Most people assume aerobic exercise is needed to strengthen the heart and lungs. But Qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”) accomplishes both without a sweaty workout. Like yoga, Qigong is an ancient Eastern practice that calms both the body and mind by combining focused breathing and physical postures. The exercises, which are accessible to most everyone, cultivate qi, otherwise known as life-force energy.
How Qigong Works
This Chinese healthcare practice has been in existence for thousands of years and opens blockages in the same meridian system used in acupuncture to promote relaxation and improve overall health and longevity. Referred to as a “moving meditation,” Qigong leads the mind and body into a state of balance and equilibrium known as homeostasis, where all of the body’s systems perform best.
Studies confirm that practitioners benefit from improved parasympathetic nervous system function, which calms the body and mind, reduces muscular tension and anxiety, and promotes relaxation and deep sleep. Other health perks include enhanced immune function and increased strength, stamina and longevity, which explain the large number of elderly people in China who perform Qigong every day.
Where to Start?
According to Qigong Institute Chairman of the Board Francesco Garripoli, establishing a short daily practice has the most benefits. “I’d rather see someone consistently practicing Qigong 15 minutes per day every day than spend hours once a week,” he says. “Qigong is about setting up a new pattern for our life and empowers us with confidence that we can truly take control of our health.”
Because there are so many different forms of Qigong, Garripoli recommends starting with a beginner DVD to get a contextual framework for the practice that will help guide you in finding a qualified, local teacher. “There is a form out there that is perfect for you, perfect for where you are at this moment in your life,” he says. Many beginner DVDs can be found online, including his own Qigong for Beginners.
If you’re new to Qigong, here’s a basic exercise to begin to experience the power of qi for yourself.
Qigong Exercise: Accordion
In this exercise, you cultivate and begin to feel qi by using your hands like the bellows of an accordion or a bicycle pump.
- Close your eyes halfway. Clear your mind and concentrate your attention on your palms.
- Allow your breath to become slow, easy, without force.
- Bring your hands together, palms touching and fingers pointing upward. The palm chakras, called Laogong, located in the center of the palms, should be touching. These chakras are areas where qi can be felt emanating from the body.
- Slowly move your hands, while keeping your palm chakras aligned. When they are about 12 inches apart, slowly move them together using the least amount of physical effort possible.
- You will be compressing the air between them like an accordion would.
- Feel a warm or tingling sensation at the Laogong points on your palms.
- Move your hands slowly back and forth, varying the range of the bellows. Repeat the accordion technique in different directions: horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Just a couple of minutes of this accordion practice is a great way to experience qi.