On Qigong (Chi Kung)
by Kee Hong
Qi (vital energy, life force, bioelectricity, air, breath)
Gong (work, training, practice, achievement, skill)
Qigong is one of the most powerful self-healing traditions ever developed in human history. Qigong, literally, means energy cultivation. Practiced as an integrated mind-body healing therapy for millennia, with profound and remarkable results, Qigong is currently growing in popularity in the West. It is a potent system of energy medicine, a treasured major branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is a complete theoretical and therapeutic system of medicine comprised of various modalities, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, Qigong (Taijiquan) and nutrition. A quarter of the world relies upon TCM, it being the primary venerable health care system, unlike here in North America, where it is regarded as an alternative medicine. TCM originated many thousands of years ago, having evolved into its current contemporary version in China and abroad internationally.
Qigong, a wholistic system of self-healing exercise and meditation, is the art and science of using breath, body, visualization and intentionality to cleanse, strengthen and circulate Qi. Composed of healing postures, movement methods, self-massage, breathing techniques, relaxation, imagery and meditation, Qigong practice contributes to better health care: maintenance, promotion, disease prevention, stress reduction, vitality and tranquility. Based on life, in practice, Qigong is energy enhancement, extension and management, by the harmonious activation of mind and body with breath. One may become more intuitive, more able to feel and sense oncoming disharmony, owing to the synergy of greater self-awareness, increased energetic homeostasis and expanded sensory feedback.
Many forms and schools of Qigong have existed and evolved, coming from a very long history of development (at least 2,500 years). Ancient versions of Qigong may even go as far back as 5,000 years, based on ongoing research and discoveries from Chinese historians and archeologists. Qigong pre-dates the era of earliest written records and materials, in the midst of prehistory, to ancient Chinese shamanistic practices. Indeed, concepts of working with universal life energy have existed in all cultures.
The oldest book in the world, the Yi Jing (I Ching) or Book of Changes discusses the concept of Qi. Within its text, are described the three natural energies or powers (San Cai): Tian (Heaven), Di (Earth) and Ren (Man). At the humanity level, semen (Jing), internal energy (Qi) and mind/spirit (Shen) are the three treasures of the human body.
Laozi (Lao Tzu), legendary founder of Daoism, during the Zhou dynasty, referenced breathing techniques in his classic, Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) or Virtue of The Way Classic, which is among the most popular and profusely translated and re-interpreted books in the world.
"Focus your vital breath until it is supremely soft."
- Laozi, Chapter 54 , Dao De Jing, Mawangdui arrangement
The earliest documented reference to Qigong as a healing exercise was discovered inscribed on twelve pieces of jade from the 6th century B.C.
"In breathing and moving Qi, one holds breathing deeply and it is stored. If it is stored it expands. When it expands it descends. When it descends it becomes stable. When it becomes stable it will solidify. When it converts to solidity it will begin to sprout. After it has sprouted it will grow. When it grows it will retreat. When it retreats it will reach the heaven. Heavenly Qi functions from above and earthly Qi functions from below. Conformity to this leads to life while adverseness to this leads to death."
- Jade Pendant Inscription of Qigong
The 'bible' of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Huangdi Neijing or The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, is China's earliest existing medical classic. In it is stated, 'One must breathe the essence of life, regulate one's respiration to preserve one's vital spirit and keep the muscles relaxed.'
Qi Theory in TCM
Qi is the source of the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Qi creates, permeates and sustains the whole universe, exists in all living things, both indestructable and infinite. The term, Qi, implies the essential activities, processes and substances in the body as well. Qi is the basis of TCM, with the following basic energetic functions: nutrient, warming, protective, promoting and checking. There are generally four types of imbalances relating to dysfunction of Qi: deficiency, stagnation, sinking and rebellion. There are seven kinds of Qi: Breath Qi, Food Qi, Original (Prenatal) Qi, Internal Qi, External Qi, Nutritive Qi, and Protective Qi. Internal Qi refers to Qi in the body. Nutritive Qi flows in the body, mapped by the meridians belonging to and named by the various organs of the body. These are namely, Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardian, Triple Burner, Gall Bladder and Liver. Protective Qi protects the body from external influences (pathogens).
The practice of Qigong regulates and stimulates the functions of the internal organs, through the activation of the meridian system. The TCM definition of health is the active and abundant flow of Qi or energy. Illness arises with the disturbance of Qi flow, either in blockage or diminishment, leading to an excess or deficiency of Qi. TCM diagnostics is involved with the determination and differentiation of the conditions of Qi to apply methods to re-establish the equilibrium and adequate flow of Qi.
