Qigong teacher Deniz Paradot has been described as the ‘calmest man in Norfolk’ before now – and who couldn’t do with some calm right now? But it’s been a journey to get to that calm place
Fancy starting a 30-day Qigong challenge later this month? Qigong is a mind/body/spirit practice otherwise known as ‘Movement Medicine’ and the challenge has been set by Deniz Paradot, who lives and breathes Qigong and Mindful Living. He has been described by Radio Norfolk’s Chrissie Jackson as the ‘calmest man in Norfolk.’ But life hasn’t exactly always been ‘calm’ for Deniz. His journey began as a young boy in 1987 when he witnessed the death of his mother.
Clearly a ‘very personal story’, he says: ‘I’m happy to be personal. When I was 11 years old, I was in a car accident in Cyprus, with my sister, who is four years younger than me, my mum and my dad.’ The family were half-way through their holiday when they were hit by a drunk driver. ‘My mum was killed in the car – we were all in the car. I was on the impact side of the accident.’
For eight years Deniz suffered undiagnosed depression and chronic pain throughout his body and in 1995 it came to a head, when overnight Deniz went from an able-bodied person to being confined to a wheelchair as his spine had partially collapsed as a result of the car accident.
‘Mentally and emotionally, I was a bit of a wreck,’ says Deniz. ‘Physically I was in a mess as well. When I was 18/19, I was working in the States on a Caribbean cruise liner, went to get up to do my shift and my legs gave way.
‘The following day, on the mainland, in Miami, I had major surgery on my spine for seven hours and then had to learn how to walk again and build myself up again. I had nowhere to live and was estranged from my father after my mother had died.’
He adds: ‘I thought, after surgery, my back would be fixed and there would not be a problem at all.’
However, there was no quick fix for Deniz. Although he says, I’m so grateful for medical intervention – it helped put me back together’, after-care wasn’t exactly there. ‘I’d been given a bag full of medication: painkillers, antidepressants and anti-inflammatories. I was literally a vegetable on the sofa – drugged and tranquillised.’
Thankfully, though, ‘I was offered acupuncture as an alternative medicine trail on the NHS. I was amazed and blown away by how I felt.’
It was a Chinese traditional acupuncturist who introduced Deniz to the word Qigong in the first instance. ‘I’d never heard it before.’
It was explained to him that if he wanted to get that same feeling from the acupuncture, but get physically fitter in the process, he should give Qigong a try. ‘So I did,’ says Deniz.
‘I’d never dealt with my mum’s death; never dealt with being estranged from my father since my mum’s death; and I’d never dealt with the depression.’
However, as he says: ‘As soon as I did Qigong I felt I was being my own counsellor. I was crying my eyes out in practice.
‘I did it and carried on doing it.’ And it has had a profound effect on him. ‘It literally changed every cell in my body, doing Qigong. It changed the person that I was.’
And it got Deniz thinking: ‘Why aren’t we all doing something like this? I made it my calling (without being too corny about it). I thought ‘This is what I’m going to do’.’
London-born Deniz, who has been practising Qigong for around 25 years, came to Suffolk 15 years ago (he now lives just outside of Norwich).
‘About 10 years ago, I was asked by people to teach them this thing I kept going on about! Not many people had heard of it. I started a Thursday evening class and the class soon became really busy.’
Initially, ‘it was just a fun thing for me to do. I was in catering. I used to run my own catering company. I thought ‘do you know what, my Qigong is going really well and that’s where my heart is – I’ll give it a go’. I started to add classes in different village halls and venues, and then I moved all my classes to Norwich.’
Word hadn’t quite got round to start with. ‘I stood there, sometimes, and no one turned up and I had second thoughts, thinking ‘is this the right thing to do?’, and then, all of sudden, they’d come and come again and tell me how they’d felt after the week before – people starting sharing this thing called Qigong.’
It has involved 10 years of hard work, welcoming around 150 people a week, but Deniz is resolute that he feels good physically, mentally and emotionally.
He is the founder, developer and master trainer of the Centre of Integrated Qigong for Health and Wellness CIC (IQ for Health), and has built a strong relationship with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in the process. Pre-COVID, he says: ‘I was teaching people in the pain management department, cardio department and physio department and occupational therapists were putting people my way.’
He adds: ‘I was working with Parkinson’s UK, the British Heart Foundation, and the Assist Trust – to name but a few.
‘That was on top of my public classes. I was going round Norfolk doing talks, and doing talks at the hospital – talking to consultants, doctors and patients – sharing Qigong with them.’
Deniz is also a member of the all-party parliamentary group for integrated healthcare. His IQ for Health programmes received the coveted Active Norfolk ‘Activity in the Community’ Award in 2019, and most recently his work has been nominated for the RCNi Nursing Awards 2020.
Then, well, we all know what happened last spring. ‘Everything was going really well and literally, on the 14th of March, I had to make the call to stop face to face teaching because of this thing called coronavirus. I thought ‘I’m calling the shots’ – as the government wasn’t.
‘I went from teaching all of that to nothing as far as face to face was concerned and I basically had to reinvent myself,’ says Deniz.
He teaches Mindful Living as well as Qigong. ‘I offer a lot of mindfulness through my teaching and I’ve had to really practice what I preach since March!’
With his students stuck inside during the first lockdown, Deniz built an entertainment video-on-demand website, offering masterclasses. ‘Within a month or two, 1000 people had registered, from Hong Kong to New Zealand.’
He now offers free, live online Qigong and Mindfulness classes every weekday at movelifebetter.tv. Better still, people can catch up whenever it suits them and there are more than 150 teaching videos at their fingertips.
‘I’ve been focusing all my efforts on Move Life Better,’ says Deniz. ‘I’m being present, waking up every day, taking the time and effort, and am hoping that might motivate other people.’
Deniz set up a home studio and made the decision to stand in front of the camera at 8 o’clock every morning. Is he the Joe Wicks of the Qigong world, perhaps? ‘He’s got more hair than me!’ Deniz replies.
‘I was forced into going online. I had to make it work and the feedback has been mind-blowing. People have been saying they’ve never felt so good. That’s a real positive to come out of this. Because I show up every day there’s the impetus and motivation for other people to do it.
‘People’s lives, and health, has really changed they’ve got new-found purpose to their day, rather than get up and get lost in the enormity of what’s happening. I remain positive for the future that I am going to teach face to face again one day but, because none of us now when that one day is, I’m putting my efforts into online teaching to get people moving and feeling they have a reason to get out of bed. For so many people, this has knocked them for six.’
Getting to this point in his life has been a real journey and not without it’s painful challenges. Deniz reiterates: ‘I like people to get the full story.’ He has a lot to thank the ‘movement medicine’ for – it has changed his life completely. ‘Qigong is very personal to me and that’s the message I always want to get out. ‘Qigong is my life. I live, breath, teach and share it.’ Deniz adds: ‘It courses though my blood.’
Deniz offers a free, live online Qigong and Mindfulness class at 8am every weekday at movelifebetter.tv. It is also available on catch-up. The 30-day Qigong Challenge begins on January 25.