Bridging Art and Health along the Schuylkill River Trail in Norristown, Montgomery County was an initiative proposed by Kristi Goodwin, Community Health Program Manager, Office of Community Information and Education , Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.
“I thought it might fit well with the challenges and the times we’ve been through,” Goodwin said. “By going out into green spaces, we know it can benefit people’s mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
It’s also a way to bring people together, whether it’s exercising on the trail or admiring an art installation placed along the trail.
“Art is generally thought of as decorative, but we wanted to show and let people experience how it can be collaborative and create a sense of connection and feeling,” she said. “I run the Montco Trail Challenge, so I thought, ‘how can we mix the physical activity platform with the art?’.”
In an effort to pique people’s interest and bring attention to the trail as part of the Norristown Trail Junction Center revitalization led by the Montgomery County Planning Commission, one of the latest additions that involves the fitness is a Qigong station, centered on ancient Chinese practice.
“Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intention,” says the National Qigong Association on its website.
Goodwin said Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites were instrumental in building the Qigong site, which features descriptive signs set in a circle that provide instructions to visitors in English and Spanish.
“There are eight different stations and each has a specific purpose and intention for a body part,” she said, adding that they are called the Eight Brocades of Qigong. “It is believed to aid in mental, physical and spiritual well-being.”
The first station is called “Support the Sky with Both Hands”.
“This set of instructions is supposed to open your lungs and boost metabolism,” she said. “Another is directed towards regulating the spleen and stomach and harmonizing the center.”
The idea is to do the stations in order.
They recommend doing sets of each movement and repeating all exercises five to 10 times,” she said. “It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete the whole circuit.”
Based on his research, Goodwin learned that there are studies to support that Qigong can lower blood pressure. Studies have also shown that it can reduce symptoms of depression, among other benefits.
Jen Gittings-Dalton from Exeter Township has had first-hand experience of how Qigong can have a positive impact on health.
A few years ago, she was going through life changes between job changes, in addition to some lingering symptoms of what she suspects to be an undiagnosed case of COVID, in addition to cardiac arrhythmias.
“It was one thing too many,” said Gittings-Dalton, who is in her 60s.
Her friend, Joanna Groebel, a licensed professional counselor and registered dance/movement therapist, suggested she try Qigong given her personal success which she describes on her website, www.groebeltherapy.com, as a practice that she uses to enliven her energy, release stress and tension, and refocus.
“She shared with me all these videotapes of classes given by a Qigong master,” Gittings-Dalton said.
For six months, she committed to devoting half an hour, once or twice a day, to the practice of Qigong, which included heart-healthy movements. She found that the results were almost immediate.
“I have uncontrolled blood pressure and after five minutes my blood pressure would drop 25 points and stay low for hours,” Gittings-Dalton said.
She said that for some reason people underestimate the effectiveness of traditional Asian physical and spiritual practices, Qigong being one of the lesser known modalities.
“I’m very scientific and I wasn’t someone who ran from modality to modality, but I saw that Qigong worked incredibly well for me,” Gittings-Dalton said.
Gittings-Dalton thanks Qigong for helping her through a tough time.
“Getting yourself in the right position and working with breath and movement to relieve stress and loosen things up, it unlocks the energy and lets it flow,” Gittings-Dalton says. “It was a factor that generally calmed me down after a stressful time in my life.”
What she loves most about Qigong is the spiritual component of the practice. Today, she does Qigong moves as needed, such as when she feels her heart is acting up.
“It’s not just the breath and movement and visualization, but there’s also a spiritual philosophy where you participate in the flow of energy in the universe to ask for healing,” she said. “The spiritual aspect was essential to its operation.”
Different users and abilities
For those curious to try Qigong, one of the intentions behind the Qigong Station in Norristown was to offer an alternative type of activity to running, walking or cycling.
“We thought it might appeal to different users and different abilities,” Goodwin said. “It’s for all ages and it’s low impact.”
Overall, the Qigong project was done in partnership with the Montgomery County Planning Commission, the Montgomery Department of Health and Human Services, and Montgomery County Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites. Funding for the Qigong Station was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant.
After the Planning Commission carried out a study on the use and diversity of the trails, Goodwin said that despite the trail being such an important trail in the area and running through the heart of Norristown, people did not perceive it not as being for them, or did not. know it was there.
“They thought it was for serious athletes,” she said. “We want to increase the visibility of the trail and show people that you don’t have to be an avid cyclist to experience the benefits of the trail in your community.”
Where to find the Qigong Station on the Schuylkill River Trail
The trailhead location is located at approximately 76 E. Lafayette Street. There is a marker on the Schuylkill Trail indicating where it is, however, the Qigong circle is visible from Lafayette Street. Street parking is available in addition to a Septa garage.
For more information: www.montcopa.org/qigong
Location to try Qigong in a classroom setting
A beginners Qigong class is held at Reiki Wings in Phoenixville, Chester County on Tuesdays at 6 p.m.
For more information visit: www.reikiwings.com/qigong