CHAPTER 1: OVERVIEW OF QIGONG TRAINING
Laura Ferandex of Shaolin Wahnam Madrid suffered from cancer, but not only she overcame it she also helped many other people overcome so-called incurable diseases. Real qigong is rare today. What many people practice is gentle physical exercise though they call it "qigong", and they don't realize it.
(This chapter is selected from Jiao Guo Rui, Qigong for Health and Strength, Xuelin Books, Hong Kong, undated, published in Chinese)
The Meaning of Qigong
Qigong is a special art of maintaining health. It is part of traditional Chinese medicine.
(Editorial Note: The Romanized Chinese q and g are pronounced like the English ch’ and k. Hence, “qigong” is pronounced as /ch’i kung/, and not as /qi gong/. “Qi” is pronounced as /ch’i/ and not as /qi/ nor /ki/.)
Qi refers to the vital energy of a person. It is his physiological functions. Qong refers to practicing an art. Hence, qigong refers to a practitioner applying his subjective function to develop his physical and emotional health. It is holistic, and contributes to his natural self-generative and self-curative functions. It has great benefit in preventing and curing diseases, as well as maintaining and promoting health and strength. In the past, qigong was called the “Art of Overcoming Illness and Promoting Longevity.”
From the perspective of preventing and curing diseases, the effect of qigong on human is holistic. While there may be specific types of qigong that deal with individual parts, when the whole person improves, his individual parts will also improve. Some people may think that qigong can only overcome defects of certain internal organs, but actually it is effective to overcome any changes in organic functions. Hence, as long as it is correctly practice, qigong will shorten the time of recovery and enhance well being.
From the perspective of increasing vitality, qigong is a very effective method to improve bodily weakness and increase strength. It has been proven that qigong improves the digestive and respiratory functions, increases blood circulation, deepens sleep, removes fatigue, increases body and mental abilities, and enhances performance and endurance. As long as one maintains his right practice, he will surely improve his health and vitality.
Some people believe that as long as we practice qigong well, we can overcome illness and maintain health so that diseases will never occur. While qigong is excellent, one must also maintain a balance way of life, cultivate both the body and the spirit.
In the past, qigong was known as the “Art of Overcoming Illness and Promoting Longevity”. The evidence that qigong training can overcome illness and promote longevity can be readily found in elderly people who constantly practice qigong.
Among old people, although they are over 60 or 70 years of age, their blood pressure is normal, their eyesight and hearing ability are not effected, they sleep well, they are full of vitality, their voice is loud and clear, their walking is stable, they are able to withstand cold, and are seldom sick.
Some people even regard such methods of maintaining health and longevity as the art of ever living. This is quite incorrect. We pay attention of cultivating our life, practice qigong is not to be forever living, but through our practice, we maintain our health, increase our vitality, promote our longevity so as not to be old and weak before our age.
Some people regard qigong as mysterious. Actually qigong is not mysterious. It is scientific. As long as we have good teachers, follow established methods and principles, from shallow to deep, progress systematically and gradually, it is easy to practice correctly. Past masters have said that qigong practice is actually simple and easy. Irrespective of whether we are moving, standing, sitting or lying down, we can practice qigong. As long as we practice consistently according to correct methods and principles, we shall contribute to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
The Historical Background of Qigong
Qigong as an art to overcome illness and to promote longevity has a long history. More than 2000 years ago in an ancient Chinese medical classic, “Huang Ti Inner Classic”, there was discussion on qigong and health. Since then, there have been constant description and development of qigong in promoting health. For example, in the Later Han period, the famous doctor, Hua Tuo, was not only a great surgeon and acupuncturist, but also paid much attention to the art of promoting health. He incorporated the movements of five animals – tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird – to devise a system of exercises for maintaining health known as Five-Animal Play.
(Editorial Note: Latest archaeological discoveries suggest that the qigong techniques came first, and the resultant movements manifested outwardly could be represented by the five animals. But irrespective of which perspective you prefer, if you practice the Five-Animal Play you would be healthy, and have vitality and longevity. )
"Embracing Simplicity" of Ge Hong of Jin Dynasty, and "Records of Nourishing Living and Prolonging Life" of Tao Hong Jing of Liang Dynasty contained writings of exercises to maintain good health. “Origins of Various Diseases” of Chao Yuan Fang of Sui Dynasty and “Thousand Golden Formula” of Sun Si Miao of Tang Dynasty detailed methods of breathing exercises. “Excellent Concoctions of Su and Shen” of Su Dong Bo and Shen Cun Zhong of Sung Dynasty specially mentioned exercises for maintaining health.
