What is Qigong? A Short Guide for the Confused.

What is Qigong? There are many ways to describe this ancient tradition from China. Qigong includes exercises, meditation and energy manipulation methods which were developed from Taoist and Buddhist martial and spiritual traditions in China. Tai chi chuan is a choreographed type of qigong and the principles of qigong are an integral part of Chinese martial arts. The methods of this art may include means of developing more power (or energy), endurance, and flexibility. This art may also be used for spiritual advancement and health improvement. Qigong, used as a means of healing and fitness, is an important part of the Chinese medical system today.

Qigong (氣功) contains the words “qi”, for breath and/or energy, and “gong”, which means work or cultivation. Thus, it may mean “energy cultivation,” “breath work” and “energy work.” There are various spellings, such as chi kung, chikung, quigong, chi gung, qi kong, qi kung and more. Pronounce it as “chi gung” in English to most closely match the Chinese pronunciation. Qigong was also known as dao yin or daoyin (導引), meaning the directing or leading of energy, one of the primary aims of qigong exercises.

Some believe that qigong began when the Bodhidarma (the first patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism) came to China in the 5th century AD, finding the monks of the Shaolin temple in a poor health. Legend has it that he taught them a set of internal development exercises now included as a part of monk training in the Shaolin Temple style of wushu (martial art). These became a part of military training in China. (1,2)

That may have been the case; however, there are records of systematic qigong use for improving health before Bodhidarma’s arrival.  Between 770 and 221 BCE, the Huang Di Nei Jing was composed. (3) This 18-volume book included exercises recommended for specific symptoms, information about the five element theory (wu xing) and how it relates to health, energy channels and points along the channels important for treatment of various conditions. Briefly, the five element theory relates the five elements – fire, water, air, earth and wood – to the different organ systems of the body (the heart, kidneys, lungs, spleen and liver, respectively) and their corresponding energy channels that run through the body. This theory is the basis of modern acupuncture and acupressure therapies.

Medical Qigong

Qigong includes both personal exercises and meditations, as well as treatments recommended by Medical Qigong doctors. Medical qigong includes treatments such as external qi projection and manipulation. Doctors can also prescribe specific qigong exercises patients can perform to help them recover from various disorders, including cancer, hypertension, and hypotension. (6) The excellent reference work written by Suzanne Friedman (The Yijing Medical Qigong System)explains more about the theory and applications of Medical Qigong.

Qigong Exercises and Meditation

Qigong exercises may involve static meditations using sitting or standing postures. Sitting postures can be used for learning breath regulation, mind concentration, relaxation and spiritual development. Breath regulation can be used to guide energy, dissolve blockages and develop awareness. The breath can be a central tool in learning relaxation and mind concentration, leading to spiritual development. Standing qigong postures help develop internal energy throughout the body, opening up the joints, removing energy blockages and strengthening tendons and bones. Practice of both types of meditation can improve energy and performance in the martial arts, other sports and improve overall health.

Movement routines that are prescribed to patients by Medical Qigong doctors differ depending on the type of disorder that a person has. There are also several moving qigong practices are used to improve health generally, such as the Eight Pieces Brocades (Ba Duan Jing) and Dragon-Tiger. (4,5) You could say that there are too many choices of qigong exercises available, as it has been said that there are roughly 10,000 styles in existence today, some of which also are called “hard” qigong for martial arts development like Iron Shirt Chi Kung.

Some movement exercises coordinate the breath with movements (like Dragon-Tiger Medical Qigong) while others do not. The later type of exercises are called “nei gung”, or internal development exercises. Tai chi chuan and standing meditation forms are types of nei gung. There are various styles of breathing used in the Taoist internal arts, but they all involve the use of the diaphragm.Taoist breathing is also called abdominal breathing, which includes normal and reverse breathing patterns. Breath training and developing power in the lower dantien is essential to both nei gung and qigong exercises.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qigong

TCM views disease as caused by disturbances in the energy flow in the body and in the energy field. Disturbances may be blockages where energy accumulates in excess and/or areas that become deficient in energy. Qigong healing exercises help one clear energy blockages and restore energy where it is deficient. Simultaneously, these exercises should help balance the energy grid. The water method of Taoist meditation and qigong exercises, also called soft qigong, helps achieve these goals by allowing, instead of forcing, energy blockages to dissolve. Maintaining a relaxed mind and a relaxed embodied awareness is essential for doing the water method of qigong, so it permits healing and facilitates spiritual growth.

Health Benefits of Qigong Practice

In the view of the Western medicine, there are changes in the physiology and functioning of the nervous system that bring the observed health benefits of qigong practice. First of all, there is an increased delivery of oxygen to muscular and nervous system tissue as a result of improved breathing. Secondly, better breathing patterns also help facilitate improved functioning of the immune system, elimination of cellular toxins through the lymphatic system and elimination of wastes through the digestive system. Movement forms further catalyze this effect.

Qigong exercises favor relaxation of practitioners because it includes methods for resting the mind. These methods allow one to switch from thought-based orientation to an embodiment of feeling. This separation from mental processes creates an awareness that facilitates relaxed functioning of the mind and more of a reliance on the parasympathetic nervous system. This situation helps us heal and deal with everyday stress factors in a more relaxed state of mind. Thus, it facilitates reduction of our reliance on the “fight-or-flight,” or sympathetic nervous system.

Resources for What is Qigong

1. http://www.cs.uwec.edu/~tan/www-docs/MA-docs/martial.html
2. http://home.uchicago.edu/~jcarlsen/downloads/SportAndCompetitionInAncientChina_eng.pdf
3. http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln270/Chinese%20medical%20classics.htm#Huang_Di_Nei_Jing
4. Energy Arts. Bruce Kumar Frantzis.
5. The Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung Exercise (A Gaia Original)
6. Qigong Healing Methods. Qigong Healing Arts.
7. Your Autonomic Nervous System and How to Obtain Long Term Energy for Your Health. R. McLaughlin.
8. Qigong Institute – a site that has research papers, a membership directory of practitioners, qigong and tai chi news, demonstrations of methods and more.

Note: If you have a disorder, it is best to consult with both your medical doctor and a Medical Qigong doctor to find out what type of exercises suit your condition.

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