Since Chi Kung (or qigong) was featured on the Oprah Show in November of 2007 (via Dr. Oz), a wider range of people are now curious about Chi Kung and its health benefits. While I am pleased that Chi Kung has entered into the consciousness of a broader swath of the American public, it is vital that making Chi Kung available is not done at the expense of maintaining its authenticity and, therein, its real value as a health modality. After all, as anything enters into the mainstream, it is often diluted and transformed even as it is absorbed. The German philosopher Hegel named this the “Dialectical Process” wherein a major idea (thesis) encounters resistance (antithesis) and from which emerges a new idea (thesis). Given this process, many serious practitioners of Chi Kung worry that as it melds with other practices, Chi Kung will lose its authenticity as a bonafide medical and therapeutic modality. The remedy, of course, is to pay careful attention to the philosophy and theory that informs Chi Kung in order to maintain its integrity. My intention here is to provide a quick gloss of Chi Kung’s rich, and very interesting history as a way to counter only a superficial understanding of this great art.
[(Big Aside): By the way, I spell “Chi Kung” as “Chi Kung” instead of “Qigong.” Both are acceptable renderings of the Chinese characters into English, but I opt for “Chi Kung” in order to maintain the symmetry with my use of “T’ai Chi” a la the Wade-Giles transliteration system. If one writes “Qigong” using the Pinyin mode of Romanization, one should write “Taiji.” Very few people write “Taiji” perhaps because the general populace might not be as familiar with that rendering as it is with “T’ai Chi.” Can you market “Taiji” if few people know that it is still “T’ai Chi”? But those individuals who use “T’ai Chi” often use “Qigong,” but since Oprah promotes “Qigong,” I guess it is best to follow that public relations coup instead of aiming for accuracy. (Do you see the danger in such inconsistency, though?). One might even go so far as to suggest that if a person doesn’t know the correct way of pairing of “Taiji” and “Qigong” or “T’ai Chi” and “Chi Kung,” then what else does that person not understand about T’ai Chi (Taiji) and Chi Kung (Qigong) and its philosophy, theory, and history?]
Chi Kung has a rich and extensive history that stretches for thousands of years in China, and it is sometimes named Daoyin (Healing Exercises) or Taoist Yoga. The comparison with Yoga is a useful way of beginning to comprehend what Chi Kung is: like Yoga, Chi Kung is based upon an elaborate philosophical, spiritual, and medical structure that is founded upon a dedicated study of the body. Moreover, Chi Kung can be used for multiple ends—like Yoga—in order to promote overall health, healing, or for spiritual cultivation.
Because Yoga and Chi Kung are based upon different ideological and medical systems, the comparisons are not as incisive once pushed beyond the general, though. The fundamental essence of Chi Kung is that the Chi (or energy) of the body travels through a network of channels (or meridians) that connect with the organs, muscles, tendons, and the nervous system. Think of the Chi System of the body like a map with highways, roads, streets, and driveways. And if there is a blockage at the ramp for the highway (or merging to go through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, for Pittsburghers), there are problems that develop from the ramp and into the streets and roads that are connected. A blockage not only affects that area, but all of the other pathways and organs that feed into or out of that channel.
The circulation of the body can be manipulated and harmonized through a number of movements that are coordinated with the breath. The muscles function like a pump to increase the blood/chi flow to a particular organ or area of the body. The movements affect an organ through stretching, bending, and massaging, thereby reharmonizing and invigorating that organ.
In this sense, Chi Kung is an effective means for overall health. More importantly, exercises also can be used to correct major forms of disharmonies of the body that manifest as disease. Subsequently, medical and therapeutic Chi Kung has been in existence for thousands of years—long before even the Pinyin, Wade-Giles, or Yale systems of Romanizing Chinese—to either maintain health or to promote healing.
To answer how Chi Kung works in relation to physiological principles of the body merits much more attention (and words) than can be used here, and perhaps a future entry on “How Chi Kung works” will make its way here. Suffice it to say that Chi Kung’s rich tapestry is woven from threads from Taoism, Buddhism, the I-Ching, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Western Medicine. It is a highly-effective means of maintaining health, which the thousands of years of its continued use testifies.
To quote Dr. Oz from the November 1st, 2007 Oprah show: “If you want to be healthy and live to be 100, do Qigong.”