How the movements and sounds of Qi Gong can help unlock a healthier lifestyle.
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are headed."
— Lao Tsu
More and more folks from all walks of life are seeking new practices that lead away from lifestyles steeped in killer-stress and teeming with habits that drain vital energies.
Modern research clearly indicates that regimens that bring us into states of profound relaxation, while simultaneously allowing full participation of the body and mind, hold the greatest benefit. In essence, we return to our most natural and holistic state of health and well being. The ancient practice of Qi Gong is an exemplary example of this.
What Is Qi Gong?
The ancient practice of Qi Gong (Chi Gung) is a Chinese health care system originating anywhere from 4,000-10,000 years ago (depending on historic sources). Qi Gong is, by definition, preventative, holistic, quick and easy to do, affordable, and requiring no special equipment. Qi Gong exercise routines or "forms" combine gentle, slow, body movement with controlled breathing patterns, and a quiet, relaxed and meditative mental focus.
The word "Qi" refers to "the universal life-force energy" that the experienced practitioner attracts and cultivates from various internal and external sources, stores within the body, and circulates to various organ and body systems through energy channels or meridians. Literally the Chinese word Qi means "breath" or "air," emphasizing the importance of the breath.
The word "Gong" literally means "work" and serves to emphasize the Qi Gong players' personal responsibility to a lifestyle that promotes overall health, seeks vitality and longevity, and cultivates spiritual awareness. For the ancient Chinese, Qi Gong beneficence required time (patience), commitment (intention) and effort (endurance.)
Wu Masters and Taoism
Qi Gong is typically associated with the Chinese philosophical/religious practice of Taoism (circa 500 BCE), called "The Way." Traditionally the origin of Taoism is credited to the mythical folk hero sage, Lao Tsu. He is said to have authored the ultimate seminal Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching. This book was a series of prose verses that "implied the essential, unnamable process of the Universe." The Tao Te Ching has illuminated and inspired painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, writers, calligraphists, masons and even farmer/gardeners in Eastern and Western cultures for centuries. To date it is considered the most-translated text in world literature.
Despite its rich and all-encompassing influence, scholars have recently challenged the prevalent historic origins of Qi Gong and Taoism. Its truest roots can now be ascribed to the oral cultures of northern China's Yellow River Valley some 5,000-10,000 years ago.
These ancient peoples were said to be keen observers of the natural flow of the earth and the heavens (the Tao) and the mutually inclusive polar forces of yin (female-earth) and yang (male-heavens). They not only studied changes in the seasons, the habits of animals and plants, and the nature of the elements, but they were also well versed in astronomy, understood astrological influences and assumed the roles of the Shaman, as mediators between the world of Spirit and Man.
They were called the Wu Masters, and for several thousand years were prominent in the spiritual and social folklore and mythology of that region. Over 10,000 years ago these shaman-kings/queens led their people in the ceremonial "Da-Wu," or "The Great Dance." Performers of Da-Wu were said to experience tremendous health benefits as well as profound spiritual awareness. Thus began the tradition of harmonizing the physical body with both the earthly natural forces and the heavenly forces of the universe through the movement of body, breath and energy, or what we now call Qi Gong.
The mythology of the Wu Masters is profound and magical. The story of one of the Taoist Eight Immortals, Han Xiang (circa ninth century) illustrates this: One tale tells of Han being carried by his teacher/master to the magic peach tree where grew "immortal peaches." Han climbs the tree and suddenly falls, instantly becoming immortal. He demonstrates his heavenly powers by making peony flowers bloom in early winter. Not only was each blossom a different color, but each flower contained, hidden within it, a small poem. At a banquet, his uncle, a renowned statesman, wanted Han to study Confucianism instead of Taoism. Han demonstrated the power of the Tao by pouring glass after glass of wine from a bottomless gourd. He is usually pictured carrying "the flute of life" and is considered the Taoist patron saint of music.
The Eight-Piece Brocade
Presently, there are hundreds of different Qi Gong forms in existence. One of the oldest and most consistently popular forms is the Eight Piece Brocade. Perhaps a more apropos name is "The Eight Silken Movements," which describes the smoothing effect these exercises have on the body and its energies.
Despite being developed for his soldiers by Chinese Marshal (General) Yue Fei during the war-torn Song Dynasty (960-1368 AD), the Eight Piece Brocade is considered to have no direct martial arts applications and therefore is considered more a medical/health practice.
Practicing the Eight Piece Brocade provides some immediate health benefits. Each exercise was designed to gather energy or qi through the movement of the arms and legs and channel this flow to a specific internal organ or set of organs.
For example, the second piece brocade imitates an archer and is called "Draw the Bow and Shoot the Vulture." This movement is specifically designed to strengthen the kidneys and the waist area, which is important in blood filtration and waste removal, regulating fluid levels, and balancing electrolytes, while indirectly supporting liver function.
The eight-brocade form allows the body a full range-of-motion movement that stretches muscles, strengthens tendons and ligaments, and increases bone density and blood circulation.
Physiologists report stimulated immune function, specifically an increase in number of the crucial T-cells. Neuroimaging brain-wave analysis shows Qi Gong balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain, increasing memory, and improving the ability to counteract all types of stress. Practitioners report better balance in the physical body, a greater sense of being grounded, increased stamina and endurance (vitality) as well as emotional/mental calmness. Qi Gong has been known to relieve insomnia and other sleep disorders.
The Six Healing Sounds
Another profound Qi Gong form is the Six Healing Sounds. Popularized by modern Taoist Master Healer Mantak Chia, this form combines Qi Gong postures, movements and sound toning to regulate the organ systems. Taoist healers recognized that organ malfunction was due to the blocks in the energy flow caused by stresses inherent in modern society. Blocked organs tend to lose their ability to naturally cool themselves; hence they over-heat and literally become contracted, hard and dysfunctional.
The Taoists discovered that each healthy organ vibrates at a very specific frequency. By toning or making sounds to mimic that specific frequency, performing a Qi Gong form, the block can be removed and the organ naturally restored to its optimum state of health.
Taoist healers highly recommended that the Six Healing Sounds be done daily and in sequential order. Aside from the toning sounds, the practice can also include color visualizations corresponding to each organ or organ system, as well as an emotional clearing meditation.
Eight Piece Brocade Qi Gong and the Six Healing Sounds provide people of all ages and levels of health a holistic and preventative exercise practice. Simple yet powerful, these forms help self-cultivate physical vigor, mental and emotional serenity and balance, and the potential for healthier lifestyle.
Glenn Henderson has practiced and studied Qi Gong and Tai Chi for over 20 years. Beginning January 2014 he will be giving ongoing classes in Eight Piece Brocade Qi Gong and The Six Healing Sounds. For more information and class schedules email him at Gmusik10@yahoo.com or call (575) 654-4351.