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 waking up in the middle of the night because of social suffering and reading social media. 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. 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.

ABOUT ME:  I am the continuation of three grandparents who migrated from China and were imprisoned and interrogated at Angel Island detention center. One grandparent was born in Ohio and taught me how to listen deeply. One grandparent practiced tai chi daily in North Beach.  I earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in Ethnic Studies. And, I received 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.

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.)


Qi Gong (pronounced chee-gong) is an ancient and contemporary Chinese exercise that combines movement, breathing, awareness, and body posture.  There are many forms and styles of Qi Gong, ranging from robust movements to meditation in still poses.

For many, Qi Gong calms and tones the nervous system, builds whole-body coordination, and supports mental focus with a relaxed yet energized feeling. Some describe a deeply rooted, quiet joy when practicing qi gong.

– Review Article: Klein et.al. (2017)  Meditative Movement, Energetic, and Physical Analyses of Three Qi Gong Exercises: Unification of Eastern and Western Mechanistic Exercise Theory

– Review Article: Wang et. al. (2019)  The Effect of Mind-Body Therapies on Insomnia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Primordial Qi Gong Set (Winn) Written

Primordial Qi Gong Set (van Blommestein- Video 18m15s)


* Slow Down: 5 Minute Meditations (Larry Ward)

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

* Kids: Five Finger Breathing (4m10s)


* Calm Breathing GIFS

* Thích Nhất Hạnh & Plum Village: Namo Avalokiteshvara Chant (15m)

* 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)


* 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)

* 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)


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


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