Qigong is a traditional Chinese exercise which cultivates the qi, or the vital energy. This exercise technique, very popular in China, has been recently gaining popularity in European countries as well. Not only does qigong cultivate the body, but it also focuses on the cultivation of human mind, as it incorporates theories of morality, virtue and character.
In China, qigong serves as an exercise technique, but it is also used in treatment of various lighter afflictions as well as the more serious health conditions, such as cancer. Regular exercise boosts both physical and mental health. Qigong revitalizes the nervous system, improves the perceptivity of body and mind, it heals and reinvigorates. During the exercise it is necessary to observe several basic requirements that concern our body and mind and our overall mental condition.
Qigong and the physical requirements
The optimal position for qigong exercise is as follows: Knees and elbows slightly bent, tailbone slightly tucked forward, straight back, chest relaxed but not slack. Head seemingly suspended from the ceiling by a point at the top (the so-called baihui point). The eyes are slightly closed, the tip of the tongue lightly resting against the palate.
However, before you proceed to the actual exercise, it is highly recommended to activate the so-called dantian and the twelve primary Qi channels. To open up dantian you simply have to rotate your body at the waist while tapping the dantian and mingmen points. To activate the Qi channels, slightly tap on them with your fist or the palm of your hand, in the direction of the Qi flow.
In Taiji and qigong, dantian is considered to be the centre of the body. It is located in the lower belly about 2 to 3 thumb widths below the navel and it corresponds with the centre of gravity in human body. The most important area for the qigong practice is three inches below the navel. That is where our Qi energy is stored. According to traditional Chinese medicine, this is the starting point for the circulation of Qi. It is considered the „the root of twelve channels“, „the progenitor of life“, and „the confluence of yin and yang“. Dantian is also the place where the males store their reproductive essence and females the nourishment for their fetus. This is why too much sexual activity can deplete the Qi and thus cause weakness and pain in the lower back.
Qigong and focused mind
It is necessary before the exercise to focus your mind and concentrate on the relaxation of your whole body. Only a mind that has been fully cleansed of all interfering thoughts is ready for the exercise. It is therefore a good idea to learn how to meditate. Meditation brings the much needed peace into your life. It helps you understand how your mind actually works, to draw your attention inward, where your emotions reside. Only then you're able to fully understand where all your thoughts, many of them seemingly trivial, come from.
How to do the Qigong exercise
Do not forget that the circulation of Qi is guided by your mind. The Qi is drawn from up to down and into the bones. Use your mind to guide it from the waist area to wherever you need. Your mind, Qi, and your breath mingle into one whole. Not a single place in your body is cut off from the flow. If you elevate your spirit, then you may use the Qi to move your body, in accord with your nature.
Qi and gong
Qi is a Chinese word that means air, breath or vapour. In this sense it refers to the surface of the body. When we use the word qi to refer to the inner parts of the body, it means breath. Qi can also denote strength, vitality or energy. Chinese traditional medicine believes that our health results from the harmonious flow of Qi throughout the body. It is the sense and the purpose of such exercise to boost the flow of Qi. According to Chinese medicine, all ailments are the result of Qi deficiency. Imbalance of Qi, obstruction of its steady flow through the meridians, and the like can have such consequences as fatigue, illness, weakening of the organism, etc.
The word gong means effort or art acquired through practice. Qigong therefore means purposeful, methodical cultivation of one's life energy. All known Chinese martial arts build upon the practice of Qigong. The Indian tradition and Yoga also recognize the notion of life energy, or Qi.
From the history of Qigong
Ancient Chinese philosophers Laozi, Confucius and Zhuangzi (or Master Zhuang) used the term 'neigong' (inner exercises) to refer to what we now call Qigong. An inscription on a jade medallion, dating back to the early Warring States era, lists teaching methods, theories and principles of maintaining one's health through these exercise techniques.
Qigong and yin-yang
The notion of yin and yang is a part of a philosophical system which can be traced back to the same source as the Chinese traditional medicine. According to this theory, everything in the world has yin and yang qualities. Exhaling is yang, inhaling is yin.
When we exhale, we relax. When we inhale, we feel invigorated. During such exercise it is crucial to understand the principles of yin and yang and to exercise in accordance with the current season – while spring and summer support yang, autumn and winter support yin.
