101: What Is Qigong?

Older than tai chi, qigong or "energy work" teaches us to engage with the natural subtle energies ("qi") that surround and permeate us. It combines specific physical movements with a gentle mental focus. Qigong allows you to reset your body systems to their naturally relaxed state. Although people excel at functioning very well while carrying heavy burdens of stress, this is not our optimal way of being. Qigong allows you to gently release current and old stressors that prevent you from achieving a state of wellbeing.

The sages who developed qigong were working with principles that Western medicine is only now re-discovering: the effects of our emotions and thoughts (stress) on our physical wellbeing; the importance of movement for optimal health; the profound physical and emotional benefits of focusing on the present moment (peak experience / flow, "the power of now").

A typical qigong class consists of performing gentle exercises, working with standing or sitting meditation, and putting movement and meditation together into short routines that offer a complete internal workout.

It can be performed by anyone, and is more easily adapted to working in a seated position if you have difficulty standing. That having been said, if performed correctly and deeply, it can be a very challenging physical workout.

Current Content
I offer instruction in two different Qigong forms: Ba Duan Jin, and Five Elements Qigong, as well as some related forms Six Healing Sounds, Pa Qua stepping / walking meditation, and sitting and standing meditation. The content of any individual class depends on the preferences and abilities of the participants.

About Ba Duan Jin
Ba Duan Jin, or Eight Pieces of Silk Brocade Qigong is a classic qigong routine consisting of eight exercises plus standing meditation.

From Ken Cohen's The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing:
These eight exercises are elegant, graceful, and essential methods of qi cultivation. They were first described in an eighth-century Daoist [Taoist] text, Xiu Zhen Shi Shu (The Ten Treatises on Restoring the Original Vitality), in the Daoist Canon. Daoist tradition attributes the exercises to one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese folklore, Chong Li-quan. Chong is frequently represented in Chinese art as a bald-headed, potbellied figure, with a white beard reaching to his navel. Chong had been a general during the Han Dynasty. When his army was defeated in a battle against Tibetans, Chong withdrew into the mountains rather than face the Emperor’s wrath. There he met a Daoist who transmitted to him dao-yin (qigong) “recipes” to create an inner elixir of long life. The Eight Brocades was one of these methods. Before he died, Chong inscribed the exercises on the walls of a cave. When another general, Lu Dong-bin, discovered this cave several centuries later, he followed the diagrams and also became a sage-Immortal. According to a statement in the Ten Treatises, it was General Lu himself who first inscribed the exercises on stone.

About Five Elements Qigong

One of the cornerstones of Chinese philosophy is the idea that underpinning all reality are five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. These are not literal elements in the same sense as the periodic table of elements (hydrogen, helium, etc.), but rather types of energy or phases in natural cycles. The five elements work together to create coherent, flowing systems, including ecosystems, cities, social and cultural movements, and smaller systems like our homes or bodies. Where the five elements are in balance, things flow easily and naturally.

In our bodies, each element is represented in a different organ system: fire in the heart / small intestine; earth in the spleen / stomach; metal in the lungs / large intestine; water in the kidneys / bladder; and wood in the liver / gall bladder.

Each organ system relates to the next one in the cycle in a supportive, nurturing way. In Five Element Qigong, we perform the exercises in an order called the "Constructive Cycle." The Constructive Cycle maximizes the effectiveness of each exercise, creating balance throughout the body as you work with each organ in turn.

I offer Qigong instruction on a weekly basis, Saturdays from 2-3pm and Mondays from 1-2pm. These classes are ongoing, and open to beginners at all times. Information on the schedule and fees is here. I also offer occasional workshops. Information on upcoming workshops is here. 

Classes run at the Regent Health and Chiropractic Center, 150 Locke Street South, in Hamilton, Ontario.

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