Qi Gong

The history of qi gong dates back 5,000 years in China. The I Ching (Book of Changes), written about 1122 BCE, first introduced the idea of qi (vital energy). The idea of man’s relationship with the universe and the integration of the three natural energies – heaven, earth, and man, was explored during this time. The founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, wrote about breathing techniques in his Tao Te Ching. Chinese medicine was evolving now and the ideas of qi, yin and yang, meditation, and exercise systems were important to its development. Buddhism was introduced to China during the Han period, c. 210 CE, and it explored qi gong, breathing and meditation from a religious perspective. It saw developing qi, and striving to control mind, body and spirit as a way to escape the cycle of reincarnation. During the Liang dynasty, (502-557 CE) qi gong became the basis for the development of many different kinds of internal and external martial arts.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China qi gong has increased greatly in popularity, with physicians promoting its use to help maintain health and prevent disease.

Qi gong can be classified into five main traditions: Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist, medical and martial arts. In Chinese history, many TCM physicians were also qi gong masters who contributed to its development over the centuries. Medical qi gong, like TCM,  emphasizes the free flow and balance of qi in the body. Qi gong is one of the four main branches of TCM, the others being acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine.

Today more than 70 million Chinese practice Qi gong as a physical exercise and for its many preventative and rejuvenating health benefits.

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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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Happy Fun Qi Gong – Part 1

**This article originally appeared as “Happy Fun Qigong.”Qi JournalVol. 25, No 3, Autumn 2015.**

By John Voigt

The Body Heals With Play. The Mind Heals With Laughter. The Spirit Heals With Joy.

— Chinese Proverb

Qi Gong for Health : Chinese Medicine Livingthis adorable image from fanpop.com

Introduction

The goal of my qigong teachings is to have people experience and enjoy the benefits of qi-energy. Depending on the group’s potential for playfulness, I usually interject various Happy Fun Qigong gymnastics and visualizations to liven up the sessions. Several of these are described below.

Preparation

GROUND – CENTER – RISE UP – SMILE

Grounding. I tell the group to feel the gravity of Mother Earth grounding and supporting us, connecting us to her. Together we visualize roots growing down from our feet deeply into the earth and drawing up its nourishing yin energy.

Centering. We breathe down into our lower belly, the body’s center of gravity. We do this nice and easy, slowly, deeply, silently.

Rising up. Keeping our heads straight, and chins slightly tucked in, we straighten our backs and remaining rooted to the earth and breathing calmly and deeply, we feel our head, neck, and upper shoulders rise up toward the heavens. I say things like, “Feel the strength filled yang energy of the sun and stars enter you and protect you.”

Smile enigmatically like the Mona Lisa.

Qi Gong for Health : Chinese Medicine Livingthis image of the Mona Lisa from the Wikipedia commons

Doing this secures and increases all we have just experienced from Grounding-Centering-Rising up.

This entire procedure only takes a few minutes to do. It cleans and increases the amount of qi throughout the body and brings about the sensations of our being interconnected with the entire universe.

Experiencing (Self) Love.

You can not fully love others until you have first learned to love yourself. I tell the group. “Close your eyes and look inside yourself at your heart. Have it be in the center of your upper chest, in about the location the heart chakra of the yogis. Have it be a happy smiling heart. Silently tell it, I love you.

Have it look back at you and imagine hearing it say, I love you too.” Repeat this several times.

Doing this visualization usually produces a flood of warm loving qi that flows out from the Heart and fills the entire body. I call it “Qi with a Love Spin.” This experience is absolutely wonderful. You can see the love-qi radiating from the faces of those experiencing it.

If the group is advanced, I might ask them fill the space around all of us with this radiating love energy. The participants can now freely move around in it, improvising their own spontaneous qigong forms by themselves, or with other members of the group.

Let’s Wake Up (or) Slapping the Sleepy Walrus.

Qi Gong for Health : Chinese Medicine LivingThis lovely photo from Pixdaus, photo by Fredrik Odman

Many people come to qigong sessions wanting to gain a quick energetic wake me up, or pick me up. Raising my left eyebrow, and putting on a trickster expression I ask, Who wants a jolt of wake up super qi? And is it okay if I touch you? (with such intimate work the director should always ask permission to touch, or to send qi to anyone.) It won’t hurt much, just a little bit — (that captures their attention every time). I go to the ones who bravely volunteered and ask if they have any health issues, especially in their upper body and or heart. If they are physically fit, I quickly and sharply slap the sides of their shoulders once — not too hard, but hard enough for them to feel it.

This immediately gets the qi flowing and wakes them up. Then I offer the same to anyone who wants it. Usually, I have some takers. I might explain that most problems happen because qi (or life energy) is blocked and qigong can open up these blockages. I ask the slapped ones if they feel the qi moving in them now? They usually do. Or at least they feel something that could be called qi, or at least a manifestation of qi.