Qigong and the system of meridians
Qigong techniques have evolved from the study of meridians. According to Chinese medicine, meridians are energy channels in our body. Qigong, if practiced correctly, can enable the students to feel the presence of meridians and other channels.
Theory of Qi circulation
During Qigong and controlled breathing exercises the Qi energy circulates in our body and revitalizes brain cells, capillaries and lung cells. There are over 100 billion neurons in our brain, yet we only use about one tenth of them during our everyday activities. In our body there are several thousand capillaries through which blood circulates. Human body also has about 7.5 billion lung cells which can atrophy and become utterly useless if not stimulated by exercise.
What exactly is Qi and what does it do?
Qi is the main force that protects our organism against ailments and it is a necessary prerequisite of an active lifestyle. It boosts our immunity, improves health and prolongs our lifespan. If you have a lot of Qi, you are likely to be healthy and live longer, whereas deficiency of Qi often leads to weakening of the body and all kinds of ailments. When Qi disappears completely, it means death. Qi is the energy that fuels life itself.
What then are the sources of this energy? There are two: prenatal and postnatal Qi. Our prenatal Qi comes from our parents. It is also called 'primary Qi' or 'yuan qi'. This primary Qi is depleted in the course of our life. We then acquire our own Qi, the postnatal Qi, which is generated by transforming the oxygen and nutrients from our blood stream.
Qigong techniques for everyday use
Acquiring Qi from you surroundings and getting rid of the polluted Qi
- Shaking the body
Relax your whole body, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, relax your shoulders and arms. Shake your body by rocking on your toes; lift your heels about 1 – 1.5 centimeters above ground and then let them fall again. Every time your heels hit the ground you can imagine how all the polluted Qi gets shaken out of your body and into the ground beneath you. Repeat for one to three minutes.
You can also expel the polluted Qi using this exercise: Slowly raise your arms sideways, palms up. Imagine your hands reach high up, into infinity. Inhale, gather the surrounding Qi between your arms and hold it above your head. Imagine your body as an empty tube. Transfer the gathered Qi into your baihui point – it is placed on the crown of your head. It's one of the six gateways, through which the energy from cosmos enters your body when you inhale. During the exercise this point should be slightly lifted. This is where all the yang channels converge. Release the energy down the tube – your body. You might literally feel the fresh, clean Qi pushing the bad Qi out of your organism. Exhale and use all your force to push the bad Qi into the ground and the good new Qi into your dandian. Repeat several times.
- Qigong in motion
First relax your body, straighten your back, focus your attention and mind inward. Imagine that your head is upright and light, as if suspended from the sky by a thread. Your gaze is serene and focused forward. First lower your hips slightly by a small jerking motion, then begin rocking on your feet and toes. This activates the points on your feet, helps to circulate the Qi through the channels in your legs, and improves the function of kidneys and urinary system.
Adjust your gait so that it's light and steady - you can also run – and while in motion, imagine the energy flowing through your legs up into your spine, to the top of your head and out, forming an arch in front of your body and returning into your toes and then through the heels into the ground.
- Qigong while lying down
Qigong while lying down helps balance the blood pressure. Begin this exercise by lying on your back, closing your eyes and relaxing your body and mind.
If you suffer from high blood pressure, put your arms along your body, palms down. Inhale through the baihui point. Then exhale and imagine how the Qi energy flows from your baihui point to the acupoints on your feet. You might do this exercise while going to sleep.
For those who suffer from low blood pressure there is a modified version of the exercise. Lay your arms along your body, palms up. Inhale through the points on your feet and release the energy through your baihui point. No need to focus on any point too closely. This exercise can also be done while falling asleep.
- Qigong to help you fall asleep
Lie down, relax and put your hands palms down on lower dandian. Imagine there is a warm, red shining ball there. Fall asleep with this image in your mind. You can also lie on your side, rest your head on your arm and wrap the other arm around your body. You may also put your head on one arm and lay the other hand on your lower dandian. Then try to fall asleep.
- Eight Pieces of Brocade
Brocade was a very expensive fabric, so the name of this exercise suggests how valuable and useful this technique is. It is one of the many forms of Qigong. It strenghtens the inner organs, improves the flexibility of joints, as well as blood circulation, and activates the lymphatic system. This exercise also helps to link the breath, body and mind with one's intuition.