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Qigong: Don Baker Builds Strength of Body and Mind

August 15, 2013
Don Baker found peace in the practice of qigong. Before he passed away in 2014, Don used this ancient Chinese practice to strengthen and calm his body and mind as he underwent treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Don learned about qigong from his doctor at St. Luke's MSTI, Dr. Norman Zuckerman. As a medical oncologist, Dr. Zuckerman treats cancer patients with the latest in modern medicine. And as a practitioner of tai chi and qigong, he guides patients through some of the world's oldest strengthening and healing practices.

Qigong integrates physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused intention. “Qi” means the life force or vital energy that flows through all things in the universe. “Gong” means accomplishment or skill cultivated through steady practice. People do qigong to maintain health, heal their bodies, calm their minds, and reconnect with their spirit.

Dr. Zuckerman, who is St. Luke's MSTI's medical director of Integrative Medicine, teaches a monthly qigong class which often included Don and his wife, Mary. In his class, Dr. Zuckerman guides participants through qigong postures, including one called wuji standing. "Standing gives us understanding of body awareness and allows us to direct our mind and energy to the present, where our body is," Dr. Zuckerman said. "It builds mental and physical strength, stability, and awareness. It's deceptively easy but profound in its effects."

"I can feel my body get stronger as I'm standing there," Don said. "They tear you down with cancer treatment, but you can feel your strength coming back while you're standing. Instead of focusing on all the stuff going on, it helps you focus on the present, the moment. And the more you do it, the stronger you get."

Don practiced qigong, yoga, and meditation with Mary, who said it gave them quiet and calm in the midst of the cancer experience. "It was more powerful than anything they put in Don's body," she said, "because it kept his spirit up."

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