Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine recognise Qigong as an important legacy. It is a treasure-house of observation, information and methods meticulously gathered over thousands of years upon which today’s practitioners draw.
Despite modern medicine’s scientific discoveries and developments, people who are suffering the stress of modern living, the ill-effects of environmental pollution, or simply the effects of the ageing process, are increasingly turning to alternative Chinese medicine for help. Modern medicine, despite its adherence to scientific rigour, has been less than effective in the area of acute and chronic diseases and is now itself turning to traditional medicine for solutions.
Scientific organisations have been set up world wide to investigate the benefits derived from the practise of Qigong. They are studying closely its ability to maintain good health, prevent diseases, promote self-healing, reduce the effects of ageing and prolong life.
The basic medical concept of Qigong
In ancient times, the concept that was used frequently involved inhaling and exhaling qi. They used the qi energy by absorbing it deeply into the brain’s area of activity. Over a long time techniques were developed which enabled the absorption of qi through the whole body via the skin’s pores. The way you breath is very important in Qigong; it is a basic function.
From the 1950’s onwards, many forms of Qigong began to be practised again. Qigong can be divided into two categories or sections: ‘broad sense’ and ‘narrow sense’. It is in its narrow sense, that Qigong is being practised today, where different kinds of training and physical exercises are used. This includes the practice of the main physical movements, which consists of ‘jing kung’ (‘jing’ means quiet or inner-stillness, in Chinese) and ‘dong kung’(‘dong’ means active).
Qigong in the broader sense, by training the correct posture, improving mental awareness, and encouraging a correct spiritual attitude, will let the body find its own natural balance and form. How successful Qigong will be at achieving this, of course, is subject to different levels of awareness. Nevertheless, the constant practise of Qigong in its broader sense will increase the strength of your body’s defences, reduce the ageing process, and open up the channels that will enable the body to store the vital energy which has entered it via these channels.
The fundamental medical theory of Qigong
When practising Qigong, you will improve your internal ‘jing’ (essence), qi (energy), and ‘shen’ (spirit). These are the three major substances in human being ‘Jing’, qi and ‘shen’ are the roots of life. Therefore, when we talk about exercising Qigong, it means excersing ‘jing’, qi and ‘shen’.
1. Exercising qi
The so-called exercising of the qi means to consciously exercise breathing, which will enhance the function of the lungs and promote vitality in the body by thoroughly oxygenating it; and in particular, the function of the ‘three burners’: the upper burner, the middle burner, and the lower burner.
The upper burner when thoroughly oxygenated, enables the qi mechanism to flow from it, and this will make the qi from the lungs function better and, in turn, this will help to cultivate the qi to grow throughout the whole body.
Qi circulates around the body via the meridians and improves the body’s whole vitality. The meridians are the invisible lines which connect the outer surface of the body with its internal organs.
The middle burner allows the qi to flow and strengthen the spleen and stomach, which improves the appetite. When the qi in the lower burner is flowing, there will be an abundance of ‘yang chi’ in the kidneys. So when you practise Qigong regularly you will get a warm feeling flowing through your body, your facial colour will take on a ruddy glow; and there will be an especially beneficial effect on the functioning of your kidneys.
‘Yan chi’ can be divided into two categories: one is the natural qi that we are born with, and the other is the qi we acquire as a result of ingesting and digesting our food.
The ultimate aim of exercising the qi in Qigong is to transform the qi of process into that of the flawlessly natural qi experienced by the foetus in the mother’s womb; that is the stage of ‘original chi’ or ‘true chi’, that you inherited from your parents. This was called “acquiring the foetal chi” in the ancient schools of Qigong.
There are two forms of breathing: ‘internal’ breathing and ‘external’ breathing. The external breath is the exchange of human qi with the universal qi that comes from the environment and the universe. Clean qi is transferred into the body and the bad qi is extracted; in this exchange you take in oxygen and expel the carbon dioxide which is in your body.
The internal breathing refers to the breathing within the body’s own cells using a purified form of breathing. The body has to go through the breathing process of obtaining air from the environment or the universe and transferring it to its cells, where the process of exchange happens; this process oxygenates the cells and expels and eliminates carbon dioxide. If the mechanism of the cell breathing is strong, then the ‘yan chi’ becomes abundant.
However, with the external breathing there are three ways of breathing. First, we breath through our nose, mouth, wind pipe and lungs, and the body exchanges with the external world. The second way occurs during the period when as a foetus our breath enters through our veins, and there’s an exchange of qi with our mother via the umbilical cord. The third way is by breathing through the skin’s pores and the acupuncture points – in this way you can directly exchange qi with the external world. Apart from using the skin’s pores and acupuncture points as channels, there is also the ‘chao meridian’. All of these are related to the ‘yan chi’ which is closely related to the qi inherited from your parents at birth. Therefore, there are three ways that the human body exchanges with the external world.
All the meridian channels can be blocked due to various problems encountered in life. These blockages can impair the body’s ability to function properly. Only by the persistent practise of Qigong will you be able to release these blockages.
