Tai Chi, the well-known and widely-practiced exercise hailing from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is a great introduction to its lesser-known, ancient cousin, Qigong (Pronounced, chee-gung). Learn about the benefits this mindful discipline can offer for balanced overall health.
Elevating Mindfulness as an Art Form
Many researchers having already delved into the benefits of Tai Chi now turn their focus on Qigong, an older traditional Chinese health practice that shares many of its cousin’s characteristics. Qigong and Tai Chi both fall into a designation known as meditative movement. Both art forms aim to create unity within one’s mind, body, and soul, with a tremendous emphasis placed upon what the ancient Chinese medical arena terms “three regulations”.
Experts in Tai Chi and Qigong learn to master posture, proper inhalation and exhalation, and soothing the mind through meditation.
Historically, the practice of Qigong predates Tai Chi, although both seek to elevate one’s Qi or Chi. Qi represents the belief in a vital essence within one’s body that sustains life itself. However, unlike Tai Chi, the momentum of a Qigong practice often seems easier to learn and follow, especially for beginners. We can observe a common theme when watching Qigong movements, easily described as “purposeful regulation of movements”. Where Tai Chi can almost seem choreographed, Qigong employs more rhythmic, simple, and repetitive movements. With improved posture comes a heightened flow of air throughout the body, facilitating the ability to clear the mind and open it to meditative thoughts.
Cure versus Prevention
Upon achieving such a state as this triad elicits, TCM teaches that one can enhance abilities of natural self-healing. Upon linking one’s body, intention and mental state, cascades of hormonal events occur to invoke healthy recovery from a variety of today’s common ailments. While vastly different from Western medicine’s tendency to focus solely on cures, Eastern practices encourage prevention through healthier, more attuned lifestyles, thereby enabling one to physically and psychologically tap into the body’s natural healing talents.
While often seen as a life force, Qi can also refer to pathways of the body through which energy flows. By balancing the human triad, one can create a truly interconnected fusion of holistic health.
Worldwide Evidence of Qigong Benefits
One of the largest studies ever conducted on the benefits of meditative movements spanned 13 countries. Carefully selected participants exhibited a variety of diseases or risk factors of illness. These included arthritis, heart disease/hypertension, osteoporosis, depression, and Parkinson’s disease, among others. By the study’s conclusion, scientists pinpointed a few categories in which the practice of Qi Gong yielded encouraging benefits: cardiopulmonary dysfunction, balance/falls risk, immune response, bone loss, and overall quality of life.
In interpreting these findings, a perceptive personal trainer might notice the absence of resistance training among typical Qi Gong movements. How, then, do we explain improvements in bone density along with fewer incidence of fractures? Tai Chi devotees, too, experienced this same outcome.
While the precise methodology still eludes scientists, trainers can feel comfortable offering this good news as one more option for elderly, frail, and perhaps, unmotivated clients. Explaining that bone loss can improve, even in the absence of lifting moderate weight loads, we help cultivate self-efficacy in our older sedentary participants. In fact, many of the bodily poses in Qigong work well even from a seated position.
Balancing Body and Mind
Favorable changes in both blood pressure and heart rate observed by most Qigong participants underscore the success of this ancient practice. The medical community currently postulates that the mind/body/breath essentials comprising Qigong movements may exert a positive effect upon the body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
While an understanding of these dynamics typically does not fall under a person trainer’s scope of practice, their effect on balance merits attention. Here again, both Tai Chi and Qigong enjoy much popularity among older populations in Eastern countries, most likely due to the balance improvements they offer.
We cannot argue with success; and the majority of our clientele demonstrate proof that a tried-and-true resistance training/bodybuilding protocol can and does transform physiques. One aspect that trainers often fail to recognize involves the disruption of the body’s bioenergetic field as a result of strict adherence to intense daily workouts. Traditional Chinese medicine preaches the importance of bioenergetics in creating a healthy body–one in harmony with itself in every aspect.
Some people refer to this as the chakras within the body, or meridians of energy, through which the Qi flows. Proper and smooth flow along the meridians facilitate such balance.
TCM adheres to the premise that disease results from disruption to the flow of Qi through the meridians. The gentle, mindful movements that comprise Qigong therefore seek to eradicate these energy blocks, restoring flow and returning the body to its optimal harmonious state.
Qigong and Coping with Cancer
Once again, not wishing to travel beyond our personal trainer scope of practice, the reported positive effects experienced by many cancer patients while practicing Qigong deserve mentioning. Although research studies into this particular area included fairly small representative sampling, emerging data indicate that the mind/breath/body foci of Qigong serve to mitigate the fatigue experienced by most patients undergoing chemotherapy.
A few unique subspecialties of personal training, yoga, and massage therapy now focus solely upon working with cancer patients. These professionals help recovering individuals cope with scar tissue from surgeries, blockages from lymphedema, even tight skin/muscles following intense bouts of radiation. As one would imagine, physical manipulation only goes so far; the addition of mindful movement therapy transports these clients to a place of natural healing and restorative mind/body balance. Calming the mind helps patients relax and work through painful side effects of the illness and its treatments.
For our able-bodied clients who prefer working out with gusto, the traditional approach of resistance training coupled with moderate-intensity cardio no doubt takes precedence over the quieter experience of Qigong. However, we can still present this dynamic to individuals of all ages, either as an ideal form of active rest, or a way to create a more harmonious healthy spirit.