Qigong is a deep and very rewarding field of study. Qigong actually refers to a class of exercise originating in Ancient China. These exercises have been long regarded for their ability to offer practitioners good health and longevity. If you want to find out more about Qigong please keep reading.
Franklin Fick - Baduanjin Qigong - Shoot the Bow
What is Qigong
Qigong is exercise. It is exercise for the entire body, the breath, and the mind. It is a way to bring the body back into balance and a way to strengthen the body. It is exercise with an extremely long history.
Qi means energy and Gong means work or exercises. So literally Qigong means exercises for your energy.
Qigong is a fairly modern term. Traditionally the exercises that we know today as Qigong were called Nei Gong or Dao Yin. These two terms go back to ancient times. Nei Kung means Internal Exercises. Dao Yin means Leading and Guiding because the postures lead and guide the Qi or energy through the body for different purposes depending on the exercise or exercise set.
Qigong is the modern term that encompasses many different exercises. There are thousands of unique styles of Qigong. So in reality the term Qi Gong is not very descriptive. It is like saying "transportation." But are we talking about air, water, train, automobile, space, etc? Each type of transportation is similar in that involves moving from point A to point B but beyond that each form of transportation can be vastly different. It is the same with Qigong.
What Qigong styles have in common is that they all work with the body’s energy. Beyond that they can be vastly different. There are moving Qi Gongs and stationary Qi Gongs. Some are for general health maintenance. Some are for specific illnesses. Some are for developing certain attributes like Iron Palm for the martial arts. But, each style of Qi Gong works with the body’s energy.
There are Qigong systems that are very ancient, having been passed down from one generation to the next. There are also modern Qi Gong systems that have been recently created. Many people benefit from both types. People praise the ancient Qigong systems as having passed the test of time and the creators of the modern systems site improvement and innovation as their motivation.
If you are just starting Qigong it is important to find out and learn about the style you are interested in. What is its history, characteristics, and goals.
If you have practiced a style of Qi Gong for a while it is important to realize that other styles might be different from your own, have different methods of practicing, different characteristics, and different goals.
Types of Qigong
There are many different types of Qigong. I personally like to classify Qigong into three main categories based on the goals and methods of practice.
1. Medical Qigong
These are exercises that are specifically practiced to address a specific imbalance or disharmony in the body. Once this disharmony is gone then the exercise is no longer needed. These are specific practices for specific purposes. The application and selection of the practice of Medical Qigong requires training and skill. This is really a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is beyond the scope of normal practitioners and it is not a subject we are going to go into here.
2. Martial Qigong
These are exercises that are practiced for a specific purpose but the aim is not to cure disease but instead to gain some sort of ability through training. This could be something like Iron Palm, Iron Shirt, or being able to generate more power in strikes and kicks. These practices are usually not trained alone but instead are part of a complete martial system. The other trainings in the system usually help top balance out the practitioner and prevent harm. Some of these practices should only be attempted and trained under the guidance of a qualified teacher.
3. General Health Maintenance Qigong
These are practices that are well rounded. They work many different aspects of the body in a holistic fashion with the goal of creating better health, strengthening the entire system, and increasing well being. This is the type of practice that can benefit almost everyone.
History of Qigong
The origins of Qigong go all the way back to prehistoric times, but these types of practices were not always called Qigong. In fact, Qigong is a rather new term for these types of exercises. The ancient terms for the practices that we call Qigong today were Dao Yin and Nei Kung. Dao Yin translates to mean leading and guiding and the name describes how the movements of the exercises lead and guide the circulation of Qi or vital energy throughout the body. Nei Kung translates to mean internal work or internal exercises.
One possible origin of the practices that we call Qigong today could be dance, which was an integral part of society in ancient times. Dance was used in ceremonies, in celebrations, and also by Shamans who among many other things were also responsible for health care and curing the sick.
It is very likely that the practice of dance evolved into a system of movement that was used to maintain health and cure disease. What we do know is that there are are very early records back to 200BC that describe how Dao Yin was used to cure certain ailments. Later texts and works actually show that this system of knowledge became well refined though time, with exercises being listed for many different ailments and diseases. In addition to the exercises that were prescribed for certain ailments, there has also always been more general health maintenance practices that were advocated by teachers and practitioners. These systems of practice could include things like self massage, movement exercises, breathing exercises, and static exercises and the goal of practice was to maintain good health and achieve longevity.