2. Exercising the spirit.
During the process of exercising qi, from the beginning to the end, you simply cannot ignore the spirit or mental awareness. This forms the basis of practising Qigong.
In the book of ‘Tai Shi Ching’ it said, “What is called being alive? That is when the qi entered the human body, it brings life into this body, and that is called life. What is being called dead? That is when the spirit has left the body, that means you are dead. Therefore, we understand that the spirit and the qi can prolong life; for it happen you have to guard and nurture both the spirit and qi’s movements. ”
When the spirit moves away and leaves the body, then the qi will leave, too. So, if people want to achieve longevity, the spirit and the qi have to be guarded properly.”
From the above paragraph we understand that the combination of the sprit and the qi is the root of longevity.
‘Yi’ in the human context, means consciousness; that is the consciousness of logical thinking. In terms of space and time, there are two fundamental phenomenon: to exercise one’s spirit and consciousness in a very positive way. This will enable one’s body to experience fundamental changes. There was an ancient saying that said ” to revert one’s self to the original state”, this original state is called ‘yan shen’ (original spirit) which is inherited at conception.
The fundamental reason for exercising the spirit is to reach the state of spiritual perfection and mental tranquillity. This will calm the mind, riding it of its delusory thoughts (mind pollution) and free the body from earthly desires, thereby, enabling the transfer of thoughts to a level or state where they emulate the powers of the spiritual beings, and travel the universe at will.
But now some scholars regard the exercising of the ‘shen’ (spirit) as merely to enter into the state of calmness or when emotional activities are calmed down. Although it is believed that exercising the spirit is solely to focus on mental tranquillity, in fact, the ‘yan shen’ (native shen) is not the same as ‘shi shen’(aquired shen)which is used to eliminate the delusory thoughts.
‘Yan shen’ is fundamentally different in that it is already present in the body from conception, and not acquired from the outside universe. Whereas ‘shi shen’s’ information is relayed from the external universe into the body through the eyes, ears and nose. However, during the practising of Qigong and the exercising of the ‘shen’ (spirit) you can have your eyes open and see nothing, likewise, hear nothing of the surrounding sounds — you have achieved the ultimate state of Qigong. When you have reached this ultimate state, you have successfully returned to the native qi (the foetal original). During this state the oxygenation completely revitalises your essence levels. You have reached a state where the spirit and the qi are merged, vitalising your essence and bringing it to the fore. This not only helps in recovery from an illness, but can also prolong life.
Exercising the ‘ching’ (essence).
Over the centuries Qigong schools have found and understood that there are two types of essence. The ‘native’ essence inherited from parents, and acquired essence, derived from the universe.
a.) The ‘native’ essence (original) is inherited from your parents. Each parent will pass on its own ‘native’ essence, inherited, in turn, from previous generations.
b.) The other essence is ‘acquired’ by the intake of food and water, and subsequently produced by the spleen and the stomach’s digestion process. After the essence has been extracted it is normally stored in the five organs. That stored in the kidney’s meridian forms the root of ‘acquired’ essence; and its very quality is directly derived from the quality of the food and water imbued. [In real terms, the native essence is the source from where the ‘acquired’ essence comes from.]
Exercising internal essence in Qigong actually involves two processes: One, by exercising the body so that the spirit and the essence become merged as one. This enables the qi to unblock any qi meridian that may be blocked, freeing circulation of qi to nourish the body’s organs and helping them to function properly. To achieve this you must exercise the ‘acquired’ qi to nourish the ‘native’ qi. In Qigong this is referred to as oxygenated qi.
The second process involves the movement of the inner breath which is stored in the kidney meridian. With the opening of this internal qi, you are then able to transfer the ‘ching’ (energy) into qi breath. When qi breathing reaches this state, it will improve the circulation of the blood which, in turn, will nourish and energise the brain.
Traditionally, in many of the old Qigong schools, this exercise of purifying the qi was seen as actually the exercising of the qi to improve the brain’s power. In reality, when practising Qigong, the exercising of qi, the exercising spirit and the exercising essence are interrelated and inseparable.
2) Acupoints distributed along the meridians play an important role in the Qigong exercise. The meridians are channels which enable the internal qi to operate. In the human body, the internal organs, limbs, five senses, organs, skin, muscles, ligaments, arteries and veins, etc., all rely a great deal on the meridian network.
First, when practising the exercises in Qigong, one can experience the movement of qi and blood flowing through the meridians. An experienced Qigong practitioner, Li Shi Zhen, in his book ‘The Eight Extra Miraculous Channels’ pointed out that you can only experience the existence of these meridian channels by doing the Qigong exercises. Students of acupuncture must first learn to achieve inner stillness before they can actually contemplate practising as acupuncturist. Otherwise, they will not be able to detect the existence of the meridians or how these internal meridians really work. To achieve the required degree of sensitivity first and foremost they have to practise Qigong.
Second, one can transfer Qigong’s external exercises into internal exercises through relaxation and concentration of the whole body, and through breathing exercises. This can lead to the qi and blood flowing freely along the whole meridian channels. It can also open up some of the blockages that may exist in the meridian channels. Once unblocked, the qi can flow and replenish the body.
