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Qi gong: An Introduction

by Christopher Caile

Qi gong is also known as Chi Kung, or Kiko in Japanese. Qi gong is the ancient Chinese art of energy training or practice. "Qi" (Chi) means energy and "gong" (Kung) means work or practice. In China it is used in traditional hospitals and clinics to treat a wide range of conditions from arthritis to cancer. Millions also do qi gong exercises to boost vitality, to insure against disease or to fight chronic conditions. Its energy methods are also an integral part of Tai Chi, many martial disciplines, as well as Taoist and Buddhist practices. In the West qi gong has only recently become known (over the last 20 years), but it may be the oldest of all the Chinese healing arts with roots tracing back over thousands of years. Other Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) members include acupuncture, T'un-na (a predecessor to Japanese Shiatsu) and herbal medicine.

Long before the advent of modern medicine, the Chinese developed their own concepts of health and healing based on energy. Not having (or relying on) modern biochemistry or anatomical models, understanding was instead developed from generations of careful observations, correlation and testing. The great insight of the Chinese (as well as other cultures such as India) was that underlying the physical body's functions and processes was a deeper, more profound level - one of energy - energy that not only influenced health and resistance to disease but could be also used and developed to boost vitality, for treatment and for diagnostics. In this equation the spirit is considered one type of energy, and emotions (psychological manifestations) are often seen as interconnected to underlying conditions. Processes too, are often seen differently (not relegated to neat anatomical units). Thus, while qi gong (and TCM in general) recognizes the same organs and systems as does Western science, its focus is different. It looks at underlying energy relationships, balances, and interrelated, general processes.

Thus when Western medicine sees a problem, like a stomach condition, the diagnoses ties it (deductively) to a cause. Thus, an anti-acid might be used for all those who suffer in common from indigestion. Qi gong, as well as TCM, might treat each patient differently, in each case the treatment tied to restoring important underlying conditions, balances and levels of energy that constitute health and vitality. Once these are in place the body restores its own health. This is an important consideration. Health is not seen just as an absence of symptoms, disease or in terms of a healthy outward appearance. It's what's happening inside (energy vitality and balance) that is critical, especially as age takes its toll on our immune system and body functions (immune strength typically falling be a much as 70% by the time most people reach 70).

Qi gong is similar to Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, Healing Touch and other energy medicines in that they all are able to affect individuals with their own energy or energies directed through them. Qi gong (and TCM), however, is different in that it has its own distinct model of the body in terms of energies and their relationships. A qi gong practitioner might just transmit a general healing or balancing energy to others. More experienced practitioners, however, might use pure yin or yang energy, or use energies at various frequencies mixed with various intents (specific intentions mixed with emotional content) that can have different effects. For example, a person whose skin is raw from radiation treatment, sunburn or a burn can be soothed (will experience a cooling effect) by sending cool yin energy to the affected area. Other energies, often experienced as warming, can greatly affect the speed of healing within the body from injury or operation. A bruise on the hand, foot, or face (a hard area) can often even be countered, the swelling and blood accumulation re-absorbed by the body, if treated quickly as the condition is developing. Some qi gong traditions utilize the practitioner's own body energy (often drawn from different body centers of energy) for these purposes, but many more only use their own energy to help to jump start, and/or channel other energies through themselves to others, intent (specific intentions mixed with emotional content) used by some to provide a specific mental color or charge to the channeled energy. Qi gong also differs from these other systems in that it includes a wealth of self-practice techniques and methods.

