Most readers will by now be familiar with Master Simon Lau’s martial arts abilities. But those that know him better, know him as a Master of many disciplines. In line with his belief that a warrior must be able to heal as well as harm, Master Lau has dedicated the time he hasn’t spent training, to learning the Chinese healing arts. Currently, Master Lau is a member of the Register for Chinese Herbal Medicine, a qualified acupuncturist and a dedicated Qigong Master. He has also been practising Buddhism and studying Taoist philosophy since 1950′s. His knowledge of Qigong has also enhanced his Martial Art training by helping him to learn where the energy in each technique comes from, how it works its way through the body and where it leaves the body. But the broader benefits from Qigong training are more valuable still. It can transform the lives of those that train with a sincere heart. The internal discipline gained from Qigong training is vital for anyone wishing to confront and grow beyond his or her emotional issues. Left alone, the negative energies from negative emotions like guilt and anger can cripple our lives. By helping us to deal with them, Qigong becomes a valuable tool for finding that which we are all seeking one way or the other: happiness. Part of this is learning to appreciate and value the privilege of living and free ourselves from that which prevents us from seeing the beauty and joy in everyday life.

The ancient art of Qigong is all to do with healing. Being a Chinese healing art this means it treats the whole person, mind and body. It involves forms of meditation and gentle exercise to optimise your health and life span. The dedicated practitioner learns to train the mind and body for the purpose of self-reliance and self-adjustment. During this process the practitioner achieves the ability to sustain optimal physiological functioning of the body and mind. It increases the body’s immunity against disease, resists premature ageing and prolongs life. Qigong also facilitates Qi transformation, a process that refers to the change of matter and energy in the process of life. This includes the absorption and transformation of inhaled air and nutrition into Qi, in order to be used by the body. It’s a fascinating and gentle art that is very well known in the East and is regarded by the Chinese as a ‘national treasure’ and part of their cultural heritage. The development of Qigong in China has been a very long, slow process. Over a period of some three to four thousand years it has been progressively refined and technically adapted by practitioners who learned from experience and acquired the art in conjunction with other techniques of conquering disease. In ancient times it was known by other names such as Dao Yin (roughly translated as gymnastics), Tu Na (breath control) and Yang Sheng (bodybuilding) among others.

The natural starting point for explaining Qigong is to explain the concept of Qi (pronounced ‘Chi’). It is a broadly inclusive term and exists in everything. It can be regarded as the air that we breathe in, the most basic matter that makes up the universe and the essence of all living things. From the point of view of traditional Chinese medicine, Qi is the essence in the human body. It’s activities and changes determine a person’s state of health. Qi is said to be the foundation of life, the force that enables a person to carry on living. From this came the treatment philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine that, in order to rid one from disease, one must strengthen the Qi, ensure the clearance of Qi flow pathways, regulate and harmonise the workings of the Qi and blood, and finally balance the Yin and Yang within the body.

In humans, the Qi is known as “True Qi” or the “Yuan Qi”. It is a person’s vital energy and is a combination of the Congenital Qi and the Post-natal Qi. Congenital Qi includes the Original Qi, which was formed before and during the development of a foetus. It becomes the initial power of life. Post-natal Qi includes Celestial and Earthly Qi – that which is derived from inhaled air, water and grains. It becomes the material source of nourishment. The interaction of Congenital Qi and Post-natal Qi forms Essential Qi – the motivating power of life. It flows through channels in our bodies which form a network of pathways, allowing the Qi to reach every organ and cell in the body, bringing its messages and essence of life. The pathways that flow horizontally are known as collaterals and those that run longitudinally are channels. According to Chinese medicine, inadequate True Qi will result in the sluggish flow of Qi and blood. When there is a blockage of Qi, a source of illness will develop. Qi leads the flow of blood, but blood nurtures the strength of Qi. They are inter-dependent. Only when the flow for both is smooth and strong, can the person experience health and vitality.

The causes for blockages in either Qi or blood flow can be broadly classified into two groups: External and internal. External causes arise due to an excess of the following 6 elements: Wind, Chill, Dryness, Heat, Heat and Dryness and humidity. These elements arise due to sudden and severe weather changes as well as excessive intake of food that carries one of more of those properties. Internal blockages are caused by the 7 extreme emotions: Joy, Anger, Worry, Misery, Melancholy, Horror and Fear. In extreme situations these emotions can cause illness because each one is related to an internal organ. Joy strains the heart, anger damages the liver, sadness inhibits the lungs, worry surpresses the stomach and spleen, and horror stresses the kidneys.

There are many ways to classify Qigong. 1: by it’s content. This includes (a) the Cultivation of the essence of life. This involves the regulation of one’s essence and vital energy which leads to the cultivation of the mind and, in turn, improves one’s health. (b) The development of character by the training of the mind and by the regulation of the mental activities (‘Yi’). And (c) by the training of both the mind and the body. 2: By style. In the Static style the body remains motionless in the sitting position, standing stances or in the supine position. In the Dynamic style the limbs move training the flexibility of the ligaments and muscles, strengthening the bone and improving the sensitivity of the skin. In turn, this invokes the flow of Qi internally. 3: By the purpose of it’s training. This can be either for showmanship where it is used to demonstrate special effects in martial arts and acrobatics or for healing oneself or others. 4: By the originating philosophy. From the Buddhist point of view all things in the world are illusive. So emphasis is placed on the cultivation of the mind and the need to save all living things on earth. With Taoism the sole purpose is to search for longevity, thus it employs the cultivation of one’s moral character. With Confucian philosophy the aim becomes self-development and the training of one’s temperament. From a healing point of view the aim becomes strengthening one’s health and healing and preventing diseases. With Wushu (Chinese martial art) Qigong is used primarily for physical training and health improvement. Finally, folklore. This encompasses the numerous forms of Qigong found within the various regions or the ethnic minorities within China. Again the purpose will be to improve one’s health and treat disease.

