What is Qigong?
Zhan Zhuang Qigong
What is ZHAN ZHUANG QIGONG?
Postures are held with the aim of developing qi (ch’i) the body’s natural energy, and correcting imbalances in the organs of the body at the same time. It is the art of learning how to relax and calm the mind and is an excellent method of learning how to cope with stress, tension, and anxiety.
What is DAOYIN YANGSHENG GONG?
Daoyin Yangsheng Gong is a ‘moving’ qigong that focuses both on the prevention of illness, and the maintenance of good health throughout the body by balancing the energy of the internal organs.
This qigong consists of ‘sets’ of exercises that focus specifically on the organs of the body, and the body 'systems', e.g. the Digestive, Cardiovascular, Respiratory, & Skeletal systems, as well as exercises for the Liver, Kidneys, Diabetes, etc. The exercises also encourage flexibility, and a loosening of the joints and muscles of the body.
This is often referred to as ‘Standing like a Post’, or ‘Standing like a Tree’.
There are nowadays many books written about this type of Qigong; postures are held with the aim of developing qi (ch’i) the body’s natural energy, relaxing into the posture and learning how to release muscles, and also correcting imbalances in the organs of the body at the same time.
It is also the art of learning relaxation, in that, without relaxation, the body finds it very difficult to hold the Zhan Zhuang postures for any length of time. As you become more adept at Zhan Zhuang, your body becomes more relaxed, and your mind
becomes calmer. It is therefore an excellent method of learning how to cope with stress, tension, and anxiety.
For most people, this type of Qigong is the quickest and easiest to learn, and the hardest to achieve – by which I mean that to learn the physical shape of the posture is very straightforward, but to feel comfortable with it usually takes quite a while!
The basic ‘standing pole’ posture is very simple. Stand with the feet a shoulder-width apart, bend the knees slightly, and lift the hands up in front of your chest, with the palms of the hands facing your body, the arms gently rounded on either side of you, and the hands at the height of anywhere between your heart and your shoulders.
And that’s it! Except that it’s not! This describes the physical shape, but one of the aims is to hold this shape for any period of time and feel comfortable whilst doing so – in fact, not only feel comfortable, but also feel as though you could stay there forever!
For a more detailed description, see Zhan Zhuang Qigong.
Daoyin Yang Sheng Gong
General: Daoyin Yangsheng Gong is a ‘moving’ qigong that focuses both on the prevention of illness, and the maintenance of good health throughout the body. Whilst being unable to claim that this type of qigong is curative, it has been used in this way especially in a supportive role (not as a replacement for standard medical treatment), and can also be used as recuperative exercise.
The Sets: The qigong consists of ‘sets’ of 8 or 9 exercises, some of which are to encourage flexibility, and a loosening of the joints and muscles of the body, some of which work on the general health of the body, and others which focus specifically on the organs of the body.
For example, there are exercises for the Digestive system (Stomach exercises, and Spleen exercises, as well as exercises
for the Large Intestine and Small Intestine), exercises for the Cardiovascular system (Heart exercises), exercises for the Respiratory system (Lung exercises), as well as exercises for the Skeletal system (exercises for the bones, joints, and tendons).
There are also sets of exercises for the Liver and Gallbladder, for the Kidneys and Bladder, for the Head and Face, for specific illnesses such as Diabetes, for the entire Meridian system, for one's General Health, and to generally tone the body.
The movements: These consist of brief tension (twisting, pressing, etc.) alternating with relaxation, breathing in connection with the movements, the stimulation of certain acupuncture points, and focusing on specific areas of the body.
The sets of exercises that work more on specific organs or areas of the body concentrate on balancing the entire body system with a specific focus on the organ in question (e.g. the Respiratory or Digestive systems). The exercises do not therefore work only on the organ itself.
Daoyin & the 5 Elements: This relates to the Chinese Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) understanding of the 5 Elements, the theory of which states that there is a co-dependent relationship between all the organs in the body – a body eco-system. If one organ is unwell, it will have an effect upon certain other organs.
To put it another way, in working on one organ, you have to work within the context of all organs; (cf. the organisation of a company: Post room/accounts/sales/admin/secretarial, etc... all have to work in harmony for the company to function efficiently).
