Qigong is one of the earliest forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, with the first documentation dating back to Daoist writings circa 600 AD. “Qi” means vital energy and “gong” means skill cultivated through steady practice. Together, “qigong” is a practice that uses exercise to optimize the energy in the mind, body, and spirit. Some of the techniques used in qigong include posture, movement, breathing patterns, sound, intention setting, and meditation.
Types of Qigong
The most popular form of qigong is health, or medical, qigong. The goal of health qigong is to enhance health, prevent disease, and address illness. One practice unique to health qigong is qi emission, which is when a qigong practitioner emits their own qi to heal others.
Another type of qigong is known as martial qigong. The purpose of this practice is to increase defensive and offensive martial abilities by developing strength, agility, and endurance. One well-known example of marital qigong is taichi.
The last type of qigong is spiritual qigong. Spiritual qigong focuses on self-awareness, self-cultivation, and harmony with nature and the self. This practice uses mantras, mudras (hand positions), sitting meditations, and prayers to aim at enlightenment.
Benefits of Qigong
Qigong offers both physical and psychological benefits to those who practice it. Through focused breathing and slow movements, qigong helps calm the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for arousal. At the same time, qigong activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxing the body after periods of stress. Overall, this practice reduces anxiety and stress. Other physical benefits of qigong include improved digestion, strengthened immune system, lowered blood pressure, and eased aches and pain.
On the psychological side, qigong promotes self-discovery and awareness by strengthening the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. Qigong clear qi blockages within the body and mind, allowing qi to flow freely. Both psychological and physical wellbeing are maximized when qi is able to flow unchecked.
Qigong for Beginners
For those inexperienced with qigong, “the Original Breath” is a simple exercise to be introduced to the practice. The philosophy behind this exercise is that we can achieve longevity of the body and lightness of the heart by returning to our child-like nature. Thus, this breathing technique is inspired by the breathing of infants. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of this exercise:
- Begin the exercise standing or seated on a chair or cushion. If you are standing, keep your feet shoulder width, your knees soft, and your spine long without being stiff.
- Fold your hands over your lower abdomen and focus on your breathing.
- Begin breathing longer, smoother, and deeper breaths.
- Move your abdomen in sync with your breath: your belly should expand as you inhale and relax inward as you exhale.
Continue this breathing pattern and targeted focus for as long as you would like. Through the Original Breath, we bring focus out of our overactive minds and into our bodies while drawing qi nourishment from the air. By the end of the exercise, you should feel relaxed, centered, and rejuvenated.
Another simple qigong practice to begin with is kidney breathing. According to TCM philosophy, the kidneys act as a storage for our qi. However, these stores of qi become depleted with age and stressors. Kidney breathing restores qi storage by massaging the kidneys through breath. This practice is most effective when done following the Original Breath.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and parallel, and your knees soft.
- Hold your palms on the lower back above the hips, fingers pointed down and in.
- Tuck your tailbone under your body to straighten the natural curve of the lower spine.
- Focus on the subtle movement in your lower back as you breathe
- As you inhale, encourage your lower back to expand; as you exhale, allow your lower back to relax
- Begin tilting your hips slightly with each breath. As you inhale, tilt your hips forward and under your body; as you exhale, tilt them back to their natural position.
- Slightly contract the abdominal muscles in order to focus the movement on the lower back. Your breathing should expand your kidneys rather than your abdomen.
Kidney breathing pushes the lungs down and back, massaging the kidneys and adrenal glands. This helps improve blood filtration and hormonal activity, makes daily breathing easier, and eases lower back pain.
Qigong is a gentle practice for almost anyone seeking health and wellness benefits. We are all at our best when our qi moves freely through our bodies and minds, and qigong is a perfect practice to cultivate that flow.