Since the beginning of civilization, people have sought to relieve pain and suffering, to heal sickness, and to prolong life. In China, ancient exercises evolved with that express purpose and were called Daoyin. The more common term of today is Qigong.
Qigong in its earliest forms is as old as Chinese culture, and probably began even before the advent of writing. Qigong is a primary component, and sister practice of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.
The many systems of Qigong are as different as one could imagine, from forms that train monks to repel spears driven into their throats or pull one-ton rocks with their testicles, to forms that cure chronic diseases such as cancer and arthritis. There are many more qigong forms and systems than the far fewer systems of T’ai Chi, which has only five main branches. Qigong has had thousands of years of development, while it is estimated that T’ai Chi has had a mere six to eight hundred.
“Chinese Qigong [Dao Yin] has been practiced with a recorded history of over 2,000 years. But it wasn’t until 1953, when Liu Gui-zheng published a paper entitled “Practice On Qigong Therapy”, that the term *Qigong (Chi Kung) was adopted as the popular name for this type of exercise system. Prior to that date, there were many terms given to such exercise, such as Daoyin, Xingqi, Liandan, Xuangong, Jinggon, Dinggong, Xinggon, Neigong, Xiudao, Zhoshan, Neiyangong, Yangshengong, etc…” — Qi Journal, Qigong
Qigong means breath-work. Qi means breath, or life-force. The second word, gong means the same as the Kung in Kung Fu, (different spelling). Qigong is sometimes spelled Chi Kung, although the Chi in Chi Kung should not be confused with the Chi in T’ai Chi. They do not have the same tone or meaning.
Coordinating breath with movement is the cornerstone of Qigong. Death coincides with breathing ones’ last breath, after which the body is no longer alive. When a person breathes more slowly and deeply, he or she is less anxious and more calm and focussed. This is the lasting residual from regular Qigong practice.
T’ai Chi is a blending of Qigong and Kung Fu. T’ai Chi is “Qigong with a martial intent.” Qigong clears the mind, relaxes the body, and opens the channels through which the qi travels. Qi can be felt immediately during and after the first session, but developing martial skill takes a long time, daily practice and lots of focused attention.
Qi has been researched by scientists since the 1980s. I have read and heard about lots of fantastic Qigong in which people move other people without touching them, heal people from a distance, move objects without touching them and even cause spontaneous combustion. I personally have never felt or seen any of these things, but I am very impressed with the way I feel from doing Qigong. In order to dispel mystical, magical thinking, after scientific review, several forms of Qigong have received the Chinese government’s stamp of approval. These are also the forms I prefer to teach.
The best thing to do is to try out different Qigong forms for yourself and see what they do for you. However, Qigong teachers should be discouraged from teaching people with severe neurosis, as psychotic episodes can be induced from Qigong in some cases. People can become too detached from the world around them and retreat into an inner world that is irrational and even violent.
Qigong integrates the three treasures: Jing or Essence (original, birth energy), Qi or Vitality (breath, daily energy) and Shen or Spirit. (mind, soul). A person with too much or not enough of any of these three is considered out of balance. For example, individuals with too much spirit might hurt themselves if they exceed their physical capabilities, by running too far, or lifting too much weight. Or they might shorten their lifespan or acquire a disease, despite having good original jing, by drinking too much alcohol and hurting the liver, over-eating and taxing the spleen and stomach or smoking and polluting the lungs.
This model does not take into account the psyche, ones emotional life, which is a pervasive factor in how we feel. While Qigong and T’ai Chi are very therapeutic and provide answers to lots of questions unanswered by other practices, practicing them in and of themselves cannot solve emotional and psychological problems. Defined merely as energy, the existence of qi is undeniable. The Greeks named it Pneuma, the Indians named it Prana, and we call it Life Force. What distinguishes qi from prana, pnuema and life-force are the Chinese methods of qi cultivation.
Qigong movements differ from hard and strenuous, to soft and relaxing, to not moving at all. Typically, breath and movements are coordinated to create a meditative state during which the circulation improves, the mind is becomes very focused and connective tissue is strengthened.
The forms that have no visible movements at all are the most cryptic of all to the casual observer. Standing (meditation) requires no memorization of complex forms, and results in skill levels that are beyond technique. From practicing any of the variations in standing meditation, the paradoxical statements about no-thought, mind-intent and mind/body integration are realized.
While the memorization of complex sets of forms is mentally and physically challenging and interesting, the far less entertaining stationary standing postures will actually get the practitioner closer to realizing the goal of spontaneous cognition in martial arts and life. The emphasis during standing meditation is purely on the posture, and most specifically on the spinal column. On a physiological level, the brain and its thoughts are sent as signals via a system of nerves as energetic impulses to the organs and limbs. Standing meditation represents the deconstruction of the many forms and systems of kung fu to their lowest common denominator; the connection to gravity, or planetary forces, or the infinite cosmos.
I recommend learning multiple forms of Qigong in order to avoid RSI (repetitive stress injuries) that can come from doing the same forms over and over again, decade after decade. Just as you can effectively improve your condition by practicing Qigong, you can shorten your lifespan and diminish your quality of life. You always have that choice. I practice static, dynamic and relaxed Qigong forms regularly. As I age and more of my life is in the past than in the future, Qigong has become my dominant practice. The relaxed, Taoist Wudang forms, the dynamic Shaolin Buddhist forms and the static, mind-intent Yi Ch’uan forms compliment each other and all cultivate Qi in different ways.