We owe a lot to ancient Chinese culture. For better or worse, China has been the cradle of creation when it comes to invention. The Big Four were invented in China: paper, printing, the compass and gunpowder. Along with those is a long list of other inventions, including the pasta noodle, silk, fireworks, toilet paper and the fork. Possibly no other culture was so inventive. That extends into the world of medical science, too.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is considered by most historians to be the oldest organized medical system known to mankind. Running the gamut from acupuncture to herbs, nutrition and exercise and more, TCM has gained in popularity in the West.
Near the core of TCM’s exercise theory is the practice of qigong. Though suffering through several different Western spellings (chi kung, chi gong, qi kung, qi gong and others) in its relatively brief exposure in the West, the qigong spelling is becoming the norm.
Bang a gong. The pronunciation of qigong has remained fairly unchanged. It’s almost always pronounced chee gong. Qigong is a meditative form of exercise that combines movement, breathing and awareness. In that sense it is a holistic practice, merging philosophy, healing, medicine and martial arts. Following the overall view of TCM, qigong recognizes that all parts and aspects of life work together to support wellness. That is a philosophy that qigong shares with other holistic meditational movement practices including tai chi and yoga. That differs significantly from the main approach of Western medicine, which has devolved into a grouping of reductionist practices with specialists treating symptoms as isolated experiences.
In modern Chinese culture, qigong is still a very common approach to healing. In fact, it actually gained in popularity with the support of the central Chinese government in the late 20th century.
Slow and easy. Anyone who has practiced yoga will testify that it can be practiced at a high level of exertion, based on personal taste. Some people practice yoga so vigorously that it resembles Western aerobics. But the real key to a practice like qigong is the intention to recognize the collaboration of thought, breath and body. That is usually best achieved in a slow and easy movement.
Qigong translates into English as “life-energy cultivation.” Sometimes the word qigong is seen as qi gong, splitting the word “qi” from the basic. Qi, also seen as “chi” in English, refers to the life force energy that flows through the entire of creation, including our bodies. Every culture recognizes life force and uses some term to describe it. Yoda called it the Force. The bushman tribe of the Kalahari Desert, the ¡Kung, call it num. Continentals and readers of Nobel Laureate Henri Bergson would call it élan vital. In Japanese, it’s ki; Sanskrit, prana; in Hawaiian, mana. Einstein could have called it the unified field. And in his lectures, Bruno Gröning called it “the Heilstrom.” The Chinese term is qi.
It is that life force that maintains us. The unimpeded flow of that energy results in health. Obstruct energy in any case and there are consequences, sometimes most dire. It’s easiest for a Westerner to understand the necessity of keeping energy flowing smoothly by looking at it in Western medicine terms, as coarse as that viewpoint may be.
On the scale of physical anatomy, a simple example of the flow of energy in our bodies is the circulation of blood. Blood carries energy to all the cells in the form of nutrients and oxygen. In the most simplistic sense, that’s the flow of energy we most easily see in our body’s world. Block that flow and you encounter problems. In fact, that’s the number one health problem in the Western world: heart disease. And billions of dollars are spent on medical ways to keep that energy flow going. We use methods to ream out the arteries with drill bits, smashing the gook that blocks them against the walls of the arteries with balloons (angioplasty), or sawing open the chest and replacing the pipes themselves (bypass).
Keeping energy flowing on the physical level is the last resort. There are more subtle levels where this energy blocking occurs and we can address it there. That’s where qi gong comes in.
Get it on. Qi gong uses movement in a flowing nature. Often the stylized actions mimic the movements seen in nature, with names like White Crane or Snake Creeping Down. These terms are not unlike those anglicized for yoga, such as Down Dog, Tree, etcetera. As important as the fluid movements of qi gong is the incorporation of static poses between the movements. Always, the third element of the discipline is included and that is the mental awareness or meditative state. Visualizing the flow of qi, imaging and resting the mind are ways to involve the breath and thought.
Even Western research is finding that both qigong and tai chi, when properly experienced, can boost the immune system, reduce symptoms like shingles and chronic pain as well as other illnesses. Those in the know, go with the flow.
Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit HeartlandHealing.com for past articles.