Qi flow is directed and controlled by Mind-Intent (Yi). The mind is considered to be both arising from the brain and the heart in TCM. The brain houses one's consciousness and the heart houses the emotive consciousness. Together, they form the Heart-Mind (Xin). The heart is the most powerful electrical organ in the body. It is said, "When the Yi arrives, the Qi arrives." Qigong is a discipline of mental awareness and concentration, harmonizing breath and regulating body through posture and movement. The combined unitive interaction of steady Qigong practice facilitates the realization of the ideal of having a clear sharp mind in a healthy vibrant body. It increases body acuity, steadiness in breath and mental alertness. Qigong can be done in various ways: sitting, lying, standing or moving. However, there can be no effect without awareness and focus. Qigong can only arise from mental engagement with the body. Mind and body are not separate, but interrelated; they influence and reflect each other.
In the TCM paradigm, the doctor facilitates one's health, by preventative means, curing disease before it develops. Allopathic medicine has been largely focused on the curing of disease upon its onset with pharmaceutical means. Economically costly with likely well documented adverse side effects, prescribed drugs may not address issues of the causes of disease, however efficacious, in treating the symptoms. In China, Qigong and Taijiquan are widely used therapeutic exercise treatment tools. When such prevention or early treatment fails, then the physician would follow up with herbal remedies and/or acupuncture. Hospitals in China have departments for Qigong treatment provided by Qigong doctors and masters to aid in the natural healing process.
The history of TCM is replete with great master physicians who were also Qigong masters as well. Hua Tuo, the Father of Chinese Medicine, created the Five Animal Frolics (Wu Qin Xi) . This is a complete set of Qigong exercises modeled after the Crane, Bear, Monkey, Deer and Tiger. The Frolics is the oldest Qigong system still practiced today. In modern times, Hu Yaozhen, widely considered as the Father of Modern Qigong, was the first Chinese doctor to practice TCM at the foreign campus of Harvard University, in Beijing. Hu was the first to apply Qigong to the care of hospital patients. He taught Qigong to many of the top present day teachers and masters of Qigong, including his disciple, Feng Zhiqiang, famed Taijiquan master who created Chen Shi Xinyi Hunyuan Taijiquan (Chen Style Heart-Mind Primordial Taijiquan).
The main energy centre of the body is located within the abdomen, called the Dantian (elixir field). It is also the centre of gravity or mass of the body. The mind can direct Qi to this energy reservoir, which stores and pumps Qi through the body. This elixir field is the seat of long life and wisdom. Most Qigong practices emphasize the cultivation, nurturing and storage of Qi by mental focus on the Dantian battery. This lower abdominal centre has its own potent intelligence, regulating and harmonizing the flow of Qi. There is no action on the body that does not affect this centre. Lower abdominal breathing facilitates a more correct, deeper and efficient breathing from below the diaphragm. The Dantian influences the domain of the body in dynamic balance, the energetic facilitation of Qi, aids proper respiratory, digestive, sexual and eliminative functions and with movement of this area, promotes an internal massage of the organs to increase their potential, function and maintain proper interactions. As in a stagnant pool of water, immobility leads to decreased function and depressed capacity, so too, with the body, mind and internal organs. Prolonged sedentary inactivity is only a poor choice of habit, movement is life promoting and mentally stimulating.
Taijiquan as Qigong
Taijiquan, which is universally well known, is actually considered a type of Qigong. Some Qigong methods exercise specific systems or parts of the body: digestion, nervous system, endocrine system, heart, kidneys, etc., but Taijiquan is a completely balanced whole body/mind exercise. At its zenith of achievement, it is also a high level internal martial art. The internal school or Neijia (Internal Martial Arts) systems include Xingyiquan (Mind and Will Boxing), Taijiquan (Supreme Ultimate Boxing) and Baguazhang (Eight Trigram Palm). In turn, each of these systems have their own methods of both martial and health/medical Qigong systems. Historically, Taijiquan, was created from the synthesis of the best of Ming dynasty martial arts fused with Daoist (Taoist) internal training, breathing techniques and theory.
