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Asian cultures have long known what Western medicine discovered only 20 years ago: Moderate, gentle exercises such as qigong (pronounced “chee gong”) are often better, safer and more effective than conventional “no pain, no gain” workouts. Low-impact exercises such as qigong relieve stress without straining joints, muscles or ligaments. Think of qigong as movement and meditation combined; an exercise that controls energy flow while increasing stamina and awareness.
Qigong (also spelled chi kung) is an ancient Chinese practice that combines intentional, controlled breathing with slow, graceful movements that are said to encourage the flow of qi or chi (vital energy) in the body. Promoting chi throughout the body is thought to aid in healing, endurance and spiritual balance.
The 3 elements of qigong
The first component of qigong addresses posture and works to lengthen the spine. The next element is deep respiration, learned by practicing abdominal breathing. The third qigong element entails mental visualization to clear the mind and promote physical and spiritual healing.
Who practices qigong?
More than 100 million people all over the globe use qigong to relax, heal and connect their minds and bodies to the “now” state of energy flow. From senior centers to kindergarten classes, the peaceful, gentle, rhythmic exercises of qigong are a natural way to calm fears, spur learning, increase concentration and promote health.
Qigong healing and health
Working out at the gym and good nutrition are both important steps to keeping a body healthy. But what’s missing is the mind-body connection offered by exercises such as qigong and Tai Chi, which aim to elevate the immune system, release nervous tension and eliminate a buildup of stress; all important factors in maintaining optimal health.
Almost anyone — from children to seniors, and even people with disabilities — can practice qigong by adapting their workouts to their physical abilities. Qigong is a perfect exercise for people with joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. In fact, you can practice qigong even if you have to sit in a chair or are confined to a bed.
Qigong and the brain
EEGs recorded while people were practicing qigong show the cerebral cortex entering into a profound state of calm that is extremely difficult to achieve in other exercises, or even in the deepest sleep.
People who practice qigong are said to use almost 90 percent of their brains during the exercises. The stimulation of brain cells is thought to result in memory improvement and ease in learning new tasks. Qigong is touted as having beneficial effects for people with dementia, chronic depression, mood swings and insomnia.
Qigong and sports
Athletes needing powerful yet focused concentration use qigong meditation to calm their nerves and center their chi for optimum performance.
Qigong and the workplace
Businesspeople say they are better prepared for presentations, meetings and new challenges after taking a few minutes to center their minds and bodies through qigong.
The healthy as well as the ill, the young and the old, male and female, religious and non-religious can benefit from the “self-care” meditation, breathing and movement of qigong to improve not only their health but their lives. Though there are thousands of styles of qigong, including Zhineng Qigong, Spring Forest Qigong, Fragrant Qigong, Walking Qigong and Sleeping Qigong, the practice falls into four main categories: self-healing, medical, sports and spiritual.
This type of qigong is the most popular of the forms, and is used for healing the self. It is relatively simple to learn. Different styles of self-healing qigong have different levels of practice. One method of this type, called Zhineng Qigong, has three levels.
- Level one is composed of three main movements. All three focus on movement, posture, breathing and meditation. The movements are basic and practiced slowly to allow the mind to center and to unblock the qi.
- Level two is made up of 10 steps that are designed to enhance the interaction of mind and body and increase the flow of qi.
- The third level incorporates sound, breathing and movement to release the qi and to cleanse the mind and body, thereby improving overall health and well-being. Spring Forest Qigong is another popular style of self-healing qigong.
Medical qigong, or external qigong, is used to help heal others. It is the oldest branch of Chinese medicine, in which practitioners use their internal qi to heal others. A medical qigong practitioner transfers qi to the patient in order to rebalance the qi energy and heal the body. Medical qigong is practiced in many Chinese hospitals. It is often used alongside Western medicine.
Sports qigong, also known as Wu Gong, is the combination of qigong practices with sports or martial arts. Its goals are to improve strength and stamina, increase speed and coordination and enhance flexibility and balance. Qigong exercises can benefit any athlete, from swimmers to golfers. These exercises are easy to learn, are non-strenuous and do not require any equipment or a large space to practice in.
In martial qigong, the exercises are practiced with the aim of drawing the qi into the muscles, tendons and bones in order to strengthen them for use in self-defense. Martial qigong is designed to work in tandem with martial arts training to improve stamina, strength, speed and flexibility.
In this type of qigong, mudras (hand formations), mantras and sitting meditations are combined in order to attain spiritual enlightenment. There is a range of different techniques that are specific to Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Each discipline teaches the path to calmness, self-awareness and harmony within the self and with nature. Tao Gong and Fo Gong are two doctrines of spiritual qigong.
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