These days, there seems to be different types of medical technology developed every day. With this ever-changing landscape of medicines, only a handful have withstood the test of time. Qigong is one of them, dating back more than 4,500 years. This unique blend of martial arts, philosophy, meditation, breath, and movement works to integrate mind, body, and spirit. This integrative quality makes qigong one of many highly accessible tools for longevity as it helps both restore and maintain the flow of qi.
Qi (pronounced “chee”) refers to life force or vital energy of every living being. Chinese medicine recognizes that the physical body is a manifestation of qi and that there are twelve main paired channels, called meridians, that circulate this life force energy throughout the body. I like to think of this as a body system much like the cardiovascular or digestive system. The energy body is a bit more subtle and more difficult to see or measure, but each meridian corresponds to a specific organ, which has an associated element, set of emotions, and earthly season. For example, the kidney meridian runs from the bottom of the foot, all the way up the leg and through the center of the body where it ends near the collarbone. The kidneys, along with the urinary bladder, represent the water element in the body and are associated with fear when imbalanced and peace when in harmony and balance.
*I went more in depth on these relationships in the January issue on Passion. Still available online at SiouxlandMagazine.com.
Gong loosely translated means “cultivation.” Thus, Qigong is an exercise in cultivating or restoring circulation to the life force energy (Qi), namely through dedicated practice.
You may be asking yourself, How in the world are my organs related to my emotions? And the seasons? This is a natural line of questioning for those of us accustomed to more modern styles of medicine. As an ancient form of medicine, developers of qigong had to find ways to describe and heal the body without being able to observe it on the minute levels we can today and without our advanced medical technology. Thus, these humans were in much deeper touch with what they could feel. They observed how connected we are with our natural surroundings, including, yes, our emotional tendencies during certain seasons. Perhaps the creators and original practitioners of qigong could not observe, for instance, a red blood cell under a microscope, but they could see a deep connection between the heat associated with our bodies’ circulatory system and the heat of the Earthly summer. From these deep connections found between the human body and the Earth, qigong developers made a medicinal movement practice that can create harmony and balance on all levels of the human form – mind, body, and spirit.
Qigong involves simple but prescriptive movements paired with intentional breathing, which helps release blockages in meridian channels and stimulate the flow of qi. One such example is a standing exercise where the practitioner keeps the legs and feet planted while twisting the torso left and right. The arms are allowed to remain somewhat slack at the sides so that as the twist completes on one side, the arms wrap around the body and one hand gently strikes the chest on the opposite side, and the other hand strikes the kidney area in the lower back. Intuitively, the strikes stimulate the flow of qi in the kidneys and lungs, as well as their respective meridians. This flow of energy is apparent with the invigorating buzzing at the kidney area, lungs, and through the center of the body upon practicing this movement.
Another example is also a standing exercise in which the practitioner folds the torso over the legs (as much as is accessible and bending the knees as needed) and collects Earth qi with the hands. The practitioner then comes back to standing and pulls the Earth qi in toward the center of the body. The arms then extend overhead, embodying a balance between the Earth and sky; giving and receiving. This exercise has many benefits, including opening the meridians in the back of the body and connecting with our Earthly mother.
Each of these exercises can be done repetitively and in series with other movements to create a flow with specific benefits. For example, qigong flows can work with opening meridians, invigorating the body for morning, addressing blockages in a single specific meridian, and always for creating harmony of mind, body, and spirit.
This therapeutic movement style of Qigong works well with a class of herbs called adaptogens, which are commonly used medicinally alongside Qigong in Traditional Chinese Medicine practices. These herbs support longevity during the inevitable shifts in life such as changing jobs, seasons, or schools.
Green Tea, especially of potent and integrous sourcing, is known as one of the strongest natural antioxidants. This means it can neutralize oxidizers from toxic substances like cigarette smoke, over-consumption of alcohol, and other pollutants that are common in day-to-day life. When oxidation occurs on a cellular level it can lead to intense dis-ease states like skin, lung, and stomach cancer or even more mild dis-ease states like chronic inflammation and high blood pressure. Green tea helps our bodies build anti-oxidation protectors so we can have stronger cardiovascular abilities and even reduce pain and inflammation.
Reishi Mushrooms have strong adaptogenic properties as it helps regulate the body’s hormone levels during stress. These days, many of us experience an extensive gamut of stressors in our day-to-day lives. By monitoring hormone secretions from what is known as the stress axis (pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands}, Reishi helps defend the body against excessive stress and its consequential forms of dis-ease like low immune function, fatigue, or chronic pain.
Red Chinese Ginseng is known to increase energy and vitality while also supporting the immune system by increasing the release of ACTH from the pituitary gland. This a hormone that helps the body adapt to stress and avoid burnout, as excessive stress can deplete energy stores and immune function. This warming and stimulating quality of red ginseng can help lift depression associated with low energy levels (not necessarily low serotonin levels or uptake), offering access to more passion and enjoyment in life.
So, even with the many different medical advancements available today, some of the most potent have been with us for thousands of years, growing upon the ground which we stand; or, as in the case of qigong, the medicine is in our own bodies.
Emily Larson, Licensed Massage Therapist, Private Yoga Instructor, Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology & Human Performance, Co-Teacher of Anatomy for massage therapy students at the Bio Chi Institute, mother to Noah.