To become superhuman, immortal, and feel awesome, I have recently come back to my practice of qigong. If you’ve never heard of it, Qigong (pronounced Chee-gung) is a type of exercise, widely practiced in China – but gaining ground in the West.
I first started my practice in the 80s when I came across a manual of “iron shirt” qigong. The promise was to make one impervious to blows from strong opponents. I never got that far, but I continued various forms of qigong as an adjunct to my martial arts practice. I spent a little time practicing “Taoist Yoga” as I learned more and more about martial arts.
I’ve come to respect qigong as a system of exercise which brings health, good feelings, and energy. One feels more energy and relaxation after a qigong set. It’s become a key component of my mood-hacking experiments, and I’m currently studying to teach qigong.
What is Qigong
The Chinese characters for Qigong translate to “energy work.” You exercise with the subtle, and not so subtle, energy systems of the elements, the universe, and the human body. Qigong is rooted in the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and manuals on Qigong go back thousands of years.
An ancient manual which includes illustrations of exercises that resemble qigong has been dated to the second century BCE. It’s likely the practices which became what is now termed qigong go back thousands of years earlier than that.
The physical expression of qigong varies widely. Some estimate that there are over one hundred thousand styles of qigong. It’s safe to say that different forms of qigong vary like various forms of dancing or different forms of martial arts.
The vast majority of qigong systems will include elements of breathing, movement, and meditation. Some systems include standing or sitting still in different poses. They all generate and accumulate energy which can be used by the body.
In general, qigong practiced for health purposes is done in a relaxed manner. This is very different from other forms of exercise. This also makes Qigong suitable for people in all stages of life and physical condition.
There is a coordination of body, mind, and breath. I like to think of it as mindful movement. In some forms, there is something called the qigong state. The qigong state is a flow state where the busy “monkey mind” slips away, and the movements are effortless.
Health Benefits of Qigong
Health benefits of qigong practice include of heart health, physical function and improvements in things like balance, and stress modulation. Psychological benefits of Qigong include lowering anxiety and stress and having a modulation effect on depression.
I believe that qigong practice, as an adjunct to aerobic and resistance exercise, can help people live longer, healthier, happier lives.
Qigong decreases inflammation
In the research I mentioned above, qigong was found to decrease numerous inflammatory markers, and to help modulate immune response. It appears that Tai Chi or Qigong practice may help fight infections and chronic disease while helping mood.
Qigong can give you a better sex life
Erectile dysfunction is big business these days, with pills, pumps, and creams pulling in billions. Research has shown, however, that man can reverse a lot of erectile dysfunction can by exercising the muscles referred to as “.” Many qigong exercises do just that. And I can tell you from experience that, even if you don’t suffer from ED, qigong just makes things better down there.
Besides exercising the pelvic floor, your sex life may improve from increased circulation and better breathing. For example Viagra works by aiding the nitrous oxide in your blood to dilate the small blood vessels. Proper nasal breathing increases your nitrous oxide.
Anything that improves circulation to the lower body is going to help with erections. A stronger pelvic floor helps gain and maintain erections, may make you larger, and will help you last longer in bed. Combine that with increased energy, flexibility, and core strength, and you may win gold in the mattress Olympics.
I will give you a word of warning: If you Google qigong for men’s sex life or something like that, you’re going to get a bunch of sensational videos where men hang large weights off their genitals. I can’t say that’s a recommended practice – it seems pretty dangerous. I would ask my doctor before I even considered trying anything like that. And then my doctor would probably send me for a psych eval.
How Does Qigong Work?
Most of the theories around how Qigong works are wrapped up in traditional Chinese medicine. TCM is very complicated – having evolved over thousands of years. Basically, it’s about balancing and working with energies, hence “energy work.”
If the idea of “energy” seems to magical to you, you can think about energy as both mechanical and chemical in this sense. The oxygen we breath combines with the nutrients in the food we eat in the blood and circulates by the mechanical action of the heart. These are all types of energy. The electrochemical impulses of our nervous system are another kind of energy.
TCM recognizes a few different types of energy. Qi is one of those, which represents vital energy. TCM practitioners equate Qi closely with the breath. Jing is another form of energy in TCM, which is closely related to food or nutritive essence. Shen rounds out the “three treasures” of TCM and is spiritual in nature.
From a Western perspective, we don’t know a lot yet about how qigong works. We can draw from what we know about mindfulness and exercise science. Moving the body through a fuller range of motion helps to lubricate the joints with synovial fluid and may aid lymphatic draining. The movement increases blood circulation. Complex body movements can improve balance and coordination.
The fact that you’re doing all of this while relaxed has a benefit of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system – allowing for rest and digest mode even while getting exercise.
I think the bigger benefits, for me, come from combining the exercise benefits, the energy work, and the meditative absorption of attention. Contrast this with the treadmills at a gym that have a bank of TVs in front of them to keep the clients from dying from boredom. Qigong practice requires your attention. There’s not enough space in this article to describe the benefits of mindful movement, but the research is compelling.
How Can I Learn Qigong?
First, like everything, you should check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program. There are forms of qigong that are ideal for people even in bad health. You’ll want to consider your goals and current health condition.
Qigong classes are becoming easier to find in almost any good-sized city. As with any exercise practice, a great instructor is a key to getting the most benefit. Most martial arts schools that teach Tai Chi, also have Qigong. Sometimes health clubs or YMCAs will have a class – or there might be a meetup near you.
Barring that, there are great DVD programs and online videos. PBS even had a regular series for a while. Qigong exercises are rarely dangerous if practiced improperly. Video doesn’t correct your form, but it’s a good alternative in this case.
I hope to have at least sparked your interest in Qigong and I hope you’ll consider it as part of your health regimen.
Photo credit: Pixabay