Below is a guest post from CCV Student Eleanor Kinsey.
So your friend tells you her grandmother is doing Qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”) every morning because it helps her manage her pain. You say, “Oh cool,” and pause a moment, wondering whether you really want to admit that you have no idea what she’s talking about. Finally, you ask, “Is that like yoga?”
Though Qigong is growing in popularity, many people still don’t understand what Qigong is all about. Looking it up on the internet, people find pictures that range from classrooms full of elderly people with their arms raised to what look like old scrolls depicting Chinese monks in various poses. Many people think that it looks like Tai Chi, and in a way, they would be correct. Tai Chi is the martial arts form of Qigong, a practice with as many teaching varieties as yoga.
To help you understand Qigong, we will first examine its parts: “Qi” and “Gong.” Many people have heard of “Qi” and may have seen it written in other ways, like “Chi,” “Chee,” and even, “Ki.” The simplest and most useful definition of Qi is that it is “energy.” It is important for me to note that while this definition suits our purposes, the term “Qi” refers to much more in Chinese philosophy and culture. However, for now, think of Qi as the energy that is both within us and around us. The Qi, or energy within us has three origins: Original Qi, Grain Qi, and Natural Air Qi (Kaptchuk 47). Original Qi is the energy we receive from our parents at the time of our conception and is responsible for inherited traits. Grain Qi is the energy we receive from the food we eat. All Qigong practices emphasize eating whole, unprocessed foods, believing that they contain more Qi than processed or frozen foods. The last, Natural Air Qi is the energy we receive from the air we breathe. All together, they make up the energy that flows within our bodies. When that energy is in abundance and flows freely throughout the body, a person is considered healthy.
The term “Gong,” basically means “working.” Qigong could be translated as “working with Qi” or “Qi working with you” (Cohen 1999). The main goal of Qigong is to encourage the free flow of Qi and to bring more Qi into the body. This is done through breathing exercises, slow-moving forms, stretching, visualization, and meditation. To see images of Qigong techniques or watch videos of people doing Qigong, a great website to go to is: www.qigonginstitute.org/html/GettingStarted.php.
There are many known benefits of Qigong practice. Some of them include: improved circulation of blood, accelerated metabolism, enhancement of immune function, increased mental acuity and focus, and decreased stress (Primack 9). According to Dr. Roger Jahnke, one way that Qigong helps reduce stress is it’s ability to initiate a relaxation response in the body. The characteristics of a “relaxation response” are “decreased heart and breath rate and a lowering of blood pressure” (2007). Along with the conscious intention to relax the body, the slow, deep breathing that is a part of Qigong practice is what is thought to initiate this healing, regenerative response. Research has found that Qigong effects the nervous system by reducing the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (your “fight or flight” response) and increasing parasympathetic activity. Studies show that this state has helped “reduce pain and depression, reduce cravings for addictive substances, and promote healing” (2007).
One of the goals of Qigong is to be completely present in the moment, focusing on the breath, the body, and on visualizing energy coming into and moving throughout the body. By bringing our awareness to the present, ridding ourselves of thoughts so we can fully experience the moment, we are cultivating our ability to control our thought processes so we can think consciously and focus.
As busy students with families and jobs, there are times when the workload is heavy, pressure is high and lack of sleep is making us tired and cranky. It happens to all of us. Qigong can assist us through these times. By promoting relaxation and attention, students may sleep better, lower their anxiety, and may find that it is easier to focus at home, school, and work. Personally, among many other benefits, Qigong calms my mind and brings about a feeling of connection and of peace. At the end of practice, I feel both rooted and flowing. I feel balanced and whole.