Have you ever come across the riveting image of people doing tai chi in the park? The graceful movements seem like a slow motion dance and the people practicing seem so calm and serene while harnessing what looks like an inner force. What many people are not aware of is that sometimes these exercises are not tai chi but qigong (also spelled Chi Kung, or Qi Gong and pronounced chee goong).
Qigong exercises are often done to warm-up and prepare for executing the tai chi form; the two are very similar in that they are both gentle forms of exercise, incorporating fluid movements and share many of the same health benefits. The main difference is that tai chi was originally designed as a soft martial art for self-defense and while there can be martial application for some qigong forms, it is mostly practiced to balance the internal energy of the body and achieve physical, mental and spiritual health. The tai chi form has between 24 to 108 movements strung together in a choreographed piece and requires considerable memorization to accomplish; most qigong forms can be distilled down to 1 to 8 movements, a factor which brings benefits sooner and more easily. Qigong can also be adapted to a seated or lying position. Both have their intricacies that make studying them very profound. Today there are over 60 million people in China alone who practice this self-healing art.
Qigong uses the breath, coordinated movement and focused intention to allow one to achieve a deep sense of calm while simultaneously feeling energized and alert. Basically, qigong is a way to teach your body how to relax and let go while keeping form and structure to create a balance of hard and soft, up and down, in and out, yin and yang. There are a wide variety styles and types of qigong practiced for many different reasons. Many believe that with dedication and discipline, the practice will increase one’s longevity.
Health benefits are abundant and some of these have been studied scientifically. In a 20-year study of patients on medication for high blood pressure, it was found that when patients did qigong in conjunction with medication, the incidence of stroke and mortality decreased over the control group. There was also stabilization in blood pressure and a decrease in drug use over time. The control group, who were on the drug regime alone, also had an initial drop in blood pressure levels but overtime symptoms increased and more medication was required. (Sancier, K. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2004.)
Qigong is also known to improve coordination, balance and stability, to keep the joints open, to strengthen immunity, to increase circulation and to maintain an overall superior state of health. It is an exercise that does not consume a lot of energy and is therefore suitable for a variety of health and fitness levels. Instead of exhausting oneself with exertion, it cultivates subtler inner forces and creates alignment, allowing one to progress with other forms of exercise as well.
Some important points to pay attention to when practicing:
· Stay relaxed – staying relaxed and calm when practicing will help prevent stress from causing wear and tear on the body
· Let things happen naturally and never place limits on yourself – too much mental force can cause tension and be a detriment to your flow of energy. Allow things to evolve. Sometimes previous injuries or disease processes affect how we are able to move. We have to respect these limitations but know that they can change over time as well. Your practice might be different every day. Suspend judgement and Be Yourself.
· There is no One way – everyone will have their own way in the beginning and with a certain amount of skill under your belt, bad habits will drop away and you will benefit from your experience. By opening yourself up to the possibility of change, you are taking a step in the direction of health and happiness.