Lean In to Joy: Ancient Principles for Pandemic Survival

By: Chandler Yorkhall

It’s a hard day to write about joy, as virus reports weigh heavily on everyone’s mind, and for many even closer to home.  My heart is hoping this finds you, and your loved ones, safe and well.  Our current health crisis is similar to others we’ve seen or heard of, but different in at least one important way: technology has allowed us to remain connected.

Maybe you’ve been surprised, as I have many times, when the daily press of pandemic life has revealed a quiet silver lining.  Less time commuting; more time for reflection; more space for exercise.  But how do these bright spots balance out the stress of constant media coverage, or the real-life impacts we are sustaining as individuals, families, and society?  The ancient art and science of Qigong lends perspective that may be helpful.

Metaphorically,“Qi” is the force that holds life and breath together--we can’t fully explain what it is, but we can understand how it works.  “Gong” means cultivation or effort towards a desired result.  Qigong is the discipline, honed over five millennia, of improving health, happiness, and longevity by opening to joy in every moment.

In Chinese Medicine, joy springs from the heart, like all of the other emotions we know so well.  But joy has a uniquely potent relationship to the heart: it facilitates opening.   Where fear, anger, grief, and stress cause the heart to constrict, joy allows it to soften, deepen, relax, and smile.

In the practice of Qigong, we begin with recognizing what is vital, awake, and good in our experience.  This doesn’t deny or invalidate the difficulty in life--it simply provides perspective.  Movement, breath, sound, and visualization help to energize and detoxify the body, mind, and spirit.  But without a consistent and persistent connection to joy, all of it comes to nothing.  Success depends on focus, but focus without joy is drudgery, and who can live for long like that?

Qigong teaches first how to find your joy, even in adversity; second how to nurture it, return to it, and grow it; and finally to act powerfully from connection with it.

We cannot stop the pandemic, or go back to how things were.  We’re constrained to follow safety procedures, stay apart, and work to protect our families and livelihoods.  But in the end, it will be our choice how we do these things.  Spiritual teachings from around the globe teach of a unity at the center of everything.  I’m betting that an experience of that unity would be like a fountain of endless joy.  Qigong connects us to that center now, allowing us to live and breathe more fully in the present.  Fear constricts.  Joy opens.  Life and healing move toward openness.  Lean in.


  1. Nikki on November 25, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Reading and saying the word, “joy,” feels infinitely expansive, clarifying and like a tender, but powerful blessing is richly and delightfully infusing the space around us. Leaning both inward and being receptive outward to it…What a lovely intent to have for qigong practice. 🧡

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