Introduction to Qi Gong
Qigong (pronounced chee goong) is a Chinese system of
physical training, philosophy, and preventive and therapeutic health care. Qi
(or chi) means air, breath of life or vital essence. Gong
means work, self-discipline, achievement or mastery. This art combines
aerobic conditioning, isometrics, isotonics, meditation, and relaxation. Qigong
is a discipline whose practice allows us to gain control over the life force
that courses throughout our bodies.
There are more than 3,000 varieties of qigong, and five
major qigong traditions: the Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, martial arts, and
medical. Qigong is thus a soft form of a related set of disciplines that
includes Taiji (Tai Chi Quan) and the hard form of Kung Fu. Here I treat only
the medical tradition. Like the other forms, medical qigong is "the
cultivation and deliberate control of a higher form of vital energy" (Dong
& Esser 1990:xi). It is also, as Yan Xin (1991: i) defines it, "an
ancient philosophical system of harmonious integration of the human body with
the universe." As a radical denial of the human species' separation from
nature, qigong challenges the foundations of modern Western biomedical thought.
Medical qigong involves breathing exercises combined with
meditation. The breathing exercises induce help induce the state of meditation,
and vice versa. One is aware of what is going on, but not too aware, fully
relaxed but not in a trance. In a qigong state, cares and troubles wash away.
Replacing them are positive images, increased confidence, and enhanced spirit.
Eventually, there will be no distractions, depressing thoughts or worries.
Through meditation one gains feelings of happiness. This in turn stimulates
circulation of blood and qi, or life force.
If one is ill, over time the body's functions are thus
able to return to normal. If one is not ill, the existing sense of wellness and
People of all ages can learn to practice qigong, and so
develop and maintain internal vigour and good health.
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1965-76) the
Communist Party and Red Guards suppressed qigong. In about 1978 it began to
make a comeback. In China in the 1980s there was an upsurge of interest in
qigong. Today, more than 70 million Chinese practice qigong every day (McGee
w/Chow 1994:xiii). Some do this to treat and cure an existing illness. Others
are trying to prevent the onset of disease. Still others want to feel and
perform better, experience higher levels of energy and stamina, and slow down
the ageing process.
Qigong is least effective against acute illness or
medical emergencies. It is better at preventing disease, and treating chronic
conditions or disabilities. Inspired by tales of the qigong masters' miracle
cures (see Eisenberg w/Wright 1985), many Westerners are travelling to China
Now qigong is rapidly invading North America. In 1988 the
Chinese held in Beijing the first World Conference for exchanging qigong
medical research (MacRitchie 1993: 4). Later world conferences happened in Tokyo
and Berkeley. Another will take place in the summer of 1996 in New York City.
Today, North American psychological, physiological and medical researchers are
studying qigong with rapidly increasing interest. University students
throughout North America have formed qigong practice groups, and on the
Internet WorldWide Web qigong home pages are blossoming. A very large movement
The Chinese have found qigong an effective way to treat
substance abuse and obesity. This gentle art improves delivery of oxygen to the
body's cells, reduces stress and improves bowel functioning. Chinese doctors
have applied qigong in hospitals and clinics to treat individuals suffering
from a variety of ailments. These include allergies, arthritis, asthma, bowel
problems, constipation, diabetes, gastritis, gout, headaches, heart disease and
hypertension. The list goes on: chronic kidney disease, liver disease, lower
back pain, Meniere's disease, myopia, obesity, neurasthenia, paralysis induced
by external injury, retinopathy (deterioration of the back of the eye),
rheumatism, sciatic neuralgia, sleeplessness, stress, torticollis, ulcers, and
peripheral vascular disease. Qigong can successfully treats cancer and reduce
or eliminate side effects from radiation and chemotherapy. It is helpful in
treating aphasia (loss or impairment of ability to speak), cerebral palsy,
multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and post-stroke syndrome. It is
especially useful in treating any kind of chronic pain, and chronic disorders
of the digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Qigong can help one fight virtually any disease. Through
qigong, patients can cure many of the 50% of all diseases that Western doctors
dismiss as untreatably 'psychosomatic.' If you try qigong to treat an existing
illness, do so if possible under the guidance of a licensed Chinese medical
doctor. Don't try it completely on your own. Beginners need professional
supervision. Here the doctor or qigong practitioner acts as an advisor and
teacher, rather than a Western-styl
e repair technician. The patient must be an
active partner in the health care process.
