The Chinese secret to preserving youth and health lies in an ancient knowledge inherited from generations ahead and brought to popularity in our time. Exercises aimed at restoring and maintaining health, slowing down aging, and protecting against injury are known as qigong. "Qi" (Chin. 气) has numerous translations such as the life force, the spirit breath, air, or oxygen, while "gong" (Chin. 功) translates as work, skill, or accomplishments. We might translate qigong as a life-energy workout.
In recent years, many people have become interested in qigong. Qigong is practiced by more than 80 million people in P.R. China and by more than 700,000 in the United States. There is solid evidence that qigong may improve immune function and mental health and slow down or prevent age-related physical and cognitive decline.
A long list of movie stars has accepted qigong as a lifestyle changer. Among them, Will Smith, Jet Li, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Duvall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Mel Gibson are the most devoted qigong practitioners. Mehmet Cengiz Öz, known professionally as Dr. Oz, exclaimed, "If you want to be healthy and live to one hundred, do qigong." Charles Philip III, King of the United Kingdom, is the most famous qigong practitioner. There are several globally known qigong masters, such as Master Wang Liping, a Dragon Gate Taoism representative; Master Zhou Ting Jue; Master Mantak Chia, the founder of the Universal Healing Tao System; Grand Master Lu, the founder of the Tao of Healing; and Master Wang Zhezhong, the 19th generation lineage holder of the Wang Family Turtle Longevity Qigong.
Qigong and me
Since I was a teenager, I have been on a quest for inner peace, physical fitness, emotional and mental stability, and spiritual empowerment. I had read extensively about the mysteries of qigong, but my first hands-on experience with it occurred in China at the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dr. Li, our first-year taiji quan/qigong professor, also worked as a TCM doctor in a nearby TCM hospital.
During the COVID-19 SARS pandemic in China in 2001, I was one of the very few students who chose to stay in China during the lockdown and quarantine protocols. My decision to remain in China during the pandemic and my volunteer work at the university hospital caught the attention of the Chinese, and as a result, Professor Li accepted me as his disciple. He taught me the art of medical qigong, and this year marks my 22nd year of practicing qigong.
As I slowly developed my understanding of qigong, one thing became clear: the only constant in my life has been transformation. In fact, qigong practice has helped me become a better person. It has improved my concentration, preserved my health, and promoted the idea of achieving inner peace.
Qigong has greatly aided me in not becoming attached to external objects, thereby helping me avoid developing unnecessary desires and suffering. Regular qigong practice has led to a healthier lifestyle and better decision-making, creating a life that is free from unnecessary suffering and in harmony with the cosmos. Qigong is not merely a set of different forms, meditations, energetic exercises, and breathing techniques; it is a lifestyle choice that leads to a healthier and happier life.
I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to teach qigong and positively influence so many people. It always thrills me to witness the tremendous benefits that people experience through qigong practice. I would like to share several tips for qigong newcomers:
- Pay attention to how your breath flows, as it can indicate your emotional, mental, and physical condition.
- Do not be afraid to spend extended periods practicing qigong, as more time invested can exponentially raise your level of consciousness and energy. Try to integrate this practice into your daily routine.
- Define your goal with qigong. If you are only interested in building physical strength, qigong may not be the best fit, as it encompasses multiple dimensions of health.
- Verify the credentials of your qigong instructor. Doing so can save you precious time and ensure you receive proper guidance.
- Keep an open mind. Avoid judgment and be receptive to new ideas and experiences.
Qi represents our life energy, which possesses its own inherent limits. Hence, the practice of qigong is vital for the preservation of this life energy, preventing illnesses, and enhancing our overall quality of life. Qigong practice caters to three distinct categories of individuals: the general populace, soldiers and athletes, and spiritual practitioners (such as monks and priests). Consequently, qigong is broadly classified into three categories: medical qigong, martial art qigong, and spiritual qigong. The most extensive category, Medical Qigong, aligns with the self-healing and preventive aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. It encompasses exercises designed to slow down the aging process, boost vitality, prevent diseases, and facilitate healing. Qigong is meticulously crafted to enhance the functional capabilities of the body, engaging all six hundred muscles and 230 joints (even though humans possess a total of 360 joints). Specifically focusing on functional exercises, qigong activates all muscles and joints in multiple directions.
The essential life force, Qi, circulates through the body via specific channels known as jing luo (Chin. 经络), located beneath the skin at varying depths within the tissues. Qigong practice involves a combination of breathing exercises, healing sounds, mantras, body postures, mental meditation, and concentrated focus. This combination ensures the correct flow of Qi along these energetic pathways. Qigong meditation serves as fundamental training for developing the mental control necessary to manipulate one's Qi.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) posits that diseases arise from imbalances in the flow of Qi, whether due to blockages, deficiencies, or excesses.
