What is Qigong?
Qi ( pronounced chee ) is the life-force energy of the body, which is responsible for our health and vitality. Gong means skill or mastering.
Qigong is the practice of cultivating the energy in the body through a series of body movements, breath practice and relaxation. We often don’t have time to do a fitness class, yoga or meditation. Qigong exercises are a little bit of everything – it’s like having three in one.
When all three methods are combined into a single practice, they become a powerful tool that we can use to take care of our bodies, our minds and our emotions. In China the integration of these methods is called Qigong, in India is called Yoga, in japan is called Reiki.
How is Qigong different from other fitness methods?
Qigong is built on the idea that when gentle body movements, breath practice and deep relaxation are integrated into a single practice they enhance the body’s inner healing and health-generating abilities.
Proper posture in Qigong allows us to relax the muscles and let the body’s energy travel more freely up and down the body. Proper breathing in Qigong calms the nervous system while providing the body with more oxygen to use as fuel.
Mindfulness or intention help to settle the ‘busy mind’ and focus it on the present moment which can assist in calming anxiety and reducing emotional stress.
What does it mean to progress in Qigong? What would an intermediate routine look like?
In Qigong we grow and progress in regards to ourselves, in regards to a person we were yesterday. There shouldn’t be a sense of competition to fully reap the benefits of the practice, perhaps, except championships that tend to challenge the physical abilities of the practitioner.
There are no limits to where you can grow with Qigong. If your goal is to heal a back pain then through regular practice it’s possible. If your goal is to become more intuitive, be able to control your emotions and make better decisions then Qigong can help you achieve that as well. It’s important to ask yourself why you are doing Qigong in the first place.
As for the level of difficulty, the movements do not change much as you develop the practice. What changes is your experience and the ability to control the breath, the body and the mind.
When you practice Qigong should your body be taut and fully stretched or relaxed and loose?
It depends on the purpose of the exercise. If your aim is to activate and stretch the muscles, say first thing in the morning then you deliberately stretch and tense the muscles, followed by relaxation of the entire body. If it’s an evening routine to relax and unwind then soft, flowing movements that would keep the muscles engaged but not overwork them is better. During Qigong, the body should never be tense or rigid, only when the body is relaxed the energy can travel freely.
What is the correct posture for Qigong exercises?
Correct physical posture is the key element in all martial arts including Qigong and Tai Chi. Also known as Horse Stance or Wuji pose, it aligns the three dan tien points lower, middle and upper to enhance the flow of energy throughout the body and promote muscle relaxation.
One way to think about Qigong posture is to imagine yourself standing in the water. That nice, relaxing experience when the muscles around the bones relax and let go allowing the skeleton to effortlessly hold the weight of the body. There are a few points to keep in mind when practising Qigong to guarantee you the best posture and most effortless movements.
Wuji posture: How to Stand in Qigong
1 - Stand up straight
2 - Keep the back nice and straight but not rigid 3 - The chin is slightly pulled in to lengthen the back of the neck 4 - The crown of the head is drawn upward toward the sky
5 - Shoulders relaxed away from the neck
6 - Chest and arms relaxed
7 - Relax the abdominal muscles
8 - Tailbone and sacrum is relaxed and tuck in slightly as if you are about to sit on a very high stool
9 - The knees are slightly bent as if you are riding a metro. Avoid ‘locked’ knee situation
10 - Feet are flat on the ground, the weight is evenly distributed on both feet
11 - Keep your facial muscles relaxed
12 - Eyes can be closed to focus your attention inward
13 - The tongue is placed to touch the upper palate in your mouth
14 - Smile
How do you breathe properly in Qigong?
There are many breathing techniques in Qigong, however among all of them there are two main forms of breathing. The first is abdominal breathing, sometimes referred to as postbirth or belly breathing. This is when the abdominal muscles expand out as you breathe into the lower lungs then they relax back and slightly inward, expelling the air out from the bottom of the lungs. There should be minimum to no movement in the upper chest. This method is used in many Qigong exercises and is highly effective to boost circulation and invigorate the body with energy.
The second Qigong breathing technique is called prebirth breathing and is just the opposite of the belly breathing. As you inhale, the abdominal muscles draw in gently then as you exhale relax the abdomen back out completely. Both methods are good and can be practiced as individual exercise to relax and calm the body and mind.
What is the difference between Qigong and Tai Chi?
Tai Chi is a form of dynamic Qigong, however not all Qigong is Tai Chi. Some Qigong is performed sitting or lying, all Tai Chi is moving and standing. Some Qigong also includes acupressure massage and meditation. The goal of both is to relax the body and mind and encourage the flow of Qi energy through gentle body movements, breath practice and relaxation. The process of trying to figure out which practice or method is better can limit your ability to get the benefits. As you begin to practice Tai Chi or Qigong you begin to see the difference. Doing is the best way of knowing.
Is Qigong better than Yoga?
Qigong and Yoga are both mind/body practices that are designed to cultivate life energy and prolong life. However, Qigong is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine, whereas Yoga is closely tied to Auyrveda. Although the two practices share common principles like breath-work, intention and meditation, there are some differences.
Qigong's main goal is to loosen the muscles and bring the body to a state of relaxation, ease and inner comfort. Yoga, on the other hand, tends to focus on more physical postures and static asanas that help to build up strength and assist flexibility. I like the phrase that in my opinion describes the two practices perfectly:
"In yoga you stretch to relax. In Qigong you relax to stretch"
Both are great practices and one is not better than the other.
What is Qigong visualisation?