In addition to providing cures, qigong helps people
prevent the onset of diseases. This can save money and prevent suffering. Qigong
increases strength, improves resistance to infectious diseases and premature
senility, and helps assure a long life. Practising qigong can greatly reduce
the danger of stroke. It can improve blood sugar levels for diabetics. Because
it normalizes the level of sex hormones, it can correct sexual impotence and
frigidity. Its stress relieving effects improves one's sex life -- both
quantity and quality. Practice of qigong can speed recovery from surgery, and
from sports and other injuries by up to 50% (McGee w/Chow 1994:17-9). Qigong
offers individuals a way to achieve a relaxed, harmonious state of dynamic
equilibrium. It typically improves their overall health status, allowing them
to maintain a life free from pain, and full of vigour and grace. Qigong is a
proper therapeutic practice with which to address virtually any chronic health
problem. The various forms of Chinese medical massage (tuina) derive directly
from qigong. These practices compliment and supplement orthodox medical
Many millions of people have learned and practised qigong
in its many thousand year history. We do not know how old qigong is, but the
further we go back in Chinese history the larger qigong looms as a cultural
force. Some turtle-shell artifacts conclusively show the art was important at
least 7,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests the practice may go
back a million years. About 2,000 years ago The *Yellow Emperor's Classic of
Internal Medicine* first systematically described qigong practice. Now qigong has
finally reached North America -- through the increasing popularity of kung fu
movies, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Qigong was a natural discovery
of the New Age movement. Its underlying philosophy and practice both serve that
movement's goals: qigong does 'raise consciousness' in significant respects.
How does Qigong Work?
How does qigong serve this consciousness raising
function? Its practice makes people sensitive to the internal operations of
their bodies, and it helps to reveal the body's place within nature's oneness.
This permits us to build up resistance to imbalances and blockages affecting
our qi. This sensitivity aids the integration of our opposite yin and yang
internal factors within the universal order -- of which we are a part. The
qigong student learns how false is the separation of body and mind. That
distinction Descartes first postulated in the 1600s. Today most Westerners
still accept it. We may instead understand qi as the force that integrates the
relationship between body (matter, structure) and mind (process, function).
Chinese medicine strongly emphasizes relationships between people and nature.
As Dong and Esser (1994:66) clearly show, qigong as an integral part of Chinese
Chinese herbology, acupuncture, and chi gong are three
parts of a single entity, as closely related as water, steam, and ice. They can
be and often are used separately, and may be used together. With dietetics and
massage they are considered to be the indispensable components of traditional
Chinese health care.... While acupuncture and herbal medicine typically focus
on curing sickness, chi gong usually focuses on maintaining good health (as do
massage and balanced -- for yin and yang -- nutrition).
In the philosophy of qigong, a primary aim is to maintain
or restore balance and harmony of mind-body. Through qigong, one can build up
qi and move it to where a disturbance or blockage occurs. Practitioners gain
more than improved health. They learn another way of looking at and
experiencing the dynamic unity of life, one far removed from the disenchanted
and alienated thoughtways common in Western civilization. Students of qigong
learn to fulfil their potential to self-actualize as highly successful members
of our species.
What does Qigong Do?
Practising qigong lowers blood pressure, pulse rates,
metabolic rates, lactate production, and oxygen demand. It raises the endocrine
system's capabilities. It also has a regulating effect on the substances cyclic
adenosine monophosphate and cyclic guanosine monophosphate. These substances
play basic roles in respiration and the provision of oxygen to the body's
cells. The sense of serenity qigong produces results partly from a slightly
increased body temperature, and an increased rate of oxygen absorption. Qigong
activates qi, improves blood circulation, and balances yin yang. It bolsters
the immune system, and stimulates the conductivity of the meridians and
channels through which qi flows (Dong & Esser 1994:94-6).
In Chinese medical theory, many diseases come from
adverse environmental conditions such as (MacRitchie 1993: 64): heat, cold,
wind, dryness and humidity; wrong diet; spoiled food; worms and microbes;
poisoning and pollution; trauma and accidents. Internal conditions can arise
from excess or deficient emotions of anger, joy, sympathy, grief or fear [and]
inappropriate mental attitudes and beliefs. There are also maladies of the
spirit which can cause serious problems.