Over the years there have been a vast number of Qigong systems that have been developed and practiced. Many of these systems have probably been lost to history, but many of them have stood the test of time and have been passed down and enjoyed by each generation of practitioners. Today Qigong practice has spread beyond the borders of China and many people in the world are discovering the benefits that Qigong practice has to offer.
Basic Qigong Theory
Qigong theory can be very complex (and sometimes people feel the need to make it overly so). On a basic level Qigong works with the body, the breath, and the mind. The exercises stimulate and circulate the energy of the body. Practice clears energy blockages and stagnation, which lets the Qi circulate freely. This promotes healing and good health. As the body becomes more balanced and starts to function at a higher level, the systems of the body start to undergo an "upgrade". This allows the body to operate at an even higher level of performance and energy.
There are three theories for Qigong practice that are essential for the beginner to understand. They are: The Three Regulations, Natural and Relaxed, and Consistent Practice. Lets go over them now.
1 - Three Regulations
The Three Regulations are essential for proper Qigong training and practice. Although this sounds very official and technical, you will see that the three regulations are in fact guideposts to be aware of to make sure that you are practicing correctly.
Regulate the Posture
As you practice Qigong you must be aware of your body. The exercises work to stimulate circulation of Qi and blood in the body. To do this in the most effective manner, you must be aware of your posture and movements and make sure they are correct. Incorrect posture can have an adverse effect of the body and the health. The correct posture allows for the full use and training of the body and for the optimal circulation of Qi and Blood.
Regulate the Breath
The Qigong practitioner should be mindful of their breathing. Some Qigong exercises even call for the synchronization of the physical movements with the breathing.It is important to remember that the breath should never be forced or strained. Relaxed and natural breathing is one of the most fundamental ways to cultivate Qi and it can be used to stimulate and strengthen the body. While proper breathing promotes relaxation and vibrant energy, improper breathing can create tension and stagnation so it is important for the Qigong practitioner to be mindful of their breathing.
Regulate the Mind
Qigong is an exercise for the body, energy, and mind. It is important to be mindful of your practice. Some exercises may have additional aspects of mental concentration beyond general mindfulness as well. Being mindful of what you are doing as you practice is essential. During Qigong practice you should not be tuned out or day dreaming.
These three regulations cover the three aspects of our being: body, breath, and mind. During the day a person may have a disharmony of these three aspects. The disharmony keeps the energy and the body from working as well as it could be. Through Qigong practice we learn to bring these aspects into harmony. This allows the body to function more efficiently and is one aspect of improving health and well being. With continued practice the lessons of harmony can be carried over into what we call daily life (times when we are not practicing Qigong).
2 - Natural and Relaxed
Qigong practice should be natural and relaxed. It is not forced and should not strain the practitioner in any way. The body is never forced into a position that causes damage or strains the tendons, joints, or muscles. The breath is never strained and also, although the mind is concentrated during practice, it is not overly so.Nothing is ever forced during practice. This allows for correct and continued development over time.
3 - Consistent Practice
Consistent practice is the key to obtaining results from Qigong. Qigong practice can be gentle, which is the complete opposite of what people classify as exercise in the western world. The benefits of Qigong come with consistent practice over time. The practice can change the body and energy in subtle ways, making it healthier and stronger gradually. Consistent practice can help alleviate stress and tension, keep the joints strong and healthy, and build up the constitution.
Advanced Qigong Theory
Advanced Qiogng theory talks about the Three Treasures: Jing, Qi, and Shen.
In addition to the organs and energy meridians our body also has three centers or collection points. These are called Dan Tien, which translates as field of elixir. Inside our body these fields are a place for cultivation. As the name suggests the cultivation process is similar to the way crops are cultivated in a field, with much care for making sure the environment is right for cultivation but not much meddling in the actual process of transformation. If you grow a plant you can make sure the soil is fertile and that the seedling gets air, water, and sun. But the plant grows on its own. You can not really help it along, you can only observe the changes and transformations that take place and adjust the conditions accordingly. For personal practice this would relate to a healthy lifestyle, good nutrition, and consistent practice. Over time the transformations in the body will take place naturally.
These three centers house what are called the Three Treasures: Jing, Qi, and Shen.
The Three Dan Tian of the Body
The Lower Dan Tien is located about 2-3 inches below the umbilicus and at the center of the body. This center is associated with Jing. Jing is the most coarse substance of the three and relates to the physical body. Jing is often translated into English as sperm and is the origin of life.
