Why We Should All Do Qi Gong

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I suspect we have all seen the groups of elderly Chinese in parks, moving gracefully in unison, seeming to be listening to something that cannot be heard by the rest of us. I have this memory as a child, living across from a huge park I would go out to walk the dog and sit in the grass, watching them. They were so beautiful, moving all together, like a flock of birds, communicating by some unseen force, many individuals, moving as one.

I later would discover that this was Qi Gong.

A Brief History of Qi Gong

Qi Gong has been practiced in China for thousands of years. Its purpose was to build the body’s internal energy or qi to promote health and fight disease. In 1122BC the I-Ching or book of changes was one of the first books to introduce the idea of qi. People used the concept of the universe to explain the laws of nature which was seen to be an integration of three fundamental energies – heaven above, earth below and man between them, joining the two. Studying the relationship between the three was the first step in the development of Qi Gong. During the Zhou Dynasty (1100-221BC), Lau Tzu, founder of Taoism, wrote about breathing techniques in his famous book the Tao De Jing. Interest in qi was heightened, and Qi Gong became an integral part of the development of traditional Chinese medicine along with concepts like yin and yang and the theory of the five elements.

Later, duning the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD) Buddhist meditation techniques arrived in China from India, integrating meditation with Qi Gong practice. Buddhist practitioners worked to cultivate their qi, strengthen their internal organs and control mind, body and spirit to achieve enlightenment and avoid the cycle of reincarnation.

It was during the Liang dynasty (502 – 577AD) qi gong was integrated into martial arts. This was a powerful union, as external martial arts like kung fu with its quick, explosive movements with an emphasis on strength, power, agility and flexibility, joined with the internal art of Qi Gong which focusses on using mindful breathing to strengthen the body, cultivate the mind and spirit, prevent and cure disease and increase longevity. Qi Gong practices were also introduced from other countries including Japan, India and Korea as information passed more freely from country to country.

Qi Gong developed into many traditions, each having its own purpose and methods. Below is a brief description of each.

Buddhist Qi Gong

Aims to liberate the mind, cultivate virtue and to obtain enlightening wisdom. The human body is considered a tool for attaining enlightenment. (84000 approaches mentioned in history; most popular type of Qi Gong.)

Taoist Qi Gong

Stresses preservation of the physical body and high virtue. Many Taoist Qi Gong masters enjoyed long lives. (3600 approaches are mentioned throughout its history.)

Confucian Qi Gong

Aims to promote high moral character and intelligence

Medical Qi Gong

Medical Qi Gong emphasizes the free flow and balance of qi (vital energy) in the body. The primary purpose is to treat illness or cure a disease. Medical practitioners learn how to use the inner qi for diagnosis and healing.

Martial Arts Qi Gong

Trains the body for protection from cuts by weapons or attacks using the four limbs. It also trains the body to deliver fatal blows enhanced with qi.

There are basically two ways to practice Qi Gong. One is with a series of gentle movements, or sets, where one moves systematically through the set, smoothly transitioning from one movement to the next, concentrating on the breathing and mindful awareness. The other is to practice Qi Gong by standing, sitting or lying  also paying close attention to the breath. This focus on breathing is to strengthen the immune, digestive and circulatory systems as well as strengthening qi and gaining an awareness of what is happening inside the body and mind. It is most effective when practiced outside, being connected to nature and the cosmos, which  is why it is so common to see groups of people practicing it in parks and outdoor spaces.

The doctor of Chinese medicine learns these practices so that he may cultivate his qi, developing an awareness of both his qi and the qi in everything around him. This leads to the ability to diagnose and restore balance in his patients using all of the tools in his Chinese medicine toolkit, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, cupping, tuina and guasha.

Qi Gong is an excellent way to develop an awareness of your own internal energy and become more sensitive to that energy if it becomes unbalanced. It is also an avenue to restore that balance when it should arise. It is a practice that emcompasses all parts of our being, helping us to become more aware and with skill, to maintain a healthy body, mind and spirit.  

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