These factors can cause one's chi [qi] to become
excessive, deficient, stuck, blocked, congested or stagnant, and thereby cause
all manner of problems.
When the immune system is strong, one is emotionally
centered within one's body, and qi and blood are flowing freely, then most
diseases should disappear.
The goal of practising qigong is to make our qi circulate
strongly in our bodies. This helps us resist or overcome imbalances or
blockages and their resulting disharmonies. That is also the goal of
acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Practising qigong helps us intuit the
infinity of the universe. It lets us sense our place as organized clusters of
energy-information within the immense whole. Qi is an informational message and
its carrier, a complex energy substance basic to life itself. Chinese medicine
can prolong life, vitality and well-being by slowing the ageing process. This
it accomplishes due to the affinities of certain herbs to qi and the milieu
within which qi exists. Qigong therefore 'fits' into the regimen of Chinese
medicine. The qigong art thus plays a fully active role to prevent disease or
One need not become a qigong master to experience many of
its healing effects. For health purposes, you need to learn only a few
exercises. Conversely, qigong is far from being an instant cure-all. To benefit
one must achieve a state of tranquillity, find release from tension, build a
positive attitude, and develop strong, committed will power. We can get
benefits in one of three ways.
First, one can go to a qigong master for treatment by
that master's external qi. This is only possible in China, or perhaps at times
in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver. Any one
particular master may be unable to cure your problem (they are specialists!).
Second, one can seek get treatment from a master and
practice exercise and meditation.
Third, in a supervised group, one can learn to treat
oneself. This last is the only real option for most North Americans.
Under the third option, to gain full benefits of qigong
requires time, patience, commitment to its practice, determination and
persistence. This art involves more than simple physical training. It requires
educating one's breathing and thought processes. This means increasing one's
ability to sense one's body, and to feel and imagine. As with any other aspect
of human endeavour, some people will prove more adept at the art than others,
and so will progress more quickly. However, anyone with enough motivation can
learn adequate qigong skills to make a large impact upon one's quality of life.
This can take from a minimum of three months up to a year (Dong & Esser
1990:52). There are no shortcuts. There are also though no obvious limits to
how far one may progress.
Because qigong thins blood and increases circulation,
women should not practice it during menstruation. If you have internal
bleeding, or bleeding after tooth extraction or trauma, avoid qigong exercises
until the condition disappears. Avoid exercising if you feel dizzy. Qigong is
not for severely disturbed mental patients, pregnant women or people suffering
from acute infectious diseases. Do not eat or drink within an hour and a half
before a session. Especially avoid alcohol. When exercising, face either North
or South, in line with the earth's magnetic field. Exercise at the same time(s)
of day and the same days through the week, except do more on holidays.
Sustenance energy comes into the body, we think, partly
from the sky and air, and only partly from the earth through what we eat. The
lungs take in qi from the air. One can teach the skin at a few acupuncture
points to take in qi energy-information from the sunlight, moonlight,
starlight, and electric lights, etc. Qigong involves a conscious effort to
increase our connectedness with the universe. That means taking in more
sustenance energy from non-food sources. For novice qigongers, it is
exhilarating to take in energy directly from the universe. There is a
consequent temptation to slight one's food-based nutritional needs. People with
a tendency toward anorexia may find the tendency growing during a period of
intensive qigong practice. If so, they must stop the exercises until the
condition recedes. Fasting (bigu) can have a place in qigong.
However, undertake a genuine fast only under the strict
supervision of a Chinese medical doctor well versed in qigong.
People often want to try as quickly as possible to emit
external qi like a qigong master through the eyes, fingertips or palms. This
can be dangerous. One should not attempt it except after long years of
practice, and only then under close supervision of a qigong master or Chinese
medical doctor. Do not be in any hurry to emit your qi. Doing that can
dangerously deplete your own vitality. Avoid sexual intercourse for at least
one hour before and after a qigong session.
There are limits to what you can learn about qigong
from reading. One really should begin to practice this art by enrolling in a
course or joining an organized group.