Qigong is one form of Chinese folk sport. Like martial arts, it has a long history and is widely popular. It is believed that Qigong was known 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Qigong (or ch'i kung) uses breathing techniques and slow graceful movements to develop qi and is said to improve health. Although qigong is often confused with martial arts or tai chi, qigong is usually much slower and focuses on the "qi" aspect to a much greater degree.
With more than 10,000 styles of qigong and 200 million people practicing there are a variety of methods.
There are three main reasons why people do qigong:
1) To gain strength, improve health or reverse a disease
2) To gain skill working with qi so as to become a healer
3) To become more connected with the "Tao, God, True Source, Great Spirit" for a more meaningful connection with nature and the universe.
The Chinese character for qi in qigong means air in Chinese. But according to traditional Chinese medical theory, Qi refers not only to the air that people breathe in and out, but also to all the physiological functions of the body's organs and tissues. Jeff Primack suggests it is possible ancient masters (Yellow Emperor, Lao Tzu etc.) saw the direct link between breathing techniques and the "electrical force" that moved through their nervous system. Gong means discipline or skill, so qigong is therefore breath or energy skill.
Many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and most Western medical practitioner view qigong as a set of breathing and movement exercises, with possible benefits to health through stress reduction and exercise. Other practitioners view qigong in more metaphysical terms, claiming that qi can be felt as a vibration or electrical current and physically circulated through channels called meridians.
A lot of testify a reduction or elimination of pain through the use of qigong. Qigong, and its intimate relation to the Chinese martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine, are often associated with spirituality. This link is much stronger than with other techniques in traditional Chinese medicine. Qigong was historically practiced in Taoist and Buddhist monasteries as an aid to concentration as well as martial arts training, and the health benefits of martial qigong practice have recently been confirmed in western medical studies.
Besides, the traditional teaching methods of most qigong schools (at least in Asia) descend from the strict teacher-disciple relationship conventions inherited in Chinese culture from Confucianism. In some styles of qigong, it is taught that humanity and nature are inseparable, and any belief otherwise is held to be an artificial discrimination based on a limited, two-dimensional view of human life. According to this philosophy, access to higher energy states and the subsequent health benefits said to be provided by these higher states is possible through the principle of cultivating virtue. Cultivating virtue could be described as a process by which one comes to realize that one was never separated from the primal, undifferentiated state of being free of artificial discrimination that is the true nature of the universe.
Today there are so many institutes and associations about qigong all over the world that offer courses, workshops and seminars in the art and practice of qigong. Qigong has become a mainstream lifestyle pursuit on par with Yoga, Tai Chi and aerobics, mainly because it has broken out of the Confucian mold of the close master-apprentice tutelage relationship and has become a mass movement that can be enjoyed privately or in groups of unlimited size – and at little or no cost, though a teacher who has learned the art of qigong is of course still indispensable. For those wishing to get in touch with their "qi" through the guidance of a Chinese master, charter tours to China aimed expressly at learning qigong are becoming more and more popular.
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