High school teacher Holly Escobar runs and kickboxes, but appreciates the peacefulness and sense of well-being she gets from performing the ancient Chinese practice of Qigong.
She's one of several students who take classes regularly with Santa Rosa instructor Lori Furbush, and participants say the practice has physically, spiritually and emotionally enriched their lives.
"I come after work and my mind and energy are scattered. This gets me grounded. It helps to center me and makes my focus stronger. When I leave class, I'm calm but not sleepy," said Escobar, who has been practicing Qigong for a year and a half.
Some of Furbush's students accustomed to vigorous athletic regimens have had to abandon their previous workouts because of injury or illness, and Qigong is providing them a way to preserve or increase their flexibility and strength. Others in her class who are involved with sports or yoga find Qigong an important addition to their other athletic activities.
Numerous teachers in the North Bay offer classes in Qigong and Tai chi, and while there are similarities, classes differ based on how each instructor was trained and their individual teaching approach. Classes are offered in local health clubs, gyms and private home studios.
Yoga is similar to Tai chi and Qigong because they all involve physical, mental and spiritual practices, but there are some key differences. With yoga, which originated in India, participants move through postures and positions both standing, sitting and on the floor, with the arms often bearing the body's weight. By contrast, in Tai chi and Qigong, which were developed in China, practitioners are standing and they go through a sequence of choreographed movements with legs bearing the majority of body weight.
Like Tai chi and Qigong, there are dozens of yoga classes offered throughout the North Bay, with sessions available as early as 5 a.m. and classes extending into the evening. Classes take place in health clubs, private studios, meeting halls and schools.There are many forms of yoga, such as Bikram or hot yoga, gentle yoga and Iyengar yoga, which uses props like cushions, straps and blocks. There is yoga for vocalists, chair yoga for seniors, yoga for children, prenatal yoga and even laughter yoga.
Those interested in learning about Tai chi, Qigong or yoga can do an Internet search to research what's offered in their area, and it's possible to watch YouTube videos demonstrating different forms of yoga, Qigong and Tai Chi. It's often possible to take an introductory first session before making a long-term commitment to a particular teacher or class.
Furbush, who also teaches yoga, describes Qigong as a way to tap a person's internal energy and get it flowing throughout the body. It's a cleansing, relaxing process and students in her class stand quietly as soft music plays and she guides them through deep breathing, gentle movements and self-acupressure.
The Chinese character "qi" has been simply translated as breath or life force, and "gong" has been translated as work or cultivation, meaning the practice is about working with a person's vital energy.
Furbush's classes are held in a tranquil setting, either in a studio at her Santa Rosa home or in her wooded, secluded backyard when the weather is good. She also teaches at Parkpoint Health Clubs in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg and Montecito Heights Health Club in Santa Rosa.