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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Chair Qigong: A Free Tool for Promoting Mindfulness-Based Movement in the Classroom

It’s no secret that students, especially those in elementary schools, have trouble sitting at a desk or in front of a screen all day.

It’s natural for children to want to move, jump around, burn off some of their extra, seemingly boundless energy. It’s also apparent that children (and adults) are more distracted than ever. We all need tools to help us focus.  

Movement is good—but researchers are finding that movement coupled with mindful intention, for instance, becoming aware of the breath, is even better. A study of 179 different interventions (Diamond & Ling, 2019) to improve executive functioning (EF) in students found those based in mindfulness-based movement (e.g. tae kwon do, tai chi) had the greatest impact on EF.

What is EF and why does it matter?

Executive functions are a set of cognitive processes, which include reasoning, impulse control, attention control, and working memory (the ability to hold information in the brain while performing tasks). EF makes a major difference in students’ academic performance and whether they will struggle in school.

But while teachers might want to try programs that allow students to move mindfully, they will likely have two hesitations: 1) they lack time in the school day, and 2) they lack space inside the classroom.

To solve these concerns, one of my students, Audrey Mecklenburg, and I developed a program called Chair Qigong. Dating back some 5,000 years, Qigong is an ancient Chinese health system that involves cultivating one’s natural, internal energy force through practicing a series of orchestrated movements consisting of body posture/movement, breath practice, and meditation.

Emerging research shows Qigong can have mental and physical benefits for practitioners.

Working with an experienced Qigong instructor, we modified eight movements so they can be performed from a sitting position. We tested the movements with college students in an education course. We then videoed two, k-12 students performing the movements (with pop-up, caption instructions for when to breathe) on a bench at a pristine lake on campus. We revised the name of each movement to be more kid-friendly, for instance, “Reach for the Moon,” “Wise Owl Turns Head,” and “Archer’s Pose.”

The videos have been compiled into a PowerPoint, which teachers can download to their computer and use when possible. Some of the ideas for using Chair Qigong are:

  • As a brain break for students between subjects or classes.
  • As a morning routine to begin each school day with calmness, focus, and energy.
  • As a method to calm nerves before a test.
  • As an online tool for virtual learning, encouraging students to perform the moves from the comfort of their home.

Chair Qigong is a free tool for teachers, school counselors, and other educators. We just ask that we can maintain contact and collect some anonymous data on how the program is working in classrooms.

For information on implementing Chair Qigong and receiving the PowerPoint with videos please email: [email protected]


Diamond, A., & Ling, D. S. (2019). Review of the evidence on, and fundamental questions about, efforts to improve executive functions, including working memory. Cognitive and Working Memory Training: Perspectives from Psychology, Neuroscience, and Human Development, 143.