More people today are asking what is qigong? After studying and practicing for many years, I will offer my perspective.
Qigong (pronounced chee-gung) is an ancient Chinese art that encompasses a vast array of mind, body, and breath exercises, many of them over 3000 years old. Qigong exercises focus energy, also known as qi (pronounced chee), through the body’s energy pathways. These pathways are known as meridians by the Chinese. As long as energy flows freely and in balance, health is preserved. If blockages occur along these meridians, pain and illness will follow.
Some qigong exercises are static, that is, performed while keeping still, and others are done with motion. Many different postures and stances are used and even people who are bedridden or in a wheelchair can perform some type of qigong. Certain qigong sets are a series of continually moving postures that can also be used in self-defense: We know this branch of qigong as tai chi (pronounced tie- chee) or taiji or even tajichuan. Qigong masters recommend practicing both static and moving qigong to achieve maximum benefits.
In Ancient China, the doctors were qigong masters and would prescribe specific qigong exercises for their patients to treat virtually all ailments. Qigong masters would also use their own energy on their patients to heal them. The art of medical qigong is still alive and well today, but qigong masters are harder to find. Qigong, however, is becoming increasingly acknowledged as a successful means to heal chronic and difficult conditions, including cancer.
Back in ancient, feudal China, many qigong techniques were highly guarded secrets and only society’s elite and nuns and monks were privy to them. In addition, in more recent history, certain government officials in China deliberately removed the energy work of qigong, reducing it to a series of sports exercises. Today, qigong is mostly known and practiced for its mental and physical therapeutic benefits.
Some people are concerned that qigong or parts of it, such as tai chi, might be some sort of religion, but this is just not true. Qigong is very much like the proverbial onion: On the surface, qigong is merely a set of exercises designed to relax, balance, and center an individual. These exercises can be performed at this level exclusively and will bring about a healthier state of mind and body. However, delving further, one can also learn qigong exercises to focus one’s chi to specific organs or to access higher mental and spiritual planes. Many of these practices, as well as numerous longevity exercises, are Taoist. Most people today, however, use qigong for its traditional health benefits.
Certain qigong sets are so well known in China for their positive health and longevity benefits that even the children are taught them. One of the most commonly taught qigong sets is the Eight Exercises of Health also known as the Eight Brocades (or Eight Pieces of Brocade or some variant). When done regularly and properly, this set of qigong exercises activates all the meridians, unblocking and circulating the energy flow throughout the body. There are, however, many sets of similar exercises, of different origins, all designed to activate the same meridians as the Eight Exercises of Health.
If practiced regularly, with proper intent, the different qigong sets are equally effective, just a different style. You may feel more drawn to one set or another. You may even be drawn to specific exercises within a set; however, if you can, you should try to complete the set, for balance. In qigong, as in so many other things, it is far better to do even one minute of qigong daily than it is to complete a marathon session once every so often. Qigong exercises can be practiced with increasing benefits for the rest of your life.
While qigong is not as popular as tai chi, don’t forget that tai chi is a branch of qigong. So if you are looking for a qigong teacher and are having a hard time finding one, you might consider instead a tai chi teacher. A good tai chi teacher is also likely to know qigong.
To help you decided whether to learn tai chi or qigong, think about what you want: While many people love doing tai chi forms for their healing and de-stressing effects, 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. No matter what direction you choose, there is an old Chinese quote from Lao-tzu that says, “The journey of a thousand steps begins with a single step.” Follow your heart and start today.