In the Chinese energy model, the body is the meeting place of both Yin energy from the earth and Yang energy from above. These dual manifestations in turn meet within and replenish man (renewable energies). Some energies can be beneficial, others potentially harmful in effect. We also depend upon them, taking them in to replenish our energy. They are hosted in food, drink and through breath (air), or are directly absorbed through the skin and body energy centers, as well as through effects on the body's surrounding energy fields. Inside the body these renewable energies mix with the body's own - inherited (genetic constitution) energies (Jing) and spirit (Shen). Together they produce the energies critical to the physical body's function and vitality - the balance and harmony between yin and yang, as well as between Qi, Jing and Shen are seen to be critical to health. In this equation emotions are seen as related to underlying conditions and to organ function. Energies are also concentrated in certain body centers, or tan tiens (or dan tiens, tandams in Japanese) or organ systems, and flows (circulates) through pathways (meridians) that interconnect organs which have specific energy relationships (Five Elements Theory) and yin, yang balances. Certain other energies are also produced, such as Protective Energy that serves as an important function in what we now understand as immune function.

In addition to a different energy model, qi gong is also different from many other energy systems in that it includes self-practice. Qi gong can be done alone, at any time, standing, sitting or even when confined to bed. Exercises can be stationary, moving or both. They use breathing techniques, meditations, visualizations, sounds, vibrations, pressure point manipulations and movement mixed with intention as well as sensory awareness to lead, direct, balance or strengthen energy flow.

As a healing art, qi gong works gradually to correct imbalances. If conditions have gone to far and they are critical or life threatening, other intervention is often needed. Qi gong is not a quick fix, although some results do come relatively quickly. But it doesn't directly heal. It only affects energy. The body heals itself through energy. Results also improve with practice as people develop energy and their energy skills.

Qi gong practice includes sets of movements, as well as fixed postures and meditations. Some practices are aimed at overall strengthening and regulation of energy, while others are more specific and targeted - used to stimulate and regulate energy flow, oxygen intake and blood flow as well as to massage organs, stimulate glands, promote lymphatic flow and stimulate the parasympathetic branch of the Central Nervous System. Some say qi gong resembles a mix of moving yoga and self-chiropractic. Others say it looks like tai chi without steps or it is zen with intention. Qi gong is also often combined with acupuncture, herbal medicine and T'un-na.

At a minimum qi gong practice is deeply relaxing and stimulates brain alpha or beta wave function. Practice also make people feel more vitalized and immune function can be increased. Chronic conditions often improve. Many are able to combat simple medical problems from tooth aches to minor infections. Injuries, cuts and bruises heal faster. Serious practitioners often evidence changes in skin (rebuilding connective tissue). For disease prevention, treatment of chronic conditions, healing, maintaining vitality and extension of life, the system is without parallel. This is not to say that Western medicine is not effective. It is certainly superior for emergency medicine, sophisticated diagnostics and treatment of viral infection. But it also has limitations. Western medicine has less than a sterling record with many chronic conditions, or conditions related to stress. A lot also has to be learned about healing and bolstering immune capability.

Energy practices in the martial disciplines often differ from those in the healing arts and can use different energy as well, including yang/jing energy combined with intent and projections of attitudes, mental states or emotions (to mentally unbalance or even move an opponent). Certain practices are also used to protect the body from injury and to increase strength. Some exercises bolster the body's ability to absorb blows to virtually any area except the eyes. This is often call Iron Shirt or Iron Bell training in the Chinese arts and body conditioning in the Okinawan and Japanese arts. Some systems employ striking, gripping or pressure techniques to affect acupuncture points (often co-located with neurological points) in combinations that have an effect not understood in Western science. Energy flow is disrupted, enhanced or interrupted in such a way as to affect (1) muscular function and strength, (2) blood flow and pressure, (3) structure (bone and ligament), (4) organ function, such as the ability to breath and heart function, (4) internal orientation, as in balance and mental stability, or the brain's ability to process incoming stimuli. In some martial systems internal energy is also combined with relaxed, quick, or whip like actions to enhance strength and/or the affect of striking energy to penetrate an opponent's body. Energy can also be projected to affect the opponent's energy, balance, or muscle ability.

As part of Taoism, qi gong energy practices are also used as a vehicle to achieve immortality. Some Buddhist traditions also have qi gong roots. In these disciplines careful guidance of a trained teacher is essential.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

qigong, qi gong, chi kung, energy healing, health, chi, ki, energy medicine

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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