The Middle Dan Tien is located in the middle of the chest at about the level of the solar plexus. This center is associated with Qi or Energy. This center also relates to the mind.
The Upper Dan Tien is located in the head and is related to Shen. Shen is thought of as spirit or consciousness.
The Three Treasures (Jing, Qi, and Shen) are all related and can support and transform into each other. They are actually the same substance at different levels of refinement.
Shen is more refined/rarefied Qi.
Qi is more refined/rarefied Jing.
Once Jing becomes abundant it will transform into Qi. Once Qi becomes abundant it will transform into Shen.
The three treasures relate to practice in that they emphasize the physical training first. The body is the same as a container that must be filled from the bottom up. This means that in order to practice safely and avoid problems always start by having a strong physical foundation through training. Once this strong foundation is achieved the mind and spirit will be supported and healthy. With a strong foundation we can achieve higher goals in cultivation. If the foundation of physical work is neglected the energy in the body can become ungrounded.
Qigong for Health and Longevity
Qigong is a Chinese form of exercise that works with the body, mind, and energy. It has been practiced throughout the ages for its' ability to promote good health and longevity. In modern times Qigong is gaining in popularity for these same reasons, but many people might not be aware of how exactly the exercises of Qigong help to promote health and healing.
Qigong Promotes the Circulation of Qi and Blood
The exercises work to break up any stagnation that might exist and to promote the circulation of Qi and blood. The free circulation of Qi and blood is essential for maintaining the health and healing. Even if the body is in a state of health it still must continuously repair and regenerate. Without the necessary elements supplied by the Qi and the blood, these tasks can not happen. By promoting the free circulation of Qi and blood, Qigong helps the body maintain itself and repair itself. This is important even in a healthy individual and can be extremely beneficial for many health conditions.
In addition to providing the material that the body needs to build and repair itself, the free circulation of Qi and blood is also essential for removing the waste material from every aspect of the body. The improper elimination of waste material can also have a detrimental effect of the health. So, the transportation and circulation is important when it is going to and also when it is going away from different parts of the body.
Qigong helps to Relieve Stress and Tension
The movements of the exercises work to twist, extend, and stretch the different parts of the body. These physical actions help to alleviate any tension or stress that might have accumulated. By consistently working the body through the practice of Qigong, these minor tensions are banished before they have a chance to turn into something larger. Beyond the physical relaxation, Qigong also has a positive effect on the mental aspect of the practitioner, with many people reporting that regular practice makes them feel calm and energized.
Deep Breathing has many benefits
The deep breathing of Qigong also has many benefits. It helps to calm the mind and helps the practitioner obtain a state of relaxation. In addition, the physical actions of the breathing actually work to massage the internal organs, stimulating and strengthening them.
Qigong keeps the joints strong and flexible
The exercises work to stimulate the joints of the body. This helps to keep the joints flexible, mobile, and strong. The actions of the joints also ensures that the tissue of the joints receive good circulation, which helps them to stay healthy and repair themselves.
Qigong promotes better digestion and elimination
The physical actions of the exercises and the deep breathing can have a positive effect on the organs of digestion and elimination. This is extremely important because the body gets the energy and nutrients that it needs to maintain and repair itself from the food we eat and the air we breath. When the digestion is functioning at an optimal state, then the body can better extract what it needs from the food that is digested. Elimination is also important because this is how the body gets rid of waste material.
Qigong promotes better sleep
The improved circulation, relaxation, and the regulation of the body's function along with the mental clam that is produced by Qigong practice helps to promote better sleep. There are also some Qigong practices that are a great way to get ready for a night of restful and rejuvenating sleep. Sleep is very important because it plays a vital role in repairing and maintaining the body, along with the regulation of hormones.
Qigong promotes the health of the Central Nervous System
The spine and the Central Nervous System (CNS) are very important in the body. The nerves connect to each and every part of the body and all the internal organs. The healthy function of the CNS is essential for health. Many Qigong movements work to twist and move the spine. This not only helps the spine regain mobility and stay flexible and strong, but it also promotes circulation to every part of the spine and helps to strengthen the function of the CNS.
These are all concrete physical ways in which Qigong Exercise helps to maintain and promote health and longevity. We did not cover anything esoteric or energetic but these also exist along with the physical. The ability for the body to repair and maintain itself is essential and is the basis for developing vibrant health and longevity and also the ability to recover more quickly if a health concern does arise.