Qi Gong: A Simple Introduction
What is Chi Gung (Qigong)?
Chi Gung is an umbrella term for practices that were developed in China over the millennia as exercise for body, breath, mind and subtle energies.
What is the difference between Tai Chi and Chi Gung?
First of all, one common but mistaken assumption is that the name Tai Chi refers to the chi that is usually translated as energy. They are completely different words. The chi of Tai Chi can be translated as the ultimate, and as the word Tai Chi, refers to the division and union of opposites pictorially represented in the Yin/Yang diagram.
My first Tai Chi teacher, Mr Liu, used to say that Tai Chi is a kind of Chi Gung. By this he meant that Tai Chi develops and works with energies, subtle and not so subtle, which is what it has in common with Chi Gung. One main area of difference is that Tai Chi develops functional strength, and efficient use of gravity, body alignment, and the supportive ground beneath our feet. Another difference is that Chi Gung does not have anything to do with self-defence.
Static vs Moving
Chi Gung can be divided into static practices and moving practices. Static ones include Holding Postures or Zhan Zhuang. The classic “tree hugging” posture, in Chinese called embracing posture, is one of the most recognizable postures of this kind. Although some people assume that because you are standing still that there is not much exercise in it. On the contrary, Holding Postures can be surprisingly challenging; the simple act of holding the arms out in a variety of positions for several minutes strengthens the stabilizing muscles and connective tissue. People often feel a sense of calm, relaxation, and groundedness from this type of standing meditation. It is also a good way of increasing subtle awareness of body/breath/mind.The Internal Martial Arts – Tai Chi, Bagua and Xingyi, incorporate these practices because they help to develop relaxed strength, stability, and whole body connectedness.
Other practices without external movement are done either sitting, standing or lying, and emphasize visualization to stimulate different meridians and acupoints in the body.
Moving Chi Gung practice usually involves a fairly simple movement, mindfully repeated. These often also involve some visualization or focus on acupoints. The Eight Section Brocade and the Sinew Changing Classic are two common and well-established sets of this type. A less common kind of moving practice involves a long choreography of movements, akin to a set of Tai Chi without the same relationship to functional strength — Wild Goose Chi Gung is one example.
Medical, Meditative, Martial and Health
All types of Chi Gung have health benefits, and many of them would be considered general `health Chi Gungs’. The type of benefit – greater calm, more awareness of the body, suppleness, strength, or balance of the body/mind – varies somewhat according to the type of Chi Gung practiced. Some, however, are specially designed for a particular purpose.
These different kinds of Chi Gung are often categorized as, medical, meditative and martial types. In one sense, all Chi Gung is for improving health. However, approaches that more specifically target the meridians and acupoints to enhance healthy functioning of the body are nowadays referred to as Medical Chi Gung. They are less physically demanding, and mainly use visualization of meridians and acupoints, rather than movements to stimulate and balance the body’s energy. In this way they are often used for people with specific medical issues and are physically undemanding.
Meditative Chi Gung can be general meditation practices; they can also come directly or indirectly from Taoist physical, energetic, and spiritual cultivation practices.
Martial Chi Gungs, some of which are called “hard” Chi Gung, involve conditioning the body to be able to withstand physical impact – a useful skill if you are engaged in fighting arts.
A final word about spelling. Chinese, when written with Roman letters, requires some system. Two early systems of spelling were the Wade Giles and the Yale systems which were commonly used until 1980. Chi Gung is based on those two. Qigong is based on the spelling system adopted by the People’s Republic of China and became widely used in the West in the 1980’s when China opened up after the death of the Mao. They are both based on the Chinese word 氣功。