QiGong – The Basics of Breath
by Felicia Zadok
Have you ever been walking in the park and came upon a group of people slowly moving their arms and legs, as though dancing in rhythm with one another? More likely than not they were doing a QiGong practice. I bet you are curious and have some questions, like: What is QiGong? Where did it originate? How does it work? Why would I choose to do it?
A basic and universal understanding of QiGong is:
· Qi (chee) is Life Energy; what unites all things together
· Gong (guhng) is Mastery; practice of a system
There are many theories as to where the practice originated. This question can leave one researching infinitely for answers, but what we do know is that it has been practiced for over four thousand years in East Asia under different names. It is the core of Tai Chi, many of the martial art practices as well as EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques-body tapping).
2,000-year-old fitness QiGong.
This drawing unearthed from the Han Dynasty Mawangdui tomb illustrates the movements of
QiGong is the name that was given to the practice in the 1950s. Along with having had different names over decades, there have also been many methodologies of QiGong designed and practiced. The common thread is that they all are working towards a healthier and deeper connection to “Life Energy” and “The Self” via movement. The belief is that the relationship between the life force of the universe, nature and that of the physical formation of the human body can become one, when making QiGong part of your daily life.
By using soft, slow, gentle stretches and twisting movements, the body stimulates muscular stability, increases flexibility and activates a better range of motion around the joints. In addition there is an advancement of balance and the level of energy begins to circulate more harmoniously within a person’s internal pathways (meridians).
Diverse exercise routines have been designed to benefit those with chronic health challenges, as well as benefit daily psychological and physiological aspects of any individual’s life. There is no age limit to who can practice QiGong. There are combinations designed to focus on various movements that correspond to healing specific ailments. One can also find routines for boosting the immune system in correlation with each season.
The goal is to create harmony for the mind, body and spirit through the breath, physical movements and meditation (a growth of connection between the conscious, subconscious and unconscious).
The basic fundamentals of using the breath are:
· To balance the heart rate.
· To sharpen focus in order to create a more peaceful mind.
· To mobilize energy and cultivate a healthy and invigorated body.
· To strengthen the immune system against disease.
· To activate a calmer spirit that is more capable of dealing with daily stresses.
More than being a mere set of exercises, QiGong is an attitude that works to restructure one’s perspective on life, therefore leading to balance and harmony with the world around us.
Breath is the rhythm of life. As in most forms of movement, how you incorporate your breathing is crucial to your outcome of benefits. The circular pattern of breath in QiGong is, inhale deeply (through the nose) and exhale longer (through the mouth), which will release more carbon dioxide allowing more room for oxygen (energy) to come in. It is important to not only have a good quantity of energy but also good quality.
A very basic breathing exercise that can be done is as you see in the above diagram. With your feet firmly grounded and your legs soft, slowly inhale as you open your arms out, raising them towards the heavens with the palms facing up, pause your breath and begin to gently exhale reversing the palms and gently pressing the energy back down towards the earth. Repeat as often as you like, remembering this rhythm throughout the day.
A variation or additional breathing exercise can be seen in this second diagram. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, arms in front of the body with the palms of the hands faced up, placed at the “Sea of Qi” (located about an inch and a half below the navel). Begin to gently elevate and elongate the spine as you inhale and slowly raise the palms and arms up towards the heavens (slightly overhead), pause the breath and then turn palms down, slowly pushing the energy back down towards the earth as you exhale and gently sink down again into your grounded feet. Remember to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
These are two primary breathing exercises that can be done to begin learning the basics of QiGong before learning the stretches, twists and stances of the practice. Most individuals who dedicate time to their QiGong practices find an increase in physical and emotional well-being.
The beneficial effects of proper breathing can be seen in the longevity of a turtle. This wonderful ancient creature takes approximately four breaths per minute and lives up to 150 years. A healthy human will take between 12-20 breaths per minute. We must remember that, though we are not shelled four legged creatures, how we breath is important to our health. When energy is free from stagnation, life thrives, leading for a longer healthier existence.
I always say that in life it is better to give more than one takes, so remember this as you breathe… deep inhales and slow longer exhales.
At this time when so many of us on the planet have been and still might be enclosed in our homes, we can find comfort in practicing QiGong and elevating our connections with our body, mind, soul and the universe. Open a window and begin practicing. There are many experts that are offering classes online.
For those that are fortunate and able to get into a pool, I would recommend Ai Chi. Ai Chi was developed in 1993 by Jun Konno, owner of the Aquadynamics Institute in Yokohama. It is based on elements of QiGong and Tai Chi Chuan, it also uses movements that stretch and open up the flow of meridians and creating balance between yin and yang within the magnificent environment of water.
No matter what you are doing today, just remember to breathe.
Felicia Zadok is a New York-based Personal Development Coach and ordained Melchizedek Priest. She has been a group fitness instructor for over twenty years, certified with both ACE and AEA. A fun fact about her – she is also a professionally certified foot reader.