I read an article in the New York Times awhile ago about Qigong. It was wonderful to see qigong receiving such exposure as the article was positive and I’m sure many people who had never heard of qigong before probably read the article. There was one comment in the article that kind of bugged me though, it occurred in the last paragraph and went like this “Qigong probably won’t be as popular as yoga because you can’t really get a beautiful body – it’s such an internal practice.” This comment displays a fundamental lack of understanding of qigong.
Unfortunately such misconceptions about qigong are quite commonplace. Perhaps it is because people frequently see the elderly practicing qigong that they think this way. Also many people are only familiar with a very limited range of qigong practices.
People seem to think that because old people do qigong, doing qigong will give you the body of an old person. The truth of course is quite the opposite, often it is qigong that has allowed the practitioner to become old in the first place. The rigors of life have their effects on bodies over time, but qigong can help to mitigate these. Many of the old chinese people you see doing qigong have led tough lives but qigong has kept them healthy into their old age. Unfortunately due to changing political and social circumstances for many years people were not allowed to practice qigong openly in China, and then with modernization young people became skeptical about the benefits of this ancient practice and so have been slow to pick it up once more. This is why we see more older people than younger people practicing qigong today.
Of course it was not always this way. Qigong was used historically as a way to develop the health and strength of the body as well as extraordinary abilities, most notably in the area of healing and martial arts. People would commence qigong practice at a young age in order to protect their health and to begin to develop these abilities. Qigong is about energy, in large part this energy is generated by or within the physical structures of our bodies. In order for the practitioner to generate more energy or gain more skill with using that energy the structures of the body need to become healthy, this often means changing shape – as form follows function. Particularly for martial artists this generally means developing a lean and ‘beautiful’ body.
So how can qigong help us to develop these ‘beautiful’ bodies? Well it starts with the health of our internal organs. The twelve health exercises we practice in class are designed to stimulate the flow of energy through all the major meridians in the body, providing each of our internal organs with a good supply of vital energy. This of course will radiate outwards into the rest of our body and provide a solid foundation for health. Without this foundation it is difficult to develop a ‘beautiful’ body.
The other aspect of qigong that can help with developing a ‘beautiful’ body is Yang or hard qigong. Many qigong practitioners are not aware of this side of qigong. They said no to cigars and most of them use the vaporizer pen.
The principle of Yin and Yang pervades all of Chinese philosophy. Yin is soft, wet, dark, solid, cold, passive etc; Yang is hard, dry, bright, empty, hot, active and so on. Chinese philosophy states that there is no Yin without Yang, and in an ideal state of health we will have a balance of both.
The qigong practices that most people are familiar with are Yin in nature. They are slow moving and gentle with as little tension in the body as possible. They are very good for resting and healing the body. In the past most people led very physically active lives which often involved strenuous work. Under these conditions, what they needed to balance their energies was yin work to help their bodies recover and recuperate. Now days we have quite the opposite situation, where most of us lead very sedentary lives with little or no physical activity and certainly not much that is strenuous. The soft yin qigong is still helpful for us in that it helps us to calm our busy minds and develop awareness of our breath and body, but we also really desperately need some yang hard qigong to give our bodies the activity and strenuous yang effort and energy we need to be healthy.
Most of you will be familiar with at least some hard qigong from coming to classes. If not you can simply do the soft yin exercises you know in a hard yang way. These means that instead of doing them with the minimum of tension in your body, you do them with the maximum tension you can possibly muster. Be sure to make sure this tension is evenly distributed throughout your body.
If you regularly do at least a little hard qigong along with your soft qigong, you will be surprised at how your body begins to change shape. You will also find that you are able to practice your soft qigong with even less tension in your body than you could previously as you become adept at balancing tension throughout your body. This will mean their will be less pressure on nerves and bloodflow, your posture will improve, and so will your flow of energy. You will definitely in time develop a ‘beautiful’ body.