What is Qigong?
Qigong is an ancient mind-body practice that originated in China. The ancient Chinese believed that our physical body in cooperation with mind and spirit can produce the profound self-healing abilities and enhance wellbeing.
Qigong helps to connect the body and mind through simple practices of focusing on the breath, gentle body movements, self-massage and deep relaxation and meditation.
Qigong can also be translated as ‘vitality enhancement practice’.
How Qigong is 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 allow 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 you can achieve that. 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 at the first place.
As for the level of difficulty of the movements doesn’t 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 taught and fully stretch or relaxed and loose?
It depends on the purpose of the exercise. If your aim is to activate the muscles and stretch the tendons, 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. The body is Qigong should never be tensed 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
- Stand up straight
- Keep the back nice and straight but not rigid
- The chin is slightly pulled in to lengthen the back of the neck
- The crown of the head is drawn upward toward the sky
- Shoulders relaxed away from the neck
- Chest and arms relaxed
- Relax the abdominal muscles
- Tailbone and sacrum is relaxed and tuck in slightly as if you are about to sit on a very high stool
- The knees are slightly bend as if you are riding a metro. Avoid ‘locked’ knee situation
- Feet are flat on the ground, the weight is evenly distributed on both feet
- Keep your facial muscles relaxed
- Eyes can be closed to focus your attention inward
- The tongue is placed to touch the upper palate in your mouth
How to breathe properly in Qigong?
There are many breathing techniques in Qigong, however among all of them there are two main forms of breathing: abdominal breathing, sometimes referred to as postbirth or belly breathing 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 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 other 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 practice 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 include 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 the difference will become obvious. Doing is the best way of knowing.
What is better Yoga or Qigong?
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 works with body differently than any other fitness methods. Its main goal is to loosen the muscles and bring the body to the state of relaxation, ease and inner comfort.
Yoga, on the other hand, tend 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. ”
What is Qigong visualisation?
Chinese believe that the 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 there to nourish, repair and heal.
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 to scare you from practicing Qigong. The most common and simple way to start is becoming aware of your breath.
Is it better to do one hour long session in the morning or do shorter 15-20 minutes sessions during the day?
My teacher would always say to me “‘Practice exercises that you enjoy as long as you don’t feel tired”. The general rule is it’s better to 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 and do as long as you want! If you begin to feel tired and destructed then you can do just 20-30 minutes, then if you have time do another 20 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 that we can’t quite see or touch, it’s an essense of a nonphysical world. Ancient Chinese believed that Qi moves blood, while blood gives birth to Qi. One cannot coexists 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 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 vary depending on the origin and the school of teaching. Most common stance of Zhan zhuang Qigong is a ‘stance of three circles’.
Feet are parallel and shoulder width apart
Head is straight
Chin tucked in to lengthen the back of the neck
Shoulders relaxed down
Chest slightly rounded – not too straight, but not too slouchy
Arms are in front of the body opposite the chest, fingers facing each other
Elbows slightly bend and rounded
Tailbone relaxed down
Knees slightly bent
Face muscles relaxed
eyes look straight forward
tongue touches back of the teeth
No specific method of breathing is required. However, it is important to breathe as natural 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, ZhanZhuan 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.