An Introduction to Qigong
 
Most simply put, qigong is a system for working with the energy of life, called qi. Originating in Asia over five thousand years ago, it is a vital, living practice that continues to be researched, developed, and adapted for contemporary life. However, many of the most ancient practice still exist and are practiced today, relatively unchanged.
 
There are five main philosophical bases that may underlie any qigong. These include Daoist, Buddhist, Confucian, Medical, and Martial. Within each of those five constructs exists hundreds of form variations. The purpose of each variation is to help the practitioner achieve a particular goal or objective.
 
Regardless of the form or philosophical basis, all qigongs have this much in common. They all require that the practitioner learns to regulate their body, breath, and mind. This is commonly called the Three Regulations.
 
Let’s take a look at the word qigong itself, since that will tell us a lot about the actual practice. For the purpose of this discussion, we'll consider the translation of qi to be "vital life energy" or "life force", since that's the most direct and accurate interpretation when using the word "qi" in relation to qigong and Chinese medicine (acupuncture, dietetics, herbal medicine, tuina, and medical qigong).
 
Gong is most commonly translated as work, exercise, skill, or practice. When combined with the word "qi", which is often simply translated either as "energy" or sometimes as "breath" or "breathing" (although literally correct as one possible translation of qi, "breath" is a very incomplete interpretation when discussing qigong), the most often-seen translations are energy exercises, energy work, or breathing exercises. These are okay as far as they go--even breathing exercises is conditionally acceptable, since the regulation of the breath is one of the three main concerns of all qigongs--but if we limit ourselves to those translations, we miss some very important considerations and we have at best a partial understanding, which can create erroneous expectations and diminish the results of our practice. 
 
Implied within the word gong is the concept of time. More specifically, gong means effort put into something over a period of time in order to achieve a desired result. Historically, the word gong was applied to the work people did, the craft or profession a person pursued. As a person became more accomplished in their work through practicing it over time, their gong provided them with an ever deepening understanding not just of their profession but of life, no matter if they were a farmer, an artisan, a merchant, a soldier, or a politician.
 
The simple word “practice”, one of the common translations of gong, also includes the aspect of investing effort over a period of time, whether that means practicing the piano or establishing a medical practice. If we take that understanding into account, “practice” becomes a suitable translation for gong, and is a better choice  than the word “exercise”. An exercise is usually something you can learn how to do very quickly, and then little or no further thought is given to it, while its benefits are provided through rote repetition. In fact, the word "exercise" is sometimes used as a gentle admonition by a qigong master correcting a novice: "You're not doing qigong, you're just doing an exercise."
 
Now we can see that the fuller meaning contained within the simple word qigong might be best expressed as “effort over a period of time put into the practice of working with the energy of life, for the purpose of being able to sense, acquire, store and mobilize it at will, in order to promote health, vitality, and longevity.” Even this isn’t a complete definition, since as one progresses farther in qigong practice, it is used to cultivate power, which may be applied secularly, martially, medically, as an entry point into deeper spiritual practices, or combinations of all of those.
 
A comment on the use of the word “effort” in the above definition. When practicing qigong, or in trying to accomplish anything in life for that matter, there should be a sense of “full effort without strain”. Too often when we think of effort, there is a sense of working at or even beyond our full capacity. This type of effort is problematic if you are trying to become healthier and stronger. First, it creates more tension in your nervous system, leading to increased stress, the likelihood of burnout, and if maintained over time, all of the diseases associated with high levels of stress. Second, you leave yourself no margin of error, no safety zone, if you are working at your maximum. This sets you up for various types of strain and injury, most often occurring at whatever is your particular weakest link. Obviously, this is not a way to build health. In various daoist traditions, this working at full effort without strain is referred to as “The Golden Mean”, or colloquially as “the 70% rule”. This guideline states that after ascertaining your true 100% capacity, you proceed at 70% of that capacity. You can then put full effort into that 70%, without strain, maintaining a margin of safety, and as your 70% ability increases, your 100% capacity is also increased commensurately. And you always have that extra 30% to draw on if you really need it.
 
You really do have to put the effort into it, ideally making it a part or your daily life, but just 20 or 30 minutes of daily qigong practice will yield greater health with more energy, a peaceful heart, and a clear mind, which will positively impact every part of your life. Although you could take it well beyond that point if you choose, even if you "only" got that far, how wonderful would that be?
 
The qigongs that I personally practice and teach are based primarily on the Daoist and Medical traditions. For more information on those classes, please click on the class names in the schedule. For more detailed information on qigong, please check back on this site for my upcoming book, Understanding Qigong.
 
 



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