The famous doctor, Li Dong Tan, of the Yuan Dynasty, regarded "cultivating spirit at mid night, silently sitting to meditate for some time” as an important part of “generating original energy of the whole body”. The great pharmacologist of the Ming Dynasty, Li Shi Zhen, in his “Marvellous Eight Meridians”, described qigong exercises. Shen Jin Ao of the Qing Dynasty in his “Book of Special Life” mentioned many qigong techniques. Throughout history, great doctors of Chinese medicine have recorded many qigong documents in preserving life.
Apart from this, there are also many records of Buddhist and Taoist writings on qigong and maintaining good health. Throughout many centuries, there have been more than 200 kinds of writings on qigong. It forms a rich legacy in the promotion of health, and after careful research and documentation, it contributes to the rich source of healthy living for the people.
Only today when traditional Chinese medicine has regained its importance that we can study more systematically and research into qigong, which is a treasure of the people’s legacy.
Moreover, in Chinese kungfu there are basic training methods which are similar to qigong training. For example, in the "Thirteen Techniques Training Formula of Taijiquan" it is mentioned
In cultivation use intention and do not use strength
Overcome illness, prolong life and evergreen spring
This illustrates the great importance paid to intention and energy in Taijiquan cultivation. However, as Taijiquan is a martial art, besides aiming for promoting health, there is also the aim of combat. Thus, one must not mix up qigong with Taijiquan.
The Functions of Qigong
Why is qigong able to overcome illness and promote longevity? What are the reasons for these functions of qigong? These are questions with complex answers. Although we know the answers, to understand the answers thoroughly we have to perform a lot of research.
Man is a complex organism. Every moment of a person’s life is constantly changing. On one hand a person has to interact constantly with his environment, constantly in the progress of material exchange with the environment. At the same time, holistically he has to coordinate all his internal metabolism. For example, he has to maintain the constant exchange of energy with the environment, digest and absorb all types of nutrients for the body, the circulation of blood, transportation of all bodily liquids, dispose off all waste products, and regulate all bodily and mental movements.
All these processes that are essential for life are regarded in traditional Chinese medicine as the progresses of energy. Only when the energy progress is functioning well, the old is discarded and the new arrives, that life goes on. The function of qigong is through various methods, like focusing on intention, regulating the breath, and training various techniques to enhance the energy progress of a person. When the energy process is strengthened, various bodily and mental parts will be in yin-yang balance, energy and blood flow harmoniously in all the meridians, and vital energy is increased.
The Function of Harmonizing Yin-Yang
According to traditional Chinese medicine, when all bodily and mental processes are functioning well, it is described as yin-yang harmony. Health is maintained by the operation of yin-yang balance. According to the nature of yin-yang philosophy, tranquility is yin, mobility is yang. Health specialists regard that a person is an embodiment of yin-yang, tranquility and mobility are in harmony, energy and blood are harmonious, no illness will occur, and one will attain the life span as prescribed by heaven.
Hence, when practicing arts of tranquility, there should be mobility. When practicing arts of mobility, one should strive for tranquility. There should be mutual mobility and tranquility, and yin and yang in harmony.
The Function of Harmonizing Energy and Blood
The purpose of qigong is to affect energy flow in a person. So, how does that affect blood flow? According to traditional Chinese medicine, energy is the master of blood. When energy flows, blood will flow. When energy stagnates, blood will stagnate.
It is said that blood will not flow if there is no energy, and energy will not occur if there is no blood. Hence, to activate blood, first one must harmonize energy. When energy is present, blood will naturally flow. To warm blood, one must first warm energy. When energy is warm, blood will naturally move.
To nourish blood, one must first nourish energy. When energy is abundant, blood will naturally be born. When a practitioner trains energy in qigong, he not only trains energy but also trains blood.
