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Monday, September 17, 2012

Into the world of QIGONG

By SL Luo in the China Daily
The ancient self-healing Chinese art of qigong (Chinese breathing exercise) is set to scale new heights as health awareness intensifies in HK and on the mainland. Renowned HK taichi qigong master, Yuen Chiu-kwan, is aiming to create medical wonders with an ambitious project to give cancer and heart patients a new lease of life. SL Luo reports.
'He went down hard on his knees thanking me as if I were a god, saying if not for me, there wouldn't be him," renowned taichi, qigong master, Yuen Chiu-kwan, recalls. The words were spoken to Yuen by a patient dying of liver cancer.
That was way back in 2000, when Yuen heard about the 56-year-old patient by word of mouth. Yuen felt a "calling" to seek out this ailing man, to perform one of the most humane missions of his life.
"He was already on his death bed after having had one-third of his liver removed, and was given only a few months to live," says Yuen.
"I immediately applied five of the 18 taichi qigong principles I had formulated, and taught him how to use them in exercises for 10 months. That man recovered after that and went on to live another four-and-a-half years before finally succumbing to his illness.
"Although the respite wasn't terribly long, it was enough time for him to do things he wouldn't have been able to do otherwise," Yuen says.
From an illegal immigrant to a registered Chinese medical practitioner, Yuen is a globally-recognized authority on taichi qigong. Now in his mid-60s, he maintains a low profile in Hong Kong, despite his achievements.
Yuen, who is also a director of the World Society of Medical Qi Gong (WSMQG), claims to have attended Hong Kong celebrities, though he declined to name them. His string of accolades is long, arising from his deep-rooted ties with the WSMQG, which has been organizing regular international qigong symposiums on the mainland since its inception in 1989.
The history of qigong dates back as early as the Zhou and Han dynasties, when the art was taken up as a form of meditation to purify the body, mind and spirit.
The practice became popular with the founding of the People's Republic of China, and was thought to be therapeutic, holding the power to enhance the body's natural immunity against disease and to reduce stress.
Yuen calls qigong one of China's national treasures but, to this day, there's still no official definition for it. "The term was actually coined after 1949 by the mainland's first health minister, Li Dequan, and has been used ever since. Theoretically, it's a combination of aligning breath, movement, healing and meditation," he says.
Historically and, in theory, there are five established categories of qigong - medical, Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian and martial arts. The most widely practiced today is medical qigong, with an estimated 50 million practitioners worldwide, while the martial arts type is restrained, and appears to interest only the young and able-bodied.
Master Yuen's expounded qigong principles come under the medical category, with their primary aim to treat and heal illnesses.
He calls them the "18 forms of taichi", and has given them colourful names like "Rowing a Boat in the Middle of a Lake", 'Pushing the Waves" and "Flying Wild Goose". The set combines all three elements - temperate and soft exercise, breathing and meditation.
"Taichi qi ong comes from taichi boxing, with the three principles of revitalizing the body, aiding breathing and enhancing mental capabilities," he says.
"It's easy to learn, allows for rapid building up of the bodily system, and is very effective for people with insomnia and heart-related problems.
"In the process, I found that qigong, together with good food and medical care, offers a powerful weapon against cancer. The exercise stimulates and increases oxygen supply to the cardio vascular system, thereby eliminating potential cancer causing cells, especially those causing lung or liver cancer."
Yuen has been an ardent advocate favoring official recognition for Chinese medical practitioners. In Hong Kong, the traditional healers have waged a long campaign to win back their status and rights.
At the height of the SARS outbreak in the city in 2003, Yuen called for herbalists to be brought in to fight the disease, citing the success of Chinese doctors in Guangzhou in treating SARS and keeping the mortality rate of the illness to a minimum.
But, the appeal fell on deaf ears.
"Western medicine and drugs deal only with combating bacteria. They're unable to get to the root of the problem - controlling the spread of disease-causing cells. Chinese medicine has its healing qualities and excellence," Yuen argues.
Yuen's association with qigong arose from his own poor physical condition at birth. "I was sick most of the time with headaches, due to under-nourishment. At 12, I had liver problems which aggravated my condition", says Yuen, who was born in Zhongshan, Guangdong province.
Qigong struck his mind after he had read books on the ancient art by a former vice-chairman of the National People's Congress. "I religiously followed the rules laid out in his articles and tried meditation. After a year, my health problems disappeared and I began to love and preach qigong", says Yuen.
In 1970 - at the height of the "Cultural Revolution", the chaotic period from 1966-1976 - Yuen decided to make a break. He fled Zhongshan and swam for five nights, surviving on peanuts and leaves, before coming ashore at Taipa in Macao.
Yuen describes his ordeal as a "journey back from the grave", adamant that he wouldn't have survived had it not been for the meditative art he had picked up as a boy. "That shows the hidden power of qigong".
He continued his qigong practice in Hong Kong and at the age of 43, sought the aid of Shaolin and Buddhist masters. "I plunged immediately into taichi qigong (a branch of qigong). It took me more than a year to establish the basis and ideals of the '18 forms of taichi'."
His ties with the WSMQG have been close. Since 2004, Yuen has remained the only taichi qigong master from Hong Kong and the mainland to have staged demonstrations five times at international qigong symposiums in Beijing and Shanghai.
Currently, there are an estimated 50,000 practitioners of taichi qigong in Hong Kong, many of them graduates of the qigong classes that Yuen started in the city in 1999.
"The qualities and aims of qigong are real. Hong Kong is an ideal place to practice it, as it requires very little space. The awareness of maintaining good health has grown immensely with an aging population. The art must be publicized to help the people overcome old age-related sicknesses," Yuen says.
He strongly believes that a real qigong master must devote himself to do a better job on a full time basis.
Yuen's next step is to take the art back to his roots - Zhongshan - the birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, widely regarded as the founder of modern China.
Yuen is teaming up with a mainland entrepreneur to run a hospital-cum-herbal center to provide "convenience store-style" medical care, treatment and facilities.
The five-story facility, located in the eastern suburb of Zhongshan, will be one of the most advanced and comprehensive in the world in terms of medical care, rehabilitative and herbal treatment and qigong training. The center is to become operational by the end of this year. It will include one floor to be used entirely for qigong teaching under Yuen's supervision.
China Daily was taken on a tour of the facility, which will be supplemented by a 1,000-hectare (660,000 square meter) farm planted with about 1 million herbal plants, vast in their varieties. The hospital will be staffed by Chinese medical specialists and nurses with equipment based on Chinese medical principles.
"Zhongshan is now home to thousands of elderly people from Hong Kong who have settled down here. We also have in mind the tens of millions of ethnic Chinese abroad who may return to Zhongshan one day for medical care.
"We will use our resources to give our people the best medical services, train talent in the Chinese medical field, help orphans and make a greater contribution to the country", says a source close to the project.
Yuen's ultimate goal is to spread the art of qigong, not only across the region, but to all mankind.
"I want to have a real dialogue with the relevant government departments in Hong Kong to explain the meaning of qigong and let the world know and understand its benefits", he says.
But, he warned practitioners against expecting miracles overnight, or harboring the illusion that the art is magical. "I want all practitioners of the art to understand that this is all about body building. Qigong cannot resolve all your problems at once. You must be resolute and remain totally committed to practicing it", Yuen adds.