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Qigong for Optimum Health

by Dr Lianting Zhao(more info)

listed in chi energy martial arts, originally published in issue 114 - August 2005

The word Qigong is a new term established in the 1950s by Dr Guizheng Liu who founded the Beidaihe Qigong Institute in 1956. The actual practice of Qigong dates back at least 5000 years to its conception under different names e.g. Tuina, Daoyin, Xingqi etc.

The word Qigong (pronounced chi gung) is composed of two concepts: Qi means air, breath of life, or vital energy of the body, and gong means the skill of working with, or time for cultivating, self-discipline and achievement or mastery.

Dr Liu practising standing Qigong
Dr Liu practising standing Qigong

The word Qi originated from ancient Chinese philosophy, which holds that the Qi is the foundational substance of the universe, and all the phenomena are produced by the changes and movement of the Qi. In ancient China, Qi was thought to be the basic stuff of the entire universe, the building block of all matter, the immaterial energy that constitutes all material form. This viewpoint greatly influenced the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Generally speaking the word Qi in TCM denotes both essential substances of the human body, which maintain its vital activities and the functional manifestations. In other words, the Qi in TCM has two aspects. One refers to the vital substances comprising the human body and maintaining its life activities, such as the Qi of water and food (food essence), the Qi of breathing (breathing nutrients) and so on. The other refers to the physiological functions of viscera and bowels, channels and collaterals, such as the Qi of the heart, the lung, the spleen, the stomach and so on. The Qi referred to here, is specifically the physiological functions of these viscera and bowels.

Before explaining the Qi in Qigong, let us review the formation of the word Qigong. The word Qigong was first used by a Chinese Daoist monk named Xu Xun in his book, Teaching Record of Jing Ming Zong (Quiet and Clear Sect), in the Jin Dynasty (about 300 BC) Since then, it was not until the end of the Qing Dynasty in the early 19th century that the word Qigong was mentioned again in a chapter called Qigong Supplementary of a book titled Yuan He Pian. Special Therapy for Tuberculosis – Qigong Therapy written by Donghao and published by Hangzhou Xinglin Hospital in 1934, and The Secret Success of Shaolinquan, published by Zhonghua press in 1935 and Record of Qigong Therapy by Gongpu Fang in 1938. Although the word Qigong was mentioned in these books with different meanings there was not a complete explanation of the meaning, nor was the name formally recognized. It was not until the 1950s when Liu Guizheng wrote and published a book called Practice In Qigong Therapy, was Qigong given a full explanation and recognized as a formal name instead of various terms.

Why is it called Qigong Therapy?

The book Practice In Qigong Therapy in 1957 said, Qi means breath while Gong means 'continuous regulation of breathing and postures'. In light of medical knowledge, different styles of Qigong exercise have been created and studied, and the efficacy in curing diseases and preservation of health proven. Thus Qigong or Qigong Therapy has become more widely accepted and has enjoyed popularity throughout the country.

With the popularity of Qigong practice throughout China since 1979, practitioners began to disagree on the definition of Qigong. In 1981 in his new version of the book Qigong Therapy Practice Liu redefined Qi as not only breathing air but also the Original Qi. He said that Qigong referred to the self-regulated exercises that cultivated Original Qi to benefit one's health.

From the history of modern science, we know that the forthcoming of a new concept usually goes through a developing process and is closely related to the development of the science and theory in the world at that time. Qigong is no exception. Over time the concepts of Qigong are continuously enriched, developed, and perfected. Up to now there is no unified standard definition of Qigong. Qigong is still in a period of contention amongst doctors and academics.

The Qigong definition in our textbook of Qigong at The London Academy of Qigong and Chinese Medicine is based on the clinical application of Qigong in China, and the latest scientific research and ancient related Chinese literature.

We describe Qigong as the following: Guided by the ancient Chinese philosophy, Qigong is a kind of self training, psychosomatic exercises aimed at achieving the optimal state of the human body and waking up the potential ability through the triple co-ordination and regulation of body, breath and mind.

This definition of Qigong points out that its theoretical basis clearly states its special practice methods and delineates its aims of practice. It embraces the totality of the distinctive features of Qigong:

1 Qigong is an exercise based upon the ancient Chinese philosophy of at least two aspects. One means that the theoretical framework of Qigong originated from philosophy rather than the different schools of religion. The second means that epistemology and methodology on Qigong are different from modern science on which the biomedical model is still based;
2 Qigong is characterized by its unique method mainly based on a triple co-ordination of body, breath and mind activity of which the orderly training of mental activity is the core part assisted by the body adjustment and breathing exercises. This point is the soul of the definition of Qigong. It is a criterion by which to evaluate whether a fitness method is or is not truly Qigong;
3 It is clearly pointed out that the aim of Qigong practice is the optimal state and waking up the potential abilities of human beings. Thus the optimal state means the prenatal spirit dominated condition.

During ancient China, Qigong masters divided our mind as two different types. One is called the post-natal mind and the other is called pre-natal spirit. The characteristic of the post-birth mind are extroverted, scattered, disordered, while the prenatal spirit are highly ordered, introverted to harmonize among our five system to keep our life process at homeostatic condition. The mind regulation of the Qigong practitioner involve the procedural training from the post-birth mind to prenatal spirit by slightly concentrating within, or upon a single object, proceeding from the many to the one. Along with the waking up of the prenatal mind, the prenatal Qi would be cultivated, bringing about an optimal state of the Qigong practitioner. The practitioners can utilize this state and ability for different purposes such as for maintaining health, treating illness, promoting vitality and cultivating spiritual awareness and insight, which has led to the differing perspectives and styles of Qigong.


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About Dr Lianting Zhao

Dr Lianting Zhao is a Director of the Editing Board for Medical Qigong for the universities and colleges of TCM in China. He is a past Vice Director of The China National Qigong Training Centre, a past Vice-Director of the Research Department of Beidaihe Qigong Institute, Associate Professor at The China National Qigong Training Centre and Senior Consultant of Integrated Medical Practices (a combination of TCM with western medicine). He specializes in the field of combining Qigong Therapy with Acupuncture at the Hebei Medical Qigong Hospital, the birthplace of modern Medical Qigong Therapy, where he is a licensed Medical Qigong Consultant. Since graduating from Hebei Medical University, he then studied at the department of postgraduate studies at the China Academy of TCM. At the same time, he studied with several Qigong masters and acupuncturists who were Taoists and Buddhists. Now he is a Director of the London Academy of Qigong and Chinese Mdicine, which was established to promote the benefits of studying, practising and researching the therapeutic effects of Qigong. He may be contacted via

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