The Function of Harmonious Meridian Flow
Meridians are pathways of energy and blood flow. Meridians must always be clear so that the flow of energy and blood is smooth, otherwise a person’s bodily or mental functions will be affected.
The clear passageway of meridians is maintained by smooth energy flow. Hence, qigong training has the function of enabling meridian flow to be harmonious. Many qigong practitioners, having practiced qigong for some time, have the experience of feeling internal energy flowing along their meridians. This clearly shows the function of qigong on harmonious meridian flow.
The Function of Nourishing Vital Energy
The life processes of a person are maintained by vital energy. Qigong is an art that a practitioner using various methods trains his vital energy. Those who have practiced qigong for some time will experience that the volume of their vital energy has increased.
Not only during chi kung training, practitioners can feel that their dan tian, or abdominal energy field, is full, their mind is fresh, and their strength is plentiful, but also they can feel for quite some time after training that a flow of energy is surging in them. This feeling is the result of their vital energy has become plentiful due to their qigong training.
Hence, for those who have trained qigong, because of yin-yang harmony, smooth flow of energy and blood, meridians are clear, vital energy has become plentiful, self-defence of internal organs have become strong, they realize the aims of overcoming illness and promoting longevity.
Influence of Qigong on Respiratory System
The most obvious difference regarding the respiratory system is that the breathing of practitioners has become slower and deeper, from about 10 to 20 times a minute to below 4 to 5 times a minute. The breathing rate of those who have entered into a meditative state of mind is very gentle.
Muscular movement of practitioners is more than ordinary people by about 3 to 4 times. There is a noticeable increase of air in the lung capacities of practitioners as well as exchange of air with the outside world. Hence, although the breathing rate is much slower than that of normal persons, the performance of the respiratory system of qigong practitioners is much better.
Influence on Digestive System
The most obvious result is that qigong practitioners can better regulate the functions of their digestive system. Practice has shown that those practitioners who did not have peristalsis movement of the digestive tract before, would experience it, whereas those who have much peristalsis movement before would have their movement reduced.
Those who practice Abdominal Breathing have clear movement of their dan tian, or abdominal energy field. When breathing in, their stomach rises up, and when breathing out, their stomach sinks down. During training, the digestive system can better expel waste products. Qigong training also has favourable influence on the production of bodily liquids. For example, tuberculosis patients have insufficient gastric juices, but after qigong training their amount of gastric juices is like that of ordinary people. Hence, qigong training has favourable effect on the digestive system.
Influence on Blood Circulation and Blood Vessels
In healthy people when they practice qigong, there is a clear improvement of the ability of their white blood cells devouring harmful microorganisms. Hence, this is a clear indication of an improvement of the immune system.
It is observed that the heart frequency waves of qigong practitioners are reduced during and after qigong practice, indicating that less burden is placed on their heart. In the frequency waves showing blood circulation, the waves become more steady. This is particularly noticeable in patients with high blood tension whose their frequency waves were previously erratic, have become more stable due to qigong practice. The effect on blood pressure is also very noticeable. High blood pressure is greatly reduced during and after qigong training, and is obvious during sleep or rest periods.
Influence on the Nervous System
In observing mental impulses, it is noticed that during and after qigong training, the mental frequency waves of qigong practitioners become slow and gentle, indicating that their mind has attained from an agitated state to a tranquil state. Entering into silence in qigong training has the function of protecting the brain.
It is also observed that during qigong training, involuntary muscular movements have become more gentle, suggesting that qigong training, especially when practitioners have entered into a meditative state of mind, there is better involuntary control. Those whose skin movement frequency waves were previously erratic, have become stabilized during and after qigong training.
When qigong practitioners have entered into a meditative state of mind, their knee jerking reaction is similar to when they are asleep. This indicates that there are similarities between entering into a meditative state of mind and sleeping. But there are also differences showing that entering into a meditative state of mind is not the same as sleeping. While in a meditative state of mind, practitioners are tranquil but simultaneously they are fully aware of their surrounding, which is not available while sleeping.
Although all these observations may not fully explain qigong training yet, it is not difficult to see that they show in an objective manner how practicing qigong can contribute to maintenance of good health This evidence helps us to recognize that qigong is scientific, and encourages us to further study qigong for our development and benefit.
When you practice genuine qigong, you will have good health, vitality and longevity.