Qigong, literally translates as breathing skills, or energy skills. It is a generic term which refers to many hundreds if not thousands of exercise systems that have existed for at least 2000 years in China. These systems have grown out of the dictum in the second chapter of the Nei Jing Su Wen which states “To nurse sicknesses or repress rebellions when they break out is similar to the man who waits to be thirsty in order to sink a well.” The Nei Jing also expounds at length about the role of qi, literally “breath” or “energy” in the cultivation and maintenance of health. Because it was written for doctors, much of this information is detailed and technical but can be summed up for the layperson in simple, easy to understand principles such as;
- movement is life, stillness is death
- without strength in the legs there can be no qi
- do not use hard force
- relax the chest, breathe into the abdomen
When applied to exercise science these rules lead to a form of exercise quite different from that usually advocated by modern western exercise systems. During qigong exercise the body is gently moved through all of its ranges of motion in movements coordinated with the breath and with a focused mental attitude. There is little striving; instead, staying relaxed and comfortable through out the movements is of paramount importance. With daily repetition over time the joints open, the legs become strong, the structure of the body is balanced and straightened, and organ function, including that of the nervous system and brain is improved.
In application the principles of qigong have produced a wide variety of practices. On one extreme there are systems with so little movement and such emphasis on the mental aspects of practice that they amount to meditation. On the other extreme are “hard qigong” systems that are used by martial artists to strengthen and toughen their bodies. In between these two most systems use simple movements, gentle stretches, shaking, patting and sounds to build energy in the body, develop awareness of it and make sure it moves freely.
The North American Tang Shou Tao program is founded in the martial traditions of xingyiquan, baguazhang and taijiquan all of which could be considered qigong in and of themselves, and are, in fact, the results of applying the principles and lessons of Chinese medicine and qigong to martial training. All these systems of martial training have their own qigong routines relating directly to the expression of each art. In addition we have several routines used along with or separate to the regular martial training. These include basic exercises for teaching the principles of qigong, and providing students an experiential understanding of foundational Chinese medicine such as as the Five Elements and the Fourteen Meridians. Easy to learn general health maintenance exercises are also taught; these were adapted from xingyi by Dr Wang Jiwu, and are often prescribed by those practicing acupuncture or tuina as part of a treatment plan.
It is integral to the philosophy of our Association that devoting time to the cultivation of a qigong practice is essential not only for those who wish to progress in martial or medical skills but also for anyone who wants to use the full potential of Chinese medicine to promote a long and healthy life.