Written By Jared Cruz; First Year Project Manager
Qigong is an ancient Chinese healthcare system, which utilizes physical movements, breathing techniques, and mindful intention. Qigong is a term composed of two Chinese words, “qi,” meaning “energy and life” and “gong,” meaning “to cultivate or develop.” As a result, qigong can mean cultivating or developing energy or life. In the use of qigong, a person manipulates his or her internal energy system, known as “qi,” to control the body’s internal systems and better a person beyond normal capabilities or in hopes to restore balance to the person.
Today, qigong has shaped into many different forms, namely medicinal and martial. To begin with, forms of qigong in a medical setting mainly include acupuncture and acupressure. In a person’s energy system of qi, there are pathways or “channels” for energy that exist throughout the body. When a person is ill or sick, these pathways are blocked, causing the qi to congregate into a single area. Using this understanding, acupuncture utilizes needles as a means for the medical professional to channel their own qi through these needles and into these aggregations blocked qi within their patient, resulting in the qi to resume its normal flow. Similarly, with acupressure or massage therapy, the practitioners channel their own qi into the patient to remove these blockages of qi.
Next, other forms of qigong are seen in martial arts such as tai chi or kung fu. Tai chi is known as the “shadow boxing” of Chinese martial arts. Developed as a means for monks to defend themselves, tai chi uses soft-style Chinese kung fu to neutralize any attack. Rather than aggressively exerting force and qi into a punch, tai chi users relax their body and mind to deflect and re-direct an opponent’s strike. The rough translation of tai chi to “shadow boxing” correlates to how the monks trained in this style. Instead of having a sparring partner or an opponent in a ring like modern fighting, monks would train in forms and routines such as the 42 forms, training their minds to visualize an incoming strike and to defend against it to the extent that these motions were instinctual for them.
In the modern era, tai chi is mainly used as a form of exercise for health and fitness. Mostly taught in the Yang style, tai chi’s slow and easy motions and focus on breathing allows for people of most ages and conditions to practice. Research by Harvard Medical School has found that tai chi improves upper and lower body strength especially in older individuals of about 66 years of age. Additionally, other studies have found a large number of other health benefits that come from practicing tai chi. Patients with arthritis undergoing light tai chi training can reduce their pain and even improve or slow the progression of their condition. Patients suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer have shown improvements in their quality of life and functional capabilities. Patients with Parkinson’s disease have shown signs of improved balance, walking ability, and well-being after a number of tai chi sessions.
Although qigong and tai chi have roots in ancient history, qigong and tai chi have survived the tides of time and can still be relevant today with the sheer number of health benefits ranging from simple stress relief to improving a person’s medical condition.