Many Eastern approaches to health and fitness have become popular in the West over the last several years. Among thses is qigong. A Chinese practice, qigong (pronounced "chee gung") makes use of breathing techniques and graceful movement to increase the flow of qi--also known as chi--through the body. Qigong means energy (qi) and skill (gong), or a skill or practice that cultivates or increases energy.
Those familiar with Chinese medicine or meditative techniques will be familiar with the concept of qi or chi. Yoga practitioners study a similar concept called prana. Chi is defined as a life-force that is often equated with the breath, or seen to move with the breath. Controlling breathing helps control and optimize the movement of chi, which leads to increased health and well-being. Breathing techniques are often accompanied by specific types of exercise that increase the flow of chi. These exercises also increase strength, flexibility and balance.
A form of qigong that is well-known and widely practiced in the West is Tai Chi. Tai Chi is also considered a martial art, and is practiced by a wide variety of people of all ages. Even some corporations sponsor classes for their employees to decrease stress and improve overall health.
Benefits of Qigong and Meditative Physical Fitness
Qigong, as well as other forms of meditative physical fitness such as yoga, have been found to have many benefits, including:
- Stress reduction
- Control of hypertension or high blood pressure
- Weight loss and control
- Improved balance and coordination
- Increased flexibility
The meditative practice of qigong can help reduce stress levels by teaching how to control reactions to events. Learning meditation and deep breathing both as a regular practice and as a way of handling anxiety can help reduce problems like stress eating and high blood pressure. Some also believe that the breathing practices can help increase oxygen to the system, improving metabolism and overall body function.
Like many Eastern physical arts, qigong is practiced in "forms," or groups of motions that flow from one to the other in set patterns. Qigong practice is also divided into internal and external practice, with internal practice focusing on meditative techniques while external practice centers on physical movement. The variety of forms means anyone can practice qigong. Gentle movements are suitable for beginners or less physically able or active students, while involved forms provide a more challenging approach for younger, fitter, or more advanced students.
While qigong is not a religious practice, the spiritual elements of meditative physical fitness appeal to many. Meditative practices help practitioners tune in to their bodies and even feel better about themselves. Developing a less judgmental and stressful relationship with the body can help anyone pursuing a fit lifestyle to accept themselves without unrealistic criticism. Reducing stressful, anxious thoughts about fitness and weight loss can sabotage efforts and even reverse progress. For many, combining spirituality with health improvement efforts deepens commitment, reduces anxiety, and improves overall results.
As with any fitness program, qigong is not always right for everyone. Always consult with a physician before beginning any new exercise practice.