One of the world’s oldest physical fitness disciplines, Qigong dates back more than 5,000 years and is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. Similar to Tai Chi, Qigong involves a series of postures and movements designed to flow naturally into each other. Breathing and meditation techniques are also part of the overall Qigong program. Over the centuries, practitioners have developed numerous Qigong exercises with varying degrees of complexity, but you can begin with some basic movements.
Benefits of Qigong
A 2010 Qigong and Tai Chi study published in the "American Journal of Health Promotion" concluded that these disciplines both offer several health benefits. In particular, the study found that Qigong can help improve bone mineral density in women, reduce blood pressure in older adults, improve immune function, reduce stress and help improve balance. Improvements in balance may be attributed to the strength and flexibility gains from the practice of Qigong and Tai Chi. Improvements in white blood cell and in C3 protein levels after one month of Qigong practice can also help account for improved immune functions. Lower blood pressure readings may be due to reduced levels of urinary catecholamines. High catecholamine levels are a possible indication of severe stress.
As with disciplines such as yoga, you can perform many different Qigong movements. Among the basic Qigong exercises is the Crane form, which is part of the Five Animal Frolics developed by Chinese physician Hua Tou almost 2,000 years ago. Begin by standing erect with your hands in front of your waistline. Turn your palms up, spread your fingers and position your hands so your fingertips almost touch. Inhale through your nose as you lift your hands straight up to your neck. Turn your hands over so your palms face the floor and then exhale slowly through your nose as you lower your hands to the starting position. Perform the movements slowly and in sync with your breathing.
As you learn Qigong exercises, you can modify them through techniques such as looping. For example, perform an exercise that benefits the lungs by doing the first part of the Crane movement and then lift your hands just above your head, flaring your elbows to either side, and extend your arms toward the ceiling. Finish by lowering your extended arms by your sides. Modify the movements by repeating specific segments of the exercise three or four times before moving on to the next segment. For example, do the Crane move several times, then raise your hands just above your head and flare your elbows forward and back several times. Conclude the exercise by extending your arms and then lowering and raising them by your sides three or four times.
General Qigong Advice
To learn the discipline properly, Qigong master Violet Li recommends taking classes with a certified Qigong instructor who can teach you the correct movements. As a general rule, Li says that Qigong practitioners should use good posture when performing the exercises. You should also relax as much as possible, in part by focusing on your movements and not thinking about anything else. With your mind completely focused on performing the exercises correctly, you can put aside the cares and stresses of everyday life.