Stress is the great bogeyman of modern times, many diseases of civilization have stress as one of their common causes. From high blood pressure, to headaches, obesity, severe heart disease, digestive problems, to various psychological illnesses and cancer. All of these health problems are associated with stress, which in many cases is cited as the very cause of serious illness.
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to reduce the impact of stress on the human body or to get rid of it completely. However, not all types of meditation are suitable for every individual; some of us, for example, do not sit still for even a few minutes. Fortunately for such of us, there are different styles of meditation through movement, which include Qigong.
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Qigong – what is it?
The name for this system of coordinated postures and slow movements originated before the end of the Cultural Revolution in China. Qigong, or Qigong, is an exercise that focuses on slow flowing movements, deep rhythmic breathing and a calm meditative state of mind. It is a movement meditation designed to bring relaxation and calm the mind, but it also leads to martial arts training.
The name is based on a combination of two words: qi = air, breath, also translates as the metaphysical concept of “vital energy” and góng(or also kung) = cultivation, work, the definition also includes skill, art, achievement and is often used in the traditional meaning of gongfu (kungfu), “success through great effort”. The combination of these two words describes the art of cultivating and balancing life energy for health.
Qigong has its roots in medieval Chinese culture. Over its 4,000-year history, Qigong has evolved into many forms, influenced by various Chinese traditions. Traditional Chinese medicine used qigong as a preventive and curative tool, Confucianism as an exercise to bring longevity and promote moral behavior, in Taoism and Buddhism it featured as part of meditation practice, and in Chinese martial arts it is used to improve self-defense techniques.
Qigong is commonly divided into two basic categories:
- Dynamic qigong – slow, fluid movements
- Static qigong – static postures with a focus on the internal movement of the breath
It is further subdivided according to use:
- Soft qigong – focuses on the meditation function of the exercise, cultivates the soul and relaxes the mind
- Hard qigong – focuses on the martial function of the exercise, the source of strength is the cultivation of qi
How to start qigong practice?
The two types of qigong share certain common elements, namely: place and time, breath, focused relaxation, body posture and visualization.
The ideal time and place to practice qigong
When and where the practice is done is given great importance in qigong practice. Ideally, it should be practiced in the early morning at sunrise. If you choose to practice more than once a day, another good time is at sunset.
When practicing in the morning, it is recommended to start slowly and gradually increase the load of the exercises. This should gradually stimulate and prepare the qi for the day. The evening exercise, on the other hand, should start more energetically and gradually transition into a more leisurely one. This will end your day in peace and calm and prepare your body and mind for sleep.
In terms of location, nature plays an important role for qigong. If it is warm and sunny, then it should be practiced outdoors, such as in a park or other beautiful natural location. If the weather is not nice, rainy and cloudy, then the practice should be done indoors.
Orientation is also important, depending on the season you should face a different side of the world. In spring you should face east, in summer you should face south, in late summer you can face any side of the world, but it is important to keep in mind that the qi is rising out of the earth at this time. In autumn, watch the west and in winter, watch the north. Different organs are associated with different seasons.
- Spring = liver and gallbladder
- Summer = heart and small intestine
- Late summer = spleen and stomach
- Autumn = lungs and large intestine
- Winter = kidneys and bladder
All qigong techniques are based on the same posture, and the different movements that accompany the exercises are variations of it. The posture in qigong thus becomes the basic unit that either restricts or facilitates the movement of qi and determines the degree of effectiveness of the exercise. The basic qigong posture itself is an important exercise; even just holding this posture is sufficient to bring awareness to the most important points of the body that often stiffen, such as the knees, shoulders, and hips. Along with the tension we often perceive as stiffness, there is a restricted flow of qi in these places.
The muscles around the neck should be relaxed, the neck should be in extension of the spine, held upright. Do not slouch or be too straight. Imagine as if you were suspended by a string from the sky through the top of your head. The head should be light, the tongue should lightly touch the upper palate, the lips should be relaxed and just lightly touching.
The shoulders should be relaxed, not raised to the ears or curled forward or pulled back. Elbows should be relaxed and always slightly bent, as should knees and fingers. The spine should be straight. In Chinese medicine, the spine is seen as a highway for the flow of qi. The correct posture should be casual, try not to straighten the spine by force, stand upright with a feeling of relaxation.
The chest should be open, neither stretched nor sunken. The correct posture of the chest should naturally follow from the correct posture of the spine and shoulders. The hips should also be relaxed, especially the muscles surrounding it. This area is very important in qigong practice, it is called the “lower dan tian” and is the most important energy center of the body.
Breath in qigong practice
Qigong emphasizes the diaphragmatic breath, so the breathing progresses from the abdominal inhalation to the thoracic inhalation, with a preference for breathing through the nose. Like the correct posture, the breath should be unforced during qigong practice. Breathe naturally, and be aware of the abdominal breath, which is deeper and allows the lungs to hold significantly more oxygen than the shallow chest breath. The traditional qigong breath has 6 characteristics:
- It is slow
- It is long
- It is deep
- It is perfect
- It is even
- It is calm
Qigong meditation exercises and routines
Starting position: qigong stance, feet shoulder width apart or a little more, knees comfortably bent
- Keep your hands in front of your body at about navel height with palms facing your body, there should be a little space between your hands and body, keep your elbows slightly bent. Concentrate on proper qigong breathing and stay in this position for about 90 seconds.
- Raise the arms to about heart level with the palms facing the ground, keeping the elbows slightly bent. Again, focus on the breath and hold the position for about 90 seconds.
- Raise your arms to eyebrow height with your palms facing outwards, elbows still slightly bent. Continue in this position for about 90 seconds
The most well-known set-ups in qigong practice are: the 8 brocades, the 5 elements and the 18 shibashi. The movements should be slow and fluid. One of the biggest advantages of qigong is that it is suitable for all ages and for people of different fitness levels. The difficulty of the routines lies in the coordination of the movements and the complexity of some of the exercises. To better understand the correct execution of the routines, videos are attached to the articles.
- 8 brocades
The 8 brocades of Qigong is a routine especially suitable for beginners. The individual exercises are easy to remember and perform. For beginners, it is advisable to start with 5-7 repetitions of the whole routine and gradually increase the number of repetitions. Between each exercise it is good to take a short break in the starting position and focus on how your body feels after the exercise.
- 5 elements
In addition to the 8 brocades, there are also 5 element exercises. The theory of the five elements is based on traditional Chinese medicine, these are earth, water, fire, metal and wood. Each of these elements is symbolized by color, sound and season, Chinese medicine also claims that each element has a positive effect on one particular organ. Each element also represents your physical and mental health, for example fire represents enthusiasm and confusion at the same time. Chinese medicine believes that by practicing Qigong, one will establish a balance between the elements and thus rid oneself of burdens and discomforts, both physical and mental.
- Qigong 18 shibashi
This routine is one of the most famous routines in qigong. You can repeat all the exercises as many times as you like, but it is a good idea to perform each shibashi for roughly the same length of time.