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Monday, June 6, 2011

A Field Guide to Qigong

By Sat Hon, Founder, New York Dan Tao Center

How does Qigong differ from Taiji?
If we look at the evolution of the Qigong family tree, Taiji is a grandchild of Qigong. It is a branch that sprouted and developed into a martial art form while continuing to retain the healing effects of Qigong. In recent scientific studies, Taiji has been shown to have significant health benefits. It improves balance in senior citizens as well as helping to resolve the knots of clinical depression in mental patients. However, it is just one of thousands of arts that has evolved from the Qigong tree.

As a field guide, I would list some of the Qigong systems that I have personally practiced:
  • Medical Qigong: Medical Qigong practice works to heal and help in the recovery from chronic sickness or in battling cancer. Medical Qigong is an integral part of the complementary healing programs in most major oncology wards in China as well as Taiwan. During my residency in China, I would lead a line of cancer patients in the practice of the slow, laborious walk of Medical Qigong.

  • Alchemical Qigong: Alchemical Qigong classes are composed of dancers, personal trainers, martial artists, Buddhists, and Taoists. Most are in good health and want to improve their physical and psychological well-being or develop spiritual insight through the practice of alchemical cultivation. Alchemical Qigong is a vigorous regiment of expansive motion and powerful breathing patterns such as "the Breath of Fire" or "the Lion's Roar".

  • Immune Qigong: A system using gentle mudras (hand gestures) and silken movements to activate and balance one's endocrine and immune systems.

  • Taiyin Qigong: Supreme Feminine Qigong arises from the female Taoist master, Sun Bei-er (1400 AD). She wrote the fundamental guide for women to help in their cultivation of meditation. These practices aim to open the inner channels, and ultimately, to help women attain the grand achievement of immortality. This is a rare, esoteric Qigong system guarded over the years by the Taoist sisterhood. During the Cultural Revolution, some of the teachers decided to divulge its secret to a few students in order to preserve its transmission.

  • Shaolin Yijin Zhing: The Shaolin Temple's Inner Sanctum Qigong is based on the semi-yogic practice of the foreign Buddhist monk Boddhidharma who transmitted this physical cultivation to the Chinese monks. This martial Qigong works on the physiology, biological systems, and connective tissues: ligaments, sinews and muscles. In modern China, the central government has sanctioned an abbreviated version of Shaolin Qigong.

  • Hua Shan 36 Spherical Qigong: Flower Mountain 36 Circular Qigong is attributed to one of the ancient Taoists, Chan Tuan whose chief Qigong practice was Taoist Dream Work. Unfortunately, some historians have mislabeled it Sleeping Qigong. Hua Shan Qigong has a formless quality; it uses circular movements on three specific planes. From my perspective, I feel this Qigong shares many of the qualities of the Mevlevi Sufi's whirling practices. In both these practices, the spherical spinning creates a funnel to draw in the cosmic energy and cultivate a sense of great stillness as in the center of a spinning wheel.

  • Soaring Crane Qigong: A newly minted form by the late Qigong master, Zhou Jin Xing who based its movement on the totemic Crane dance. It also emphasizes the cultivation of spontaneous movements that occur during Qigong practice. These spontaneous movements originate from the body's own intuitive healing power which generates semi-autonomic movement to heal one's own illness. Widely popular in the 1980s, it has been restricted by the Chinese government in its recent crackdown on Qigong.

  • Pan Gu Qigong: A recent addition based on the ancient silk scroll of Qigong movements discovered at the grave of an imperial minister who died around 500 BC. This Qigong emphasizes the circulation of the palms in order to create a bio-energetic field. Its practitioners have the ability to project powerful Qi/energy emanations -- in other words, they generate a tremendous amount of healing Qi to transfer into patients.

  • Zhineng Qigong: A recently developed Qigong from Master Pan who opened one of the few Qigong hospitals in China. During its peak, 3,000 patients occupied the hospital/retreat center on the outskirts of Beijing. One of its chief Qigong movements is the Tree Squatting exercise that resembles someone squatting down slowly facing a tree. Zhineng Qigong is a comprehensive system that encompasses the vast wisdom tradition of Taoist alchemy. They pioneered some of the early scientific studies in Qi emission to promote the growth of plants, shrink tumors and help in the recovery of paralysis caused by stroke.

  • Gou Lin New Qigong: Master Gou Lin's Qigong spearheaded the development of Qigong within the therapeutic paradigm. She shifted Qigong from its martial and alchemical landscape into hospital and oncology wards. Gou Lin discovered and created this Qigong in order to heal her own late-stage, metastatic cancer. Her Qigong has been incorporated into Medical Qigong.

  • Er Mei 12 Posture Qigong: This originates from an ancient classical Qigong sect from the Er Mei Mountain Taoist Temple. In the 1930s, a monk named White Clouds transmitted this form to a young man, Chou, who was suffering from an acute fainting sickness. Later on, Chou propagated this form at one of the Qigong retreat centers and wrote a definitive book on its theory and cultivation. Er Mei Qigong has qualities similar to yoga utilizing stretches, bending, and static postures. However, hidden in its Qigong movements are also martial applications. Hence, Er Mei Qigong cultivates both health and martial aspects.

  • Yi Quan: A Qigong evolved from the martial art system: Xi Yin Quan. Its chief practice is akin to standing meditation. One maintains a standing posture of hugging an imaginary tree, hence their Tree Hugging pose. I love its stillness with the dynamic flow of inner energy zooming within the psychic channels. The founder Wang Xing Zhi wrote that when the physical body is still, the inner energetic body is awakened.

  • Wild Goose Qigong: A classical, comprehensive Qigong was conceived in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Kunlun Mountain Taoist Sanctuary has a bronze case of 12 wild geese in various totemic poses. Its lineage holder is the late granddame of Qigong, the 120 year-old Madame Yang Mei Juan. At the age of 102, she visited the United States and amazed audiences with her agile imitation of a wild goose flapping its wings. Its movement retains the silk route's influence of Persian dance and Indic/Greco curves.

In summary, the dawn of Qigong in the West has arrived. Qigong can be likened to an ancient, giant tree continually sprouting and branching to create new forms which in turn help to feed the development of its massive trunk. Facing the challenge of choosing the right style out of these many possibilities, the beginner should first observe a class before enrolling in a school. Furthermore, it is crucial that he/she speak not only with the teacher, but also with the students. After all, the students are a reflection of the teacher.