empty mind that always eluded me when I tried a sitting meditation. Paradoxically, this state of peacefulness, which was surprisingly easy to achieve, led me to decide to later learn the Yang long form without stress or judgment.

From a medical point of view, the simpler stand-alone movements of Qigong produce similar results on the nervous system with much less training. The breathing and slow movements seamlessly shift the body from the heightened arousal of the sympathetic nervous system to the calm relaxation of the parasympathetic system to create balance. In addition, specific movements bring attention to acupuncture meridians that allow the blockages to open with ease. Eight years later, I continue to do simple Qigong movements every day along with my Tai Chi practice.

As a psychiatrist, I have practiced individual and couples therapy for nearly 35 years. This year I became a certified Tai Chi and Qigong instructor. I realized that I wanted to give more attention to the body-mind connection. It wasn't that I was ignoring the mind-body, but I was working to reach the body more through the mind. Now I encourage my patients to also find a practice like Qigong, yoga or Tai Chi to allow the gentle flow to create internal equilibrium. I am partial to Qigong as a place to start because it is so easy yet so effective. It doesn't require getting on the floor or sitting on a cushion and many people have less problems with distracting thoughts that can plague sitting meditation. Medical Qigong has been practiced for over 3,000 years. It is as accessible and effective for arthritis sufferers, paraplegics, or the bed-ridden as it is beneficial for athletes and the healthy. It is truly available and healing for everyone.

If you want to give it a try, see if there is a class in your area or try one of the many excellent Qigong DVDs that are available.