Qigong is an umbrella term for Chinese systems of energy cultivation for health, wellness, and longevity. The term Qigong (also transliterated as Chi Kung) is comprised of two characters: qi, meaning life force energy, and gong, meaning skill developed through practice over time. Humans receive qi externally through the air we breathe, the food and drinks we consume, as well as from the earth and other heavenly bodies. People are also born with internal qi inherited from their parents. In the traditional Chinese model, qi flows through the body through a system of energetic pathways known as meridians and vessels. Health problems are often attributed to blockages impacting the flow of qi through the body. The modalities of Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, Tuina massage and acupressure, herbalism, and dietary therapy, were developed (in most cases) to address blockages in qi flow and restore balance. Qigong is another practice that was developed with this end in mind.
The three major components of Qigong include the body, breath, and mind. The body is addressed through gentle movements and self-massage. Movement is often coordinated with the breath. Meditative practices address the mind, which in some cases is emptied and other times used for visualization. Qigong movements are generally done standing, although there are also seated and prone practices. Many of the standing movements can also be done in a chair. The movements are often done in sequences called forms or sets. Some of these forms are over 2,500 years old, and they were developed in the context of Daoist and Buddhist monasteries as well as for exercises for the Imperial Chinese military. Some traditional forms include the 8 Section Brocade, the 5 Animal Frolics, the Muscle Tendon Changing Classic, and the 6 Healing Sounds. Newer forms continued to be developed in modern times. One of the most popular forms of Qigong worldwide, Shibashi (18 Movements of Tai Chi Qigong), was first developed in the late 1970s. In areas with large Chinese populations, it is a common sight to see groups of people gathered in parks in the early morning to practice Qigong (as well as Tai Chi and other forms of cultivation) together.
People often ask about the difference between Qigong and Tai Chi. In Qigong, the individual movements are usually done repetitively in a standing (or seated) position. In Tai Chi, the individual movements flow from one to another continuously, and are done while walking. Tai Chi is also a martial art, although usually done at a slower pace. Each Tai Chi movement has a martial application, although these are often not taught in many classes today. Generally speaking, Qigong is easier to learn, and can be often done by people with limited mobility. Many health benefits for both Qigong and Tai Chi have been documented in peer-reviewed research studies and systematic reviews. These include beneficial effects on bone density, cardiopulmonary effects, physical function, falls and related risk factors, quality of life, self-efficacy, stress management, and immune function.
We look forward to resuming Qigong classes at the Theosophical Society of South Florida in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era.
Ken Frankel has been practicing qigong for over twenty years and has traveled to many places in the United States and Canada to learn it. He has completed three 200-hour trainings and many briefer ones. He joined the Theosophical Society of South Florida and began teaching a weekly qigong class there in 2018. Ken currently serves on the Board as Vice President 2.
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