“If you want to be healthy and live to one-hundred, do qigong.” ~Mehmet Oz

Imagine an activity that takes only a few minutes each day to perform but can help to focus the mind, relax the body, revitalize energy, and give a sense of overall well-being. The practices of qigong and tai chi chuan can do just that.

Qigong is an ancient Chinese health care system practiced by individuals primarily to improve their own health. It is an exercise that integrates focused intention, coordinated breathing, and gentle movements to strengthen and circulate the life energy. Qigong methods have been used in China for more than 4500 years to maintain and improve health, and were introduced to the Western world only in the past fifty or so years.

The word “qigong” (also chi kung) is made up of the Chinese words “qi” (pronounced “chee”), which refers to life force or vital energy, and “gong” (pronounced “goong”), which means accomplishment or skill cultivated through steady practice. Together, qigong refers to any practice whose intention is to restore, circulate, balance, and/or enhance the personal life energy.

Anyone can practice qigong. There are qigong exercises suitable for people of all ages and physical condition. Qigong can be practiced while standing, sitting, or lying down. Most standing exercises can be modified to be performed while seated or lying down. While many of the various types of qigong practices are performed using external movement of the arms and legs to affect the body, some use only imagery and visualization and others use a combination of the two.

One of the oldest qigong methods still practiced today is the Five Animals Sports (Wu Xin Qi).
Created about the year 200 A.D. by the Chinese physician Hua Tao, it uses movements of animals to teach people how to increase their qi circulation. The Eight Pieces of Brocade (Ba Duan Jin) was created almost 1000 years ago by Marshall Yueh Fei to improve the health of his soldiers. Both of these healing exercise sets are among the more popular practiced today in different variations.

Tai chi chuan (also taijiquan) is perhaps better known and more popular than qigong. Although tai chi chuan is a martial art, today it is practiced primarily for its health benefits. The relaxed, circular movements are effective in stimulating the immune system, opening joints, toning and strengthening muscles and providing a gentle cardiovascular workout.

The movements of tai chi chuan mimic martial techniques that smoothly transition from one to the next, viewing the body as a whole instead of as a collection of independent parts. Many qigong methods will repeat one individual movement several times before transitioning to the next.

Both qigong and tai chi chuan use deep abdominal breathing, which brings more air into our lungs and more oxygen into our body, thereby promoting better system functioning. The long slow breaths also generate a sense of peace.

Specialized qigong and tai chi chuan methods have been developed for many different health-related issues, including arthritis, diabetes, MS, and back pain. Exercises have been developed to focus on individual organs and functions of the body. Both methods have been shown to be effective in reducing and stabilizing blood pressure, relieving stress (a major cause of many illnesses), promoting awareness and concentration, improving balance and coordination and maintaining good posture.

A daily morning practice of 10 to 15 minutes can help prepare you for the day in a relaxed, mindful and spiritual way. In the evening, performing these exercises about an hour before going to bed can promote peaceful and restful sleep.

The practices of tai chi chuan and qigong are not substitutes for regular medical care but can be a wonderful complement to conventional treatment. If you are under a doctor’s care or taking medications for illnesses or other conditions, consult with your doctor before proceeding with a qigong or tai chi chuan exercise routine. The effects of the medications on your system may be altered as a result of the influences of these practices on your body.

My own journey to these healing arts began about 20 years ago. While working at a large corporation that was going through an expansive downsizing, I found that stress was affecting my everyday activities, both at work and home. After a visit to my doctor, and hearing a concerned “hmm” during the checkup, I knew I had to change my exercise routine.

I had been introduced to some of the concepts of tai chi chuan while training in karate a few years earlier and was intrigued by the circular, whole-body movements. About the time of the doctor’s visit, I heard of the health benefits of “tai chi” and tried a class. It quickly became my daily exercise routine as it helped me to reduce my stress levels and aided in recovering from past sports-related injuries.

As my practice progressed, I found that I could look within and more calmly make decisions about my life. Deciding to leave working in the corporate world to teach the healing methods I’d integrated into my life was made easier by the practice and simply breathing deeply and focusing my intention.

In today’s fast-paced, technological world, it is easy to become engulfed in all that the latest and greatest gadgets have to offer, lose sight of yourself and become stressed because of not being able to keep up with it all. When you can calm the mind and relax the body, you can think more clearly, make better decisions and be more productive while remaining less stressed. If you dedicate fifteen minutes a day to a mindful qigong or tai chi chuan practice, you can greatly improve your health and your enjoyment of life.

Robert Michael has been practicing health and martial arts more than 30 years and teaching taijiquan and qigong for 15 years in various central and southern CT locations. He is the owner of Tranquil Mountain Internal Arts and  can be reached at 860-301-6433, rmichael@tmiarts.com, tmiarts.com.