Qigong – some of you have heard me talk about qigong before. For those that haven’t you’re probably looking at it trying to decide how to pronounce it (it’s pronounced chee-gung, don’t let the q fool you). Whether you have a passing familiarity or are just learning a fantastic new Scrabble word I hope by the end of this post you are interested in trying qigong for yourself.
So what is qigong? Qigong is the name for a wide variety of health promoting practices from China that combine deep breathing, aligned posture, and mental focus/meditative techniques to promote health and well-being. It is based on the same principles as Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is itself a part of Chinese medicine (one of the 5 pillars along with acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition therapy, and tuina/massage). The main idea is that it develops and strengthens the energy, or qi/chi, of the body, circulates the qi through the meridians, and boosts and harmonizes the functioning of the internal organs. The movements used are gentle and are coupled with deep breathing, proper posture, and emptying of the mind. By clearing the mind it also has a meditative action. Therefore it’s effects are on both the physical and the mental/emotional aspects of the body. It is a form of exercise despite not looking much like the types of exercise we are used to. Though it may not cause us to break a sweat or get short of breath it can be just as beneficial to the body as any other form of exercise, and it doesn’t cause wear and tear on the joints and muscles. It can be a great starting point for those who aren’t getting much exercise currently, or a great addition to an existing exercise regime.
A daily qigong practice can have many beneficial effects on the body. The most obvious are stress relief, improved sleep, increased energy, and an overall sense of improved well-being. It can also be beneficial for many health conditions. These benefits can start to be felt within a few days of only around 15 minutes of daily practice. It also has some major benefits over the more well known practices of yoga and tai chi. In qigong most of the forms are done standing (sometimes sitting) and does not require any special equipment or clothing. They can be performed anywhere you have enough space to swing your arms around and not knock anything over. This gives it an advantage over yoga since you don’t need to bring a mat with you and where you might be limited where and when you can do it. The movements are easy to learn and done in repetitions. This gives it an advantage over tai chi that can take months to learn the specific sequence of movements/steps and which requires a lot more space to maneuver around in. There are also hundreds of different forms you can learn which can be mixed and matched to tailor to your needs and tastes. For example I like the forms that have a lot of movement over the ones that are predominantly still. I can even just do one form during a few minutes of down time when I need to relieve stress or perhaps a little mid-afternoon “pick-me-up”.
The many different movements of qigong all have different effects on the body, though there is a lot of overlap between them. Some focus on the arms and shoulders, some loosen and align the spine, while others get the legs pumping. The common thread between all of the different forms is deep breathing, proper posture, and mental focus. Breathing is something we all do daily yet few of us do it well. Obviously none of us are doing it “wrong” or else we’d pass out, but most of us don’t do it optimally. Many Americans breath shallow into their chests. In qigong we learn to take deep, slow breaths into our bellies. This allows much more oxygen into the blood stream while simultaneously slowing our breathing rate. More oxygen means more fuel for our bodies (oxygen is used to produce ATP which is the fuel burned by all of our bodies’ cells) which means more energy and improved mental function. A slow respiratory rate also causes us to slow our heart rate. A proper posture helps make deep breathing easier while also alleviating much of the physical stress we put on our joints and muscles. Mental focus makes qigong a meditative exercise. It allows us to slow down or stop the constant mental chatter that most of us have. This provides stress relief and mental clarity.
There are many ways to learn qigong. The best way is to learn from a teacher and I encourage any one who is interested to find a class nearby. Unfortunately, there are not many teachers in the area, and the cost and commitment of taking a class can make it difficult. There are also many books and websites about qigong. You can also find many different videos (free and not free) that show different exercises. If you have never done qigong before it is important to learn the basics before just following along with a free video on YouTube. If you are interested you can contact me for some more information to help get you started. Or even better click on the banner on the right hand side of the page (or CLICK HERE) to go to a website that offers an online class. This is a 22 week program that shows you the basics as well as a complete set of qigong movements. While trying to weed through many different resources for my patients (and myself) I settled on this one because it is a complete product, and it offers a 2 week trial for only $4.95. That way you don’t have to shell out a lot of money only to find you don’t particularly like it. I hope you find it enjoyable and can share the many benefits that I have found by doing qigong.
If you’ve found the idea of an easy to do and easy to learn form of exercise intriguing I hope you seek out more information as there is much more to discuss about this topic (maybe I’ll have more posts in the future). But the best way to learn more about qigong is to actually try it. I suggest starting out with the 2 week trial mentioned above.