I’m sure all of us, at one point or another, have noticed small groups of people gathered in local parks moving softly and silently in unison like a flock of birds. Their movements seem to float on their breath, and their faces radiate a sense of peace and tranquillity. But beauty aside, what are the healing benefits of qigong practice?
For thousands of years Qigong (pronounced Chee-Gong) has been performed by millions of people around the world to facilitate better physical and mental health and longevity. Most people are familiar with Taiji, which is a style of Qigong created by the Yang family.
Just like Kung fu is a style of martial art, Taiji is a style of Qigong. However, there are over 3600 different accredited styles of Qigong.
Styles such as Wuji, Shaolin, Daoist, and Medical Qigong just to name a few. Although there are countless styles and forms of Qigong taught around the world, all sets are comprised of similar components.
The Healing Benefits of Qigong practice are composed of three important parts:
Body - On the physical level, Qigong employs soft flowing bodyweight movements designed to stimulate the acupuncture meridians and the associated organs. The movements are designed to move blood and oxygen throughout the body facilitating the release of tension and friction in the muscles, joints and connective tissue that leads to physical degeneration.
Breath - Qigong combines these movements with long, slow, deep and even diaphragmatic breaths. The breathing concept is called “beating and drumming the Qi”. The combination of the specific physical movements and the controlled breathing pattern serve as crutches to connect the mind to the present moment, training mental focus.
Mind - All movements and exercises have a specific visualization or mental intention that adds another layer of focus to the practice. This turns the entire workout into a moving meditation. The movements may be soft and gentle, but the healing effects of Qigong practise can actually be quite powerful. Here are but just a few of the many positive effects of Qigong training.
1. Gentle calisthenic (body weight) Conditioning appropriate for all fitness levels:
Due to the fact that Qigong can be performed standing or sitting, it is a physical conditioning program that is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The soft, slow, gentle movements of Qigong practice stimulate the body to increase muscular stability, flexibility, and range of motion around all joints of the body.
One of the many physical benefits of Qigong is the dynamic range of motion that is incorporated into many of the movements. Most of us move through very small ranges of motion throughout our day, and when it comes to R.O.M., “If you don’t use it, you lose it!”
The dynamic movements also serve to promote better balance by stimulating the vestibular system of the brain. As we age, joint stability and balance are two of the most important factors in maintaining health and mobility.
However, topping the list of its physical benefits is “kinaesthetic awareness” or awareness of your body in space. Qigong develops your awareness of posture and weight distribution and improves your ability to react and respond to an external stimulus such as slouching, trips, falls, or loss of balance. All of which help you to move your body through space and life with ease and without accident or injury.
2. Increase circulation and Lowers blood pressure:
Qigong combines relaxed movements with long, slow diaphragmatic breaths. By working
the body as a whole, blood is gently moved through every artery and vein of the body ensuring proper and efficient circulation and nourishment of the tissues.
By coordinating the movements with long, slow, controlled breaths, the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is shut off and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, heal) is engaged. This type of breath serves to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
The gentle yet total body cardiovascular stimulation makes Qigong safe and effective physical exercises for those with or without cardiovascular issues or limitations.
3. Increase production of natural opiates like serotonin and dopamine and lowers stress hormone cortisol.
Qigong is quite literally “Moving Meditation”. As with all meditation practices, Qigong has an incredibly calming effect on the central nervous system. As the mind, breath, and body are connected to the moment, the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and the brain releases all sorts of feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine.
These chemicals act as our natural opiates, creating a relaxed state which fosters healing on the cellular level. With our opiates flowing, cortisol, which is the stress hormone of the body, naturally decreases.
High levels of cortisol can result in sustained elevations of blood sugar, substantial loss of calcium from bones, depression of important immune responses, high blood pressure, loss of muscle mass, increased fat accumulation, and even loss of cognitive function.
4. Stimulates peristaltic movement in the digestive tract by diaphragmatic breathing:
During Qigong practise, an extended diaphragmatic breath is used to connect to the lower stomach area called the “Lower Dantian”. From an eastern perspective, this area houses the deepest and strongest energetic centers of the body.
From a western perspective, by pushing the belly out as you breathe in, and pulling the belly in as you breathe out, you stimulate three important physiological functions in the body.
First, as the diaphragm descends and the stomach expands, the lower lobes of the lungs fill completely resulting in proper oxygenation of the body. Most people tend to breathe only into their upper chest using accessory muscles instead of the diaphragm, resulting in only one-third of the oxygen intake or what’s called a “shallow tidal breath”.
Second, the descent of the diaphragm causes contractive pressure on the internal organs helping them to squeeze out toxins, allowing them to take in new blood and nutrients. Finally, the oscillating movement of the diaphragm stimulates the digestive tract, causing food to move along its path. A process called peristalsis. This has the effect of increased nutrient absorption as well as more effective and complete elimination.
5. Focuses the mind and calms stress and anxiety:
For most people, their mind tends to be trapped in one of two places. Either they are dragging their “past” into the present, leaving them filled with anger, irritability, and stress. Alternatively, they are spiralling into the “future” leaving them consumed with anxiety, worry and overthinking.
Just like seated meditation, Qigong uses the soft flowing physical movement combined with controlled diaphragmatic breath to connect the mind to the present moment, where there is only stillness, peace and quiet. It is by connecting to the moment and being “present” that healing of the mind and body can actually take place.
Common questions related to Qigong:
What is qigong?
Qigong is a moving meditation exercise composed of soft, flowing bodyweight movements. The exercises date back nearly 3000 years to ancient China. The movements are designed to stimulate the acupuncture meridian and their associated organs to promote self-healing.
What are the Healing Benefits of Qigong?
Qigong's gentle movements help to move blood and oxygen around the body, nourishing the organs and tissues promoting healing. In addition, due to the connection of the mind to the breath and physical movements, qigong helps to calm the mind, relieving emotional stress and mental anxiety.
How does Qigong work?
By performing choreographed sets of physical movements, combined with specific breathing patterns and mental visualizations, Qigong reconnects the mind, breath and body creating a moving meditation. This has the effect of lowering stress hormones and stimulating natural healing opiates.
What is the difference Between yoga and Qigong?
While yoga is mainly a stationary physical practice of static stretches performed in sequence on a mat, Qigong is performed standing and its movements are more dynamic and fluid in nature.
Whether you practice one, twice or everyday of the week, the healing benefits of qigong will change your mind, body and your life for the better… Give it a try!
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