|What is Qigong?
Qi (chee) is the energy in and around your body: qi to our bodies is like electricity to an appliance --without it, we don't function. A full supply of qi flowing freely through the body is necessary for optimum emotional and physical and emotional health and vitality.
Qi is a Chinese word, but the Chinese didn't invent qi--they've just been studying it a few thousand years. They developed ways to get more qi and balance the qi they had. These methods all fall under the term "qigong". The word "gong" refers to the process of spending time working at a discipline to derive benefit. The word qigong is as general as "yoga" or "martial arts": just as there are many forms of yoga and of martial arts, there are many (over 3,000) forms of qigong. For some time now we have known that various forms of qigong have been practiced for at least 5,000 years, although now there is reason to believe qigong may have been practiced for as long as 10,000 years.
Qigong is practiced by millions of people all over the world--more people worldwide practice some form of qigong more than any other physical art, including yoga and tai chi.
Qigong is the foundation of Chinese medicine, and is one of Chinese medicine's primary components (the others being acupuncture, herbalism, massage and classical Chinese feng shui). Qigong is also the foundation of martial arts. Taiji (tai chi) is a form of qigong. Yoga is related to qigong. (In India, qi is called shakti.) Reiki is a Japanese method of working with the body's vital energy, and aikido is a Japanese martial art that works extensively with qi (the "ki" in reiki and aikido is the Japanese word for qi).
The goals of qigong are the same as the other branches of Chinese medicine:
...which together add up to qigong's larger goal: to create an environment in the body conducive to self-healing, so that the practitioner can achieve and maintain physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
How does qigong work? Qigong offers an effective way to supplement health care regimens and return to an optimal state of well-being. Regular qigong practice has been scientifically proven in studies all over the world to cure and prevent illness. Once health is regained, qigong becomes an anti-aging technique and a discipline to balance the emotions and explore the potentials of the mind. How does this happen? It happens for one very simple reason: the condition of the physical body is a direct result of the condition of the energetic body. Change the quality of the energy in and around the body and the physical body works to "match" that quality. Illness is present at the energetic level long before it ever manifests on the physical level. Practicing qigong on a regular basis improves the energy so the body can improve too.
One of the primary tenets of qigong is: the mind is made of qi. We are accustomed in our culture to thinking that the brain is synonymous with the mind. In reality, the brain is analogous to our computer's hardware. The mind constitutes the "software" for the brain.
Another primary tenet of qigong is: qi attracts qi.
Put these two tenets together and you have the explanation of how qigong works: Where the mind goes, the qi flows. The mind is made of qi, and qi attracts qi. The mind also determines our intent, which gives qigong practice a powerful boost. If the practitioner thinks of an acupuncture point, say in the palm of the hand, part of his or her mental qi (called "shen" in Chinese) physically goes to the palm. Then qi from the environment around the practitioner gravitates to his or her palm, attracted by the qi that is already there. We can apply this principle in describing one of the simplest ways to practice qigong: simply focus the mind on lower dan tian (the energy reserve in the lower abdomen). When the practitioner thinks of lower dan tian, the mental qi (called "shen" in Chinese) physically goes to that area of the body, attracting more qi to come into that area to accumulate and be stored there. This is an example of what is called "static qigong."
Qigong practice is divided into two categories: static and dynamic. In static qigong there is no visible external movement. In dynamic qigong there is visible external movement. An example of static qigong is seated meditation during which the practitioner focuses the mind on the fundamental energy reserve in the body, called the "lower dan tian", located in the lower abdomen between the bladder and the rectum.
An example of dynamic qigong is movement meditation during which the practitioner, standing upright (or sitting down, depending on the practitioner's mobility) moves parts of the body and focuses the mind to move qi into, out of or through the body.
The emphasis in qigong practice is 70-80% mental work, and 30-20% physical work. What this means is that we could practice dynamic qigong without ever moving our body, simply by sitting or lying down and visualizing ourselves doing the movements--and we would still get the energetic benefits of practice. Many people begin to practice qigong during chronic or critical illness. While many of these students begin by doing many of the movements only in their minds, over time their bodies are affected by the practice energetically and gradually gain the ability to add the physical aspect. For those of us who are able to practice physically, we use the physical movements in dynamic qigong to reinforce the intention and effect of the visualization and to help us keep our mind on what we're doing: cultivating our qi for the benefit of our physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Note: The word "qigong" most often refers a form that a person practices to increase the reserve of qi, tonify the internal organs, regulate all the systems of the body, and so forth. This is internal qigong. Internal qigong is the term referring to any practice done by the practitioner for his or her own benefit. There is another branch of qigong, called external qigong, which consists of treatment performed by a qigong healer when s/he emits qi to a patient. External qigong supports and boosts the effects of internal qigong practice, but for best effectiveness should not be used as a substitute for internal practice.
