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Qigong moves qi inside and out

The ancient practice of qigong is more than a martial art - it's a healing system that harmonizes the life force qi with the body and mind. Zhang Qian inhales.

Breathing deeply, moving the arms and suddenly pushing the palms outward as in attack, a martial arts practitioner sweeps away obstacles while physically touching nothing. It's the power of qi (energy flow) that he or she gives off.

This is a common image of qigong (life force skill) depicted in kung fu fiction and movies. It's one of the Chinese martial arts that both helps defend and attack by using yun qi (moving the energy inside).

There are various types of qigong, not only martial arts practice but also health maintenance and healing; it is also used in meditation. Qi is sometimes defined as breath or air and qigong involves careful breathing coordinated with well as physical movements.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that systematic medical qigong contributes to harmony and coordination among body, mind and qi, thus providing sufficient healthy qi.

It is defined as a system of energy cultivation, a system of prescribed physical exercises or motions performed in a meditative state in which the mind is clear.

Regulating breath, mind and body to guide qi is traced back to the time of the Yao emperor (around 2300 BC). Ancient records cite the use of qigong to increase longevity.

Qigong practices have been used in various healing schools over the years, according to Professor Liu Tianjun with the Acupuncture School of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. He discussed qigong health maintenance at the Shanghai Sun Island Health forum earlier this month.

Guiding qi is known as nei dan (internal alchemy) in Taoism; zuo chan (sit in meditation) in Buddhism; zuo wang (sit in oblivion) in Confucianism; dao yin (energy guiding) in TCM and kung fu in martial arts.

All involve moving energy within the body, but in religion (Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism) the aim is to prolong life, in martial arts the aim is to defend and attack while in TCM the objective is health maintenance.

A healthy flow of qi is the basis of good health. Internal qi should also be balanced and exchanged with external qi that is all around in the universe. "Body, mind and qi are the three major elements of human life," says Zhang Wenchun, a doctor at the Jiangxi TCM Academy. "When they are in harmony and merged with each other, the body is at its best."

But it's not easy to achieve a state of balance, especially in modern society where several tasks must be performed quickly and almost at the same time.

"We are always doing one thing while thinking of another; our mind and body don't work as one, let alone merging together with qi," says Dr Zhang. "And when the three are not in harmony as one, we are consuming the energy rather than recharging, which is bad for health."

Though qi is an energy that cannot be seen or touched, it can be guided with body movement and thought as qi both fills and surrounds each part of the body, practitioners say.

Emptying the mind and focusing of nothing except physical movement and energy flow is essential and this can help a person feel and guide the flow of qi - something people are seldom conscious of in daily life.

Body movements are usually slow and gentle since the aim is not strengthening or building muscle but guiding energy flow. Body movements, such as those of the arms and hands, can also move the qi surrounding the body.

Breath regulation is essential and usually deep, even and quiet breathing is recommended, though particular movements may require inhaling or exhaling. Breathing exercise improves blood circulation and cardiovascular efficiency, meaning the body gets more oxygen with less energy consumption.

Few movements are difficult. Even the simplest such as zhan zhuang (standing on a post), ma bu (horse stance) or sitting quietly can be helpful if practiced properly.

"Coordinating breath, mind and body without qi movements is like gentle sports, not qigong, and though it may be healthy, it's not that effective," says Dr Liu.

Sensitive beginners may sense their flow of qi after a few hours but it takes most people a month or two - and longer for the spontaneous coordination of breath, mind, movement and qi," according to Wu Xianliang, a council member of the China Medical Qigong Association.

A quiet environment is important for beginners since it may help them empty their minds more easily. A natural environment with greenery and fresh air is recommended since it allows easier exchange of internal qi and external qi.

Beginners who practice indoors should keep the room airy and relatively dim. They should avoid a draft on the back of the neck.

At least 20 minutes before practicing, one should stop intense physical or mental activity. Loose clothing makes it easier to relax muscles and breathe easily

Beginners are advised to practice once a day for 10-15 minutes and gradually extend the time. An expert can spend 120 minutes practicing each time.

It's important not to practice on an empty stomach or when one is too full.

Of course, a regular lifestyle, balanced diet and no smoking or drinking improves the effectiveness of qigong.

Easy exercises

For the neck


1. Sit or stand, but keep the body still from the shoulders down.

2. Move the lower jaw forward and move it in a circle, imitating the movement of red-crowned crane touching water with its beak.

Repetitions: 24-36 each time (several times a day)

Breathing: Natural

Thoughts: Close eyes and visualize the movement of cervical vertebra.

Benefits: Improves flexibility, strengthens neck and helps prevent stiff neck.

For the eyes


1. Press the tai yang (sunken place near outer canthus, the end of the eyelid) with thumbs. Rub eyebrows 8 times with forefinger knuckles.

2. Press the jing ming (depression slightly above the inner canthus) for 10 seconds.

3. Rub below eye sockets 8 times with forefinger knuckles.

4. Rub palms until warm and cover the eyes so the palms are like bowls. Wait until the palms cool.

Repetitions: 2-3 times (several times a day)

Breathing: Natural

Thoughts: Pictures a warm sun in both palms.

Benefits: Improves eyesight and relieves intermittent near-sightedness and problems focusing on near objects.

For the stomach


1. Place the left hand over the stomach and cover the left hand with the right. With the navel as the center, move hands clockwise 360 times.

2. Change hands and circle the navel counterclockwise 360 times.

Repetitions: 30 minutes after meals (three times a day)

Breathing: Natural

Thoughts: Imagine warm qi radiating from the center of the palm.

Benefits: Helps relieve indigestion and promote weight loss.

For the reproductive system


1. Massage the belly beneath navel by moving palms in a circle until the belly feels warm.

2. Men should massage clockwise; women should do it counterclockwise.

Repetitions: Rub until the belly gets warm (one or twice a day)

Breathing: Natural

Thoughts: Imagine qi collecting in the lower belly.

Benefits: Helps relieve irregular menstruation, painful menstruation, pelvic inflammation in women. Helps relieve prostate problems in men.


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