Did you know that tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) has its origins in the healing arts? In ancient China, rich families would take great care to guard their secret exercises for martial arts as well as meditations for health and longevity, some of which we know today as qigong (pronounced chee-gung).
Tai chi is a much more familiar word to most Westerners than qigong. Still, the simple truth is that tai chi is a small part of qigong, an ancient Chinese healing art involving body, breath, and mental awareness. The phrase physician heal thyself may be the best way to describe the original philosophy. If you became sick, you would go to a doctor who would prescribe qigong exercises for you to practice that were specifically designed to bring healing energy to whatever part of your system that was ailing you. The goal was that all patients would then become their own doctors and heal themselves.
As time went on, however, the doctors realized that most people were not doing the exercises as prescribed and therefore were not receiving the desired benefits. It was then that the other Chinese healing arts of acupressure, acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal therapy, and massage were created. This way the doctor performed the treatment rather than just diagnosing and having the patient go home to do the prescribed qigong.
In the early days these other methods of healing were not thought to be as effective as qigong, but how effective can an exercise be if the patient doesn’t do it? Only recently have the healing arts been developed and tested by Western standards to the point that they are considered as being as good as qigong.
Tai chi, again, is a part of qigong, but, specifically, it is comprised of the qigong exercises that are valid in combat and self-defense situations. The great part about the art of tai chi is that if you practice these combat qigong postures with healing intent, they will bring about similar healing effects as those achieved by more specific qigong exercises so tai chi cures diseases as would specific qigong exercises but it may not do it as quickly as that is not its true focus. Qigong exercises are often easier to learn and practice than a full tai chi form, but it really comes down to what you want and prefer. If you have a severe, chronic issue, however, you might want to use focused qigong exercises, at least in the early stages, until your system stabilizes.
The Qigong Institute of Los Altos, California, has recorded over 2,000 studies on what qigong can heal. Plus, health qigong exercises have been very positively evaluated against Western standards in their effectiveness compared to modern pharmaceutical drugs. For example, the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School both recommend tai chi for lowering blood pressure, reducing the chance of heart problems, as well as decreasing anxiety and stress levels.
The regular practice of tai chi also regulates blood sugar levels and helps control type 2 diabetes. Many people have reported being able to go off their medications, with their doctor’s approval, simply by practicing tai chi three times a week over a period of time. Tai chi has also been shown to increase bone density in men and women, helping fend off osteoporosis. Others studies show that tai chi can increase an adult’s resistance to shingles, as well as boost your overall immune system. There is even evidence that tai chi can help fibromyalgia and the American Arthritis Association recommends practicing tai chi to combat arthritis.
Headaches are a common ailment people suffer from, but tai chi can effectively calm our systems and improve circulation so that these headaches go away, again without medication. Top university studies have demonstrated tai chi’s ability to lower stress levels, boost focus, and improve sleep. And, unlike many of today’s medications, it’s hard to do too much qigong!
The rhythmic, flowing movements in a tai chi form also increase body awareness in your environment, while improving balance, strength, and coordination. This stronger, more flexible and better-balanced state of being plus awareness are key factors in reducing the risk of tripping and falling.
To help you choose whether you should learn a tai chi form or if you should simply learn some qigong, think about what you want out of this. While many people love doing tai chi forms without ever considering their martial roots and these forms will bring about a healing effect, the forms can take some time to learn. Therefore, if healing and stress relief are what you seek more than anything else, you may want to learn some more basic and focused qigong exercises instead and change to a tai chi form later. Either way, there’s no time to start like the present.
There was a time when you would have to walk many miles to a new town and hope there was a qigong or tai chi master there who would agree to teach you. Today, however, tai chi teachers and schools are much easier to find and we also have books and videos available to us. One of the greatest things I think that has happened in today’s modern society is that many of the old Chinese masters have turned to video to record and preserve their arts. With a little motivation, anyone can learn now.
As with any new exercise program you should proceed with caution if you have lived a sedentary lifestyle for a while or if you have pains or other discomfort. Please consult with a physician before embarking on any new program if you have any concerns.