Qigong – Go with the Flow!

Summer 2016, Living Well Magazine

by Paul Bedson

Modern civilization seems to require a busy life, a busy mind and a tight body in order to ‘push through’ and ‘succeed’. But a contracted body, tight emotions and a fixed mindset create the conditions for imbalances and disease. We need to relax, let go, breathe and go with the flow more frequently.

A contracted body and a distracted mind create a split between mind and body, which leads to stagnation of our vital energy. Ancient wisdom traditions, as expressed in the above quote from the Tao Te Ching, advocated a soft (yet strong) body guided by a calm and flowing mind. Qigong practices were given to achieve this body-mind balance.

Qigong literally means “life energy (Qi) cultivation”. It is the art and science of using breath, movement, awareness and meditation to cleanse, strengthen and circulate the blood and the vital life energy (Qi). Qigong practice is a moving form of meditation which co-ordinates slow flowing movement, deep diaphragmatic breathing and a calm aware mind. In this way, Qigong practice can bring meditation off the cushion and integrate it into life. Some people actually find Qigong, with its gentle focused movement, to be more accessible than seated meditation.

My Qigong teacher, Professor Yang, used to walk amongst the earnest students who were absorbed in their movements and exclaim, in his charming accent: “Remember to smile!” and “Forget yourself!”

Qigong doesn’t have to be performed perfectly or seriously. As a form of gentle exercise, Qigong is composed of movements that are typically repeated – strengthening and stretching the body, deepening the breathing, increasing circulation, loosening the joints, enhancing proprioception and balance, and improving body awareness.

From the perspective of Western thought and science, Qigong practices activate naturally occurring physiological and psychological mechanisms of self-repair and health recovery.

A comprehensive review of the health benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi, reviewed 77 articles which met the inclusion criteria (which was Randomized Control Trials reporting on the results of Qigong or Tai Chi interventions and published in peer reviewed journals published from 1993–2007), reached the following conclusion:

“A compelling body of research emerges when Tai Chi studies and the growing body of Qigong studies are combined. The evidence suggests that a wide range of health benefits accrue in response to these meditative movement forms, some consistently so, and some with limitations in the findings thus far. This review has identified numerous outcomes with varying levels of evidence for the efficacy for Qigong and Tai Chi, including bone health, cardiopulmonary fitness and related biomarkers, physical function, falls prevention and balance, general quality of life and patient reported outcomes, immunity, and psychological factors such as anxiety, depression and self-efficacy. A substantial number RCTs have demonstrated consistent, positive results especially when the studies are designed with limited activity for controls. When both Tai Chi and Qigong are investigated together, as two approaches to a single category of practice, meditative movement, the magnitude of the body of research is quite impressive.”

Qigong has roots in ancient Chinese culture dating back more than 4,000 years. Earliest forms of Qigong make up one of the historic roots of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory and practice. Qi (life energy) is the conceptual foundation of TCM in acupuncture, herbal medicine and Chinese physical therapy. A popular maxim, which I learned when I was studying TCM, is “Qi follows your attention; where your attention goes, your energy flows.”  So if your attention is distracted and wandering, your life energy dissipates. If your attention is present and steady, your life energy consolidates.

There are thousands of forms of Qigong practice that have developed in different regions of China during various historic periods and that have been created by many specific teachers, monasteries and schools. Qigong forms can be generally characterized as a mix of four different types of practice:-

  • Dynamic practice – involves fluid, mindful movements co-ordinated with breath
  • Static practice – involves holding certain postures of sustained periods of time
  • Meditative practice – utilizes breath awareness, visualization, chanting, sound to improve the internal flow of Qi, leading to states of meditation
  • External Qigong – this is performed by a Qigong master who projects healing energy from his or her body into the body of another person. Commonly, ‘emitted’ energy is projected from the hands of the Qigong master into the acupuncture meridians of the receiver

At the Gawler Foundation’s Yarra Valley Living Centre, I teach a blend of ancient and contemporary styles of Qigong. The ancient styles are called Baduanjin and Shibashi; the contemporary style is called the Eartheart sequence that I created.

We are very fortunate to be able to practise Qigong in a beautiful natural environment; breathing fresh air, bathed in sunlight, listening to the laugh of the kookaburras (reminds us to smile), surrounded by trees and with our bare feet (weather-permitting) on the grass. With a grounded stance, we put down roots into the earth, reach up to the sky and drink in the sunlight and fresh air.

In the teaching of Lifestyle Medicine, Qigong is a wonderful therapy for grounding, flowing and connecting mind with body. As we practise, at one point we recite the Eartheart mantra: –

The sky above is the father
The earth below is the mother
I love life!
I choose to be here!
This body is my temple,
The earth is my home.

“When man is born he is soft and flexible;
When he dies, he grown hard and rigid.
So it is with all things under Heaven.
Plants and animals are soft and pliant in life,
but brittle and dry in death.
Truly, to be hard and rigid is the way of death;
To be soft and flexible is the way of life.”

Tao Te Ching

References:
1. A Comprehensive Review of Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi – Roger Jahnke, OMD, Linda Larkey, PhD,Carol Rogers, Jennifer Etnier, PhD, and Fang Lin. Am J Health Promot, 2010 JUL-AUG;24(6) e1-e25.

Paul Bedson
Senior Therapist, Facilitator
The Gawler Cancer Foundation
BA, BCouns, BAcup
President, Meditation Association of Australia

Paul has been working in the field of mind/body medicine for over 25 years as a counsellor, psychotherapist, meditation instructor and natural therapist. His particular interest is in helping people deal with the range of emotional issues associated with their healing journey. Paul also works with grief and anxiety issues, and relationship problems. He teaches mindfulness-based styles of meditation which develop wisdom and compassion through awareness of body, emotion, mind and spirit as one integrated Self. Paul co-authored the book Meditation an In-Depth Guide with Ian Gawler.