Qigong is a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control related to tai chi.
In China, the various methods of qigong form the nucleus of a national self-care system of health maintenance and personal development.
Qigong combines movement, meditation and breath regulation to enhance the flow of vital energy in the function. Because qigong can be used by the healthy as well as the severely ill, it is one of the most broadly applicable systems of self-care in the world. In China, it is estimated that 200 million people practice qigong every day.
The exercises typical of this well-known Chinese discipline can reduce stress and anxiety, while improving overall physical fitness, balance and flexibility. By alleviating tension, they may also combat insomnia and relieve certain types of headache. In traditional Chinese medicine, however, Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is credited with much more. Proponents claim it cured cancer, heart disease, AIDS, arthritis and asthma. They also recommend it for migraines, haemorrhoids, constipation, diabetes, high blood pressure, menstrual problems, prostate trouble, impotence and pain. Some say it even corrects nearsightedness and farsightedness. Unfortunately, there are no large, scientifically organized clinical trials to back them up. Although Qigong can undoubtedly improve fitness and general well-being, there is currently no reason to believe that it will prevent or cure any serious disease.
Procedure of Treatment
Officially, Qigong seeks to stimulate to the flow of qi (the elemental life force of Chinese medicine) along the invisible channels, or meridians, that are thought to course throughout the body. This can be achieved through internal Qigong, the do-it-yourself exercises now familiar in the West, or external Qigong, a form of psychic therapy available only from a Qigong master. External Qigong is almost impossible to find in the U.S. However, the instruction in the internal variety is now widely available. There are at least 3,000 variations, ranging from simple movements that coordinate breathing and calisthenics to complex exercises aimed at altering such vital bodily functions as heart rate and brain wave frequency. Internal Qigong can be practiced by anyone-healthy or sick, young or old. The exercises, which can be easily adapted to your physical capabilities, can be performed walking, standing, sitting in a wheelchair, or even lying down, if necessary. You can teach yourself Qigong by following instructions in the many training manuals available in bookstores and libraries. Videotapes are also available for those who want to go it alone. However, many experts warn that, even though the exercises seem simple, it is wise to start with professional instruction, either one-on-one, or in a group. Classes are often offered at local YMCAs, community fitness centres, and hospitals. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and flexible shoes (no sneakers) when you exercise. Do not eat or drink anything, especially alcoholic beverages, within 90 minutes of your Qigong sessions. Some practitioners suggest you avoid sexual intercourse for at least one hour before and after exercising; others do not seem to think this is necessary. It is important to approach Qigong with an optimistic attitude, proponents say. It is also important to try to do your best, even if it seems difficult. For example, if you are told to hold your breath, hold it as long as possible. If you are supposed to remain in one position do it as long as you can. If your arm or leg wants to change positions, let it go naturally. If you find you cannot follow all three aspects of an exercise-visualizing, moving and breathing-at the same time, concentrate first on visualization. Qigong exercises can be performed in any order. Repeat each one six times when you start, and increase the repetitions when you feel you are ready. Do not rush, and do not expect immediate results. Your teacher will begin with simple movements. To attain the greatest benefit, you must follow his or her instructions exactly. The opening position prepares your mind and body to 'enter a Qigong state'. The remainder of the exercise (moving and breathing) is supposed to stimulate the flow of qi. You may be asked to stand with your legs apart and breathe from the diaphragm while you move your arms and legs in a specific way. Or you may have to sit and roll objects between your palms, or simply walk slowly. You may also be taught meditation techniques.
The practice of Qigong dates back at least two thousand years. Many ancient cultures felt that a supernatural or physical 'energy flow' regulated the functioning of their bodies and of the world around them. In China, manipulation of this flow to improve health was gradually formalized in such medical disciplines as acupuncture, acupressure and Qigong. The philosophical foundations of Qigong stipulate that the vital energy qi flows along meridians that link the internal organs with the fingers or toes and more than 100 acupuncture points on the head, spine and other parts of the body. It is believed that illness results from an imbalance of qi - when more accumulates in one place than another. The meditation, visualization, breathing and movement exercises of Qigong seek to restore balance, breaking down blockages in the flow of qi and re-establishing a health supply to diseased or distressed parts of the body. Although qi itself is undetectable, modern proponents of traditional Chinese medicine maintain that manipulating this force with Qigong results in a variety of physical benefits, including reductions in heart rate and blood pressure, dilation of the blood vessels and enhanced oxygenation of the tissues. The exercises are said to have a beneficial effect on the nerves that regulate the pain response. By increasing the flow of lymphatic fluid, they are thought to improve the efficiency of the immune system. And by improving circulation, they are said to speed elimination of toxic substances from the body and improving general health. Some adherents claim that Qigong moderates the function of the hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands, as well as the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, to decrease pain, increase immunity and improve mood. Others say that it increases the amount of disease-fighting white blood cells in the blood, promotes the production of enzymes and other substances needed for digestion, and improves the oxygen supply by increasing the lungs' capacity to absorb this vital substance. While such effects could indeed promote better health, critics in the West demand scientific proof that they actually occur. They would also like to see definitive proof that Qigong has actually cured any illness. Although there are many Chinese studies that seem to prove its powers, it has never been subjected to the kind of rigorous tests that Western therapies routinely undergo. (In such trials, a real treatment must outperform a fake, and neither the patients nor the doctors know who receives which.) Although the actual extent to its powers remains to be seen, even critics of Qigong admit that it can enhance fitness and promote healthy relaxation. And, though the reasons remain a mystery, many conventional physicians in this country admit that they have treated patients whose health has improved after they have adopted Qigong.
Who Should Avoid This Therapy?
Because Qigong may thin the blood and increase circulation, you should forego it during periods when bleeding could become a problem-for instance after a tooth extraction or injury, or when suffering from internal bleeding. The exercises should also be suspended during pregnancy. And it is best to avoid them completely if you have a tendency to dizziness or are suffering a severe mental or emotional disturbance.
The gentle exercises of Qigong are unlikely to cause any adverse reactions.