Qigong is an ancient Chinese self-healing practice that encompasses breathing exercises and physical relaxation, encouraging a kind of meditative mental state. All aspects of the practice work in harmony. By consciously focusing on the breath and the patterns of movement, performed in slow motion, a state of deepened relaxation develops.
One of the oldest healing arts in the world, as many as 200 million Chinese perform this tranquil ritual daily, utilizing between 3,000 and 5,000 different styles of the practice. Some styles involve movement while others are done sitting or standing.
Qigong is based upon the principle that we are energetic beings and that we have the ability to collect and transform electromagnetic energy and then apply it. When our levels of energy (qi), are depleted, the practice of qigong helps us to restore our reserves. Most of us have trouble generating enough qi by ourselves to prevent or overcome disease. Therefore, the practice of qigong is helpful in generating appropriate levels of energy.
These benefits alone would make the practice worth doing. However, there are additional reasons to consider including qigong in your life. Medical researchers have found that this practice is tremendously healing. Some of its measurable benefits include:
- Increases oxygen In essence, this practice provides a kind of tune-up to your metabolism - the internal chemistry of your body. But unlike vigorous exercise, qigong and tai chi actually conserve and generate energy. Vigorous exercise has its benefits, but for anyone coping with illness, conserving energy is a useful feature.
- Helps clear your body of toxins Your body is protected by the lymphatic system. You've probably noticed the swollen lymph glands in your neck when you have a sore throat. Lymph is a colorless fluid that washes through your system, carrying toxins and germs with it. In qigong, the rhythmic movements, deep breathing, and postures "pump the lymph," enhancing your immune function.
- Enhances mental alertness and poise This benefit speaks for itself - the more alert we are, the easier everything becomes. Efficient functioning of your nervous system means less of a sense of stress. In addition, qigong tends to promote "the relaxation response"-a phase in which the body relaxes and rebuilds. This state is initiated through deep, slow breathing, coupled with the intention to relax.
How Qigong Works
Qigong can be anything from a 10-second relaxation exercise to an average hour a day of a particular form of practice.
How long does it take to relax? In its simplest form, you can do qigong in 10 seconds. First, simply decide to relax. This is a purposeful change of consciousness. Second, take a deep breath. Third, exhale and relax.
And that's it. This immediately activates a natural healing mechanism within you. Perhaps it is hard to believe that something so simple could have value. This practice can shift your physiology and turn on the healer within.
You can do this practice frequently throughout the day if you wish. It requires almost no effort whatsoever. Unless you close your eyes during this moment of relaxation, no one will know that you are doing it. You can even take relaxation breaks when you're with your friends or in the middle of a business meeting. If you close your eyes momentarily, you'll be able to relax even more deeply.
Other forms may require some physical movement or simply standing in place in a particular position for an extended period of time. You can even do qigong when you're sick. - lying-down qigong. From the Chinese viewpoint, external movement is the least important part of the qigong exercise. Internal activity and conscious breath is the essence of the healing practice.
You can either do your own qigong practice, or you can choose to see a qigong practitioner who is trained in working with energy.
FAQs about your personal practice:
- When? It's typical for people in China to practice qigong or tai chi for about an hour in the early morning (from around 6 to 7). Frequently they practice in groups, as small as two people or as large as 200. Just as often, people do qigong alone and can be seen in the parks practicing quietly among the trees. Remember that you can do gong any time and any place that is appropriate.
- For how long? People who are well and want to increase their energy and endurance will usually benefit from at least 20 minutes of daily practice - up to 40 or 60 minutes at a time. Many people experience profound vitality if they practice regularly. For those with mild illness, the same schedule will help to enhance health. To improve more quickly, practice more frequently.
- Will my practice change over time? It is likely that over the years you will try a number of methods. To begin, you may want to practice at home for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Later you may add a one-hour weekly class. At some point you may find that you practice qigong or tai chi for 2 hours on the weekend and only do the 15-minute short form during the week. You are encouraged to allow your interest in qigong to grow, change, and evolve.
Uses of Qigong
The practice of qigong is useful to calm the mind and reduce stress. It can also help in treating virtually any human affliction because of the correlation between a balanced energy flow and optimal health.
Qigong is especially helpful in treating or preventing the following health conditions:
- arthritis, rheumatism, and general neck and back pain
- circulatory problems, including high blood pressure, hypertension, heart diseas
- digestive conditions, including chronic hepatitis, indigestion, ulcers
- flu, common cold, and other respiratory afflictions
- kidney and other urinary system conditions
- liver problems
- problems with the ears, nose, and throat
- reproductive system problems
Benefits of Qigong
Qigong is a noninvasive method of healing the body. As a result of generating the proper amount of qi for your body, many people find they can move into better health and have more energy. Many of the qigong exercises can be done anywhere, and don't require special equipment.
