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What is Qi Gong?
Qi Gong is a gentle form of exercise that helps improve health and overall well-being. Qi Gong (pronounced CHEE-GONG) can be traced back 4,000 years to ancient China. “Qi” is simply the Chinese word for energy, and “gong” means skill that is cultivated through steady practice. So, put together, “Qi Gong” means “cultivating the body’s vital energy,” and then using it to heal and strengthen every system throughout the body.
A Closer Look at Qi Gong Exercise
There are three main elements to Qi Gong exercise:
The exercises found in Qi Gong involve gentle, rhythmic movements, mirroring movements found in nature, such as the lapping of water or blowing of wind. Water, for instance, flows effortlessly along the path of least resistance, and Qi Gong teaches us to move our bodies in a similar fluid motion, minimizing the risk of injury, while maintaining balance and focus. Sometimes the exercises are named after animals, such as bird, bear, monkey, tiger, and deer.
The Mind-Body Connection
Qi Gong is often referred to as a mind-body exercise because it explores the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes Qi Gong is classified as complementary or alternative medicine. Other forms of mind-body therapy or alternative medicine include yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, massage, and traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, tai chi, which is already quite popular in America, is actually a somewhat more complicated form of Qi Gong!
In Chinese medicine, freely flowing Qi is essential to good health. It is believed that Qi circulates through a system of pathways called meridians, which can be thought of as an energy highway throughout the body. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining the balance and harmony of these meridians, and practicing Qi Gong is one way to keep Qi flowing freely.
History of Qi Gong
The origins of Qi Gong date back 4,000 years to ancient China. Historians have traced its early use in medicine, martial arts, and character building. As Chinese medicine evolved over the centuries, Qi Gong became a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, along with acupuncture and herbal medicine.
In the mid-1900s, Chinese communism threatened to extinguish any medicine that lacked a scientific foundation. Instead of faltering, Qi Gong received a boost as practitioners, scientists, and doctors began using science to substantiate its benefits.
It is thought that Qi Gong made the jump to America and the rest of the world starting in the 1970s thanks to globalization and tourism. Prominent Qi Gong “masters” began traveling to the United States and spreading the good will of Qi through instruction. U.S. public television played a prominent role in introducing Westerners to Qi Gong, with Bill Moyers reporting on Qi Gong, and Lee Holden hosting a series of instructional Qi Gong video programs that still run to this day. In addition, the “yoga-boom” of the last decade has certainly made America more receptive to the idea of mind-body exercises in general.
Qi Gong in America
Qi Gong is catching on fast with a large number of Americans. According to the Center for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, in 2007 there were 625,000 Americans regularly practicing Qi Gong. That is a 16% increase from just six years earlier. In fact, American adults are using complimentary and alternative medicines in greater numbers than ever before and for a wide variety of conditions, including:
Qi Gong happens to be an excellent mind-body treatment for all of the above conditions.
Medical Qi Gong
One of the reasons Americans are embracing Qi Gong is that the established medical community has started recommending more holistic treatment and complementary and alternative medicines, which includes Qi Gong. Major universities are building integrative medicine or CAM programs into their medical schools, such as the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine, which features specific Qi Gong specialists and classes.
Numerous studies in recent medical journals have highlighted the success Qi Gong has had in treating a variety of conditions and diseases. For instance, fibromyalgia involves whole-body pain and can often include problems with sleeping and depression. A 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found Qi Gong to help relieve major symptoms of fibromyalgia, including reducing pain, improving sleep, and improving mood. Other conditions studied where Qi Gong showed favorable results included depression, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension.
Specific Benefits of Qi Gong
Qi Gong provides a core group of benefits to improve health and well-being. Its gentle movements stretch and strengthen muscles, improve balance and flexibility, and reduce inflammation in joints. This movement helps to improve the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body, which is thought to improve the immune system and help to remove toxins.
Qi Gong’s deep breathing exercises help to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension. The breath techniques emphasize slow breathing from the diaphragm with a relaxed posture and straight spine. They help to calm and center and can be an effective aid for reducing anxiety and aiding sleep.
The meditative state of mind achieved by practicing Qi Gong provides powerful mental and emotional benefits, often after only a few minutes of practice. Qi Gong requires concentration, requiring focus and clear thinking. This discipline is reported to help foster creativity, improved mood, and to enhance cognitive capability.
Qi Gong is Easy to Learn – For Anyone at Any Fitness Level
Because of its gentle movements and deep breathing, Qi Gong often feels “effortless,” especially basic, introductory Qi Gong. The slow, controlled movements of Qi Gong are easy to learn and follow. Because Qi Gong is so gentle and relies on flowing movements, “form” and technique are less important in Qi practice than they are in other exercise practices. Since perfect form is not essential, Qi Gong students receive immediate benefits, even as they are learning the movements.
Qi Gong Trains Us To Perform “In The Zone”
Of course, more advanced Qi Gong practice might require more challenging movements (such as “Qi Gong Push-Ups” and exercises designed to build core strength), but never rushing and never pushing beyond the body’s limits. Advanced Qi Gong students will progress to more challenging movements, and, of course, athletes will supplement their Qi Gong practice with other sports and exercises. Focus, fluidity, and relaxed intensity are key to success in any sport, often defined as “Getting into the Zone,” and Qi Gong trains us to function in “The Zone” in sport and in life.
Seated Qi Gong for Seniors & Those Suffering from Illness or Injury
Many of the most common movements in Qi Gong are performed standing, and most Qi Gong moves can be modified and performed seated. Even people struggling with health issues, those confined to wheelchairs or unable to stand, seniors, and patients recovering from injury may practice modified Qi Gong with great benefit.
Cultivate Your Qi Today!
Qi Gong is a gentle way to add exercise to your life that provides excellent physical and mental benefits. Because Qi Gong is so easy, it is an especially attractive choice for seniors or those struggling with health issues. Qi Gong is growing in popularity in America, so there are instructors and videos available to teach individuals interested in learning.
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