What is Qigong, and what does it have to do with Flight Attendants? –We’re glad you asked!
Qigong is a traditional Chinese health practice; its roots go back at least 5000 years. Like Yoga? Yes, but Qigong has its own unique methods and is increasingly gaining popular and scientific recognition as a powerful and sophisticated way of dealing with a number of health problems including respiratory problems, bone density and the effects of stress.
Research into Flight Attendant health has confirmed what you all know already: Flight Attendants experience a wide variety of extreme stressors. From the need to remain vigilant to safety issues, to poor cabin air, physically difficult working conditions, crazy schedules, jet lag, demanding passengers and (until smoking was banned in commercial aircraft) second-hand cigarette smoke. You know how it is!
These different stressors can affect the body at the time of the event. Some continue to influence health for decades after the event. They impact multiple systems in the body, so one strategy is to find effective interventions that can work on the whole body to reduce imbalances that have adverse effects on health.
Qigong appears to be one of the best candidates! You see, stress operates through its influence on the “autonomic nervous system” (ANS)–that part of the nervous system that regulates blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and even some parts of the immune system. When we are in a stressful situation, the ANS helps us deal with it by activating, enabling us to be more alert, stronger, quicker, and to ignore the demands of our own body. But if the stress is too great, or goes on for too long, our ANS may be unable to come back into balance and allow us to recuperate. This “accumulated stress” makes us feel tense, or sometimes numb to our own bodies. In the long run when the ANS is out of balance, it can lead to symptoms: high or low blood pressure, heart disease, breathing restriction, depression or anxiety, and even cancer or immune system disorders!
So where does Qigong come in? Well, it turns out that Qigong is a way of learning to consciously regulate the ANS; in other words, Qigong shows you how to restore balance to your autonomic nervous system, shedding the accumulated stress and enabling your breathing, circulation, digestion, immune system, and even your mood and energy levels, to return to normal.
How does it accomplish this seeming miracle? Qigong draws on a sophisticated “inner know-how”, developed over thousands of years, and recently validated by scientific research. It uses slow gentle movement, accompanied by breathing and focusing the mind in specific ways, to restore the “energy flow” in the body and mind–another way of saying “to balance the nervous system”. You can see a couple of video examples of Qigong exercises here; these are safe and enjoyable, and will reliably help you release excess stress. (insert link to video) Enjoy!
Now, although we know from countless stories about the power of Qigong, and we also know from scientific research that many of its claims are valid, this is not enough for us to be able to say with certainty that it will help Flight Attendants with their accumulated health problems. We were recently funded by the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) to find out for sure. We expect to announce the opening of this study in the Fall of 2014.
In the short term, if you are a flight attendant who flew for at least 5 years prior to the smoking ban and who was not a voluntary smoker, you can participate in a screening study that is being conducted by
Mardi Crane-Godreau and Peter Payne.