Unlike the Western system of medicine, the Chinese believe that fixing the result of a health-problem is only half of the answer, and that keeping all the organs healthy and supporting each other will ultimately lead to good health, therefore avoiding a recurrence of the problem.
To take an example, the Digestive set, like all the sets, doesn't work with the Digestive system alone, it harmonises of all body systems in their relationship to the stomach.
From the viewpoint of the 5 Elements, which is the foundation of these exercises, the organs of the Stomach & Spleen relate to Earth, and Earth produces Metal (which relates to the organs of the Lungs & Large Intestine).
In other words, there is a relationship between the two pairs of organs - a mother/son relationship; the Spleen is the "mother" of the Lungs, and nourishes them (i.e. the Lungs are the "son"). If the son is healthy, he isn't over-demanding of the mother; if the mother is strong, she won’t be drained by the son.
In other words, the functional balance between not only these organs but between all the organs is an essential prerequisite for good health.
From a different perspective, Earth (Spleen & Stomach) is the "son" of Fire (which relates to the organs of the Heart & Small Intestine - the "mother"), and again there will be movements in the exercises that focus on balancing the relationship between these organs.
There is also a further controlling influence taking place in the 5 Elements: The most obvious is Fire (Heart) and Water (Kidneys). If the Heart (Fire) is too strong it will drain energy from, and cause damage to the Kidneys (Water) (i.e. the Fire will dry up the Water). But the reverse is also true; if the Water of the Kidneys is too active, it can put out/dampen (cause damage to) the Fire of the Heart.
Performing the Exercises: The exercises can be practised in any quiet and well-ventilated space. They can be performed to music, and involve conscious breathing. The mind should be calm, and the body relaxed.
1) Describe the turning point when you decided to practise Qigong?
I started learning martial arts in 1975, and, at the same time learnt tai chi, qigong, and meditation.
2) How does Qigong differ to Yoga and Pilates?
I don't teach yoga or pilates, but from what I understand of them (having done a small amount of both), yoga and pilates are performed both from floor-based and standing positions, whereas qigong tends to be done in an upright position. Having said that, there are qigong exercises that can be done both lying down and seated, but they are usually used for people who are either unstable on their feet, very elderly, or with a medical condition which necessitates their sitting/lying.
Qigong incorporates aspects of both yoga and pilates; in qigong you will find stretching, the release of muscles, the loosening of joints, as well as discovering how to work from 'the core' - referred to as the 'Dantian' in Chinese. But above all, there is emphasis on learning how to relax and release the tendons, ligaments, and joints so that the body functions more efficiently and effectively, enabling it to heal itself.
Qigong teaches you how to 'position' the body correctly, and how to change from one body-shape to another both efficiently and with minimum 'wastage' of energy. The movements in qigong are often very small, and tend to be repeated several times.
In addition, qigong is closely connected to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), and work of the premise of 'balancing' the body (5 Elements Theory). Many of the exercises work on specific internal organs of the body, sometimes using acupuncture points which can be pressed with the fingers.
3) For whom is Qigong most suited?
All ages; I have taught people from 6 years old to 92 years old. I have also taught women who wanted to continue right through their pregnancy as they felt that it would help the birth, one of whom continued to a week beyond the projected date of the birth.
4) Can you give us an example or two as to how your student/s have found real benefit in your teaching them Qigong and Meditation?
People do qigong for many reasons. Many of my students are still working, and they find qigong an excellent way to de-stress. This is particularly true for people who spend their day looking at computer screens, and who are seated for the majority of their working life. Others find the stretching aspect of it very helpful, whilst others find that trying to consciously relax for one part of their day affects their lives. For others, breathing helps - they find that they spend most of their time not really breathing correctly (producing more stress). Some find that the aspect of mindfulness helps them to get their lives back into perspective. For the more elderly of my students, they also find that the qigong method of using their legs and arms strengthens them and helps with their balance and mobility; many have also found it has eased their problems with arthritis. A few of my students do qigong to help their heart conditions. These are just a few of the reasons for doing qigong.