In North America, fitness has enjoyed popularity for decades. The health craze began with bodybuilding in the late 60’s and grew in popularity throughout the 1970’s with the introduction of martial arts. By the ’80’s, however, fitness had permeated every aspect of popular culture: work-out videos, clothes (spandex, Lycra and leggings), music and movies (Physical & Maniac) – thanks to the unlikely fitness guru Jane Fonda.
For quite some time, health trends have come from the East, beginning with martial arts; yoga and now Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). When referring to TCM, it is Qigong and tai chi (a derivative of Qigong) that are showing the greatest growth in popularity.
Qigong is the basis for TCM. The foundation is that energy (or chi) flows from all living things and the balance or lack of, is seen in our health. Chinese Medicine attempts to maintain the balance.(i) Qigong’s purpose, in theory, is to combat the stress of life (physical, psychological, and emotional); in practice, it is the combination of breath and movement.
Qigong consists of 18 exercises that can be done in any sequence and in any number. Only the first and the last exercise must be repeated in every routine, because they represent sunrise and sunset. The reason for the lack of structure is to mirror the chaotic nature of life. (ii)
The true benefits of Qigong can only be felt through experience but in an attempt to convey their advantages, here is an overview: First, is the deep and repetitive breathing; it provides relaxation and tangible relief from stress. The movements required, are not demanding and consist of moving limbs, neck and shoulders in repeated sweeping motions. These movements actually bring massage and increased blood flow to your muscles; the result is immediate relief of tightness in your muscles. Next, is an abundance of stretching. The simple movements are repeated over and over, allowing for maximum effect. Some of the illnesses Qigong are believed to treat successfully are: hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, degenerative disk disease, cancer, depression, anxiety and addiction. (iii)
Qiong was invented in 3000 BC. It’s inventor is said to be the Yellow Emperor (2697 BC – 2597 BC). He is the ancestor of the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 DC/CE) and became a Deity during that dynasty.
It’s always impressive to list dates, but unless compared to known references, they don’t have any impact. Quickly, let’s review Western history as we have been taught: chronologically we were taught it began with the Egyptians, followed by the Greeks, Romans, Europeans and finally colonization. However, new studies reveal Chinese history to have had more of an impact on world history than previously credited.
Here are a few dates for example: Chinese medicine developed in 3000 BC which in terms of Western society, was 1000 years before the Bronze Age – meaning, we were still in the Stone Age. Actually, the end of the stone age, referred to as the Neolithic period. The Neolithic period ran from 9500 BC and ended around 2000 BC. It was the start of farming. After, came the Bronze Age when stone was combined with metal to form tools and weapons. For curiosity’s sake, bronze is made-up of 90% copper; 10% tin. Important to note here, when the Chinese were inventing TCM, they were in their Bronze Age already. Here are a few more dates to give you an idea how long ago 3000 BC was: Egyptians, 2900 BC (1st hieroglyphics;) Ancient Greece, 1900 BC and Homer’s “Iliad,” 800 BC.
So, where has this great elixir been hiding all these millennia? Simply put, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was fine until the end of Imperial rule (1912). Prior to that, Imperial Rule had been the governing body for 2000 years and TCM was the only form of medicine. But, under Mao Zedong (who ruled between 1949 and 1976), the following were rejected: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and TCM. The government was socialist or communist (depending on who you ask) and medicine was Westernized.
The only question left, is why and when did interest in Qigong get renewed? In the 1950’s a high ranking Communist supporter opened a clinic to evaluate the benefits of TCM. The results were so successful, that the government opened several centers. Always with progress come fall-backs and TCM was not fully embraced by the government until the 1980’s. Today, Qigong is taught in Universities all over China. Fundamentally, the resurgence of TCM, has been to address the medical needs of an ever growing population in the most economic way.
Eastern culture has long touted circumstantial evidence as proof of the benefits of Qigong and its related practices. For example, in the early 1970’s a Chinese woman, Guolin – suffering with terminal cancer – was told by doctors she had only months to live. She began to practice Qigong daily in the park and as the years turned into months, she reached out to other cancer sufferers to see if the practice could help them. For the next twenty years, she helped thousands of cancer patients outlive their diagnoses. Up until today, there have been no concrete Western studies to prove Qigong benefits. Until recently, when Linda Larkey PhD from Arizona State University, published her findings. After evaluating 77 studies done on the benefits of tai chi and Qigong, she and her colleagues found that with regular practice, participants benefited from improved overall health, balance, bone density, psychological and cardiovascular health. (iv)
With science now supporting such practices and evidence of their benefits, Qigong and tai chi promise relief to the high costs of medical treatment. The exercises are available on-line or through DVD’s like the one produced by Gaiam, making Qigong exercise an inexpensive and attainable proposition. The greatest exertion is memorizing all 18 exercises.
i “Teaching Chinese Archaeology, Part Two – NGA” Nga.gov. Retrieved 2010 – 01-19
ii “Qigong for Beginners,” Gaiam Americas, Inc, 2004
iii Pike, Geoff; Pike, Phyllis (1996). Ch’I the Power Within: Chi Kung Breathing Exercises for Health, Relaxation and Energy. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN978-0-8048-3099-7.
iv Deborah Mitchell, “Arizona State University team studies tai chi, qigong,” Phoenix Alternative Medicine Examiner, July 6, 2010