Lubricating the Joints.

I begin this gymnastic by asking the group to, “Wiggle your fingers, then squeeze them hard around an imaginary tennis ball. Now wiggle them again.” After they have done this several times I tell them, “Now have your wiggling fingers turn into the hands of a concert piano virtuoso, with fingers, hands, arms and hair wildly swinging all over the place — like Franz Liszt the 19th-century romantic era genius superstar composer and concert pianist. Then comes, “Now turn your piano fingers into spider fingers; then into two crazy racing centipedes.”

This practice opens the six energy meridians (which begin or end in each of the fingertips), the Lung, Large Intestine, Pericardium, Triple Burner, Heart, and Small Intestine. Five more meridians begin or end in the toes and one more on the bottoms of the feet. So in addition to the hands, possibly wiggle, squeeze and shake the feet and toes.

Another Happy Fun joint lubrication is Hip Rotations—I also call them Hula Hoops. It is a version of a Hawaiian religious dance that smooths out and increases what the Kahunas, or priests, called mana—a combination of qi energy mixed with muscular strength.

Doing the Hula Hoops releases our hidden inner child as it tones the abdominal muscles and lubricates the joints in the hips and upper thigh bones. We don’t actually use physical hula hoops, although I have seen qigong done that way. We Hula Hoopers by the White just rotate our hips in circles, first one way then the other. Keep the back straight, but not stiff, with the hands on the hips or wherever else they feel good to be. And remember the basic rule of Happy Fun Qigong: if it feels good to do then do it. If it does not feel good, STOP!

More Happy Fun Gymnastics.

Qi Gong for Health & Happiness : Chinese Medicine LivingThis joyful image from vineyardchurch.com

These gymnastics are not necessarily meant to be done all in one session. Instead, they are like possible selections on a menu from which a qigong presenter may pick and choose. For maximum benefits, movements should be performed slowly with deep, silent and consciously aware breathing.

These gymnastics are not necessarily meant to be done all in one session. Instead, they are like possible selections on a menu from which a qigong presenter may pick and choose. For maximum benefits, movements should be performed slowly with deep, silent and consciously aware breathing.

Going in the opposite direction qigong, or Freeing Our Inner Grumpy-Grouch.

I tell the group something like this, “Let’s do qigong the Wrong Way! That way we’ll all see how this qigong stuff works.”

Anyone with health, breathing or heart issues should just watch this from the sidelines. Now get the meanest frown that you can get and stick it on your face. Crunch over so you can hardly breathe. Now complain about anything, everything. ‘The world is going to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never seen it so bad. Everything is so yucky.’ If you people don’t know what words to say try making noises and sounds of an old grump: uggg, yuk, phooey! Make some disgusted gestures with your hands. You know the one when you raise your limp hand and drop it at someone like you’re saying, ‘Get that out of my face.’ Continue complaining, ‘I can’t breathe, I’m dying. I’ve never seen it so bad, I’ve never felt so bad. I feel like a rotten piece of meat being overcooked in a dirty frying pan.’ ”

Of course, many of our “complainers” will be breaking out in laughter as we reveal our cantankerous, crotchety, cranky, grumpy selves. But that offers you, the director, a way to increase the silliness by going up to the laughing per- son and frowning and shaking a finger of guilt in their direction, telling them something like, “Stop laughing, there’s nothing to laugh about, we’re all grumpy grouches here!”

We don’t want to do this for too long, just a few minutes is enough to make the point. Then you the director loudly clap your hands and shout “Stop! Now check out how you feel. Notice that the energy in your body and brain seems stuck. Well it is stuck. We’ve just been doing a pretend “bad” qigong. Now let’s do it the good way. Let’s take some really deep breaths and exhale with a nice full “ahh.” Now Close your eyes. Picture this: the weather couldn’t be better. A peaceful sunrise in early spring and the overnight clouds are breaking. It is a perfect Feng Shui setting: You are standing on a mountain and a beautiful lake is right before you. All is silent except for the peaceful sounds of singing birds. Inhale fully, slowly, deeply, smoothly, silently as you lift your arms up, and as if you were a swan flying in slow motion, bring your arms out horizontally to your sides. Exhale and bring your arms and hands back into your upper chest. Let your hands sink grace- fully down. Pause for a moment then again inhale and raise your hands back up to the upper chest and once again unfurl your “wings.” Do this routine for several minutes.

I finish by telling them to open their eyes. Then I ask, Was there any difference in the way the Grumpy-Grump and the Feng Shui visualizations felt for you? It’s obvious what their answers will be.

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