Taiji (tai chi) is actually a type of qigong. Qigong practice falls into two general categories: static (without visible external movement) and dynamic (with external movement). Taiji is an internal martial art, using qi as the source of the practitioner's power rather than simply muscular strength. This is the most dynamic type of qigong practice.
Qigong in its non-martial applications is older than taiji. While both have their origins in ancient China, taiji is considered to have begun its development in the 12th century. Some of the earliest known rock paintings depicting qigong practices date from 1028 B.C. At that time however, and up until the 20th century, qigong was known as "dao-yin" ("leading and guiding the energy"). The term "tai ji" refers to the ancient Chinese cosmological concept of the interplay between two opposite yet complimentary forces (yin and yang) as the foundation of creation. "Quan" literally means fist and refers to an unarmed method of combat. Taiji quan is based on the principle of the soft overcoming the hard.
Qigong practice benefits taiji practitioners by accelerating the cultivation of their qi, the source of their art's power. Qigong "warm-ups" are often part of a taiji class for this reason. Qigong also clears blockages along the channels in the body that qi flows through, increasing the practitioner's awareness, intuition, and overall martial ability.
Qigong and yoga are the two most widely practiced healing methods in the world today. This is not a coincidence, as the correspondence between them is historic.
Yoga was developing in India at the same time that qigong was developing in China. Some yogic techniques were brought to China by Buddhist monks in the first centuries AD and yogic pilgrims who had travelled to China were bringing Daoist techniques of meditation and qigong back to India. By the sixth century the philosophy of Sankhya (the Hindu philosophical base of yoga) had been translated into Chinese.
At the same time, the king of Kamarupa was ordering the Dao De Jing (the philosophical foundation of qigong) be translated into Sanskrit. In India, qi is known as shakti. In qigong, one of the goals is to accumulate more qi through simple breathing, movement and mental techniques. This corresponds to the yogic goal of accumulating more shakti through pranayama (breathing) and asana (postures) practice. Just as students of yoga are taught to conserve shakti, students of qigong are taught to conserve their qi.
Qigong practice benefits yoga practitioners by helping them accumulate vital life force energy without using what they have already accumulated, leaving them with more with which to practice yoga. Qigong increases flexibility, stamina and strength, quiets the mind, and has the potential to trigger spiritual growth--all central to yoga practice.
Qigong is a "daily prescription." Just as one would take a prescribed medication on a daily basis to cause change in the physical body, qigong needs to be practiced every day to achieve the desired results.* For some students, the goal is increased physical energy and a better outlook on life. Others practice to take more control of their health: normalizing blood pressure, improving sleep or sexual function, strengthening digestion, and relieving recurrent headaches are just a few examples of the basic health issues that can be resolved through daily qigong practice.
And then there are the students who practice to save their own lives. Soaring Crane Qigong has been proven to be the most effective qigong form (for the time committment required to practice) for treatment and prevention of reoccurrence of cancer. Professor Chen Huixian, lineage holder of multiple qigong forms including Soaring Crane Qigong, came to qigong for this very reason. She had been diagnosed with late stage metastatic breast cancer with a bleak prognosis; practice of Soaring Crane Qigong quite literally saved her life, and that was over twenty years ago. Many students with other forms of chronic and critical illness (such as Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Lupus, HIV/AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Diabetes) have also found relief from, and often reversal of, their illnesses.
But how do students cultivate a daily practice? Some students enter training ready and willing to set aside the time each day necessary to begin practice. For others it can be more challenging to get started and stay with it. What follows are commonly perceived obstacles to cultivating a daily practice and some ideas on how to overcome them.
The first perceived obstacle most students encounter is lack of knowledge about how to practice. Even for the beginning student, however, there are five basic qigong techniques that can be learned and put into practice immediately.
The first is simply "mind on lower dan tian." This fundamental qigong principle is so important, Master Zhao Jinxiang of Soaring Crane Qigong goes so far as to define qigong as keeping the mind on lower dan tian. Every moment you focus on your lower dan tian, you are training the mind to have greater discipline. At the same time, qi is flowing into it to be stored for later use. This practice falls into the category of "24-hour Qigong:" if you ask a master of qigong how often s/he practices, s/he is likely to answer "24 hours a day." To the novice, this answer might be a startling one, with images of the master practicing a formal qigong form all day and all night coming to mind. Rather, what the master likely means is that s/he maintains a constant "qigong state of mind," whether that is keeping the mind on lower dan tian, breathing in an intentional way, acting kindly to all s/he comes in contact with, or other simple qigong-related practices.
