"Kee Gong, Chee Kung, Chee...what?" What is Qigong?
It's pronounced a little more like, "chee gong", or" chee goong" in Mandarin, "chee kung", or "chee koong" in Cantonese and is often called Dao Yin, "dow yin", just to make things a little more confusing.
Basically they're exercises which are focused on improving aspects of your health, through combining movement, breathing and mental focus.
People often come to learn about Qigong because they have practised a little bit of Tai Chi and would like to try some Qigong, or they've had a health issue which needed time to rehabilitate and have found out about how Qigong had benefiting others with illnesses and injury. Some people have found out about it because their Acupuncturist won't stop talking about it ;-) and others find out about it because they want to do gentle exercise, as oppose to anything which they feel may be too aggressive, or too up tempo.
Qigong has been around in some way shape or form for at least a thousand years and I suspect in reality, for several thousand years. In its different forms, the movements can be used to focus in on a specific aspect of your health, or cover a broad topic. So for example, some exercises focus on promoting health for the eyes, others on spine health, some on general health, some target strengthening your muscles for combat, others strengthen your immune system, some prepare you for hours of meditation practise and others on calming your mind. So depending on what you're looking for, there is usually a style or group of exercsies which suit your needs.
One of the difficulties with Qigong, is finding a competent teacher. They aren't all Chinese and they definitely don't all have long white beards and wear flowing silk uniforms! Luckily, there are some very good teachers available and you can learn from them in a variety of ways; online, in person, in classes, in seminars and on retreats.
There are many different styles and I usually recommend two things when people ask which class they should join (regardless of whether it's Qigong, Martial Arts, Tai Chi, Yoga or Personal Training). I always say to try a class for at least 8 sessions if possible, before deciding to go somewhere else. Sometimes you have the right style, but not a good teacher and other times you have a good teacher, but the wrong style. Preferably you want to be somehwere where you enjoy the style being taught, as well as learning from a good teacher/instructor. Often it's a matter of looking around and trying out a variety of places before you find the right one for you.
The movements in the different styles vary enormously. Some are very challenging and hard and great if you want a strong flexible body and want to fight. Other styles are very gentle, light and subtle and work well on calming your mind. These gentler styles enable you to bring about detailed conscious awareness to your physical body and to the subtle energies around you.
Some styles have you perform just the one movement with a lot of intricate detail, which means you can be stood on the spot for your whole practise session and gain enourmous benefit from just the one movement. Other styles require you to do several repetitions of several different movements in a sequence, over a large space, these can sometimes take an hour or more to complete, whereas shorter styles may be finished in a few minutes. It's about finding what suits you right now.
So how does it work? Well, each style does things differently, so they all work in different ways, but in general it can be because of a few different reasons:
repetition of the same move, encourages efficient blood circulation through a body part, or parts
gentle stretches paired together with gentle slow motion movement, are kind to joints/injuries/physical limitations
the correct alignment of bones, joints and muscles improve efficiency of the body as we work against gravity
the gentle and precise twisting and lengthening of the body, in unison with the breath whilst in motion, helps to open the body's physical restrictions in a precise and safe way
focusing of the mind in combination with the above to really get your 'mind into your body', to become body aware
whole body movements, improve fluid flow and blood circulation
the slow motion movements, enable the body's proprioceptors to register where the body is in space. The slow motion aspect gives your brain the chance to know where all the parts are at any given time and to strengthen the signal pathways to and from the brain to the body, which can prevent people from having falls, or to gain improved mobility
micro strains of the conective tissues, result in the creation of greater tensile strength
Occaisionally some Qigong styles use 'tools'. For the 'harder' styles which are concerned with a really 'strong' body, this may include reed brushes beaten on the skin, the lifting of weights, smashing bricks and using climbing apparatus, whereas some gentler styles (but not exclusively so) may use tradtional weapons, such as Straight Swords, Wooden Fans or Smoking Pipes. The tools can be used for different reasons; strength training, conditioning, improving stamina, to help with co-ordination and improve flexibility.
Some styles are spiritually based and focus on the ability to meditate and bring attention to aspects of the mind.
Some styles emphasise the ability to feel energy, strengthen the energy you have and maybe use energy to help others.
So, there are many different styles, many different reasons to practise and many different layers of practise. So if it's something which has peaked your interest to try out soon, or maybe something you'll keep in mind and may want to investigate further one day, in my opinion it is definitely something worth knowing about and how it may be able to help you one day.
I've added a couple of videos below for you to watch and join along with, if you're interested. They're just a gentle introduction to a rather large topic, but they may be of some interest if you're new to Qigong and want to see some simple examples of how to practise. I hope they help and as ever, if you have any comments, queries, complaints or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.