Qigong, sometimes rendered as Chi Kung (both pronounced ‘chee goong’), is one of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture, herbalism and massage. Qi is air and breath, but also the vital force that flows throughout the body, and gong is the work or training involved in trying to optimize the flow of Qi to promote good health. Regular Qigong practice is thought to be profoundly beneficial for both mind and body.
There are many different styles and methods of Qigong and even more individual exercises. There is also a system called Neigong – Nei means ‘internal’; gong refers to work. It is difficult to distinguish between Qigong and Neigong, but perhaps it can be said that Qigong practitioners focus on breathing and the flow of Qi around the body, whereas in Neigong, practitioners concentrate on holding static postures or repeating set movements. The routines shown here are basic Qigong exercises starting from thestanding position.
Qigong is the basis of preventative health care in China. Many Chinese people practise Qigong every day, in the belief that it keeps them healthy by enabling Qi to flow smoothly through the body. Qigong masters may advise people who are ill to perform specific Qigong exercises aimed at releasing blocked energy from certain body parts. Qi is thought to be one of the ‘Three Treasures’ of Chinese internal alchemy. The others are Jing, the vital essence that is present in bodily secretions such as semen and saliva, and Shen, the spiritual energy that can be attained when body and mind are in a state of harmony with one another and the universe.
A good flow of Qi (such as that acquired through Qigong practice) is essential for a high level of spiritual energy. Therapeutic Qigong consists of a combination of body positioning, energetic movements, controlled breathing and meditation. In Chinese thought, the seat of the body’s energy is said to lie in thein the lower Tan Tien (pronounced ‘dantien’), which is three finger-widths below the navel and deep inside the body towards the spine. The aim of Qigong exercises is to stimulate or ‘stoke’ the Tan Tien in the lower abdomen, where vital energy is kindled.
Origins of Qigong
Qigong is the oldest of the Chinese exercise disciplines and its origins are shrouded in mystery. References to the concept of Qi in Chinese philosophy can be traced back to the ancient Shang dynasty (1766-1154 BCE). In 1973, an excavation of a Han dynasty (220 BCE-AD 220) tomb unearthed silk paintings of figures performing Qigong.
Qigong Styles and Practices
Although many types of Qigong are largely meditative or therapeutic, hard and vigorous Qigong is used in Chinese martial arts to strengthen the body, and some types of Qigong combine martial, meditative and therapeutic aspects. Some methods of Qigong are not taught until after the student has undergone a ritual initiation ceremony with a master, whereas others are practised openly. The simple act of sitting still for a few minutes and concentrating on breathing can be described as Qigong.
Benefits of Qigong
Qigong can help to improve posture, breathing and concentration, relieving headache, backache, digestive problems, depression, insomnia, anxiety and stress, as well as enhancing overall wellbeing. Studies carried out in China suggest that older people who practise regularly are in better general health and have stronger circulation, breathing andthan those who do not.
Most types of Qigong are designed to improve health, require no special equipment and are suitable for people of all ages andlevels. However, certain types of Qigong are not suitable for everybody and can have unpleasant side-effects if practised incorrectly. People of all ages and levels of fitness can perform the Qigong exercises shown in this section. They are not contra- indicated for any type of health problem, so long as they are practised in a relaxed way at the individual’s own pace. However, as with any new type of exercise, if you have any doubts about its suitability, or if you are pregnant, consult an expert.
The apparent simplicity of Qigong exercises is deceptive; Qigong skills can be practised and improved upon for a lifetime. Learning to be aware of the body’s internal energy flow and then learning to strengthen it are difficult skills to master.
Comfort is essential when practising Qigong – a pair of loose trousers and a t-shirt are suitable. Qigong can be performed barefoot or wearing socks or soft-soled slippers. Trainers are unsuitable because they prevent the feet having contact with the ground – this is considered an important aspect of Qigong practice.
Qigong should be practised regularly – ideally daily – either in a clear space indoors or outside if the air is fresh. It can be practised at any time of day, but most Chinese people practise before breakfast or after work. Allow at least one hour after a meal.
Qigong and its precursors date back over 5000 years. Through the centuries, energy exercises have been developed and refined into the forms of Qigong practised today. The Daoyin Xing Qi Fa, a silk book from c.168 BCE, depicts people performing energy exercises. These often involved imitating animal movements to ward off cold and damp in the winter months.