Regarding healing, traditional Chinese medical principles hold that one should select an acupuncture point on which to concentrate. Similarly, when practising Qigong, to preserve one’s health the two key acupuncture points to consider are the top ‘dantian’ and lower ‘dantian’. (Dantian in Chinese means the pubic region.) One should be very careful that the top and lower ‘dantians’ cannot be observed simultaneously by beginners. This is reserved only for those who have achieved the higher level, when internal qi accumulated in the ‘dantian’ enables the experiencing of the two ‘dantian’ acupoints.
3. Three Main Factors in Qigong Exercises.
The main points in the Qigong exercises are the relaxation of the mind and body, and the adjustment of the circulation of the qi and blood with the aid of external movements. Its ability to change consciousness, superseding the old, existing consciousness with an ability to explore new potential capacities. The behaviour of the internal consciousness is fundamental to Qigong’s exercises. The exercises allow one to enter a state of internal tranquillity by the use of external movements. This activity enables the internal replenishment of the old by the new with the consequence of improved health and an increased life span. To achieve this state of relaxation you have to concentrate on the external movements until you are merged with them, which will allow the qi to flow freely.
Relaxation, concentration, and external movement are the three key factors in Qigong. Master these and you have mastered the basics requirements of Qigong.
Relaxation here refers to the elimination of all tensions. When the body and the spirit have entered into a comfortable and tranquil state. If one can achieve relaxation, one degree of nervous excitement will be reduced; that’s to say, the muscles that control the movements can relax fully, along with the complete relaxation of the arteries and veins. As a result, the diastolic pressure will be reduce. The blood and qi circulation will be improved, providing a good foundation for enhanced concentration. No matter which school of Qigong you practise, all practitioners cannot emphasis enough the need for complete relaxation. Above all, it is vital to understand the importance of relaxation when practising Qigong.
There are three techniques most commonly used for relaxation:
1. Counting Breath method:
By quietly counting the number of breaths you take as you breathe in and out, you will lead your thought inwards towards the self. This eliminates the disturbances of the outside world.
2.Internal Observation method:
Using visualisation or gentle natural sounds or music to ease yourself into a state of calmness.
3. Consciousness method:
Using the thought process. Psychologically, at some points you can sense the internal workings of Qigong. This will enable to enter into the state of Qigong.
No matter which one you choose, the three methods of relaxation all require entering the state of stillness quickly; and going on to a tranquil state of total non-existence, completely free from any desires and awareness. Once you reached this relaxed state, the natural qi will follow its own path. This will lay a good foundation for the operation of the ‘Chen qi’, that means the real qi.
Reducing All Delusory Thoughts
Desires and thoughts are all mental activities. Concentrating your thoughts on a particular part of your body will reduce the delusory thoughts. Once the thought is reduced, the body can then promote the circulation of the qi. Relaxation should be followed immediately by concentration, because once you are able to relax you will enter a state of calm and stillness. The body and mind are comforted by your heartbeat, and together they will slow down.
The immune system is reduced or weakened by external causes such as coldness, dampness or heat, etc., and this can easily adversely influence the body, resulting in ill-health. Therefore, if relaxation is not followed by correct concentration, the brain will become more active, with its celebral cortex remaining in a state of excitement with delusory thoughts. There is much to be gained by making this celebral cortex relax, as it will help eradicate these delusory thoughts. This will also allow the biological consciousness to function well, allowing the body’s own natural defence system to reduce illness and prevent bad qi entering the body.
At the same time, increasing the excitement in various parts of the body by varying the internal position and by concentrating on different acupuncture points will strengthen the body’s defence mechanism. This enlightened approach will improve the movement of the qi internally. You will have created and external stillness and an internal movement. This is a beneficial exercise as these two states complement each other. Once you have adopted this method you will increase your sensitivity to the internal qi, and increase your self-awareness and self-control; opening up enormous potential to the body and revealing Qigong’s ability to provide tranquillity, happiness and longevity.
We know from the above, that at the core of the Qigong exercise is the ability to concentrate in order for the qi to flow smoothly; at the same time, we must remember the significance of the internal consciousness as an important factor in Qigong.
Internal movement and concentration enable the qi to flow along the meridian channels, assisted by the external movements. Most importantly, the combination of external and internal movements make the method become complete. As an example, the external movement of the lungs can help unblock their meridians, leading to the external qi entering the organs. If one uses the combination of internal and external movements, one can accumulate both the qi and the consciousness which actually matches the unique requirements of practising Qigong. Other essentials are interrelated and are the breathing, mental state, the counting of the breathing, and the movements — these all become one. So when practising Qigong, the exercise should be considered as a whole.
Recent Developments in Qigong Practice.
Currently there is a tendency to place emphasis on the external movement in Qigong, rather than the achievement of internal tranquillity. In future it is expected that this trend will continue. Nevertheless, if looked at it from the point of view of preventing illnesses; improving good health – either physical or mental; prolonging one’s life; and exploring the human body’s great potential, then Qigong’s development will place its emphasis on its ability to produce inner tranquillity. This will become the mainstream Qigong practice.