“Qigong will be even bigger than Yoga” proclaimed the Costa Rican News on September 16, 2016. While the article does not argue that Qigong is somehow better than Yoga, it emphasizes that Qigong has the potential to be a significant tool for maintaining health and for addressing a range of diseases and medical problems. In the United States, Qigong has been recognized by the mainstream as having great health potential. The New York Daily News, for example, pronounced that medical studies of Qigong have documented its ability to lower blood pressure, control diabetes, and more. (http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/qigong-chinese-yoga-mainstream-article-1.1418040 )
It is no secret to those who practice authentic Qigong that it has tremendous health and healing abilities—largely because of its capacity to penetrate deeply into the body by stimulating organs and the channels of the body. Yet to properly tap into Qigong’s healing power, a practitioner needs to go beyond merely performing the choreography of the form. In fact, a few things are required that involve both finding a proper teacher as well as the proper means of practice: that is, the person teaching the form must be trained in the Traditional Chinese Medicine principles and the philosophy that informs Qigong practice; and the person doing the forms must not only be aware of certain fundamental principles but also consistently apply those principles during practice.
For this reason, it is crucial to understand the vital principles of Qigong, which involve Body techniques, Breathing, and Mental Action, all of which are aspects of what Traditional Chinese Medicine calls Qi, Jing, and Shen. To tap the full range of Qigong’s health benefits, proper body and breath techniques are fundamental, as is the development of mental awareness and concentration.
In my book Cultivating Qi: the Root of Energy, Vitality, and Spirit, Body, Breath, and Mind are explored in regards to the individual’s ability to generate and circulate Qi. Here I would like to offer a different perspective—shifting the gaze upon how Body, Breath, and Mind relate to the health aspects of Qigong practice.
This article will concentrate upon body techniques, which are the most rudimentary and readily accessible aspects of Qigong training. Breath and mind, which build upon the body but are more advanced, will be the subject of two later articles.
The foundation of the body rests upon three principles:
- The stance, structure, and position of the body directly impact the effectiveness of the movements and their healing potential.
- The physical body and its muscles, tendons, and joints must be open and relaxed so that proper circulation and movement can take place.
- A state of calmness is required so that the person can observe and feel the physical body. Both body and mind must be relaxed.
Each of these points merit more detailed discussion. First, the position of the body throughout the movements creates an internal manipulation whether that is a stimulation of a specific energetic channel (the body has 8 major channels), an organ channel (the body has 12 primary organ channels), or directly impacts one of the twelve major organs of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This physical structure can be thought of as a way of creating an internal focal point that can then be reached by the movement. While the movements of a Qigong form “feel” good without hyper attention to stance and structure, without attention paid to the proper form, the healing capabilities of the Qigong movements are minimized—or at worst—negated entirely. Proper body position is vital to target specific and key parts of the body internally and externally.
Second, a state of relaxation builds upon the infrastructure of the stance and position of the body. The structure opens circulatory pathways, and relaxing the muscles, tendons, and joints creates an unimpeded route for blood, nutrients, and Qi to flow throughout the body. The unobstructed communicatory pathways of the nervous, circulatory, and lympathic systems alongside the open energetic channels ensures that the effectiveness of the Qigong forms to target areas of the body for health and healing.
Third, a calm body allows the movements to be more efficient; a calm mind allows the individual to focus and feel more deeply, which allows for proper “feedback” for the effectiveness of the movement. A calm body and mind work like sonar with the feeling of the movement “echoing” back as the person performs the movement. The sensitivity of the feedback loop depends upon the proper position of the body, the overall softness, and a calm yet focused mind capable of discerning deep and subtle feelings. Proper Qigong practice is an act of dynamic relaxation—of looking, feeling, and responding to the body and its movements.
Without attention to body technique and mental intention, Qigong is no more effective than going for a leisurely walk. How can Qigong be bigger than Yoga then? Without attention to these fundamentals, it can’t. The real healing power of Qigong resides in attention and focus not only to the fundamental principles of how to move but also the act of creating a focused yet serene mind, thereby achieving a state of relaxed wholeness.