Chinese Qi Gong has a history of more than five thousand years. It has been known by many other names, such as daoyin (conduction of vital energy in the human body), tuna (expiration and inspiration), zuochan (sitting in meditation), xingqi (promoting the circulation of qi), and has mainly been widely practised by people in the religious, medical and martial arts circles, mainly for the purpose of cultivating mental calmness, improving physical fitness and prolonging life. Ancient Chinese documents contain large amount of writings on qigong. Through several thousand years of continuous development, a complete system of practice methods and theories was formed and the term Qi Gong was established in the 1950s.
Qigong is a branch of learning concerning the exercise of qi. Here the word qi has several meanings. First, it refers to the air breathed in and out by man. It exists in the universe and has direct bearings on the functions of the human body. Second, it it is the medium by which the various parts of the body, including the organs and tissues, are connected and interact with one another. Its importance maybe seen from the old saying: “A man is alive when his qi grows but he ceases to live when his qi disappears.” Third, it is a kind of infinitely small substance existing in the human body. Unlike skin, bones, blood and air, qi is invisible to the eye but forms the very essence of human life. Qigong exercises contribute to the growth of this important substance, thus adding to one’s life force and delaying the process of ageing.
Although qigong exercises vary widely in form and function, they all have one thing in common: work of the mind. According to Lin Zhongpeng, Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies of Chinese Qigong, qigong may be defined as a kind of self-training for improving physical and mental health through the power of the mind. Here we have a definition with three-fold meaning.
The first meaning is about guiding principle, that is, the use of the power of the mind. Of course, qigong exercises also involve physical movements and control of breathing, but these are far less important than the use of the power of the mind, which sets qigong apart from other sports. In ordinary sports, physical work plays the dominant role while regulation of the mind and regulation of breathing only serve to keep the body in form so as to ensure good athletic performance.
The second meaning is about the purpose of qi gong, which is to improve physical and mental health. This is what distinguishes it from yingqigong (hard qigong) a kind of performing art resembling acrobatic feats. Such as thrusting a sharp spear at one’s throat, breaking a stone slab by knocking ones head against it, supporting one’s body on the point of a fork, taking hammer-blows while lying on a b ed sharp knives, and so on. All of which have little to do with health keeping.
The third meaning is about the method of exercise, with emphasis laid on self-training. Although the method of self-training has been advocated by qigong experts at all times, many people unfortunately failed to understand this and they vainly look for what they consider easier ways to keep fit. In ancient times not a few people have lost their lives after taking “elixirs” peddled by quacks for the supposed purpose of prolonged life. Such harmful substances caused the deaths of more than half of the 21 emperors of the Tang Dynasty. Superstitious practices of this kind are quite rare today. But there are still people who, in their pursuit of health, have relied too much on the help of qigong therapists, instead of persisting in doing exercises by themselves. It is true that many qigong masters hae done well to cure ailments with waiqi (out flowing vital energy) ejected from their bodies but they could done even better by teaching others ho to mobilise their own internal qi to prevent and cure diseases. To treat someone with waiqi is to give him a fish. To teach him qigong is to give him a fishnet with which he will make a fine catch once he has learned how to cast it.
By Master Andrew Sofos