What is Medical Qigong?
Explore the dimensions of healing, transformation, and personal growth available through qigong. Dive in to appreciate the similarities and differences between the martial arts, medical qigong cultivation and healing arts, as well as spiritual practices for awareness, alignment, and enlightenment.
What is Qigong?
Qigong literally means "energy skill" or "energy manipulation." It is the ancient art and science of working with the subtle energy of earth, heaven, and one's self. Qigong incorporates simple yet powerful postures or movements, along with the breath and the focus of one's mind intention to achieve greater health, vitality, awareness, concentration, balance, tranquility, stillness of mind, and subtle awareness.
Along with Acupuncture, Herbs, Dietetics, and Asian Bodywork, Qigong is considered one of the five branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and has a history going as far back as 5,000 years. There are three varieties, or schools, of Qigong, all of which overlap to varying degrees.
- Martial Qigong (Nei Gong) – Focuses on structure and alignment of bones, tendons, ligaments
- Medical Qigong – Focuses on health and longevity
- Spiritual Qigong (Shen Gong) – Focuses on mind concentration, refinement of one’s essence, and the cultivation of virtue.
It is important to remember that these categories are merely a mental construct for helping us understand the multifaceted nature of practice. In reality, a complete practice includes a blending and merging of each of the three schools of Qigong into a unified whole. To put it another way, one may think of Martial Qigong as the foundation, Medical Qigong as the house, and Spiritual Qigong as the conscious presence that dwells in the house. All three are absolutely important and interdependent with one another.
Martial Qigong includes practices to cultivate awareness in structure, alignment, and linkage of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body. Typically, these practices are designed to improve performance in the martial arts, usually the internal schools, such as Taiji, Ba Gua, and Hsing Yi. With the internal arts, emphasis is placed on physical, energetic, emotional, mental, and spiritual coordination and integration. This creates a unity of movement on all levels of a person’s being, rather than merely at the physical, such that movements are integrated and whole rather than disjointed and separated. At the martial level, these forms may be used to condition the body to withstand injury and attack, while achieving a more potent and focused ability to attack an opponent. Additional goals include increased stamina, developing hidden and mysterious power, integrated speed, balance, root, and an astute sense of physical and energetic boundaries. Typically, the focus is on developing skills that prove vital in martial arts forms, competitions, and demonstrations. Additionally, however, martial art skills also serve as an integral part of Medical and Spiritual Qigong, as will be explained later in “The Sprit within Martial Arts” section.
Three types of power are developed in the course of training, including Obvious Power, Hidden Power, and Mysterious Power.
Obvious Power is derived purely from physical and muscular strength. Most of us are accustomed to this kind of power, as it is the most apparent, gross, and physical, and the easiest to increase. This power depends purely on the strength of the muscles, which can easily be developed through bodybuilding, strength training, and standard exercise. While it is important to have strong and healthy muscles, this kind of power lacks integration and coordination.
Hidden Power is derived from the proper integration and alignment of bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Unlike Obvious Power, the muscles are integrated into the whole physical structure and the body and mind move as one fully integrated unit. On the physical level, Hidden Power is pure physics in motion. Hidden Power refers to an embodied understanding of bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons, along with force, mass, and acceleration as well as torque, moment of inertia, and angular acceleration. It is the art of maintaining maximum structure and alignment, while using the least amount of effort for maximal effect, often “borrowing” force and momentum from the opponent to produce the desired results. More than this however, Hidden Power also includes the embodied understanding of the body’s internal and external energetic pathways, and an astute knowing of how to align them while in motion to gather, control, and discharge Qi in the most efficient manner.
At a martial level, Hidden Power is used for self-defense and attack. In terms of self-defense, one utilizes the astute knowledge of body mind integration and physics in motion to stay out of harm’s way and in a constant state of maximal physical and energetic readiness and alertness. In terms of attack, one uses assessment skills, the astute understanding of energetic anatomy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine theory to paralyze the opponent by striking specific acupuncture points, meridian pathways, and the internal organs. At a medical level, Hidden Power is used to help people in two ways. First, an embodied understanding of Hidden Power aids the doctor in maintaining proper structure and alignment while treating the patient, thus enabling the greatest ability to affect the patient. Second, the doctor is able to affect the patient’s health via the acupuncture points, meridians, and internal organs. Both of these aspects of Hidden Power will be explained later in greater detail.
