Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise that is literally translated as "breathing exercise". Qi is "life force", which essentially means breath. Gong means "work" or "cultivation," hence the literal translation.
References to this art can be found as far back as we can trace the history of the Chinese Culture. Qigong is core to the foundation of Chinese Medicine, Chinese Martial Arts, and Chinese Meditation. Glyphs from centuries past portray figures in postures that are recognizable as some of the forms we see practiced in modern times.
There are many stories about famous Qigong masters reaching extraordinary levels of ability as Healers, as Martial Artists, as Sages. Today, great numbers of people practice Qigong daily for its simple pleasures and benefits. Created in the inspiration of Nature itself, Qigong is learning to stand like a tree, move like the wind.....with bones as strong as a Tiger's and eyes as fiery as a Dragon's.....developing inner and outer strength, a clear and calm mind, and an increase in the spirit with which you move through your life.
The focus of this art is to increase vital energy in the body, lead it with the mind, and direct it with intention. This aspect of intention determines the specific type of exercises you choose to practice. For example, if your intention is to develop prowess as a martial artist, you would choose the more strenuous postures and practice them with an intensity that would be directed towards increasing physical stamina, speed, and agility. You would also practice "discharging" this increased energy or power, with the intention of defeating an opponent. To reach a high skill level as a martial artist, the mind and the spirit must become as clear and strong as the physical body. Therefore the result of Qigong practice, with this intention, will integrate the mind, the body, and the spirit.
Another intention or purpose of Qigong practice is healing -- healing yourself and healing others. This practice is referred to as Medical Qigong, and is based on the Chinese Medical theory that illness results from imbalance or blockage of vital energy that flows through the body. The flow of energy in the body occurs in specific pathways called meridians. As the acupuncturist uses needles to increase or decrease the flow of energy through the meridians, the Qigong practitioner uses posture, movement, breath, and mind to cultivate and circulate "qi" for the purpose of maintaining and improving health.
Qigong is active participation in healing while receiving acupuncture is passive. Therefore, in practicing Medical Qigong, you not only benefit from the result of balancing energy, you also develop confidence and trust in your own ability to heal and stay healthy. Again, this requires the integration of the mind, the body, and the spirit -- the essence of Qigong practice.
Another intention or purpose of Qigong practice is to develop or cultivate Spirituality. This practice takes the form of meditation, including moving meditation as well as stillness. The meditations often take their forms from Nature. The practice of moving like a river increases circulation and encourages fluidity of movement. Standing like a mountain builds strength and endurance, increasing longevity. Walking with the grace of a deer or soaring in the sky like a bird brings you into harmony with a spirit much greater than yourself. It connects you to a resource of nourishment for your own spirit -- spirit being as vital to your health as the food you eat.
No matter what type of Qigong you practice, Martial, Medical, or Spiritual, you'll find that any one type of Qigong will benefit the other aspects of yourself. Practicing Martial Qigong will benefit your health and enhance your spirituality; Medical Qigong may include the practice of "discharging" qi (for healing rather than martial purposes); Spiritual Qigong practice can enhance both martial prowess and health.
The experiences and benefits of all three types of Qigong practice overlap because Qigong is a holistic practice. It's all about balance -- about developing balance between the many aspects of ourselves -- again referring to body, mind, and spirit. We can restore imbalances in the body, indicated most often by pain or tension in a muscle, joint, organ, etc....we can restore imbalances in the mind, most often indicated by stress, depression, unhappiness, etc....and we can restore imbalances in the spirit, most often indicated by lack of enthusiasm, lack of ambition, etc.
The practice of Qigong is the active participation in restoring balance within yourself, and developing a healthy relationship to the environment outside of yourself. Qigong is simple and profound. With diligent practice, your health will improve, your frame of mind will improve, and your Spirit will shine in your eyes.
by Jane Golden