Qigong for mind, body & spirit health
There are three threads constant to all forms of Qigong: breath, posture and mind (intent)
• by Shauna Mullinix
The healing art of Qigong has been practised in China throughout many millennia. Like all practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong places the harmony of Qi at the centre of well-being, health and longevity. The Qi of the human body is harmonized within the context of, and in relationship to, the energies of heaven and earth.
There are two characters that make up the word Qigong. The first, “Qi,” may be simply defined as energy, but in the context of Qigong, it may be more completely understood as the vital force that creates, motivates and sustains the universe. Humans live within and are sustained by this vital force – they are also comprised of it. The second character, “gong,” may be translated as cultivation, attainment or exercise so Qigong may be defined as energy exercise or vital force cultivation.
Throughout thousands of years of empirical study and practice, hundreds of forms of Qigong have been designed to meet the needs of a variety of human conditions, preferences and objectives. Qigong exercises fall into several major categories. Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian Qigong were developed with an emphasis on enhancing spiritual health, although both emotional and physical health could be improved as well.
Medical Qigong was developed with an emphasis on treating diseases of the organ channels by balancing the Qi of the body, mind and spirit. It may also be used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as part of treatment protocols. Other categories of Qigong are designed to increase one’s capacity to absorb healthful Qi from nature – in particular from trees, the Sun and the Moon. Related exercises are designed to strengthen the ability to emit healthful Qi for treatment of illness.
Finally, Qigong plays an important role in martial arts. Many consider internal martial arts forms, such as Taijiquan, to be both a martial art and moving Qigong. Iron Shirt Qigong strengthens the body and develops the ability to concentrate Qi in susceptible areas, shielding the body from strikes.
There are three threads constant to all forms of Qigong: breath, posture and mind (intent). While attention to any one of these three threads will improve health and well being, in Qigong, all three are woven together with synergistic effect.
Focus on the first thread begins with becoming deeply familiar and present with the breath – observing the flow of inhale and exhale, becoming aware of the quality of the breath and noting when breath is being held. From this presence with the breath, practitioners may easily return to natural breathing or as the Tao Te Ching reminds, “Breathe like an infant.” Natural breathing is also called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. In this form of breathing, the diaphragm is engaged and the lower abdomen expands on inhale and relaxes on exhale. Using natural breathing as the normal resting breath impacts one’s health dramatically and positively. It is known to relax the nervous system, reduce anxiety, regulate blood pressure, improve digestion, enhance the quality of sleep and clear the mind. More advanced Qigong practices may require other breathing techniques, such as reverse or alternate nasal breathing, but natural breathing is always returned to at the end of these exercises.
The second thread is posture or body alignment. Attention to proper alignment is one of the great benefits of practising Qigong. This is true whether the Qigong is a stationary or moving form or done standing, sitting or lying down. Developing a sense of structural sensitivity and allowing the body to return to its natural alignment helps open gates of energy flow often locked by habitual misalignment. Emphasis is placed on relaxing and unlocking chronically closed areas such as ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and, most critically, the lumbar spine (Mingmen – Life Gate). When the body is properly aligned, energy can flow freely through the gates, washing away stagnation and filling the channels with healthy Qi. Through Qigong practice, old habits of imbalanced postures are broken and the body is freed to return to a more harmonious structure. Muscles are engaged properly and strengthened, chronic joint pain is relieved and body fatigue is lessened.
Mind (intent) is the third thread woven through all Qigong exercises. Qigong classics instruct that where the mind goes, Qi follows. For example, a scattered, busy mind leads Qi erratically away from natural pathways. Dizziness, lack of focus, anxiety and poor sleep are physical manifestations of this. Conversely, a relaxed, alert and appropriately focused mind allows Qi to freely follow natural pathways. Balance, focus, calmness and good-quality sleep are some physical benefits of this. A relaxed, alert and appropriately focused mind is the foundational accomplishment of this thread of Qigong practice.
Mind may be expanded from the foundational accomplishment through many Qigong practices, again making use of the concept that Qi follows mind. In some Qigong, mind leads Qi down from heaven or up from earth into the body, augmenting Qi of the body. Some Qigong practices would use mind to direct Qi away from the body and into the earth, pushing toxins out of the body. In other Qigong, mind leads Qi to specific areas in the body to bring healthy energy to fill a deficiency or wash away stagnation.
In many Qigong forms, mind imbues Qi with qualities such as healthiness, kindness, colour, temperature or sound, enhancing the effects of the Qi. There are also Qigong practices where mind may simply observe, devoid of intent. In any Qigong, it is important to remember it is only a recommendation and individuals should be encouraged to adapt this to their own belief system, spiritual practice and instinct.
Qi flowing in the body is always ready to return to harmony within as well as in connection to heaven and earth. The simple practices of Qigong utilizing breath, posture and mind, practised regularly, are effective in supporting Qi in that return to harmony.
Shauna Mullinix is an instructor of Taijiquan and Qigong at the International College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a registered acupuncturist. www.tcmcollege.com
image © Elena Ray Microstock Library
2 thoughts on “Qigong for mind, body & spirit health”
Thank you for this wonderful article. It’s great to see Qi Gong gaining more recognition in the West.
I have been practicing Dr. Aung’s form of Medical Qi Gong in Victoria daily for the passed year and a half. This daily practice, in conjunction with occasional acupuncture, affords me very significant relief from the chronic nerve pain (and other associated post-viral “baddies”) that I have been suffering from for over 6 years. With consistent practice and overall general healing, I hope to one day be freed from the need to take any medication at all. For now, I am simply grateful that I have found such a deep, ancient mind-body-spirit practice that accentuates all the joy that I have right now, despite my physical challenges.
For anyone interested: http://www.aung.com
Very indepth article I would certainly think of signing up for a course if I found one in my area. So important to balance mind, body and spirit if you want to live life well.