Mysterious Power is derived purely from one's intention and mind concentration. This is the absolute highest level of training that one can achieve. At the martial level, one is able to attack an opponent with the mind, tapping into their emotional and energetic matrix and/or nervous system. One has the ability to read their every move ahead of time, manipulate their energy and unprocessed emotions, or override their energetic and nervous system causing a temporary period of shock and confusion. Since this is pure mind intent, it may be done during overt physical combat or subtly without ever having to engage the opponent physically. On the medical level, a Qigong doctor is able to tap into the emotional and energetic matrix of the patient purely with his or her mind. The doctor has an ability to read the patient’s state of health and disease, guide them to resolve their unprocessed emotions, release energetic patterns of disharmony, and work with their energetic system to restore health and balance, all purely with mind intent. On the spiritual level, one has an ability to uplift and help people purely with one’s clear mind and presence, which is the highest application of Mysterious Power.
I was fortunate to experience the latter while traveling with my Guru, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, commonly known as Amma, Ammachi, or the hugging saint. During the course of these travels, I was able to witness the powerful state of presence that She holds while thousands of people approach Her one by one, day after day, all of them looking for solace, comfort, blessings, and reassurance. Besides the fact that Her energy is directly palpable as Divine presence, many people report feeling uplifted, restored, and deeply touched by Amma either physically through Her embrace, by being in the same room, and even over long distances. I have personal experience with all three occurrences, the most profound being Her ability to render help over long distance. Amma is a powerful example of the absolute highest level of utilizing Mysterious Power.
The “Spirit” within Martial Arts, Metaphysical Boxing
“Whoever is fond of training, will not escape the kicks.” - Rumi
How do we redirect or transform the energy that moves towards us on a daily basis? What if that energy triggers our non-thinking reflexive fight-or-flight reaction?
In life, we are bent out of shape, usually when we are challenged in one way or another. Martial arts, in the truest of sense, teach us how to accept and work with the challenges of life with grace, ease, and lightness. Martial arts teach us to be present, calm, and alert, even in the face of direct challenges to our person. In training, we work through all the personal issues that are triggered, the heavy layers of unconscious programming and “knee jerk” reactions, until we become more and more clear to respond to each challenge with clarity, peace, and consciousness. Each incoming fist, kick, or strike becomes a metaphor for incoming energy from the universe, and in the microcosm of our sparring session, we can observe, study, and practice our response. Did we react out of fear? Out of anger? Did we tighten up, or did we remain relaxed? Were we overwhelmed with ego, self preservation, or desire only to win and subdue the incoming force, or did we gracefully respond by gently redirecting or neutralizing it?
Martial arts training, in the controlled safe setting and right attitude of self exploration and transformation, will enable those latent memories of pain and fear, stored in our biological and energetic matrix, to surface and flood our present moment awareness. We are given the golden opportunity to transform blind reaction into conscious response. We learn to dissolve our association with past pain and fear, to come into the present moment during our sparring or push hands sessions. Push hands or sparring are the vehicles for our growth, helping trigger the latent pain and self preserving ego in us, to bring it all into the light of our presence.
In presence, that which is not presence becomes transformed and transmuted into presence. This is the true meaning of Inner Alchemy, of transforming base metal (our reactions arising out of separateness) into gold (presence and felt oneness with all that is). To be and to abide in presence is indeed more precious than gold. We awaken into who we truly are. We awaken out of the bundle of preprogrammed reactions based in pain and separation. A whole new dimension of awareness opens up. A mirage is simply seen as a mirage, and the shadow as shadow. There is no doubt as to what is real. This abiding state of presence, unspoiled by the conditioning of this world, is the golden elixir of life. And it is not something that is far away, but rather, it is who we truly are.
Thus one begins to dance through life, as if intoxicated!
Medical Qigong includes Internal and External Qigong, and deals primarily with health and wellness. It can have any of the following applications:
- Internal Qigong may be practiced by oneself as preventative health care, increasing one's immune function, emotional health and sense of well being.
- With External Qigong Therapy, a Qigong doctor emits Qi towards the recipient in order to purge, strengthen, and regulate their energetic matrix, addressing specific health issues or for overall health.
