I owe my life to the practice of an ancient healing art called qigong.
Those who haven’t experienced depression firsthand, or seen it in a loved one, might mistakenly think that I’m being melodramatic.
When I say that I’d be dead if not for qigong, I mean it literally, not figuratively.
Depression is deadlier than you think. It kills. It almost killed me.
Each year, 40,000 Americans commit suicide. Of those, 90% are connected to a diagnosable case of clinical depression.
In the U.S., suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages. For comparison, homicide ranks 17th.
And it’s getting worse. In the 25-34 age group, depression is now the 2nd leading cause of death.
That’s why I’m so grateful that I found qigong (and later tai chi). Otherwise, I might have ended up as a statistic.
Qigong is all about flow – flowing movements, flowing energy, flowing with the breath. Learning to let it flow was a lifesaver for me. It has been my path through the darkness and the pain.
Qigong (pronounced “chee gung”) is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is similar to but simpler than tai chi, less athletic than yoga, and more accessible than sitting meditation. In my experience — both as a “patient” and a healer — it is one of the most effective depression solutions anywhere on the planet.
When Antidepressants Don’t Work
Antidepressants have undoubtedly saved lives, but they are not for everyone. They certainly weren’t for me.
You may be surprised to learn that a $35 million study showed that antidepressants fail to cure the symptoms of major depression in half of all patients, even if they receive the best possible care.
In other words, of the 18 million Americans suffering from depression, 9 million are still desperate for solutions. This says nothing of the countless Americans who suffer from depression, but go undiagnosed.
We need other options for these people. In my opinion, qigong provides an excellent option.
The Cause of Depression
Qigong is actually a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), along with acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and Chinese massage therapy.
According to TCM, depression is caused by a disharmony of yin and yang.
When our energy systems are functioning optimally, then yin and yang are harmonized. This harmony is represented by the familiar yin-yang symbol.
But if this energy flow is blocked, if there is disharmony of yin and yang, then depression and other illnesses can creep in.
By practicing qigong daily, we gradually restore the yin-yang harmony throughout the body. We do this by removing the obstacles that are blocking the smooth flow of energy in the meridians, or energy channels.
As the energy begins to flow smoother and smoother, the body and mind naturally start to heal.
While healing my depression, my aching low back pain also disappeared, I caught fewer and fewer colds and flus, I got rid of my chronic bronchitis, my heart murmur gradually disappeared, my anxiety leveled out, and my energy levels went through the roof.
I just wanted to feel normal again, but qigong helped me to feel ALIVE.
Strategies for Depression
The first, and perhaps the most important, technique for depressives is called Smiling from the Heart. The technique is easier to experience than to describe. When done correctly, Smiling from the Heart has several effects:
- It relaxes the nervous system.
- It shifts the brain waves into the Theta state.
- It activates the internal energy.
Smiling from the Heart is critical for depressives. It’s also challenging. When my teacher first asked me to smile from the heart, I thought to myself, “If I could smile from the heart, I wouldn’t be depressed!”
It is essential that depressives make the effort to smile from the heart each and every practice session. I and my students are living proof that depressives can learn to smile from the heart. It just takes practice, and perhaps a little encouragement (which is what I’m here for!).
Depressives can think of Smiling from the Heart as physical therapy for their energetic “heart”. After months in a cast with a broken leg, learning to walk can be difficult. It does not happen over night, but rather step by step.
Technique #2 – Lifting the Sky
Another great technique is called Lifting the Sky. In my school, it’s the first exercise that new students learn, but it also happens to be fantastic for depression.
Qigong is much more than just physical movements. If physical movements alone could cure depression, then depression would be cured with this article. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Nevertheless, Lifting the Sky is an excellent way to start. The physical movements feel good, and they give people, especially depressives, something to latch the mind on to (something that depressives don’t get with sitting meditation). In time, and with proper instruction, those movements can be turned into more powerful energy exercises.
Quality vs. Quantity
Some Qigong styles require an hour or more of daily practice. For depressives, this is a deal-breaker. They simply will not succeed with that approach. I speak from experience.
With my students, I emphasize a high-quality 15-minute routine. For depressive students, even that can be too challenging. For them, the 2-Minute Drill provides an excellent solution. Again, I speak from experience.
Many people are surprised to hear that I started out as a bad student. For almost 2 years, I failed with qigong. That’s because I was trying to practice for 30 minutes a day. It just didn’t work.
Everything changed for me when I resolved to practice the 2-Minute Drill every day, no matter what. I made that resolution on January 1st, 2000 and I haven’t missed a day of practice since. (You can read more about that story in my post 8 Tips for Building Discipline.)
One of the best things we can do for depressives is to give them hope. And there is abundant hope. Qigong provides a viable, practical, and economical solution to depression. It can also be used alongside traditional treatment methods.
Here is my vision. One day, if myself and other teachers do their jobs well, then millions of people will be turning to qigong for solutions. Yes — millions. Why will so many people turn to qigong?
Simple. Because it works.
As someone who has battled clinical depression for years, I want to help.
I would ask you to help me in my mission by sharing this article with anyone suffering from depression. Please help me reach them.
If you know someone who suffers from depression, then please, please, share this article with them. It might just save their life. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.