This is the time of year when we want to throw out the old and try something new; new food, new hobbies, new routines, new exercises. So why not try Qigong. Although Qigong has been around in Asia for thousands of years, dating back to China in 2356 BC, it has still to gain popularity in the western world. Taijiquan, also known as tai chi, is probably the most common form of Qigong and is, in fact, practiced by 20 percent of the world, more than 10 million people in China, which makes it, according to many, the most preferred exercise on the planet.
What does Qigong mean? Well, qi means energy, or life force, the power that flows through every living thing; gong translates as “work” or “benefits acquired through perserverance or practice”. Any form of exercise, mental or physical, which encourages qi to flow can be considered Qigong. It can be meditation, medicine or martial art. It can be done sitting, standing still, lying down (tranquil or passive Qigong) or moving (dynamic or active Qigong). In ancient China Qigong was a medical treatment of choice. Only if that failed was the patient then prescribed acupuncture and/or herbal medicine.
In Taipei Taiwan this month a doctor from Taipei City Hospital’s Department of Chinese Medicine announced that Qigong is one of the oldest and most economical ways of maintaining good health. It is most definitely one which can be done with the minimum of expense. No special equipment, no special clothing or shoes are required. It can be practised alone or with others, in any kind of weather and in a relatively small space. You can even travel with it! What other exercise can boast such claims? The fundamentals are easy to learn. An example is abdominal breathing, in which the lower abdomen expands like a balloon filling with air on an inhale and deflating on an exhale. This relaxes and encourages qi to flow and is the first step to regulating qi flow in the body. Breathing in this way brings qi to the lower dan tien, also known as qi hai (ocean of energy), an acupuncture point (Ren 6) just below the navel. Here is said to be the body’s reservoir of stored qi which can be directed to specific parts of the body for health maintenance and healing.
There are many different styes and forms of Qigong, in fact there is an exercise for every single ailment or illness. Each form is practiced to cultivate and strengthen qi not only through physical movement but also through use of the mind. Qi is mainly manipulated through intent or mental concentration. Action is said to follow thought, and concentration on a point or area of the body will help direct qi to that area. A simple way to test this theory is to try the following:
Rub the palms of the hands together for a few seconds. This will relax and warm them. Then visualize energy entering the hand you favor the most, usually this is the one you write with. You may feel a warm tingling sensation similar to pins and needles, or a cool prickly sensation. This means energy is being built up in the hand. If you don’t feel anything the first time you do this, don’t worry, just keep visualizing and focusing for a longer period at different times of the day until you do feel something. You can then practice guiding the energy to different parts of the hand – into one finger at a time perhaps. After that try directing energy into the other hand or into an arm or even an area you have had pain in. Energy is heat which relaxes and in turn heals.
A healthy flow of qi is the basis of good health in Oriental medicine but is not easy to maintain in our modern society where speed and multitasking seem to be the norm. Qigong is an ideal exercise to help us to slow down and achieve balance of body, mind and qi because of its focus on breath regulation and gentle movements. Unlike yoga, where the body is placed into asanas or positions which may feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar to the beginner, Qigong movements are natural and effortless. As with other exercises, however, there are some rules or guidelines to follow, but because most Qigong techniques are so gentle and meditative, it is one of the safest self-healing systems in the world. Remembering to always practice with moderation, relaxation, patience and intuition will ensure that healthy qi is conserved and increased in harmony with mind and body.
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