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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Vancouver Sun: Tapping into self healing with qigong


The ancient art of health qigong combines slow movements with breathing

William Liu’s health was a mess. Arthritis had invaded his joints, he lived with a chronic cough, and the skin on his palms looked diseased. In flu season, he was always the first one infected and he frequently took sick leave from his job as a mechanical engineer in charge of fire sprinklers for Vancouver City Hall.  He saw many doctors and tried everything those doctors recommended: steroid creams for his skin, steroid injections for his joints, church and temples for his attitude, a healthy diet and exercise. He learned from the Arthritis Association how to manage his pain, but nothing he did ever cured him of his problems.  Then in 1996, he decided to try health qigong (pronounced Chi Kung). Within a month and a half, he says, he felt much better. Soon, one after another, his problems disappeared. Within four months, all his arthritis, lung and skin problems were gone, never to return.  His colleagues were so impressed with his recovery that they encouraged him to teach a lunchtime class at city hall, and it has continued for many years. About 40 city workers attend health qigong class every Thursday, even though Liu has since retired.  Health qigong is an important element of traditional Chinese medicine. Loosely translated, qi (or chi) means vital energy, and gong means work plus effort.  It is a form of exercise that involves slow movements, similar to tai chi, combined with breathing. The movement is said to open vital energy meridians to the body’s organs and allow the oxygen in to massage and heal them. It is believed that it works by strengthening the body’s immune system thereby increasing the body’s ability to self heal and recover.  “In traditional Chinese medicine, chi and blood are believed to complement each other,” explains Liu, adding that scientists now believe that chi is bioelectricity circulating inside the human body.  “There are twelve primary chi meridians [invisible energy channels] running inside our body. Each primary meridian is associated with one internal organ and is connected to a toe or a finger.”  Chinese doctors in ancient times learned that specific body movements combined with deep breathing could improve the chi circulation in specific organs. They developed the qigong exercises which could prevent or heal many chronic illnesses and slow the aging process, says Liu.  Ken Low, a Vancouver sifu (martial arts master) says health qigong differs from martial arts in that the poses are not defensive or offensive. It is considered a sport in China.  “The movement is all designed to strengthen the body,” he says. “It has no self-defence purpose. It is all health enhancement.”  Liu says it could be considered the Chinese yoga. Both forms are ancient and both emphasize breathing combined with movement. And, like yoga, health qigong is an omnibus name, given by the Chinese government 100 years ago to encompasses thousands of forms.  The form Liu learned first was wah tor, but he has since learned dozens of others. He practises every morning.  This weekend, the Chinese Health Qigong Association hosts the 4th International Health Qigong Tournament and Exchange, the first time it has been held outside of China. Teams of practitioners from more than 20 countries, including Belgium, Iran, Iraq, Greece, Korea and the United Kingdom are coming to the War Memorial Gym at the University of B.C. to be judged by a panel of masters and exchange culture and friendship.  “They will look at their form and their focus,” said Low who is organizing the tournament and exchange with the Canada International Health Qigong Association.  Low says the tournament is a good opportunity for Vancouverites to be introduced to the sport, or test their skills if they are already practitioners. The weekend tournament is open to the public at no cost.  Then on Monday Sept. 19 and Tuesday Sept. 20 masters from China will teach two forms of health qigong at the Richmond Sheraton Airport Hotel. Monday’s lesson will teach Yi Jin Jing (transforming tendon exercise), which strengthens the muscles and tendons, and Tuesday’s seminar will teach Mawangdui Daoyin Shu (based on the Daoyin Tu chart, unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb), which provides guidance along meridian channels and synchronicity of mind and body. Each seminar costs $100.  On Wednesday, Sept. 21, competitors who wish to have their form graded can be examined by the masters.  Kathy Bengston, who works in the city clerk’s office at City Hall, and who learned several forms of health qigong from William Liu, says she will be part of a team entering the tournament.  While she has no chronic health problems, she says the practice relaxes her and she hopes is preventing health problems.  

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