Imagine a fairytale… Once upon a time a lone aching farmer stood transfixed by the sunrise over China’s Hwang Shan Mountain. Slowly, he rotated his torso while watching a bear supplely lumbering into the brush, then he lept, prancing like a deer. “How gracefully animals move,” he thought. “Perhaps I can imitate.” Inspired, he returned to his village with that intention. First his family, then curious neighbors, marveled at his improved posture and youthful agility as he practiced poses where he balanced like a crane and slithered like a snake. The village naysayers scoffed in ridicule. That is, until Masters of the Tao (“the way”) from the Yellow Emperor’s court appeared and they realized that this farmer possessed the life force elixir, the vital energy of the universe, Qi (“chee”). A decree went forth that Qi was to be cultivated in the fields like rice (a major life-giving food staple) and that all loyal subjects were to follow subtle healing and martial movements. Thus were born the seeds of Qigong (“chee kung”) and Tai Chi (“Ty Chee”).
Though a mythological tale, this story has validity as regards the origins of Tai Chi and Qigong. These mindful healing art forms have been practiced for thousands of years for satisfaction, empowerment and health, with the earliest movements based upon animal frolics. (Chungliang Al Huang begins Essential Tai Chi with what he calls “The Real Fairytale.” My version above subtly references his poignant lessons about how the calligraphy character for Qi represents steam from cooking rice becoming one with the universe).
What do these terms mean? Simply put, Qigong literally means energy (‘Qi” or “Chi”) cultivation. The movement of Qi within the body, as in therapies like acupuncture and Nei Gong, has transformative healing properties. Roger Jahnke, author of “The Healer Within,” writes about the power of Qi as an explanation for the body’s innate healing ability. Qigong is movement, meditation and medication for body (jing), heart-mind (qi), and spirit (shen). Tai Chi (Taiji) literally means “balance and harmony” or “undifferentiated unity.” It is the most widely known form of Qigong within the United States and philosophically based upon the Taiji (the familiar yin/yang) symbol. Taiji Chuan (chuan meaning “fist”) is the most popular martial art, of which the Yang and Wu family styles are best known. The carefully choreographed meditative movements comprising Tai Chi and Qigong include poetic names like “wave hands like clouds,” “dragons stirring up the wind,” “swallow skimming the pond” and “embrace tiger, return to mountain.”
Research shows increasing evidence of Qigong’s healing properties. Qigong and Tai Chi practices help reduce pain and stiffness, strengthen heart health, heighten awareness, diminish stress and improve balance, sleep and overall well-being (thereby having the added benefit of lowering medical expenses). A ConnecticutPost.com (March 2, 2014) article, “Q(uinnipiac) U(niversity) Students Study Benefits of Tai Chi for Seniors” mentions that practicing Tai Chi can inhibit fall risk (also reported on WTIC ). The students implement Tai Chi for Better Balance, Dr. Fuzhong Li’s system, which he has used to train many in Connecticut and the world.
There are numerous Tai Chi and Qigong practice types, many helping with specific issues. For example, Guo Lin’s Xi Xi Ho Qigong is said to aid in cancer recovery. For Arthritis and Parkinson’s there are Tai Chi practices of Dr. Paul Lam. Tai Chi and Qigong practices can reduce stress-related diseases, such as heart problems, obesity, depression and the post-traumatic stress commonly associated with soldiers returning from war and applicable to numerous life situations. Dr. John Rigg, Traumatic Brain Injury Program Director at Georgia’s Eisenhower Army Medical Center (and a teacher of “The Eight Brocade” traditional Qigong postures) suggests “Qigong is fantastic, soldiers love it…does not exacerbate pain [and] soldiers do it on their own.” Some leading medical professionals, like Yale’s Dr. Bernie Siegel (Berniesiegelmd.com), argue that there is memory and intelligence in every cell of the body. Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard asserts that deep rest counteracts the harmful effects of stress (a “relaxation response,” as opposed to “fight or flight”), thereby enhancing immunity and health. Mindful relaxation is an integral part of all Tai Chi and Qigong, which stimulates the capacity for cellular (hence full self) healing, resulting in relief and higher functioning.
Fifteen years ago, Bill Douglas of Kansas thought to honor these ancient mind-body practices by founding a worldwide celebration. So was born World Tai Chi and Qigong Day (WTCQD). This free community event for all ages (Worldtaichiday.org) will occur on Saturday, April 26. Residents in all states and 70+ nations will spread “One Breath (Qi)” as the world turns. Beginning in New Zealand, the event will “arrive” in Connecticut at 10 a.m. Milford’s celebration on the Green will honor our nation’s veterans with attendance by representatives from West Haven Hospital. At the event, supporters may make a donation and/or purchase official WTCQD t-shirts to benefit The Fisher House Foundation, which builds housing facilities around the country for families of hospitalized soldiers. Everyone is welcome to join in the Ener-Qi which will flow that day.