Five thousand years ago, the wealthy and elite of China practiced a secret self-healing art from behind closed doors called Qigong, pronounced “chee-gung”. Practitioners were reported to have more radiant skin, stronger muscles and bones, and a deep sense of peace and tranquility that glowed from within. The exercises themselves were said to be deceptively simple and gentle, yet it was whispered that regular practice could reverse even serious illness and the ravages of aging.
If the rumors were true, could Qigong be the key to modern society’s health crisis? What exactly was this ancient practice and where could one learn Qigong?
In simple terms, “Qi” can be translated as “breath,” or “life force energy,” an invisible force that courses through the energy channels of the body, aided by the qi of the natural world around us. The “gong” part of Qigong literally means “work” or “cultivation”, so a practitioner of Qigong is consciously cultivating his/her own life force to achieve optimum, vibrant health.
In the old days, Qigong could only be learned in secret from martial artists and sequestered monks living in the remote mountains of China, which only added to the allure and mystery of this ancient art. Only those who were wealthy, disciplined or otherwise favored by the masters could learn Qigong.
These days, world-class athletes like golf legend Tiger Woods admit to practicing Qigong to give them an edge in their game by improving mental clarity and focus, and movie stars like Jet Li, Zhang and Ken Watanabe are giving Qigong sex appeal, making people wonder what it is about this mysterious self-healing practice that so invigorates the body, mind and spirit.
Trans formative Change
On the surface, the graceful, flowing movements of Qigong can look like a beautiful dance, yet the synchronized breathing techniques together with the practitioner’s own mindful intent to move the qi through the body enables transformative change to take place as blocked energy is released and immune function greatly improved. When combines with a healthy, balanced diet, supplementary herbs and meditative practices, Qigong becomes one of the most complete and comprehensive systems of life enhancement that exists for the modern-day individual who is overwhelmed by stress or fatigue.
Curious westerners now flock to gyms, community centers and private health clubs to learn these gentle, meditative stretching exercises from master or trained instruction of the art. Often practitioners claim an improved sense of health and well-being balanced weight loss and the elimination of pain, amongst a long list of health benefits.
Today there are literally thousands of styles of Qigong some of them known popularly as Tai Chi. In fact Chi came from Qigong, and owes its foundation to Qigong principles. What is different is that Qigong is simple enough to be practiced by the very young or the very elderly. For the wheelchair or bedridden, Qigong to be done sitting or lying down, using the mind and breath to direct the qi in a non-moving or still form of Qigong. Patients in pre-or post-surgery often find Qigong to be an effective pathway to quicken recovery and to release pain and discomfort in a gentle manner, often without additional medication.
Business executives, athletes, students and homemakers alike find their minds cleaner and their bodies more limber after practice, and are therefore more capable of performing under pressure and handling day-to-day stresses with a greater sense of ease and control.
For all its, benefits, few people actually practiced Qigong openly before the 1960’s. It was only during the Cultural Revolution that the Communist government decided to put Qigong through rigorous scientific testing to prove or disprove its efficacy. If the rumors were true that these ancient exercises could improve physical health, then it should be made available to the common person and not just the elite and wealthy of China.
How fortunate for everyone that this medicine-less medicine was indeed proven effective at defending the body against ill health and even capable of reversing disease. Hypertension, diabetes, cancer and other serious conditions were found to be positively affected by Qigong exercise and meditation. The government announced Qigong as a viable means of maintaining the health and productivity of the world’s largest population. More than a billion people could now keep trim, fit and robust, regardless of social class or wealth. Qigong was allowed to flourish in parks and schools around the country.
Practice Around the World
Today, more than 1 million people practice Qigong around the world. Qigong is often part of a well-rounded health and fitness program, while also being used as a complementary therapy in hospitals and clinics in China and the west.
The ancient practice of Qigong, once a closely guarded secret by the elite of China, is now being embraced by all cultures as the fashionable way to release stress, increase strength and flexibility, and reverse the ageing process. With so many health benefits, it is no wonder the art and science of Qigong in becoming so popular in today’s society.