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Qigong

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My neighbour Peter rises early most mornings and goes outdoors to practise the breathing patterns, postures, and movements of the Chinese art of qigong pronounced "chi-gong). Peter claims that since he began this daily routine five years ago his asthma symptoms have disappeared.

My neighbour Peter rises early most mornings and goes outdoors to practise the breathing patterns, postures, and movements of the Chinese art of qigong (pronounced "chi-gong"). Peter claims that since he began this daily routine five years ago his asthma symptoms have disappeared.

Regular practise of qigong has helped many improve symptoms of chronic disease and maintain health and vitality long into old age, possibly because the exercise technique is reported to saturate the blood with oxygen, improve joint flexibility, and increase range of motion. The deep abdominal breathing of qigong encourages the body to relax and reduce the effects of stress.

Clarity in the Words

We can better understand qigong by comparing it with Tai Chi, the Chinese exercise familiar to many. Translating the names of these practices from Chinese, we learn that qi, meaning "breath" or "to breathe," and gong, meaning "work," together mean "breath work," defining qigong as the art of coordinating the breath to maintain good health.

In contrast, Tai Chi or more correctly Tai Chi Ch'uan, means "supreme ultimate fist," pointing to Tai Chi's origins as a martial art. Indeed, both qigong and Tai Chi began as martial arts, but in the "soft style," meaning the movements are made while the body is relaxed. Today the martial arts of Tai Chi and qigong are practised using the same breathing techniques not to ready the body for war, but to gain benefits of health and vitality.

How Qigong is Done

Qigong exercises are done mainly while standing, with joints softened and the feet stationary. Meanwhile, the mind meditates and the arms and hands move through the full range of motion forward and overhead, then out to the side and down in a series of exercises that one of the hundreds of masters who teach qigong calls the Golden Eight Exercises.

The main art of qigong, though, is breathing with the tongue curled, so its tip rests comfortably against the upper palate. This tongue position blocks breathing through the mouth and encourages slow breathing through the nose and deep into the abdomen. The breath is held for anywhere between 1 and 90 seconds and then exhaled, sometimes using any of 6 exhaling sounds that strengthen the voice and the lungs.

Qigong breathing can also be done while lying down. Sometimes internal organs are massaged during the exercises.

Perhaps my neighbour Peter is right. The consistency he brings to his daily practice of qigong allows him 15 minutes of relaxation that focuses his mind and breathing in preparation for the stresses of the day. His state of relaxation and his strengthened respiratory system may indeed reduce his asthma symptoms and those of other chronic stress-induced conditions, such as fatigue, gastrointestinal reflux (GERD), or memory loss.

Qigong has been officially accepted as a medical therapy at Chinese hospitals since 1989 and is increasingly accepted in the West as a complement to conventional therapies.

To find a qigong instructor near you, ask at your local community centre or at the continuing education studies department of your local college or university campus.

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