When you watch someone practice Qigong in motion, you see the slow beauty of the movement between physical postures. What you don’t see as clearly are the breathing techniques and focused intention.
Often thought of as a form of martial art, Qigong (“breath technique” or “breath skill”) is actually a technique which is most notibly an aspect of Chinese medicine. As such, it is believed to have health benefits including stress reduction and exercise. Although new to the west, the practices are ancient. Texts which refer to Qi (breath or Prana and Pranayama in Yoga) date back 3,300 years, and it is assumed the practice goes even farther back. It wasn’t until 1953 when Liu Gui-zheng published a paper which explored the various versions of this form of exercise, and called it Qigong (Chi Kung). The practice had, and probably still does, go by other names such as Xiuado, Zhoshan, Jinggon, etc., but they are now recognized as schools of Qigong.
In Qigong, body movement and postures are coordinated with different breathing patterns, and the practice teaches how to manage the breath to maintain optimum energy. As such, it is used as part of martial arts practice to increase stamina and proper energy flow. In fact, Taoist and Buddhist monasteries incorporated Qigong as an integral part of both spiritual and martial arts training. Not surprisingly, any school of qigong which emphasized the spiritual aspects has been discouraged in the People’s Republic of China, the obvious example being the Falun Gong, which gained such a wide following that the government outlawed their practice in 1999.
Qigong also works with the mind through a quiet meditative focus. In fact, there is a practice called “Still Qigong” which emphasizes motionless meditation in lying, sitting or standing positions.
Qigong – beyond the physical
Well-recognized for the health benefits of physical movement and stress reduction, qigong runs against the grain of the scientific community when it talks about the philosophy of qi. Perhaps this is because there are roots in shamanic practices dealing with deity and daemon and the direct manipulation of vital life-energy, or what the Tao Te Ching calls virtue.
Students on a spiritual path are taught that humanity and nature are not seperate, that the dualistic point-of-view keeps us withdrawn from higher energy states (and the subsequent health benefits) which can be accessed with proper training and commitment to healthy spiritual and lifestyle choices. Thus, it is not just the body and breath which need to be in balance: Body, breath, mind and spirit become a part of the universal energy which flows through and around us and through all of nature.
Qigong healing – controversy and cure
A rise of interest in the west has also spawned a number of healers which make miraculous claims about their power to heal through energy manipulation. Since I work in a metaphysical store, I am more open to the possibilities of alternative healing methods such as Reiki, Pranic Healing, and Qigong than the sceptics and scientists who like to categorize anything they do not understand a “pseudoscience.” But to be fair to the critics, I must point out that Qigong’s history shows it was taught as a personal health practice rather than as a practicioner-patient form of psychic surgery, despite some shamanic roots.
It seems logical that if a qigong healer does manipulate your energy, and you are not a practitioner yourself, you will not be able to maintain the proper balance. Thus there would be an initial sense of improvement which would fade in time and require repeated, and possibly non-ending, treatments. Any reputable energy healer would include instruction and training for maintenance. Otherwise, a dependency or “healing addiction” could develop between the practitioner and patient, and it is this type of situation which gives rise to the criticisms and charges of quackery or outright fraud. But these cases are rare. In fact, the Qigong Association of America specifically defines Qigong as a self-healing art.
Qigong – Next Steps
The verifiable healing benefits of developing a personal Qigong practice are well-documented, and research continues. It is well worth looking into if you are interested in developing the mind-body-spirit wellness connection. It is also recommended that you find a qualified teacher for direct training. Imagine if you were an avid golfer, which would you prefer . . . a book on golf written by Tiger Woods, a video demonstration of his technique, or regular sessions where Tiger helps you work on your swing?
Clearly, it would be ideal to have the coach to focus and refine your movement, the book for the philosophy, and the videos to illustrate and remind you of your lesson. But the key is the practice and instruction of a qualified professional. It is the same for any physical discipline. With Qigong, you get the added benefit of observing and experiencing the Qi of a teacher if you learn in person.
Books and Media:
Qigong Energy Healing Explore Qigong and the five elements to develop your own custom practice.
Taijiquan, Classical Yang Style by Jwing-Ming Yang: This book provides Master Yang’s complete technique for Taiji style Qigong.
Way of Qigong by Kenneth S. Cohen A fascinating comprehensive study of Qigong as both art and science of healing by a master of the practice and China Scholar.
Related Sites on the Web
Although we don’t necessarily endorse these, but they look very interesting):
- National Qigong Association (US)
- Qigong Association of America
- International Qigong Alliance
- Chi Kung (Qigong) Article at Yoga Moments
- Body Energy Arts articles at Veritas
- Alchemical Taoism
- Scientific Studies from the Qigong Institute
- The Healer Within Qigong and Tai Chi Community
- The Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine