Qigong: A Chinese Approach to Self-Cultivation... But Cultivation of What?

As the semester in Augusta came to a close, and the Applied TCM Theory class was wrapping up, I was able to go down and a do some more teaching at GRU.  The subject of our most recent class was Qigong.  The subject is incredibly vast (imagine having a two hour class to sum up 'exercise') and my goal was to give the students an overview.  What struck me, inspiring this post, is how little is known about this collection of practices in in the West.  Of everything Chinese Medicine has to offer, Qigong is probably the most accessible to people in their everyday lives.  Its certainly worth an introduction here.

"So what is Qigong and why should I care?", you ask.

Lets start by looking at the word itself.  Qi in Chinese, refers to life-force energy.  Its the vitality that animates us.  It correlates to the terms Prana, Pneuma, Mana, or Ki in other cultures with a similar designation.  Gong refers to skill, or effort.  So qigong is the practice of, literally, working with our life-force energy.  But what does that mean...?  For those of you that have explored meditation, yoga or other eastern internal arts, this definition will likely make perfect sense.  For the rest of us, lets try and break this down and give a description that's a bit more tangible.


Qigong is often broken down into a few different categories.  If the focus of the practice is to cultivate the qi, our next question should naturally be : "For what?"  Great question (if I do say so myself)!  The result for which the qi is being cultivated is what determines the category.  For Instance, there are martial qigong exercises, designed perhaps to develop abilities for the body to withstand blows.  Anyone that has seen a Shaolin monk break stones on his head, or take a spear to the throat without injury is familiar with the effects of martial qigong.  Practices designed to facilitate overall health and those designed to help heal specific conditions would fall into the category of Medical qigong.  It is this category on which we will focus in this post.


If we have determined that we want to dedicate our practice toward health and healing, and we have determined that in order to improve our health, we are going to "work with our life-force energy", how can we make sense of this if our world-view does not include a concept of 'life-force energy'?  It is important to remember that the practice of qigong constitutes, quite simply, an applied intent to heal.  In qigong, the practitioner uses body movements, breathing manipulation, and visualization/concentration in order to focus as many components of the being on the task at hand: better health.  

Qigong often employs the harmonization of physical movement, breath, and mental focus centered around the influence of specific processes in the body-mind-spirit continuum.  By engaging ourselves on multiple levels of experience, the effect on the human being is much more profound than the effect of just using physical exercise, or visualization alone.  Our physical movements massage internal organs, or stimulate the acupuncture meridians.  Our minds remain focused on desired outcomes by imagining those outcomes.  Our breath can be 'placed' in the body to facilitate the release of tension in the muscles, or bring more space to areas of stagnation.

What this looks like in practice can vary greatly, but most often in a Medical qigong class the movements are simple, gentle and repetitive, making it easy for anyone to practice regardless of fitness level.  From the outside, these movements can look a great deal like taiji (tai chi).  The breathing patterns facilitate deep relaxation.  And the mental focus becomes very meditative, aiding the practitioner in releasing concerns outside the immediate task at hand.  Effects are felt immediately, though more profound improvement in health is facilitated by consistent practice.  Best of all, qigong is FUN!!!


Though the term qigong is relatively young, these kinds of practices have been employed in the East for thousands of years with great benefit.  It is often said that Chinese medicine, while effective, is lacking in scientific understanding.  This is simply untrue.  These practices have proven themselves consistently over the course of history in providing the practitioner with reliable results.  These practices have survived and have been perpetuated because of that reliability.


We will be offering classes in these time-tested self-healing practices here at Thrive as time goes on.  Please feel free to call or email to ask additional questions, or to put yourself on our interest list.