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A comprehensive look into the origins, practice and health benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong. The way to cultivate Qi (Life Force Energy) for health.
The healing benefits of Qigong & Tai Chi for, Tai Chi & Qigong for beginners, Cultivating Qi.
Tai Chi (Taiji Quan) and Qigong (Qi pronounced Chee) is a form of moving meditation and martial arts practice that has attracted a large following throughout the West. Its Taoist origins trace back thousands of years to the Chen Village, Henan Province—China around 1670.
Taoist philosophy is focused on the natural balance of things, and the need to harmonise our spiritual and physical aspects in accordance with nature. Taoism is particularly appreciative of the opposing, yet complementary (yin yang) elements that exist within everything. Tai Chi and Qigong both encompas yin yang balance within its sequences, influencing harmonising healing states of balance within its practitioners—so much so, that they’ve become renowned for their capacity to heal a vast range of health complaints.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) advocates the discipline of regular Tai Chi and Qigong practice for its restorative healing properties—something that is seen throughout Chinese culture. This approach to self healing has only recently become popularised here in the West.
Tai Chi’s format—particularly at entry level—incorporates within its practice specific sequences of gentle flowing circular form motions. This is designed to develop a foundation of skills and understanding required to perform its highly effective martial arts techniques as well as to build the sensitivity and connection required to take full advantage of the health benefits which result from regular practice. Many studies are being carried out to measure its efficacy for improved health as well as Tai Chi being recommended and made available within parts of the NHS.
There are 5 main branches of Tai Chi, with some instructors choosing to combine styles. Despite the various styles, the foundations of the original ‘Chen’ style can still be seen throughout its subsequent branches. All styles of Tai Chi share the same core principles regardless of any differing movement characteristics and form styles. Each maintains a martial arts foundation while offering ancient knowledge, wisdom and philosophies alongside an array of health benefits.
Tai Chi translates as the supreme balance and harmony. The mind and breathing are relaxed—yet focused, while the slow continuous movements of the body fluidly shifts from one position to another with awareness and grace. Tai chi should be performed without the presence of physical stress through any part of the body, locking of the joints or excessive tension of the muscles, ligaments and tendons. The movement is directed from the Feet up and controlled by the centre, synchronising the entire body and allowing it to move as one.
Tai chi is understood as a moving meditation through the ease, synchronicity and interconnectedness of its motion, combined with the self awareness and presence fundamental to its practice. Many find its moving meditative aspects to be more accessible than seated/static meditation. Toasit Master Waysun Liao stated in his book entitled Tao: The Way Of God (p.137-8);
‘The main tool we use to relearn how to feel life energy is moving meditation. Moving meditation can also help us strengthen and purify our life energy in order to raise our energy frequency.’
~Master Waysun Liao (Tweet This)
Tai Chi is a discipline so gentle at its core, it can be used throughout the duration of a person’s life, even in the presence of illness or limited physical function. It’s no wonder that these ancient practices have fast become popularised across the globe.
Tai Chi is used by many to improve; muscle tone, strength, suppleness, coordination, posture, balance and circulation (of blood and lymphatic fluid). It can easily generate feelings of relaxation, vitality, mental clarity and alertness and improve general well being, all while developing a sound connection and influence over our internal (Qi) energy flow. Many report additional health benefits, such as Reduction In Pain and stiffness, Stress Reduction, postural improvements and improved sleep.
Tai Chi has even been supported by a number of health associations such as the National Parkinson’s Foundation and Diabetes Australia. This video (of Shifu (Master) Heng Wei teaching at the Tang Long Cultural Centre) is an example of just some of the benefits experienced by its students.
Tai Chi is suitable for all ages and ability levels. It is practiced by the very fit, including sportsmen and women, as well as the elderly. It is particularly good for older people due to its low impact nature and its potential to be easily adapted to meet the needs of even the most limited physical capabilities. It’s a sociable way to exercise that is highly enjoyable.
Tai Chi is frequently practiced outside within natural green spaces to maximise its healthful and expansive effects, where loose comfortable clothing and light footware are worn. It’s forms are typically standing with open stances (feet about a shoulders width apart), spine lengthened along its axis, tailbone pulled down in a slightly tucked position, arms falling loosely by the sides, with the head upright and eyes looking forward.
Qigong or Life Energy Cultivation is an ancient restorative mind-body-energy practice which upholds a mindful approach to a series of integrated movements. The intention is to circulate the internal Qi (vital energy) whilst maintaining heightened states of self-awareness—all a means to improving health and inner strength.
Although Qigong is a vital component of Tai Chi, it is frequently performed as a stand alone practice where deep breath work, mental awareness and postural alignment is incorporated into a stylised meditative movement sequence. The ancient Qigong formula is a simple one. Inner harmony results in Qi flow and good Qi flow results in wellness and longevity. The regular practice of Qigong was intended as an integral part of maintaining a harmony between the duality of yin yang energy flow and balance, providing a basis for its restorative capacity.