- Internal Qigong may also include the prescription of specific exercises to address distinct health conditions, such as insomnia, high blood pressure, or emotional imbalances, and is often used as an adjunct to External Qigong Therapy.
Internal Qigong Practice
A regular Qigong practice can be used as preventative health care, aiding in relaxation, rejuvenation, restoration, stress reduction, emotional health, mental clarity, and well being. It can also be used to develop subtle healing abilities, energetic perceptions, and mental focus.
Components of a Successful Internal Qigong Practice
A person who practices with sincerity, is regular in their practice, and has the guidance of a qualified Qigong doctor/teacher yields benefits, especially over time, that are profound. Sincerity simply means approaching the practice with an open mind and heart, and allowing energetic changes to occur and take their natural course. Regularity in practice is also important, because each practice session is initiating, creating, and nurturing new energetic patterns in the physical, emotional, mental, energetic and spiritual body. Regular practice ensures that these new patterns take root and are given a chance to unfold, while old and outmoded patterns are slowly rooted out. Even 10 minutes a day of sincere practice can have powerful results over time, in the same way that one small step taken each day adds up to a long journey in one year.
Receiving Adequate Guidance with Internal Qigong Practice
To progress quickly in the energetic arts, in addition to consistent and sincere practice, it is notably important to receive the help of a qualified Qigong teacher for various reasons. First, a teacher will make subtle corrections in the student's posture, breath, and focused intention to ensure that each minute spent in practice yields the most benefit. A teacher is also aware of the many energetic transitions that occur as a result of sincere practice, and will be available to answer the many questions and concerns that arise during these transitions, giving the student support based on first-hand personal experience. A teacher will also greatly accelerate the student's progress through direct energetic transmission of subtle teaching and healing, while also suggesting which Qigong practices to practice based on observing the student's needs and energetic constitution over time, both of which are always changing and evolving.
External Qigong Therapy
In External Qigong Therapy, also known as Qi Emission Therapy, a Qigong doctor or master emits Qi towards the recipient in order to purge, strengthen, and regulate the energetic matrix, addressing specific health issues or for overall health. Qigong teachers may also use External Qigong to assist their students in accelerating their skills and abilities.
The Qigong doctor assesses the client's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual condition through a variety of techniques. Some of these may include assessment via the pulse, tongue, energetic palpation, observation, and a brief interview. A treatment plan and treatment goals are established based on this information, as well as the client’s intended results. Specific Qigong exercises may also be prescribed based on the doctor's findings and assessment.
The doctor initiates the External Qigong Treatment session by a special meditation, thus creating a safe and nurturing space within which the treatment will occur. Next, the client's condition is assessed via energetic palpation skills. Finally, applying the methods and principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, the doctor promotes health and well being within the client's physical tissues and energetic matrix via the doctor's trained ability to lead, guide, nurture, support, and emit Qi. Depending on the specific needs of the client, the doctor may purge excess, blocked, turbid, and/or stagnant energy from any of the client's tissues, organs and/or meridians. The doctor may also emit Qi into areas, organs, systems, or channels that are deficient and in need of energizing, bolstering and support. Finally, the doctor will regulate the client's entire energetic matrix, including the physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual aspects, via highly specialized Qi emission and guiding techniques.
Following the treatment, the doctor may prescribe distinct Internal Qigong exercises for the client to practice on their own time, which will be specific to both the needs of the client and the healing initiated in the treatment session.
Internal Qigong Prescriptions
Internal Qigong exercises may be prescribed to address distinct health conditions, such as insomnia, high blood pressure, or emotional imbalances. Internal Qigong is often used as an adjunct to External Qigong Therapy. Internal Qigong exercises are also prescribed to Qigong students for developing distinct abilities to perceive, guide, and emit Qi.
The prescriptions may include simple movements designed to open the flow of Qi along specific meridians (energetic channels) in the body, or special tones designed to purge toxic Qi from any of the internal organs or systems of the body. For Qigong students, the prescriptions are designed to create specific openings and energetic development, aiding them on their path to mastery of Qi.
The prescribed Qigong exercises, when preformed with care and sincerity by the client or student, help create and nurture new patterns of health, vitality, and energy on the physical as well as mental, emotional, and spiritual level. The prescriptions may be practiced by themselves, or used to support and nurture healing initiated with External Qigong Therapy.