The Chinese masters believed intent leads the mind (thoughts) and the mind leads the Qi (energy). When our mind is ‘busy’ and our thoughts are scattered, the Qi energy is scattered. When we focus our mind on something e.g breath, a body part or a particular organ during the practice, we are able to guide the flow of Qi energy to nourish, repair and heal that area.
By using imagination or visualisation we can shift the focus from thinking into feeling, become more connected to our body and the process. Paying attention to the sensations inside, we can notice the areas of tightness and discomfort and learn how to release them. However, don’t let visualisation scare you from practicing Qigong. The most common and simple way to start is becoming aware of your breath.
Which is better, a one hour session in the morning or more frequent 15-20 minutes sessions during the day?
My teacher would always say “‘Practice exercises that you enjoy as long as you don’t feel tired”. The general rule is practice 5-10 minutes everyday than 45-60 minutes once a week. When it comes to daily practice, it varies from person to person. In the morning, it’s generally a good practice to gently warm up the joints, activate the muscles and boost the blood flow allowing the body to wake up and start all the internal processes without stressing it out.
At lunch time, (11-13:00) when we have the most amount of energy we can use that to do exercises that require more strength, flexibility and power. In the evening, to unwind and get ready for bed, it’s good to do breathing exercises and slow, relaxing movements to destress and calm the body and mind.
When practicing Qigong in the morning, practice with ease and joy for as long as you want! If you begin to feel tired and distracted then you can do just 20-30 minutes, then if you have time do another 20 minutes during lunch break then a gentle routine in the evening. However, there are no rules! Listen to your body and always do what feels good.
How can a beginner feel the Qi?
Qi energy is something we can’t see or touch, it’s an essense of a nonphysical world. The ancient Chinese believed that Qi moves blood, while blood gives birth to Qi. One cannot co-exist without another, both vital to human life. When we stretch and activate the muscles we produce energy, the Qi and blood begin to circulate delivering oxygen and nutrients to different organ systems and bones.
One way to experience Qi is to pay attention to the sensations inside the body during the practice. When we stretch and tense the muscles then release and relax there is a shift that is happening inside. A pleasant warmth that begins to spread and travel through the body – that is Qi. It’s believed that only in a relaxed body Qi can travel freely up and down, therefore when you are just starting out with Qigong, it’s important to focus on relaxation.
What is Zhan Zhuang or Qigong Tree pose?
The origins of the Zhan Zhuang or Tree pose go back to the combat stances of the ancient martial art training “Ultimate Supreme Fist”. The aim of the exercise is to gradually develop and cultivate the physical and mental strength and power. The alignment of the body is closely associated with a tree, where the lower body is stable and strong, deeply rooted into the ground and the upper body is supple and soft. During the practice the body must remain still and motionless, however small adjustments are fine when practicing for longer period.
The body alignment varies depending on the origin and school of teaching. The most common stance of Zhan Zhuang Qigong is a ‘stance of three circles’.
1 - Feet are parallel and shoulder width apart
2 - Head is straight
3 - Chin tucked in to lengthen the back of the neck
4 - Shoulders relaxed down
5 - Chest slightly rounded – not too straight, but not too slouchy 6 - Arms are in front of the body opposite the chest, fingers facing each other 7 - Elbows slightly bent and rounded 8 - Tailbone relaxed down
9 - Knees slightly bent
10 - Face muscles relaxed
11 - Eyes look straight forward
12 - Tongue touches the back of the teeth
No specific method of breathing is required. However, it is important to breathe as naturally as possible. For beginners, the breath should be slow, gentle and tension free. The experienced practitioners can use the belly breathing method. Inhale, expanding the lower abdomen, exhaling, relaxing the muscles back or vice versa.
During the practice of the Zhan Zhuang, it’s important to turn attention inward and focus on achieving a state of deep relaxation. Counting the breath is also a good way to keep the ‘busy’ mind occupied. Experienced practitioners can focus on the energy centres known as Dan Tien and the vital acupressure points. For centuries, Zhan Zhuan Qigong was used to prevent illness and maintain physical and mental health. Regular practice 2-5 minutes a day up to 30 minutes a day.
Can I do the same Qigong routine everyday?
Yes, you can. Through daily Qigong practice you’ll enjoy increased flexibility, strength and a general sense of well-being. Your physical body will change but so will your awareness or mindfulness. Qigong teaches us to become more aware of our physical bodies and more intuitive of your senses so every time you practice, the same exercises will give you a different experience. As Bruce Lee once said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10 000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10 000 times.” However, it’s nice to have a variety in your daily practice and do what feels good and needed on that day.
How do you stop the mind thinking during Qigong or any practice?
In Qigong there is a concept that ‘’The mind leads the Qi (energy).’’ We have a tremendous amount of energy inside us, when we think, the energy travels up to the head. Too much thinking or energy in the head can cause headaches and leave us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Redirecting the attention down to the lower body and away from the head is one way to calm the ‘busy’ mind.
Before you begin your practice bring your attention to the feet, spread your toes wide, center your weight over your feet and rock back and forth to find the balance. Feel all four corners of each foot and spend a few minutes getting grounded or rooted into the earth. Begin you practice as usual and if you notice your mind drifting away, bring your attention back to your feet.
What are the main benefits of Qigong?
Qigong is a great tool for coping with the stresses of modern life. It’s extremely relaxing, energising and empowering. When we switch off the stress response ( fight or flight ) and activate the relaxation response (rest and digest), dozens of self-healing mechanisms are activated to sustain and restore our health automatically. The same happens during sleep and meditation. Although Qigong exercises do not substitute sleep it can be used as a valuable tool for more energy, mental clarity and balance.