Energy Training with Qi Gong

Qi Gong or Chi Kung is an energy training system involving the co-ordination of different breathing patterns with various physical postures and motions of the body. It represents the practical application of the concept of Qi (Chi) in three different areas: health, martial arts, and spirituality. Qi Gong was historically practiced extensively in Taoist and Buddhist monasteries as an adjunct to martial arts and religious training.

The term Qi Gong was mentioned for the first time in China during the Han Dynasty (220BC-206AD). Taoist and Buddhist masters created exercises and meditation to strengthen the body’s Qi, in a quest to achieve immortality. Due to the secrecy of its teaching and to the Confucianism principle of a strict teacher-disciple relationship the term was mostly used by few selected people like philosophers, physicians and emperors.

The term became popular and widely accepted only in 1950s, when the government of the Popular Republic of China decided that this knowledge had to be made accessible to the masses. The first book published in that period was the Practical Qi Gong Therapy written by master Liu Gui Zhen. Since then, the term has been used as a more general concept to describe all the arts that are concerned with Qi or vital energy.

Etymology

Qi Gong formQi means breath or gas in Chinese and by extension the energy of the air we breathe that keeps us alive. Gong means training, work applied to a discipline, or the resultant level of a technique. Qi Gong is then translated mostly as ‘breath work’ but it is better explained as ‘energy training’.

Early forms of Qi Gong

The term Qi Gong is applied nowadays to all the earlier arts of developing vital energy, even though at the time those arts were known by different names. Their original names, even though precise and poetical in the Chinese language, sound strange or even ridiculous when translated in English. I will mention a few of them.

‘Eating Six Energies’ is the art of developing six different major types of energy present in the Universe an in man, resulting from the different positions of Heavenly bodies and the various factors on Earth.

‘Heel Breathing’ is a technique of deep breathing widely used by Confucian scholars, which helps a person manipulate the energy of the air entering through the nose, through the network of meridians, in order to reach as far as the heel.

‘Focusing One’ is a fundamental Taoist technique, that involves focusing the mind on the One, which can be an infinitesimally point inside oneself or the infinite Cosmos. This technique was used by Confucian scholars to enhance their mental abilities.

‘Entering Silence’ refers to attaining the subconscious level of the mind through meditation This fundamental method to all Qi Gong practice was usually performed in a cross-legged position.

‘Tortoise Breathing’ is an energy development technique modeled on the tortoise’s way of breathing, which was considered the reason of its proverbial longevity.

‘Traveling Dragon’ is an energy training technique, in which the internal energy flow is induced by external movements and the practitioner is mimicking the involuntary and graceful sways of the mystical Dragon in Heaven. This method is useful in cleansing body toxins.

Benefits of Qi Gong

Qi Gong is mostly practiced for health maintenance purposes, but there are also some who practice it for its healing effect. In old times, it was thought that the daily practice of advanced techniques could help the practitioner to achieve imortality. The masters can also achieve the abilty to use their energy in order to help a person heal.

Various forms of traditional Qi Gong are also widely taught in conjunction with martial arts, and are especially prevalent in the advanced training of internal martial arts. The object of this training is the full mobilization and proper co-ordination and direction of the energies of the body as they are applied to facilitate all physical actions.

Other people practice Qi Gong as a method of self-development and spiritual growth. For them the most important goal is to achieve a state of superior consciousness when men and Universe become One and one is aware of everything happening inside one’s body and outside in the bounderless Universe.

Modern styles of Qi Gong

There are currently more than 3,300 different styles and schools of Qi Gong. I will mention just a few of them, known in the Western world.

Baduanjin is one of the most common forms of Chinese Qi Gong used as exercise. Variously translated as ‘Eight Pieces of Brocade’, ‘Eight Section Brocade’ or ‘Eight Silken Movements’, the name of the form generally refers to how the eight individual movements of the form characterize and impart a silken quality (like that of a piece of brocade) to the body and its energy. The Baduanjin is primarily designated as a form of medical Qi Gong, meant to improve health. This is in contrast to religious or martial forms of Qi Gong. However, this categorization does not preclude the form’s use by martial artists as a supplementary exercise, and this practice is frequent.

Nei Gong, also spelled Nei Kung or Nae Gong, is any of a set of Chinese breathing and meditation disciplines associated with Daoism and especially the Chinese martial arts. Nei Gong practice is normally associated with the so called Soft Style, or Internal Chinese martial arts. Nei Gong exercises involve cultivating physical stillness and/or conscious movement, designed to produce relaxation or releasing of muscular tension combined with special breathing techniques known as the ‘tortoise’ or ‘reverse’ breathing methods. The fundamental purpose of this process is to develop a high level of coordination, concentration and technical skill necessary in martial arts. The ultimate purpose of this practice is for the individual to become at one with heaven or the Dao (Tao).

Zhan Zhuang often translated ‘standing like a tree’ or ‘post standing’, founded by Wang Xiang Zhai, is a method of training in many Chinese internal martial arts in which static postures are used for meditation, to develop patience, strength, and stamina. Contrary to the most common notion of cardiovascular exercise requiring vigorous movement, Western students may be surprised by the physical conditioning that zhan zhuang may provide. Later, once sufficient stamina and strength have been achieved the practicioner can use zhan zhuang to work on developing zhong ding or central equilibrium as well as sensitivity to specific areas of tension in the body. Some schools also use the practice as a way of purportedly removing blockages in Qi flow and re-establish health.

Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) was introduced to the public by Li Hongzhi in 1992. According to him, this is an advanced cultivation system in the Buddha School which, in the past, was handed down to chosen disciples and served as an intensive cultivation method that required practitioners with extremely high Xinxing (mind-nature; heart-nature character) or great inborn qualities. Falun Gong claims that there are 100 million practitioners worldwide, in more than 80 countries and the books have been translated into over 40 languages. The style was banned in mainland China in 1999 by the Chinese Communist Party.

Zhong Gong is a spiritual movement founded in 1987 by Zhang Hongbao. It is based on variations of Chinese breathing and meditation exercises known as Qi Gong, which seeks to channel the vital energy of the body and the universe to various ends. Zhang Hongbao claimed in 2003 to have about 38 million followers. It operated a nationwide network of schools and healing centers based on his particular brand of Qi Gong before China outlawed it.

Modern directions of development

Yan Xin, a doctor of both Western and traditional Chinese medicine as well as founder of the relatively popular Yan Xin Qigong school, suggests that in order for Qi Gong to be accepted by the modern world it must pass the test of scientific study. Without such studies, Yan maintains, qigong will be dismissed as “superstition”. In the mid-1980s he and others began systematic study of Qi Gong in some research institutions in China and U.S. and he published more than 20 papers on this subject.

Medical Qi Gong treatment has been officially recognized as a standard medical technique in Chinese hospitals since 1989. It has been included in the curriculum of major universities in China. After years of debate, the Chinese government decided to officially manage Qi Gong through government regulation in 1996 and also listed Qi Gong as part of their National Health Plan. In 2003 the Chinese Government respectively their mass-organization Chinese Health Qi Gong Association presented the newly developed four Health Qi Gong Exercises.

World Tai Chi and Qigong Day (WTCQD) is an annual event held the last Saturday of April each year to promote the related disciplines of T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Qi Gong in sixty countries since 1999. The mission of this multinational effort is ongoing, to expose people to the growing body of medical research related to traditional Chinese medicine and direct them to teachers in their home towns. World Tai Chi and Qigong Day also acts as a public, government, and media source for information on those disciplines.

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