Next is "tip of the tongue on the upper palate." There are two major channels in the body through which the flow of qi helps to regulate all the functions of the body: the Governor Vessel (Du Mai, running from Wei Lu, or GV-1, to the frenulum, on the gum just under the upper lip) and the Conception Vessel (Ren Mai, running from Hui Yin, or CV-1, to Cheng Jiang, or CV-24, in the crevice of the chin below the lower lip). There is a break in the connection between the two channels which is bridged by placing the tip of the tongue on the upper palate. Doing this as often as s/he thinks of it will help the new student to cultivate the flow of qi along this pathway, which is known in Chinese Medicine as "The Microcosmic Orbit" or "Small Heavenly Orbit." This technique is also effective in helping to train the mind to be more under the student's control.
Third, there is a simple breathing technique that is suitable for a student of any form of qigong to practice. Inhaling, visualizing fresh qi flowing into the body through the pores and acupoints, and exhaling, visualizing spent qi flowing back out of the body through the pores and acupoints is an ancient way of "exchanging qi with the universe. Also a foundation-level practice, this method is so important that Master Wang Zhezhong of Turtle Longevity Qigong goes so far as to define qigong as exchanging qi with the universe. It is another "24 Hour Qigong" technique that can be practiced easily anytime the student thinks of it.
Fourth, there is usually a simple mudra (hand position) that is either associated with or compatible with the qigong form the student is learning. As soon as the student learns what the mudra is, s/he can begin incorporating it into his or her daily life.
The fifth skill may be the most challenging to put into practice but will come more and more naturally as the student incorporates it: remaining relaxed. Relaxation is in part a physical qigong practice--that of remaining physically supple, without muscular tension--but more importantly, it is a social practice. Master Wang Zhezhong of Turtle Longevity Qigong has an insightful perspective on true relaxation: to remain truly relaxed, one must have virtue. Master Wang's definition of virtue is composed of three principles: kindness, sincerity, and love. "Only when you have this virtue can you be truly relaxed," says Master Wang. Applying virtue as consistently as possible to his or her daily interpersonal interactions is a fundamental practice for all qigong practitioners, from novice student to master level teacher.
Another interpretation of virtue is morality. Professor Chen Huixian has stated that morality is "the mother of qigong."** Professor Chen consistently advises her students to "be a good person," and to "do good things for other people;" indeed, Professor Chen's personal mission in teaching qigong is to aid the spiritual growth of all people so that the world will be better able to adjust to its current spiritual evolution.
Once knowledge is acquired, the student must become skilled using the techniques. It takes time and discipline to derive benefit from qigong practice, but the benefits are worth working toward. Skill is only a perceived obstacle because a student can practice the techniques s/he has learned regardless of skill level. Students should try not to feel discouraged because they does not feel they are "good at" a given technique or form, but rather have confidence that they will progress in skill naturally with continued practice.
To acquire skill requires discipline. Fortunately, qigong practice naturally cultivates self-discipline in its practitioners. One reason for this is that qigong practice strengthens the qi of the internal organs. The liver qi supplies us with the impetus to initiate action; the spleen qi gives us the motivation to complete what we initiate; and the strength of the kidney qi plays a prominent role in determining our overall will to do what we desire.
Discipline also comes with practice because with practice come the benefits of qigong. The more a student practices, the more s/he will experience the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits qigong yields. The more a student experiences how s/he is changing and growing, the more motivation there will be to practice. Additionally, through this process comes sheer enjoyment: qigong is so relaxing and pleasurable to practice, students will find themselves wanting to practice, rather than feeling that they "should" practice.
Madame Liu He, co-founder of Ling Gui International Healing Qigong School, has stated that "In the beginning, you practice qigong. Later, qigong practices you." This is a good way of describing the transition from discipline to desire that each student experiences in his or her own way on the qigong path.
This is a big one! How often do qigong teachers hear their beginning students say "I don't have time to practice." Later, as a student begins to experience the benefits and joy of qigong practice, "I don't have time to practice" gradually gives way to "How can I find more time to practice?"
When a student feels s/he does not have time to devote on a daily basis to practice, good questions to ask are: how much time do you think you need? How much time do you have? Often, a qigong form that requires 30 to 60 minutes to practice can be daunting to get started practicing on a daily basis. Many forms have shorter and longer versions that can be practiced; if your form does not have a component or version short enough that you feel you have the time each day to practice, you might try the following eight week plan to developing your daily practice:
If you practiced 15 minutes during week 5, increase your time to 20 minutes.