Unlike blood, Qi is abstract and invisible to most people. However, with modern scientific technology, the presence of Qi has been detected through the use of low frequency fluctuation modulated infrared radiation, low frequency electromagnetic transmission, infrasonic wave and molecular flow transmission. The various responses from Qi can be tracked scientifically by the different types of instruments designed to detect different sources of energy and messages. The activities of the human mind and spirit can influence and direct the responses from living organisms to electricity, magnetism, sounds, light and heat. Similarly, if given the appropriate conditions the human mind and spirit can influence the body systems and enhance one’s ability for self-regulation and repair in order to achieve optimal health. So Qigong actively trains the activities of one’s mind or ‘Yi’ through the regulation of one’s thoughts, regulation of breath (inhalation and exhalation) and the regulation of body movements. This enables the body to enter a natural state of relaxation and serenity, which enhances and improves the force of life. Therefore Qigong is a method and a science which develops and explores the potential power that we already possess. The benefits from Qigong don’t actually come from the movements or the exercises in themselves but from the state of mind that these processes jointly induce – the ‘Qigong state’. There are many states of mind a person can be in. Awake, asleep, alert, competitive, inspirational, dying, idiosyncratic and so on. However, the Qigong functional state is unique and differs from the rest. When awake it is in super quiet mode. The body relaxes, the brain calms, attention is focused and one thought replaces all. The brain then becomes an independent system which co-operates and harmonises with time and space. As a result it is highly sequential in its functions, which generates positive physiological responses.

Qigong has a pronounced impact on human physiology. 1. The neurological (nervous) system: It allows the brain to suppress the over excited neurones, enhances thinking power, improves the regulating functions of the brain and re-establishes control over disrupted functions controlled by the brain. 2. Cardiac-circulatory (heart and blood flow) system: It can lower the burden of the heart by slowing down the heart rate and strengthening the contraction of the heart muscles. This reduces the consumption of oxygen and improves the force of blood through the circulatory system. 3. Respiratory (lungs and breathing) system: It improves the intake of oxygen and output of carbon dioxide by causing each breath to be longer and deeper. This expands the lung’s vital capacity and the surface area of the alveoli. This allows for improved oxygenation required for the bodily functions as well as the elimination of toxic carbon dioxide. 4. Digestive (stomach and intestines): It improves the functions of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous system. This includes the secretion of digestive juices and enzymes, the force of peristalsis (intestinal movement to push digested food along), enhance appetite, improves absorption and therefore one’s nutritional state. 5. Formulation of blood: Tests done after Qigong practice have found an increased red and white blood cell count. The white blood cells increased by an average of 13-20%. Therefore, the body’s immunity against diseases rises accordingly. It can also regulate the practitioner’s blood pressure to normal level, whether it is to lower the blood pressure in hypertensive patients or increase the blood pressure in hypotenuse cases. 6. Endocrine (hormonal) system: Qigong improves the functions of the various hormonal glands which are responsible for cell regeneration, normal growth and development, and the digestive and reproductive functions. These glands are the adrenal glands, the islets of Langerhans (pancreas), and the gall bladder, gonads and duodenum glands.

Qigong works through controlled breathing to perform three basic functions: relaxation, tranquillisation and harmonisation. All three may be explained in terms of modern medicine. With relaxation the muscles, bones and joints are loosened up and the central nervous system is soothed (the sympathetic nerves in particular). Once relaxation has been achieved the mind can then enter into the state of tranquillisation where the cerebral cortex is calmed down from over-excitement. The taxing emotions such as agitation, rage, anxiety and tension are got rid of and, as a result, the nervous system and the whole body are able to function more efficiently. Harmonisation occurs when controlled breathing, via affecting and adjusting the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, starts to massage the internal organs. This promotes blood circulation and balances the functions of different parts of the body.

Whilst practicing Qigong, we engage in a kind of slow, massage-like breathing which relieves stress from both the sympathetic nerves and the body in general. We fall into a soothing trance where the body is involved in gradual, general replenishment with energy preserved and damage repaired. This creates what is known as ‘internal environmental stability’. Therefore Qigong not only benefits general health but also helps cure certain chronic diseases which, according to traditional Chinese medicine are the results of ‘damage to the seven emotions’. In terms of Western medicine they can be called stress-related diseases.

Qigong will provide an alternative way of continuing your life’s journey. Through its practice you will be able to cultivate and develop your natural resources – the talents and vision inherent in us all. When energy frees up, the experience is physical, emotional and spiritual. It will hand you a priceless gift: health, love and wisdom. Compassion is the wish-fulfilling gem whose light of healing spreads in all directions. Qigong is embracing what is most feared. Healing is about learning to trust life. Next month this article will be followed by a further article on advanced Qigong. It will go in to greater depth about this fascinating subject and feature some highly valuable knowledge that remains an extreme rarity in the UK.

The Simon Lau centre can be contacted on 020 7581 1118,