What is Qigong? Let’s break down the Chinese word into it’s 2 parts, Qi and Gong.
The concept of Qi (pronounced “Chee”) is a Chinese concept that predates written history. It is translated into “life energy” and is present in all things in the universe. Chinese scholars and doctors have had the longest history researching Qi, and have brought the understanding of Qi to a very deep level. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine, as practiced today, developed from this research in Qi.
Gong means “work” or “cultivation”. Thus, Qigong is “working with the essential life energy”, learning how to become sensitive to this energy and understanding how we can improve our health and state of mind by being aware of it’s flow.
How does the practice of Qigong improve one’s health? Qigong is linked to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and works off the same principles. One does not need to be schooled in TCM to practice Qigong, but the background is interesting and gives us a foundation in which to understand what is happening. According to TCM, the human body is full of energy channels that run throughout and distribute this vital Qi to all areas of the body. Acupuncture works exclusively off the system of meridians, and modern science has proven the existence of these meridians. So, Qigong works by making us more aware of these meridians through relaxing, breathing and gentle movements. We also gently stretch the meridians, allowing the energy to flow stronger and clearing any blockages that may have accumulated. With all the tension and pressures of the modern world, we all have certainly absorbed tension in our bodies, and thus have created blockages in our energy system, which will certainly manifest into physical illness if not corrected. Qigong clears these blockages, allows more energy to flow, thus preventing illness and providing us with more energy and clarity of the mind.
What makes Qigong a fantastic system of achieveing health and well being? The Chinese people have meticulously refined this sytem of health and healing for literally 3000 years or more which has resulted in a complete system of health and well-being. Many other cultures have rituals and practices they use for health, but none as refined and well documented as Qigong. Furthermore, since Qigong is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has a complete medical foundation to draw upon for it’s concepts.
Why do most Americans not know what Qigong is? It has been only recently that the Chinese government has allowed the practice of Qigong in China itself. For many years, Qigong had to be practiced in secrecy and was passed down only by word of mouth from person to person. Only recently has the government approved the practice of Qigong, and thus it has only been available to other cultures for the last 50 years or so.
What are the differences between Eastern and Western medicine? Many. Western medicine tends to treat the symptom, while Eastern medicine treats the root cause of the problem. An acupuncture needle in the foot can cure a headache, though these 2 parts of the body seem unrelated to us. In Western medicine, we typcially emphasize taking a pill to cure problems, such as headaches, high blood pressure, etc. However, we have found this only leads to other problems and does not treat the root of the problem. Eastern medicine focuses more on lifestyle, our state of mind, and the balance of our body in society and nature. It typically says that imbalances in the body and lifestyle lead to illness, and can be corrected by bringing our body back into balance.
What are the main concepts in Qigong? We are concerned with 3 things: Posture, breathing and our mental state.
Posture: The most important thing in Qigong is to RELAX. Little or no muscular effort is needed to perform these exercises. All movements should be done slowly and deliberately.
Breathing: Natural and from the belly, otherwise known as “abdominal breathing”. Your belly expands out naturally (not forced) when you inhale, and contracts or goes back in when you exhale. This allows air to get to the bottom of the lungs. Fill your lungs to 75% capacity. Never fill them to 100%, as you put tension in the chest when you do that (try it and see for yourself!). Breathing is in through the nose, out through the nose, unless otherwise specified.
Mental state: You should work to free your mind of distractions and thoughts. They will only hinder your practice. Achieving this usually takes years, so be kind to yourself, be patient and work on this little by little each time you practice. You will start to get glimpses of what the meditative state is like, and this should encourage you to keep working at it. Don’t try to clear your mind, allow the thoughts to dissolve naturally.