If you practiced focusing on lower dan tian for 20 minutes during week 6, increase your time to 30 minutes during week 7.
If you focused on lower dan tian for 30 minutes during week 7, begin to practice a short version of your form during week 8, and increase the time you practice on a weekly basis until you are practicing the full version of your form (aim to do this by week 12).
If you are a Tiantian School of Qigong student and would like an eight week plan specific to your form, this is available by sending an email message to Kris.
Intermediate/Advanced Students and Certified Instructors
But what of those of us who have completed a measure of training, have been practicing for a few years, and have perhaps become teachers? For teachers it is especially important to keep a daily practice. Teachers face a unique set of challenges. We need to keep our own qi strong enough so that the qi we use to teach is not a drain. We need to "practice what we are teaching" to our students: we cannot expect our students to practice daily if we are not. And there is another, more subtle dynamic at work. Madame Liu He puts it bluntly: "If you stop practicing, all your students will go away."
For those of us who have experienced the deep healing and serene joy a daily qigong practice cultivates, why would it be difficult to find the motivation to continue? In a recent conversation with Professor Chen Huixian, she mentioned one possibility. One of Professor Chen's students told her that she had received a message from an ascended master saying that qigong is the highest form of self-love. Chen was delighted to hear this, and said to me that in this context it's no surprise we falter in our practice, because we don't always feel that we deserve our own love.
My own way of reminding myself of the importance of daily practice derives from the airline safety reminder we hear before each flight: if the oxygen masks should be released, passengers are directed to put on their own masks prior to helping someone else. In the words of another instructor, when I asked her whether she had been keeping up her practice: "Of course--I'm no good to anyone without it!"
*The name of our qigong school, "Tiantian Qigong," means "every day qigong"--referencing both this need for daily practice and qigong's "everyday" nature: practicing qigong is a form of self-care analagous to bathing, brushing teeth and other daily "hygiene" habits.
**Solala Towler's interview with Professor Chen, which appears in his book "A Gathering of Cranes," is entitled "Morality is the Mother of Qigong." The book is an invaluable source of qigong wisdom, gathered through interviews with some of the most important qigong teachers of our time; for more information on this book please visit The Abode of the Eternal Tao's web site at http://www.abodetao.com.
Kris' top five books for a qigong student:
1) The textbook for your qigong form; ask your teacher.
2) Listen to Your Body: The Wisdom of the Dao, Dr. Bisong Guo & Dr. Andrew Powell, University of Hawaii Press, 2001 (isbn #0-8248-2466-0)
3) Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life, Gail Reichstein, Kodansha International, 1998 (isbn #1-56836-209-9)
4) Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, Paul Pitchford, North Atlantic Books, 1993 (isbn#1-55643-220-8)
5) Dao De Jing (also romanized as Tao Te Ching): the Dao De Jing is the second most widely translated book in the world (second only to the Bible), so Kris' recommendation is go to a bookstore that has as many as possible and compare chapters between translations to find the one with the language that appeals to you. Someday perhaps our dear Dr. Charles Wu will come out with his own...
Qi and Qigong
Note: There is a textbook available for Soaring Crane Qigong, Turtle Longevity Qigong, Essence Qigong, Awakening Light Gong, 1000 Hands Buddha, written by the master of the respective form and translated into English. The textbook for your form is the best source of information on qigong as it relates to the form you are practicing.
Listen to Your Body: The Wisdom of the Dao, Dr. Bisong Guo & Dr. Andrew Powell, University of Hawaii Press, 2001 (isbn #0-8248-2466-0)
Qigong: Miracle Healing From China, Charles T. McGee, MD with Effie Poy Yew Chow, Medipress, 1994 (isbn #0-963-69795-1)
Raising Human Frequencies: The Way of Chi and the Subtle Bodies, Fabien Maman with Cynthia Reber Maman, Tama Do Press, 1997 (isbn #0-9657714-1-5)
A Brief History of Qi, Zhang Yu Huan & Ken Rose, Paradigm Publications, 2001 (isbn #0-912111-63-1)
The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing, Kenneth Cohen, Ballantine Books, 1997 (isbn #0-345-39529-8)
Qi Healing: The Way to a New Mind and Body, Toshihiko Yayama, MD, Kodansha Books, 1999
Cultivating the Energy of Life (Hui-Ming Ching) Liu Hua-Yang, translated by Eva Wong, Shambhala Books, 1998 (isbn #1-57062-342-2)
The Essence of Qigong: A Handbook of Qigong Theory and Practice, Ke Yun Lu, Abode of the Eternal Tao, 1998 (isbn #0-9649912-1-7)
Author Mantak Chia has written several excellent books on qigong, with special emphasis on the microcosmic orbit.