Daoyin (Chin. 导引) exercises, the precursors to qigong, originate from a rich history of preventive medicine dating back to the Shang Dynasty (Chin. 商代) from 1600-1046 B.C. The earliest Qigong exercises were formulated through the observation and analysis of animal movements.
In ancient China, Qigong prescriptions evolved into a system that included both Yin movements (static postures) and Yang movements (dynamic actions), designed to complement each other.
Regarding movements in qigong, they can be categorized based on whether they involve active or passive movements.
- Active qigong entails coordinated, intentional, yet gentle body movements.
- Passive qigong involves the practice of breathing techniques, stillness, and meditation to facilitate the smooth flow of "Qi" throughout the body.
Qigong treatment offers relief from pain, disperses qi and blood stagnation, and contributes to positive changes in an individual's lifestyle, often a significant contributing factor to their health conditions. Illnesses are frequently exacerbated by stress, overwork, a lack of appropriate exercise, and unhealthy dietary habits. Tension, as a separate factor or in conjunction with others, can block the natural flow of energy in the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teaches that each organ is enveloped by a sac or membrane known as the fascia, which is responsible for regulating the organ's temperature and releasing excess heat through the skin, where it is exchanged for revitalizing life force energy from nature. Congestion of qi can lead to pain, discomfort, or illness, and qigong aids in releasing excess heat from the fascia, cooling and purifying the organs and skin.
Qigong exercises stimulate the autonomic nervous system, gradually alleviating fatigue and enabling the full restoration of bodily functions. It not only strengthens the metabolism of organs and cells but also enhances cellular energy by stimulating mitochondria. Furthermore, it positively impacts the lymphatic system and offers additional health benefits, such as boosting white blood cell production, stabilizing blood pressure, and improving immune function.
Medical Qigong proves valuable in the treatment of various health issues, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic fatigue, cancer, and heart diseases.
In the initial stages of qigong practice, we begin by learning how to synchronize physical movements with our breath. As we achieve this seamless coordination, we become more attuned to the dissipation of energy. When you embark on qigong exercises, the primary objective is to focus on letting go and learning to live in the present moment.
Typically, the slow and deliberate movements of qigong serve to warm up tendons, ligaments, and muscles, thereby enhancing the circulation of bodily fluids. Deep breathing, an integral part of qigong practice, has a calming effect on the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system and activates the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) aspect of your autonomic nervous system. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, qigong can effectively reduce stress and anxiety.
Qigong is accessible to individuals of all ages and physical conditions, which is why it is so widely enjoyed by people in their later years. While the effects can be potent, the routines themselves are typically gentle in nature. As we learn to concentrate, we simultaneously cultivate awareness of Qi energy. This process involves focusing inward while letting go, making qigong a journey of building awareness.
Basic qigong breathing exercises include Buddha's Breath and Daoist's Breath. Both methods saturate the body with Qi and aid in enhancing meditation focus.
- Buddha's breath: Inhale by extending your abdomen, counting eight heartbeats, and filling it with air while envisioning your Qi energy flowing through the channels. Exhale by contracting your abdomen and exhaling the air over a count of sixteen, starting from the bottom of your lungs and gradually moving upward until your abdomen and chest are deflated.
- Daoist's breath: The pattern here is the exact opposite. Inhale by contracting your abdominal muscles, and during the exhale, relax the torso and lungs.
Following these breathing exercises, the qigong routine typically progresses as follows:
- Warm-up Qigong exercises: These exercises are the starting point for qigong training.
- The Bounce Qigong exercise: This is often the next step, designed to further prepare the body.
- Awareness Qigong exercises: These exercises help develop mindfulness and deepen awareness.
- Extending the Qi exercises: This phase involves exercises aimed at extending the flow of Qi.
- Pumping Qi exercises: These exercises focus on enhancing the circulation of Qi within the body.
- Blending Qi exercises: This concluding sequence integrates and harmonizes the Qi energy within.
In conclusion, Qigong stands as a great method of prevention, and one of its greatest benefits lies in its potential to detect and cure illnesses before they reach a serious stage of pathological changes. To wrap up this enlightening topic, I'd like to share two meaningful maxims:
Heal the soul first; then healing of the mind and body will follow.
(Zhi Gang Sha)
Practicing Qigong is so simple and so powerful. You cannot do it wrong. You can only do it good, better, or best.