Some recent research findings demonstrate its broad range of benefits:
- Qigong in combination with medication Using both approaches was found to enhance improvement for patients with asthma, high blood pressure, and cancer (Qigong Institute, 1999).
- High blood pressure In a study of two groups of patients monitored over 20 years, those who practiced qigong had more normal blood pressure readings and lived longer (Chinese study, 1993).
- Diabetes People who walked or did walking qigong after a meal had more stable blood sugar than those who did not. In addition, those who did walking qigong had a more moderate pulse than the walkers (Japanese study, 1999).
- Chronic pain In patients with chronic pain, 82% of those who did qigong reported less pain by the end of the first training session, and 91% had less pain by the last session, weeks later (New Jersey Medical School, 1999).
- Asthma Patients with asthma who practiced qigong had reduced hospitalizations, took less sick leave, and needed fewer antibiotics (German study, 1998).
The Role of Qigong in Prevention
Qigong has been traditionally used by the Chinese for health maintenance, the prevention of disease and as a longevity practice. Qigong experts claim that this practice is useful in preventing cancer, which according to the Chinese medicine worldview is the result of blocked qi, which over time manifests as malignancies.
The disciplined approach to qigong practice (about one hour a day) is not recommended for people with mental difficulties or for those who are very emotional. Pregnant women (after the first 3 months) are also advised to avoid the disciplined approach.
As with everything, use moderation and common sense. If you are experiencing any type of serious physical or mental illness, check with a physician knowledgeable about qigong. Progress gradually and stay in your comfort zone.
If you have a serious illness
To increase health in severe disease, it is important to neither practice too little or too much. These self-healing practices are powerful and highly refined. Build up the practice as you build your strength. More can be better, but only when you are ready for it. Start slow and simple, and as your vitality grows, increase your practice.
When the Shanghai Cancer Recovery Society receives a new patient who is near death, the only qigong method they teach is a simple breath practice. In addition the patient is introduced to person after person, day after day, who has healed themselves. The combination of the simple breathing practice plus dozens of sincere personal testimonials conveys tremendous healing power.
As the patient becomes stronger, simple hand gestures are added to the breathing practice. Next, they sit in a chair and perform the hand motions. Then they stand and perform the movement. Finally, they do the Cancer-Recovery-Walking-Form of qigong. At this point, they go and visit with new patients and tell their story.
What is the best way to learn qigong ?
- First educate yourself.
- Then you'll be ready to begin seeking a teacher.
If you want to teach yourself this healing art, choose a form of qigong that is very simple and work with it until you become comfortable with your practice. Educate yourself through books and videos. If you seek formal training later, you will have background knowledge that will help you select the approach right for you.
The possibilities for study and apprenticeship are endless. All told, the many forms and variations of qigong are said to number between 3,000 and 5,000. Some of these practices are thousands of years old and have been refined and perfected over time.
The movements and forms that are the simplest and easiest to learn are qigong methods that involve only a few instructions. For example, spontaneous qigong is simply a practice of allowing the body to move "with the spirit." Another cherished form is Guo Lin, developed in the 1970s by a woman with cancer who healed herself using qigong .
According to Chinese tradition, the secrets of healing can only be gained through a teacher. And it is difficult to learn a system of breath and movement from a book, an audiotape, or a video. In order to learn the more complex forms of qigong , the consistent input of a teacher is indispensable.
But great teachers say that "the practice of qigong itself is the teacher." The student learns by doing. So while it is useful to begin with a teacher, some of your most meaningful learning experiences will come from within your own personal practice.
Facilities that often offer qigong classes include YMCAs, university sports programs, community recreation centers, adult education programs, hospitals, complementary medicine clinics, HMOs, retreat centers, and martial arts schools. In some cities, such as San Francisco Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica, people independently practice qigong and tai chi in the parks. Sometimes there are even free classes.
In China, huge groups practice together, following the movements of the most skilled in the group. In many groups there is a teacher, and in many others, people practice independently. Some people go from group to group and practice five or six forms of qigong or tai chi before leaving for work.
To learn qigong , sample a number of methods and teachers. Later you may want to focus on a single style of practice for a while. You may try a number of different forms or even teachers before you find the one that really fits your personal preferences.
- Awakening the Medicine Within, a video by Roger Jahnke, Health Action (1995).
- Qigong Empowerment by Shou-Yu Liang, Way of the Dragon (1996).
- Qi Gong for Beginners: Eight Easy Movements for Vibrant Health by Stanley Wilson, Sterling Publications (1997).
- Qigong for Health, a video by the Immune Enhancement Project of San Francisco, CA.
- The Healer Within by Roger Jahnke, Harper San Francisco (1997).
- The Way of Qigong by Ken Cohen, Ballantine Books (1997).