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When I was introduced to martial arts in 1973, I recognized that martial arts is about learning not to fight and learning to heal rather than hurt. In 1979, this mentality led me to Taiwan in search of qigong as a way to heal myself from the progressive, incurable, deadly lung/digestive disease cystic fibrosis (CF), of which at the time I was taking 30 pills/day. Five months after learning qigong I’ve now been off all medication for 37 years.

Today in the United States, with the still growing popularity of traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s foundation revolves around one’s qi and qi flow, I’m commonly  asked the following questions: what are the differences between qi, qigong and taiji; how does acupuncture work; how does the qi flow; and what is qi healing?

Qi, Qigong and Taiji

qi qigong taiji

Literally translated as air, qi (chi or ki) is one’s internal or vital energy, a life force that collects and is stored in the body’s qi center (aka dan tian), which is located three cm below the navel and one third of the way into the body. Each cell generates qi and funnels it into 14 unseen channels called meridians. Qi normally flows up the butt to the top of the head, over the head, down the front of the body and through the qi center. Qi also flows down the arms and legs then out of the body via the fingers and toes. Imagine the qi center is a water container and the meridians are water pipes.

If there’s a clog in a water pipe, the water back ups and can affect the whole house’s plumbing. If one has a qi blockage in their body, the qi can back up and eventually hurt the whole body. Everybody has qi and a person’s health is determined by qi flow. Poor, blocked or reversed qi flow creates poor health, and good qi flow promotes good health.

Traditionally, 365 acupuncture points exist along these 14 meridians. When the body sustains an injury or illness, in order to restore proper qi flow and promote healing, an acupuncturist will insert needles into specific acupuncture points. Acupressure similarly works by pressing the acupuncture points with one’s fingers or other objects that don’t penetrate the skin. Qi blockages can arise from physical, mental, spiritual and emotional issues. So that pain in your shoulder isn’t always due to a physical injury, it can also be caused by stress and anxiety from work, home and even verbal or emotional abuse.

Qigong and Taiji

qi qigong taiji

Chao Yuan-fang, a doctor in the Sui Dynasty (581-618 A.D.), noted that when a man mastered qigong he could release qi energy through his palms and fingers to cure diseases of others and do so without touqing them. In ancient China a doctor had to know qi healing since a strange man was not allowed to touch a woman’s body.

In Chinese, qigong (chi gong, qi kung; literally translated, working of air) can be one or a series of standing, sitting or lying down breathing techniques used to strengthen and circulate a body’s already existing qi. Qigong can also quickly regenerate the lost qi that’s constantly flowing out of the body.

The earliest evidence of qigong practice comes from the discovery of a 5000-year-old pottery urn of the Ma Jia Yao culture located in China’s Chinghai province in 1975.  The character qi has been found inscribed on animal bones and bronze items that existed between 1766-1122 B.C. Since Taoism and Confucianism arose around 500 B.C., and Buddhism arrived in China circa A.D. 520, it shows that unlike yoga, qigong has no religious or traditional Chinese philosophical origins. However, over the years, hundreds of different qigong forms have emerged due to various individuals creating diversified ways of practicing qigong and interpreting their qigong views to fit their varying philosophical ways of life.

Due to it’s English romanization, taiji is often associated with being a form of qigong. Not so. I’ll cover the history of taiji in a later article, yet for now, from a qi perspective, the purpose of taiji is to teach someone how to spread their already existing qi throughout the body. Since only qigong can increase and strengthen one’s existing qi, taiji is more effective if the practitioner learns taiji qigong or other similar qigong styles.

World Taiji and Qigong Day

qi qigong taiji

Since 1989, qigong has become an integral part of people’s daily health maintenance in Mainland China and this attitude slowly diffused into America during the 1990s. Prior to 1999, an estimated 200 million people in China practiced qigong. After 1999, the Chinese government officially supported qigong research and practice in the contexts of health and traditional Chinese medicine. When I learned qigong in 1980 Taiwan, qigong practitioners in the U.S. were virtually non-existent.

As of 2012, apart from the increased millions of people in China still practicing qigong, it was estimated that globally, millions of additional folks were practicing qigong (625,000 in America) for exercise, relaxation, preventive medicine and/or martial arts purposes.

In 2015, the U.S. Federal Government and the U.S. Veterans Administration endorsed the use of taiji and qigong as viable alternative medicine ways to promote good health and well being. Research at the NIH’s National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health showed that qigong was an effective pain management modality and labeled qigong as a strong viable future alternative for helping one’s health.

World Taiji and Qigong Day, which began in Kansas City in 1998, has now become a global annual event used to promote taiji and qigong in 80+ countries. The Day has been officially proclaimed by governors of 25 U.S. states and in the senates of California, New York, and Puerto Rico.

Qigong is definitely…movin’ on up.

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