How Qigong Improves Health

Learn how qigong breathing can relieve stress, and other health benefits of this ancient Chinese healing practice

Qigong is the ancient Chinese art of combining movement, breathing and meditation in order to improve overall health, maintain an optimal balance between mind and body, and reduce stress levels. Qigong has been used for healing for centuries. It is a non-strenuous activity, which makes it suitable for all ages.

The word qigong (pronounced “chee gung”) comes from “qi,” which means energy, and “gong,” which means self-discipline. Qigong has been practiced in China for thousands of years. The discipline combines movement, breathing techniques, meditation and sound to maintain a healthy balance between mind and body and to energize the flow of qi, or the natural life energy. This energy is believed to flow through the entire body along specific pathways known as meridians.

Although there are many different styles of qigong, the discipline has two types that are used specifically for healing. These are known as internal or self-healing, in which qigong exercises are used to heal internally, and medical or external, in which a qualified practitioner uses her own qi to heal others by means of external manipulation.

Medical qigong

The aim of medical qigong is to correct any blockages or imbalances in the bioelectrical energy that course through the body. This is believed to strengthen the immune system, regulate the flow of hormones, relieve pain, detoxify the internal organs and release stress and deep-seated emotional issues. It is often used to treat a number of illnesses that are persistent and have been troubling the patient for some time, such as arthritis and pain.

Qigong even has a reputation as an alternative therapy for cancer. A medical qigong practitioner will use massage and sometimes acupuncture. The client is also given a prescription for a series of exercises, breathing techniques and meditations as part of ongoing treatment.

Qigong breathing

Breathing techniques are a key part of qigong. Emphasis is placed on abdominal breathing, in which air is inhaled through the nose slowly and deeply while allowing the mind to relax as the air gently fills the lower parts of the lungs, and the lower abdomen gradually becomes inflated. As the air is exhaled, the lower abdomen is contracted slowly so that the lungs may be completely emptied. Each breath is long, slow, deep and regular.

Test how you breathe

Mastering the way you breathe is imperative in gaining the sense of inner peace for which qigong has long been known. The practice's origin in China dates back around 6,000 years. However, many of us today breathe in a non-optimal way, according to the Qigong Institute in California.

Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Which part of the body rises?

If you're like most people, you breathe from your chest, in spite of the fact that you came into this world breathing from your abdomen. Breathing from the chest occurs when we are stressed. Over time, we have become accustomed to being stressed, and therefore take shallow breaths from our lungs, even though we're not running away from hungry tigers, for instance.

Correct your breathing

To reduce stress in our everyday lives and correct our breathing, we need to make a concerted effort to breathe from the abdomen. The Qigong Institute says the optimal way to breathe in qigong is:

  • When inhaling, allow the lower abdomen to rise with air before the lungs.
  • Then, as you exhale, contract your abdomen so it lowers down into your body.

This qigong breathing method also works to calm you down whenever you find yourself in a stressful or anxious situation.

Proper technique for qigong practice

During the movements of qigong, you will need to concentrate not only on taking breaths from the abdomen, but also on making sure your breathing follows the same slow rhythm as the physical portion of the practice. This method ensures the body's balance between oxygen coming in and carbon dioxide going out. You want to strive for this balance to ease the heart's function — it will not have to work as hard since slow, deep breaths dilate the blood vessels.

Additionally, this proper qigong breathing technique helps optimize the health of the lymphatic system. Your body's immune functions depend on a strong lymphatic system, which also has the important task of detoxifying your body. In qigong, the lungs are referred to as the heart of the lymphatic system.

Qigong healing benefits

Qigong has been used for healing for centuries. Not only is qigong said to be a valuable practice for curing illness, preventing disease and reducing stress, but many also believe it has the added benefit of reducing the effects of aging. The unique combination of movement, meditation and breathing techniques has specific effects on the body, such as normalizing blood pressure and resting heart rate, decreasing the respiratory rate and increasing the absorption of oxygen, boosting the immune system, improving circulation throughout the body, realigning posture and improving balance and flexibility, and reducing pain.

Qigong also has a number of psychological effects, such as reducing stress levels, improving concentration and focus, alleviating grief and releasing deep-seated emotions. Qigong exercises are gentle and easy to learn and suitable for all age groups.

You only need to practice qigong for a just a few minutes each day to gain the optimal benefits of physical and emotional well-being, as well as mental clarity. To learn more, check out Gaiam's DVDs on qigong. Some DVDs are designed specifically for beginners, addressing stress relief, detoxification, healing and more.

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