Welcome to the MIT Qigong Blog

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Qi Gong for Longevity

by Bob Flaws 

Qi gong means to train or discipline one's qi. According to Ken Cohen, a well known qi gong teacher in the West, this term did not come into use in China until 1934.[1] However, what we today call qi gong has been practiced in China since not less than 400 BC. In the 1970's, a series of tombs were excavated in China at a site called Ma Wang Dui near Changsha. These contained a cache of books written on bamboo slats and silk rolls. A number of these books were on medical subjects. Amongst these books were pictures of various exercises believed to confer health benefits and contribute to longevity. At approximately the same time, the great Daoist philosopher, Zhuang Zi, wrote about such exercises and their healing properties.  During the Han dynasty (25-220 ad), a scholar named Wei Bo-yan wrote a book on what has now come to be known as qi gong. Titled Chan Tong Qi (Three in One), it discusses the relationship between Daoism, the Yi Jing (Classic of Changes), and qi gong. Wei was the first Chinese to write about qi gong from the perspective of the jing essence, qi, and shen spirit. Also during the Han dynasty, Hua Tuo, perhaps the most famous doctor in Chinese created his Five Animal Frolics. This was a series of qi gong exercises based on mimicking the movements and breath patterns of five different animals known either for their strength or longevity. These exercises are still taught and practiced to this day. Hua Tuo lived to be 97 at which time he was executed. He was still married when he died. His two students, Fan Ao and Wu Chin lived to be 100 plus and 90 years old respectively.  

During the next 1,700 years, according to the Dao Shu (Daoist History), 3,600 different kinds of qi gong developed. According to Gan Zhen-yun, "The main features of Qigong development in this stage were: the widespread application of Qigong for health protection and medical care, and its integration with Chinese medicine which promoted the development of traditional medical science."[2] In more modern times, Zhang Zi-yang wrote several books on qi gong and health preservation, including Understand the Truth, 400 Characters on Qi Gong, and Secrets for Keeping One's Youth. In these books, Zhang further developed, enriched, and perfected the theories on the relationship of qi gong to the jing, qi, and shen first advanced by Wei Bo-yan 900 years before.  As mentioned above, there are many different styles of qi gong and literally thousands of different qi gong exercises. However, most qi gong exercises are based on the coordination of three elements: 1) a specific pattern of breathing, 2) a specific posture or movements coordinated with that breath pattern, and 3) a visualization accompanying both breath pattern and movements or posture. As we have seen above, one's qi is manufactured in part from the purest essence of the air we breath. Through qi gong exercises we can manufacture qi more efficiently, store qi more effectively, and circulate our qi more smoothly. In addition, we can circulate our qi to particular places or organs in our body to bath those areas in healing, revitalizing energy.  

In China there are Confucian styles of qi gong, Daoist styles of qi gong, and Buddhist styles of qi gong, each with their own unique theories and techniques. In addition, many qi gong exercises are associated with Chinese martial arts, such as Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, and Xing Yi Quan. Further, there are also types of medical qi gong specifically meant for the healing of disease or increasing one's health. Qi gong has become extremely popular, even faddish, in China in the last dozen years or so, and there are many books available on this subject in both Chinese and English. There are even a number of video tapes available to help one learn qi gong.  Generally, it is best to study qi gong as part of a class under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Qi gong instruction is now available in all large cities and many medium sized cities in the United States. 

It is important to mention a couple of more introductory things about this ancient Oriental exercise art.  First, qi gong emphasizes deep, abdominal breathing. Such deep diaphragmatic breathing rids the lungs of stale air and bathes the organism in fresh air. In addition, this deep breathing has a massaging effect on the internal organs and promotes the flow of blood, lymph, and cerebrospinal fluids. Secondly, the breath associated with most qi gong exercises has four characteristics. It is long, thin, even, and slow. It is not hurried, choppy, coarse, or rough. This relaxed, rhythmic, deep breathing thus helps calm the mind and relieves stress.  And thirdly, qi gong involves concentrating the mind and ridding it of distracting thoughts. In Chinese this is called shou yi. Shou means to concentrate, to attend to, or to look after. Yi means one. Thus shou yi means to concentrate on only one thing. During qi gong, such one-pointed concentration can be on a point within or part of the body, on the breath, or on a visualization or sensation. As Wang Zhi-xing, a qi gong teacher active in England and Europe says:  Shou yi teaches us to rest our mind internally on the oneness instead of restlessly jumping from one idea to the next. Shou yi helps us settle our mind and spirit internally and to focus our senses deeply within instead of looking outward all the time. Shou yi guides us to integrate ourselves with our circumstances and helps us to relax in different situations. Through shou yi, one's mind becomes peaceful and empty; the body, mind, and spirit are harmonized and the shen is therefore pacified and nourished.[3] 

This article is adapted from Imperial Secrets of Health & Longevity (1990) by Bob Flaws, published by Blue Poppy Press. For more information call 1-800-487-9296 or visit their website at www.bluepoppy.com.