Qi Gong & Insomnia

When I had cancer, I struggled to get a full night’s rest. I would wake up at 2 a.m and then look at the clock every 30 minutes until the sun rose. I was frustrated as I tried everything from exercise to regular sleep schedules. This lack of sleep would cause a ripple effect. I would not sleep well for weeks and then not be able to function in daily life — such as forgetting my passwords or where I was walking to. I was scared because I did not know whether this was for a short time or forever.

Everyone wants a good sleep. Some friends describe not being able to go back to sleep because of caring for children or elders. Other friends talk about not being able to fall asleep because they hear an unexpected loud sound outside of their apartment and they worry it is ICE coming to deport their family member. Still others share they unable to have a restful sleep because they don’t want to burden others with their problems.

How many hours we sleep and whether we wake up rested are affected by things outside our individual choices and behaviors. These outside things like health conditions (e.g. back pain, mental health, sundowning, etc.) or access to resources (e.g. citizenship, healthcare, food, housing, jobs, etc.) influence our ability to adequately and effectively incorporate health recommendations to sleep 7 – 9 hours a night.  (DelRosso 2020)

Just as we know that there are some things outside our control, we can do some things on a small scale—like following our breath. Mindful breathing and restful sleep alone will not erase all hard and systemic things. However, they are small pieces to foster hope and to anchor ourselves when we get tangled in the uncertainty, the in-between-ness, and the waiting.  Mindfulness and restful sleep can be building blocks to create ease, connection, and sustenance as we face loss or isolation and as we work towards social justice.

RESOURCES  (The content of this web site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.)



* Slow Down: 5 Minute Meditations (Larry Ward)

* Calm – Ease (20m24s)  (Thích Nhất Hạnh )

* Self-Compassion (Kaira Jewel Lingo) (9m 40s)

* Body Scan for Sleep (13m) (Diana Winston)

* Kids: Five Finger Breathing (4m10s)

* Kids: Mindfulness Games for Sleep (19m)

* Kids: Calming Exercises: Breathing and Stretching (3m59s)

* Meditation in Times of Crisis (Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams on 10% Happier) (23m) (includes interview, 5 minute practice, Q&A such as relationship of mindfulness and social justice)


* Calm Breathing GIFS

* 1-Minute Mindfulness Exercises

* Tips For Better Sleep

* Traditional Chinese Medicine exercises in many languages (Capacitar)



* Loving Kindness Meditation (9m) (Diana Winston)

* Giving and Receiving Compassion (21m) (Chris Germer)

* Compassion Practice: Towards Self and Migrant Children and Families, Carried By the Whales (42m) (Ruth King)

* (Written) I Can Breathe: A Meditation On Surviving Acts of Hatred (Zenju Earthlyn Manuel)

* Kids: Loving Kindness Meditation (6m 7s)



* Together We Rise (31m) (Larry Yang)

* I Vow Not to Burn Out (Mushim Patricia Ikeda)

* How to Let Anger Out: (9m18s) (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

* The Role of Spiritual Practice in Social Justice Work (Ericka Huggins, former member of Black Panther Party, activist) (26m)

* The Inner Work of Racial Justice (23m) (Rhonda Magee)


Insomnia is one type of sleep disorder.  Some insomnia symptoms include:

* difficulty falling asleep

* waking up throughout the night

* waking up too early

* feeling tired upon waking up

* having at least one daytime problem such as fatigue; sleepiness; problems with mood, concentration.

  • Approximately 1 in 4 women has some insomnia symptoms.
  • About 1 in 7 adults has chronic (long-term) insomnia.
  • Research shows that the majority of refugees had moderate to severe insomnia.  (Al-Smadi, 2019; Sankari, 2019)
  • Sleep disorders are on the rise. It is estimated that 75% percent of American adults experience sleep disorder symptoms at least a few nights a week.



Scholarship suggests that mindfulness may lessen insomnia and improve sleep. (Campo et. al. 2015; Irwin et. al. 2014; Irwin et. al. 2017; Ong and Sholtes, 2010; Ong et. al. 2014; Zhang et. al. 2015) 

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. (Thích Nhất Hạnh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Diana Winston, Kristin Neff)

“Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you. ”(Thích Nhất Hạnh )

* Relaxation response, calming, clearing the mind

* Unblock qi

* Building a muscle: relationship of formal to informal practice


I offer a six-week class that will introduce you to mindful compassion as a practice that may help improve sleep. Practices in the class include compassionate breathing, listening, and movement (qi gong). Weekly 90-minute classes.

The focus is on insomnia and compassion. The goal is to teach simple practices to help people grappling with hard situations (e.g. illness, natural disasters, chronic stress, violence, imprisonment, death, etc).

Qi Gong (pronounced chee-gong) is an ancient and contemporary Chinese exercise that combines movement, breathing, meditation, and body posture.

I teach a short moving set called primordial qi gong. It is intended to be calming and nourishing according to traditional Chinese medicine. It is intended to address the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up rested. (Irwin et. al 2017).

Drawing from Capacitar‘s curriculum, I also teach some qi gong movements that engage with compassion according to traditional Chinese medicine. Research suggests a connection between compassion exercises and nourishing parts of your brain that impact decision making. (Neff et. al., Singer & Klimecki 2014) This is significant in the context of health equity. It is a simple practice to nourish from the wear and tear of challenging circumstances (e.g. cancer, violence, incarceration, national disasters, etc.)

In addition to having experiences with insomnia, I learned to manage it. In the face of uncertainty and despair, I nurtured resilience, hope, and empowerment through mindful compassion. In the face of turbulent times, I anchored my commitment and work towards social justice in a practice of moving mindfulness (qi gong). I also earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley and a mindfulness facilitator certificate from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior from the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to being a researcher and a tenured Full Professor at Pitzer College, I have practiced and taught qi gong for 25 plus years under the mentorship of Paul Li and Bingkun Hu, lineage holders from the dayan qi gong tradition and Yang Mei Jun.


Secondary Traumatic Stress (NCTSN)

Lens of Systemic Oppression

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Trauma, and Social Location

How Trauma Can Affect Your Window of Tolerance (NICABM)

How Trauma Impacts Four Different Types of Memory (NICABM)

Coping with PTSD

How to Implement Trauma-Informed Care to Build Resilience to Childhood Trauma

Gender-Specific and Gender- Neutral Pronouns