Spiritual Qigong, sometimes referred to as Shengong, deals primarily with spiritual transformation and enlightenment. This includes cultivating deep inner peace, inner and outer harmony, a compassionate response to all of life’s circumstances, and an awareness of oneself and one’s connection to all that is. It also includes the practice of purely using one’s intention to direct Qi, which is sometimes referred to as Mysterious Power. Shengong literally translates to “Spirit skill,” where Shen means Mind or Spirit, and Gong represents skill, manipulation, or cultivation.
Three Regulations of Qigong
The power of Qigong practice rests in the three regulations of posture, breath, and mental intention. These three regulations, when combined, create a multidimensional unity and depth in each practice that may yield extraordinary results. Therefore, Qigong practice is much more than a simple exercise of the body, it is a way and a means to affect the totality of human experience, ranging from the grossest and physical to the subtlest aspects of human “Being.”
- Posture – Utilizing physical movement, including gently stretching the meridians, as well as the alignment and integration of bones, tendons, and ligaments to lead and guide the Qi
- Breath – Utilizing breath to lead and guide the Qi
- Intention – Utilizing the focus of one’s mind intention to lead and guide the Qi
Through specific postures, which may be static or dynamic, qi is guided and directed for distinct purposes. A dynamic posture may be utilized to repeatedly stretch and then relax a specific meridian, or energetic pathway in the body, causing it to open and dilate. Subtle spiraling motions can also be used to encourage the spiraling motion of qi through the meridian, mimicking the spiraling flow of water in a pipe. Proper posturing is also used to increase the conductivity of the body to the flow of qi. Posture is associated with the Lower Dan Tian.
Breath is another aspect or regulation of Qigong that is used to guide and direct qi. Inhalation may be combined with postural movement to ascend qi along one meridian, while exhalation along with a reverse postural movement may be used to descend qi along a different meridian, thus enabling qi to flow in a circular pattern. Emphasizing inhalation may also be used for tonification when energy is deficient, while emphasizing exhalation may be used for purgation when energy is excess. Breath is associated with the Middle Dan Tian.
The third aspect or regulation of Qigong includes using mind intention to guide and direct qi. As mentioned, a postural movement along with inhalation may be used to direct qi to ascend along a meridian. Adding intention to the exercise, the qi is also directed to ascend with the mind. Imagination and specific visualizations are used to focus the mind on the specific activity. For example, steam may be imagined to ascend along a vertically flowing meridian in order to ascend the qi, and then water may be imagined to flow down another vertically oriented meridian to descend the qi. This is a common visualization for the Microcosmic Orbit Meditation, which helps circulate energy in the Conception Vessel and Governing channel, two very important meridians in Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Mind intention is associated with the Upper Dan Tian.
Three Treasures of “Human” and the Three Dan Tians
The three dantians are reservoirs or pools of energy within the human being, located along the Taiji pole. The Dantians each have an energetic anatomical location inside the body, deep within the tissues, and exist on the physical, energetic, and spiritual plane. By viewing a midsagittal plane of the body, and using certain acupuncture points located on the GV and CV channels, one can easily define the areas of the body where the dantians are located. Drawing lines between various points on the body creates triangles within which the dantians are located. It is important to realize that these points and lines are not the dantians themselves, they are landmarks on the body that can be used to identify the location of the dantians.
Benefits of Qigong Practice
As a result of sincere practice, a person may experience increased energy, sensation, range of motion, awareness, relaxation, peace and clarity of mind, and reduced pain. Special Qigong exercises may also be prescribed to address issues such as headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, or emotional imbalances. External Qigong treatments, where a Qigong doctor emits Qi towards the patient, can also play a role in creating balance, regaining, and maintaining health.
On a fundamental level, poor health, as well as mental and emotional agitation, are the results of something coming out of balance. Qigong seeks to create balance and restore harmony. The vast science of Traditional Chinese Medicine arose from thousands of years of practice and experimentation with Qi. Qigong, a vital branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, contains a vast and incredible foundation of tested knowledge and wisdom.
Excerpts taken from "Chinese Inner Alchemy & Medical Qigong" by Thomas Leichardt