Sunday April 23, 2006
ART OF QI
By Dr AMIR FARID ISAHAK
THE earliest records of qigong being practised were found on archaeological artifacts excavated in Qinghai province, China, dated approximately 5,000 years ago. These were in the form of drawings on gallipots. Descriptions of qigong were also found in relics from the Western Han Dynasty (206-24 BC), excavated in Hunan province; and actual written records were found in the ancient Chinese classic Shanshu, of the same period.
And for two thousand years since then, qigong has enjoyed a proud history, with millions of practitioners, along with other physical arts like Tai Chi and Kung Fu. All this came to a grinding halt about a decade ago.
Since the Chinese government’s crackdown on Falun Dafa (better known as Falun Gong, which is actually the form of qigong they practise) and other groups that mixed qigong practice with spirituality, all qigong groups have had to curtail their activities, and this popular art suffered as a result. No large programmes or seminars have been held in China since then. Many famous qigong masters have since migrated to the West.
In the meantime, the Westerners, especially those in the US, have embraced this Chinese traditional exercise and the number of followers is growing rapidly there.
The Chinese Health Qigong Association was formed two years ago to help revive qigong as a heritage that China should be proud of – qigong has proven health benefits and should be taught to everyone as well as shared with the whole world. It is officially registered as a public sports organisation affiliated to the All-China Sports Federation.
To encourage everyone to learn and enjoy the benefits, the association has simplified the exercises into just four sets. According to them, these exercises were formulated after much research and scientific study in Traditional Chinese Medicine, psychology, sports science and modern medicine.
Experts from all these fields combined their resources with qigong experts from various styles to come up with this set of exercises that is said to have remarkable health and healing effects, and are easy to learn.
Yi Jin Jing (tendon-strengthening exercises)
The original form was first taught during the Qin and Han Dynasties (220 BC – 220 AD). According to legend, it was popularised by Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen in China, and was practised by the Shaolin monks, and became very popular, especially for martial arts and athletic prowess.
The modern version has been modified to make it simpler and easy for people of all ages to learn. The exercises involve turning, bending and extending the body while working on the muscles, tendons and joints. There is special emphasis on the health and flexibility of the spine. The movements are natural, smooth and elegant.
Apart from the physical benefits, their research shows that this set also improves mood, and can be useful for anxiety or depression.
Wu Xin Xi (five animals frolic)
This set was originally developed by the famous physician Hua Tuo, during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), and became the basis for many other exercise styles that imitate animal behaviour and movements. The contemplative and powerful movements of the tiger; the grace and speed of the deer; the sturdiness and calmness of the bear; the dexterity and intelligence of the monkey; and the agility and freedom of birds form a harmonious set of exercises that is suitable for all.
These exercises are said to improve physical vigour and strength; agility and mobility of the joints; mental steadiness and confidence; and many other functions of both the mind and the body.
Animal movements are imitated in many qigong, Tai Chi, Wai Dan Gong and martial arts styles. We hear of soaring cranes, drunken monkeys and crouching tigers – each with their unique characters, special benefits, and mysteries. We learn a lot from nature, and we can learn even more if we understand nature deeper.
Liu Zi Jue (six healing sounds)
This was first practised over 1,500 years ago, and has been revised with modern understanding of health. Different sounds are made during expiration, and combined with simple qigong movements, lead to improvements in the health of different target organ systems.
Readers may recall that I have previously mentioned the version of Healing Sounds that is taught in Healing Tao (popularised by Master Mantak Chia). Those who have the chance to learn and practise it will find it most enjoyable.
Studies done by the association have shown that this set of exercises is most beneficial for those with chronic diseases, especially the elderly.
Old people tend to breathe less air (and therefore less oxygen) with each breath, and the Healing Sounds exercise can help them improve their breathing efficiency, in addition to getting the added benefits of healing qi.
Ba Duan Jin (eight excellent movements)
This set originated from exercises that were practised over 1,000 years ago, but has since been modified to improve the benefits. The movements are gentle, slow, smooth, and elegant. There is tension and relaxation, movement and stillness, together with harmony of mind, breath and body.
Studies have shown that these exercises improve the respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous and immune systems; slow down mental ageing; enhance psychological wellbeing; and strengthen the limbs and joints.
It is not possible to describe the exercises in detail. As I will be helping the association spread its noble message and exercises here in Malaysia, I will keep readers updated on where to learn this style of qigong when their centres are established here.