Hunyuan Taijiquan, created by 18th Generation Grandmaster of Chen Style Taijiquan, Feng Zhiqiang, is the culmination of the best of Chen Family Taijiquan of Grandmaster Chen Fa Ke and Xinyi Liuhequan of Grandmaster Hu Yaozhen. It combines the best of the Neigong (Internal Training) from Xinyi Liuhequan and Chansijin (Silk Reeling) of Chen Style Taijiquan. A treasured highlight of this system is Hunyuan Qigong, a twelve form set composed for the nurturing and promotion of Qi. It is medical Qigong, as these forms circulate the Qi, improve health and bring tranquility to the mind. Hunyuan Qigong is also martial Qigong, teaching the body to unify all the joints in action, expressing coiling spirals through the body fusing Mind-Intent with internal force (Jin) from the Dantian.
Today, we are beset with the stresses and benefits of modern society, presented with an overabundance of choices, deluged in generally negative news, technological information and an ever increasing pace of complexity that challenges our time and attention. The world is a global village with an ever shrinking capacity for our continual excesses and destruction. Never have we been more removed from Nature! An epidemic of chronic and degenerative illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and mental illness is increasing. Prevention, treatment and reversals can arise with prudent choices in lifestyle changes, exercise and self-care therapies to boost robust immune function and improve the quality of life.
Practical healing benefits and stress management are the most popular aspects of Qigong in China today. These realizations are rapidly gaining popularity in the West, as it becomes common knowledge that disease and stress are relieved by meditative and active Qigong practice by calming the mind and relaxing the body. There is growing awareness and acceptance of the wholeness of mind, body and spirit; of the unity of oneself as part of the earth. On the contrary, the Western rational, mechanistic and reductionistic perspective is to separate mind and body; to discount the importance of physical from emotional and psychosocial elements.
Scientific research mostly in China and papers presented at international conferences support and validate Qigong therapy and practice. Studies have been conducted in China for Qigong's impact on arthritis, cancer and overall health. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is an emerging science dealing with the connection between psyche, the nervous system and the immune response. There is evidence that now support notions that mental states have influence on health, that they affect each other. This is shown to work through neuropeptides. The practice of Qigong triggers a vast array of physiological mechanisms which have profound healing benefits, including increased delivery of oxygen to the tissues, enhancement of the elimination of waste products as well as the transportation of immune cells through the lymph system. Doing Qigong shifts the chemistry of the brain and the nervous system. Reported benefits of Qigong exercise on conditions and health problems of the elderly include high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, arthritis and gastrointestinal ailments. Scientific medical research is ongoing here in the West on the positive, effective and low cost benefits of both Taijiquan and Qigong for the amelioration of numerous chronic disorders.
Health is often unappreciated, until it is diminished or lost. True wealth is the strong sense of aliveness, when everything within and without is in optimal function, balance, harmony and vigour. Qigong can be a most useful tool in the active maintenance of good health. Idealistically, traditional wisdom must converge with emergent technologies and new knowledge for the forging of better lifestyle choices in a progressive enlightened society. But we are not there yet.
The evolving state of medicine and health care must perforce address all the best methodologies, interventions and paradigms that work to heal the whole person. Conventional Western medicine is incomplete and in crisis, but no one system however, complex or sophisticated, should dominate nor subvert another, nor lose sight of its purpose, that is to serve. The future of true medicine is an integrative medicine providing the best of conventional, alternative, and complementary systems with a wholistic mind-body approach. Further it must possess an open mindedness, generous heart with rigorous scientific reason and principles.
Kee Hong, D. Ac., Dr. Ac., firstname.lastname@example.org (613) 737 - 3136
Chief Instructor, National Capital Wushu Research Centre (NCWRC)
Chen Shi Xinyi Hunyuan Taijiquan/Modern & Traditional Wushu
20th Generation Disciple of Chen Style Taijiquan
3rd Generation Hunyuan Taijiquan from Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang
7th Dan, Master Level Degree, Confederation of Canadian Wushu Organizations (CCWO)
President, National Capital Chinese Martial Arts Association (NCCMAA)
Vice-President, United Wushu Association of Ontario (UWAO)
Director/Ottawa Representative, Canadian Taijiquan Federation (CTF)
Technical Committee Member, International Lancers Association (ILA)
(Newly Appointed) Board Member, Eastern Canada Chinese Martial Arts Federation (ECCMAF)
Certified International Wushu Coach, International Wushu Federation (IWuF), Beijing
Certified Wushu Training at the Shandong Provincial Martial Arts Academy, Jinan
National Coaching Certification Program Level 2 Coach (NCCP)