Qi gong (pronounced chee guhng) has been practiced in China in its various forms for thousands of years. It consists of exercises involving specific breathing practices and/or movements, with the goal of enhancing and balancing qi.
The central principle involves meditating on a vital energy center known as the Dantian (pronounced dahn tyehn). Located about three inches below the navel, it is considered the root of qi in the body. By focusing on this area while moving the body, a person is able to build up a storehouse of qi and direct it to areas that need it.
Qi gong has a wide variety of forms, ranging from quiet meditative exercises that bring about a sense of peace and well-being to techniques that send powerful waves of energy flowing through the body. In its medical form, qi gong is used to build immunity, treat disease, improve strength, clarify the mind, and enable a person to tap into underlying reserves of energy.
The ancient Chinese physician Hua Tuo is quoted as saying "a running stream never goes bad," meaning that qi and blood will not become stagnant if proper exercise keeps them circulating. He developed a set of exercises known as "imitation of five animals boxing," which was an early form of both qi gong and tai qi. He and his followers were able to remain healthy into old age by practicing these exercises regularly.
As Chinese medicine grew more sophisticated over time, the practice of qi gong also became more focused on curing specific diseases. By the 19th century, it was used clinically for ailments such as indigestion, toothache, eye problems, headache, abdominal pain, and chronic degenerative diseases in general.
The practitioner of qi gong trains in order to master three groups of exercises: those that regulate the body, those that regulate the heart and mind, and those that regulate breathing. The purpose of these exercises is for the practitioner to learn to release muscular tension, strengthen the muscles and tendons, and circulate qi and blood to the various organs and regions of the body.
Different positions are assumed, depending on the desired result, but in all cases a profound relaxation allows the muscles and organs to rest and rejuvenate. Meditating on the Dantian also allows the practitioner of qi gong to become free of distracting thoughts, bringing about a state of inner peace and heightened awareness.
In medical qi gong, it is possible to direct the healing energy to specific organs and meridians. The patient can do this, and it is also possible for the physician to direct healing qi into the patient's body through his or her hands. When qi gong is combined with acupuncture treatment, the therapeutic results can be truly remarkable. For example, this therapy can be used to help stroke victims begin to talk or walk again, sometimes after only one treatment.
Much research into the physiologic effects of qi gong has been conducted in modern-day China. Studies have shown a drastic alteration of brain wave patterns and a radical decrease in adrenaline, a hormone secreted in response to stress. Heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, cholesterol levels can drop, and the immune system is strengthened by increased production of blood cells.
Physicists studying the effects of qi gong at research institutes have actually discovered quantifiable changes during the practice of qi gong, such as the body's production of low levels of energy in the form of infrared energy, visible light, static electricity, and even ultraviolet and microwave radiation.
Much more research remains to be done in this fascinating field, but one finding is certain: Qi gong is a powerful therapeutic modality capable of promoting wellness and healing disease. It stands well on its own and is also an effective adjunct to other traditional therapies.
The first step in performing a qi gong exercise is to locate the
Dantian, a major energy center in the body near the solar plexus. The
point is located below the navel at a distance equal to the width of
four fingers. The acupuncture point located there is called "Gate to
the Original Qi," and the Dantian is located inside the abdomen about a
third of the distance between that point and the spine. This is the
focus of meditation during qi gong exercises.
When performing qi gong, it's most important to relax and be calm:
After a qi gong session, people typically feel energized and relaxed, ready to deal with the stresses of the world in a calm and grounded manner.
Along with exercise, massage plays a strong role in traditional Chinese medical treatments. Learn more about therapeutic massage in the next section of this article.
For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatments, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:
- How Traditional Chinese Medicine Works
- How to Treat Common Ailments with Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Coughs, Colds, Flu, and Allergies
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Digestive System
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Pain Relief
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Overall Health