magazine: Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness, Insight Publishing, Anaheim Hills, CA
Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life, Gail Reichstein, Kodansha International, 1998 (isbn #1-56836-209-9)
The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine (Neijing Suwen), Translated by Maosheng Ni, Ph.D., Shambhala Books, 1995 (isbn #1-57062-080-6)
Who Can Ride the Dragon? An Exploration of the Cultural Roots of Traditional Chinese, Medicine Zhang Yu Huan & Ken Rose, Paradigm Publications, 1999 (isbn #0-912111-59-3)
Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, Lonny S. Jarrett, Spirit Path Press, 1998 (isbn #0-9669916-0-5)
Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, Ballantine Books, 1991 (isbn #0-345-37974-8)
The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted Kaptchuk, Congdon & Weed, 1983 (isbn #0-8092-2933-1Z)
Grasping the Wind: An Exploration into the Meaning of Chinese Acupuncture Point Names, Andrew Ellis, Nigel Wiseman, Ken Boss, Paradigm Publications, 1989 (isbn #0-912111-19-4)
Biographies and Documentaries on Qigong and Qigong Masters
A Gathering of Cranes: Bringing the Tao to the West, Solala Towler, Abode of the Eternal Tao, 1996 (isbn #0-9649912-0-9)
Mastering Miracles: The Healing Art of Qigong as Taught by a Master, Dr. Liu Hong with Paul Perry, Warner Books, 1997 (isbn #0-446-52030-6)
Encounters with Qi: An American Doctor's Firsthand Observations of Qi and the Qigong Masters Who Use it to Heal, David Eisenberg MD with Thomas Lee Wright, Penguin Books, 1987 (isbn #0-14-009427-X)
Other Energy-Based Healing Modalities
Shaman Healer Sage: How to Heal Yourself and Others with the Energy Medicine of the Americas, Alberto Villoldo, Harmony Books, 2000 (isbn #0-609605445)
MAP: Medical Assistance Program, Machaelle Small Wright, Perelandra Ltd., 1994 (isbn #0-927978-19-9)
Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, Paul Pitchford, North Atlantic Books, 1993 (isbn#1-55643-220-8)
Conscious Eating, Gabriel Cousins, M.D., North Atlantic Books, 2000 (isbn# 1-55643-285-2)
Prescription for Nutritional Healing, James F. Balsch, M.D. and Phyllis A. Balsch, C.N.C., Avery Books, 1997 (isbn# 0-89529-727-2)
Healthy Healing: A Guide to Self-Healing for Everyone, Linda Rector Page, N.D., Ph.D., Healthy Healing Publications, 1998 (isbn# 1-884334-85-7)
Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching), Lao Zi; many translations and interpretations available.
Zhuangzi: Basic Writings, translated by Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 2003 (isbn #0231129599)
Yi Jing (I Ching); many translations and interpretations are available.
The Taoist Inner View of the Universe and the Immortal Realm, Ni Hua-ching, The Shrine of the Eternal Breath of Tao, 1979 (isbn# 0-937064-02-5)
Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women, translated and edited by Stephen Cleary, North Atlantic Books, 1996 (isbn# 1-55643-222-4)
The Tao of Pooh Benjamin Hoff, Penguin Books, 1982 (isbn# 0-14-006747-7)
Grace Unfolding: Psychotherapy in the Spirit of the Dao De Jing, Greg Johanson and Ron Kurtz, Bell Tower Books, 1991
also: Cultivating the Energy of Life (Hui-Ming Ching) (see above in Qigong Section)
magazine: The Empty Vessel, A Journal of the Daoist Arts, The Abode of the Eternal Tao, Eugene, Oregon
To find a certified qigong instructor within Prof. Chen's lineage in
Tiantian School of Qigong's Certified Instructors Directory
To find a certified qigong instructor within Prof. Chen's lineage in Oregon:
Wu Dao Jing She International Qigong Society (Oregon)
For qigong training within Prof. Chen's lineage in California:
The Wisdom and Peace Wellness Center (founded by Professor Chen Huixian and Ping Ping Li)
For qigong training within Prof. Chen's lineage in Montana:
Inner Rivers Oriental Healing Arts
Mountain Spirit Qigong
For qigong training within Prof. Chen's lineage in Canada:
For qigong training within Prof. Chen's lineage in Europe:
Online directories of Qigong Instructors:
Tiantian School of Qigong's Certified Instructors Directory
Other online sources of Qigong information:
The Abode of the Eternal Tao
Online cancer resources:
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