Students stand in stillness as the teachers welcome them. Following the instructors’ lead, they begin moving together in a graceful and fluid motion, breathing rhythmically in concert. This is Bob and Fran German’s weekly class of qigong (chi kung).
Qigong is an ancient Chinese wellness system integrating posture, breathing and focused intention that connects body, heart, mind and spirit. “The wonderful thing about qigong and tai chi is that both are moving meditations,” Fran says.
It is mid-March and the Germans (pronounced gur-man) have just returned from a two-month stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where they go to connect with qigong and tai chi practitioners from around the world. On their way home, Bob learned his 94-year-old mother had passed away “She lived a good, long life,” he says. “I would like to pass along something that is so qigong-like about her. Live slowly is the message from my mother,” he tells the students. “That’s how she lived her life. Qigong underscores doing everything mindfully and slowly. Keep this in mind with everything you do. Be in the moment.”
During class, Bob voices most directions while Fran demonstrates moves, correcting her husband on occasion. “The other right hand,” she tells Bob, who admits to being dyslexic and often mixing up left and right. Their wry humor breaks through the usually quiet, calm class causing chuckles to spread contagiously. “Take five… seconds, that is,” Bob tells the class. “Our breaks are only five seconds long. Don’t ask me why, we just like to torture you,” he says, cracking a smile.
The goal of good health and staying mentally and physically younger is what drives many to practice qigong. The Germans believe that the soothing, rhythmic movements reduce stress, build stamina, increase energy and enhance the immune system. “Although there are no guarantees, we believe qigong can provide an edge to a life of good health and well-being,” Bob says.
The Germans first learned and practiced qigong in Hangzhou, China. “For centuries qigong was a secret art,” Bob says. Their personal practice dates back to the early ’90s when qigong came to the West.
Earning the title of master teacher in qigong and tai chi is mainly a result of experience and gathering the respect of your students and peers, they say.
Originally from Chicago, the Germans met at Indiana University, married soon after graduation and raised a family of two daughters and one son. They have taught qigong in Florida, Vermont and for many years on cruise ships worldwide. Seven years ago they moved to Hendersonville after a friend told them Western North Carolina has beautiful people, beckoning mountains and great energy. “He was right on all counts,” Bob says.
The Germans say their passion for qigong has enabled them to enjoy a healthful and energetic life. “We have less stress, more inner peace and live happy fulfilled lives,” Fran says. And, they believe their practice of qigong has helped them fight off disease and injury. Fran was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular autoimmune condition thought to be incurable. The doctors told her she would always be on medicines. Today, Fran takes no medications and has no more symptoms, a result they attribute to their practice of qigong. Bob tore rotator cuffs in both shoulders as a race walker. Doctors recommended surgery, but he decided against it, using qigong exercises instead to bring back a full range of motion.
“People practice qigong to maintain health, heal their bodies, calm their minds and reconnect with their spirits,” Bob says.
Jerry Kuhlmann, 76, of Hendersonville, says he experienced the healing powers of qigong four years ago after injuring his back. Jerry and his wife, Betty, had been hiking with the Germans, when Bob noticed Jerry was in pain. “Bob showed me the “bear hug” exercise and he said ‘do this ten to 15 times’ and I did and it helped me.”
After that experience the Germans invited the Kuhlmanns to a qigong class. Jerry went by himself the first time. “It was the back pain that got me started, but then I saw how good it was and I continued to go,” he says. Betty soon joined him in the weekly class. Now they attend about every other week and in between practice qigong on their own.
Though they have always been physically active, says 69-year-old Betty, practicing qigong helps them both maintain the energy they need to stay as active as they want to be.
For retired computer programmer Liz Curtis, 64, of Flat Rock, qigong provides a gentle form of exercise. “The thing I get most out of it physically is the flexibility.” A faithful practitioner for about three years, Liz says qigong is part of a discipline one can use any time of the day or night, a calming approach to life. “Bob wants you to be in the present moment and everything else should be shut out. That’s a good practice to carry with you throughout your day.”
As class ends, Fran remains at the front of the room to talk with students. Bob mans the door, offering praise and good wishes and in return receiving many hugs and handshakes.
“They are such a good example of a couple that has kindness and love for one another,” Liz Curtis says. “Their humor along with their taking this very seriously is a wonderful combination. They just set a great example for us.”