Let me start by telling you the most difficult part about Qigong. It is ‘pronouncing the word’ correctly! Really… I’ve heard people say chingon, cuigong, chuikong, quinto… and numerous other variations that are more familiar to the uninitiated tongue. The right pronunciation however is “chikung”. Many people write it the same way Chi-Kung, and that is good to pronounce. However, the reason it starts with the alphabet ‘Q’ is to differentiate it from ‘Ch’, which in Chinese/Mandarin refers to another sound. Tai-Chi, for example does not refer to Qi in it’s second part (Chi). There the word ‘Chi’ means ‘Ultimate’!
The real spelling of the word, of course, is in Chinese. For it was the meditators of China who discovered this practice more than 4000 years ago. At the Shaolin school they mastered the use of Qi (chi), which is the life force energy present in all organisms. And they worked with it (Gong / Kung is the word that refers to working / cultivating (the Qi)) to help maintain and restore health.
Qigong is therefore a foundation for healthy living, through right breathing and harmonious movements of muscles and energy. At the other end of the spectrum lies the martial art form known as KungFu. The word Fu refers to intensity, hence KungFu is ‘working with intensity’. Tai-Chi, an exercise form for keeping healthy and self-defense, lies in this spectrum, in-between.
When written in Mandarin/Cantonese, the characters of the word Qi (image above) are a composite of the characters for the words ‘Air’ and ‘Rice’. This is very interesting. Because way back then, they understood that all you intake – through breathing and eating – is all that you can use to sustain yourself. And that forms your ‘life force energy’. More recently, organic chemists attached a value of 686 kcals to this energy as the exothermic heat produced by a reaction between Glucose and Oxygen (produces H2O + CO2 + 686 kcal).
So, learning to harness this Qi and use it to supplement the natural Qi we are born with (resident next to our navel, where the umbilical cord was) is the work of Qigong. How do we go about doing that? Several ways:
This is the best place to start. You may click the heading above for more, because here it will suffice to say that an exercise schedule planned over less than half an hour a day is good enough to keep your energy-body fit and fine forever. Since energy flows through our bodies in channels, Qigong exercises have the effect of flushing energy through these channels, keeping them clean and block-free. As a student of mine observed, “the daily Qigong routine is like taking a bath – on the inside”. Very apt, I thought.
These are for various purposes – from reducing stress, to increasing mindfulness, to healing internal organs and even chronic disorders, to setting up the energy-balance in the body. Typically these would be 30-minute sessions one may plan for once or twice a week… or even more often as one starts to enjoy them! There is a very soothing 5-minute meditation for the fingertips (channel endings) you can sample right away, by clicking the (Qigong Meditations) heading above.
Ostensibly, the least demanding thing you could take upon yourself is to breathe right! Qigong breathing helps you focus on this vital aspect. After all, whatever you may do in your life, however critically important that might be, the one thing that you will always do till the day you die – is breathe. So how about learning how to do this part in a manner that fosters your best health – for achieving everything else you want to achieve through whatever you do?
Qigong or Yoga?
A lot of people, in India especially, ask me how Qigong is different from Yoga. I answer at two levels. First, there are yogic techniques such as ‘Pranayama’ and ‘Hatha Yoga’ which focus on breathing and muscle movement because, by definition, Yoga is the ‘joining’ of mind and body in a physical context. Qigong joins these two with the spirit, bringing in an added energy context, more so as a connection with universal energy, which Yoga does not. Second, there are Qigong meditations that help awaken the life force energy to build up to the opening of the third eye and consequent enlightenment. This is also achieved through a yogic practice known as ‘Kundalini Yoga’, which is reserved for very advanced practitioners. However, the same or better results can be experienced even by relatively new Qigong practitioners with the right guidance.
In fact, everything in Qigong is simple. I’ve had students aged between 5 years and 76 years taking to the exercises like fish to water. The secret is a way to make oneself relax and flow… like music… in natural harmony with the universe. Pronouncing the word, is however another matter 😉