"Qi gong" (literally "breath exercise"), an invaluable component of traditional Chinese medicine, has its origin in ancient times. Its primary stimulus was the search for longevity with the ultimate aim of immortality, which has so entranced the Chinese mind from ancient times. The records shows the exercises to help the "qi" (the human body's vital energy) circulating freely and to nourish the internal organs dated to the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries B.C.). The actual practice of "qigong" began in the fourth century A.D. Since then the search by physician and patient for greater health, techniques of religious cultivation and the martial artist's quest for better training methods all contributed greatly to its development and enrichment over the following centuries. The Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, Medical and Martial schools of practice developed. "Qigong" has been passed down from generation to generation.
Generally, "qigong" is divided into two types. One is the quiescent type ("jinggong"), which is meant to be performed standing, sitting, or lying down using special breathing techniques by which the practitioner learns to focus his mind. The other one is the mobile type ("donggong"), which practises a set of movements and massage while keeping a proper balance between mind and emotion, "qi" and strength. Internally, "qigong" can enhance the spirit, the "qi" and the mind. Externally, it can strengthen the tendons, bones and skin. The structure and style of "qigong" has close relations with the introspective observation that is typical of Chinese culture. For example "qigong" takes harmony as its guiding principle, classical Chinese philosophy as its theoretical base, the use of will power as its fundamental means, a combination of "dong" (motion) and "jing" (stillness) as its form of expression, man's longevity as its goal.
"Qigong” has had various forms, and its name and emphasis may have varied according to the form. However, its oldest and most diverse form is daoyin, which holds an important position in the traditional Chinese art of preserving one’s health. “Dao” refers to the fact that physical movements are guided by the strength of the mind and in turn stimulate the internal flow of “qi” within the body. “Yin” means that with the aid of physical movements, “qi” can reach the bodily extremities (for example, the fingers, feet and head). In this way the flow of “qi” links the “zang” (solid organs) and “fu” (hollow organs), before returning to its starting point. When practiced for a period of time, one can become aware of a stream of heat (vital energy) or “qi” being transmitted through the body. Sometimes this can be released from the body, and ten it is known as external “qi”.
The basic methods of “daoyin” are “kai” (opening), “he” (closing), “xuan” (rotating), “rou” (rubbing), “tui” (pushing), “an” (pressing), and “fen” (separating). There are many postures and movements in “daoyin” exercises, but the emphasis is on achieving a state of harmony between body and mind. This can be done with the help of the movements, not solely because of the movements themselves, and when you reach a certain level in practice, you can even forget what you are doing, and this is “gaining the true essence of ‘qigong’ and forgetting physical movements.” This state of harmony culminates in the practice of “jinggong” (static exercises).
“Daoying” has many differences from gymnastics and other modern sports, as “daoyin” exercises are based on mental activity and therefore it is possible to accumulate and conserve one’s energy whilst practicing “daoyin” exercises. However, the practice of modern sports requires showing off one’s strength and skill, and therefore the consumption of energy.
Another form of “qigong” exercises is “tuna” (exhaling and inhaling), otherwise known as “tiaoxi” (regulating breath) or “shiqi” (absorbing “qi"). This is a synthesis of different breathing skills. The basic train of thinking for these exercises is that as far as possible one should expel the stale and stagnated air and inhale fresh air, thus improving the functioning of the internal organs to resist senility and prolong life.
“Tuna” skills can be divided into three basic categories: “Koubi huxi” (breathing through the mouth or nose), “Fushi huxi” (abdominal breathing), other methods of breathing and regulation in conjunction with mental activity such as “chongqi” (filling the body with “qi"), “dantian huxi” (directing “qi” to “dantian,” a region two or three centimeters below the navel), “zhongxi” (directing “qi” to the heel), and “quixi” (breathing like a tortoise).
Unique to China only, Qigong has become an integral part of the the Chinese culture. Qigong exercise can produce a myriad of beneficial effects, of which the most common are preventing and curing diseases, strengthening the constitution, avoiding premature aging, and prolonging life. Qigong exercise requires one to relax, to be calm, natural and free from distractions, so that it can remove “stress,” and dispel tension. Qigong exercise helps to keep the main and collateral channels in good shape to establish harmony between vital energy and blood, to balance between Yin and Yang, and improve coordination of the nervous system, so that protective inhibition of the cerebral cortex can be enhance.
Qigong exercise helps to reduce fundamental metabolism, increase the capacity of storing energy, apply massage to the abdomen and improve appetite and brings good digestion. Qigong exercise helps to tap the body potentialities, stimulate positive factors, and enhance one’s self-control. Therefore, it becomes an effective measure to attain health and longevity. Qigong masters and medical practitioners have developed a theory from a wealth of experience and practice of Qigong over many centuries. The modern scientific research and evaluation of qigong exercise has attracted increasing attention from academic unintellectual circles around the world. This may bring the benefits of qigong intellectual to light, but it may leave mechanistic dogmatism to Qigong phenomena.