The art and skill of directing and cultivating Qi internally is initially subtle and requires patience and development and it’s cultivation is not easily described. However, it’s methods of cultivation can be supported by advanced practitioners through Tai Chi and Qigong practice before the sensations are easily felt by the student. Developing a stronger connection to the presence and movement of Qi is dependant on the regular practice, awareness and sensitivity of each practitioner. Qi or vital energy is inherently present within all of us, with moving meditation forming a basis for recognising its presence and enhancing its effects.
At more advanced levels of practice, Qigong is used to generate a more effective transference of physical effort, particularly when used for martial arts (Wushu). This has been demonstrated through the explosive or resistance techniques demonstrated by grandmasters and other advanced level martial artists around the world.
Wushu Qigong is an important part of Chinese martial arts training, where Qi cultivation is considered a vital source of power and strength. Many extraordinary Wushu Qigong feats have been performed, such as; ‘Iron Shirt’—the ability to withstand severe blows and ‘Iron Palm’—the ability to break hard objects using bare hands.
The following video (of 34th Generation Shaolin Warrior Monk—Shifu (Master) Yang Xiu—Shaolin Xiu) demonstrates Wushu Qigong ‘Iron Throat’ where Qi is slowly drawn into the Lower Dantian (lower abdomen). This action is supported by the breath, body movement and intention before Qi is directed in such a way that creates a force field of power, strength and resilience to any chosen part of the body.
The health benefits available from regular Qigong practice are similar to that of Tai Chi although it can be more accessible than Tai Chi for those suffering limited function or range of movement (due to its more simplistic form sequences). It’s considered a powerful means of cultivating a healthy life, demonstrated by the millions of Chinese citizens who practice various forms of moving meditation in parks and green spaces all over China as well as other parts of the world.
It’s now being embraced by millions of westerners for its health enhancing benefits as well as for exercise, relaxation, meditation, recreation and martial arts training. It purposefully harmonises the yin yang energy balance of the internal organs and body as a whole, harmonising stagnated areas through the redistribution of Qi and taking in Qi that surrounds us to increase vitality—replenishing the internal Qi.
In China, Qigong has been recognised as a standard medical technique since 1989 and is regularly prescribed within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for the treatment of health conditions such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, coronary heart disease, chronic liver disease, cancer, lower back and leg pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, cervical spondylitis, menopausal symptoms, peptic ulcer, obesity, myopia and more. TCM is concerned with locating and correcting underlying disharmony in the form of excess or deficiency as a cause for disease. A person is believed to become ill when Qi is diminishing or imbalanced. TCM uses Qigong to harmonise the forces of ying yang, using the flow of Qi through the main energy centres, meridian lines and body systems to reinstate balance.
‘To nourish health and life by distributing Qi, and adjust the posture to facilitate flow. Direct the Qi throughout the body to dredge the channels, moisten the flesh, and regulate the organs.’
Records of Taoist Essence Preservation—Gathering Of Spirit Immortals On Western Mountain (Tweet This)
Tai Chi and Qigong are both considered a safe and cost effective way to exercise and maintain optimum levels of health. However, there is no standard teacher training or licence for instructors, therefore it is best to go by recommendations (where possible). The Tai Chi Union can be a helpful place to begin as it provides a lengthy list of Tai Chi and Qigong instructors in Great Britain. If your unsure, use websites associated with recommended instructors to learn more about their background and training. It’s also recommended that you visit a class before taking part to observe the format and to see if it’s something you’d like to take part in over the longer term. You can also speak with the instructor and students to get more of a feel for the community of people involved.
You’ll need to wear loose comfortable clothing that allows you a free range of motion and shoes that won’t cause you to slip—a comfortable pair of trainers will be fine to begin with. It’s also advisable to take along some Drinking Water to have at the start and end of the class.
Classes typically take place once or twice a week or run as an intensive course over several weeks. Prices vary and there may be additional charges set for annual memberships and insurance.
It’s also recommended that you seek medical advice if you have any pre-existing health complaints that you feel might be an issue—just to be safe.
I began Chen Style Tai Chi and Qigong after 5 years of training in Shaolin Kung Fu. It didn’t take me long at all to feel a strong connection with the practice. It encompasses so many great attributes and has lead to welcomed improvements in mental clarity, focus along with many physical benefits— all occurring pretty quickly!
I have enjoyed the Mindfulness and meditative benefits of Qigong the most, especially when there have been limitations in time and physical space! I have found these disciplines to be particularly enriched by practicing during the morning within natural open green spaces. They really help set the tone to my day. Each time I practice in this way, I leave the pressures and pains of life right there in the park and emerge feeling uplifted, renewed and full of vitality.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been trained by the 34th Generation Shaolin Disciples featured in this article and have been a faithful student of Shifu Yang (pictured at the top of the page) since January 2014. I can certainly testify to the integrity and power of their training methods and the benefits of these profound forms of moving meditation.
Joining a class will also expose you to a whole new philosophy and way of thinking, while connecting you to a fantastic community of potential friends, role models and people of like mind… it certainly did so for me! If you can find a local class, I would certainly suggest that you take the time out to visit.
You may also be interested in The Ancient Teachings Of ‘Ting’: The Art Of Listening.
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