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The Healing Art of Qi Gong

by Wrio Russell(more info)

listed in chi energy martial arts, originally published in issue 13 - July 1996

There are no points for guessing that the healing art of Qi Gong originated in China and, like so many things Chinese, it is now becoming increasingly popular in the West. This is due largely to its seemingly profound effects on health. In fact, many people who take it up do so initially because they are unwell. However, as well as helping to improve health and cure disease, the practice of Qi Gong can also aid spiritual growth, character development and artistic expression. In fact, it has a lot to offer, depending on what you want to get out of it.

Literally, the word Qi Gong means ‘energy exercise’, although exercise as we think of it is something of a misnomer as much of the work is meditative. Qi (pronounced chee) is the vital force of life, electromagnetic energy that flows through us and through everything in the Universe. Sometimes, for example, you can sense it in the warmth of your hands or the tingling sensation in your fingertips.

Qi Gong is both a form of exercise and of meditation. If you want it to work effectively it has to become part of the daily discipline of life, like eating sensibly or cleaning your teeth. If you are seriously unwell, the teacher might well recommend up to four hours of practice a day and if you’re wise you will stick to that, as only by having the will to succeed and to help yourself will you get better. For example, Margaret, a student of Qi Gong master Zhixing Wang, first came to him six years ago after being diagnosed as having breast cancer. She had refused the option of conventional treatment, preferring to seek out an effective alternative, and, after trying various courses of action, by good chance she came upon Qi Gong.

By that time, Margaret was in an extremely exhausted state and Zhixing led her through a regime of exercises and meditation in order to get her system going again. Margaret admits, “it was very tough but the early improvements to my health were dramatic”. If you could see her now you would realise that she not only appears to have recovered her health but also gained a serenity of mind that enables her to cope with the stresses of life. But she has had to work extremely hard at it and for her the practice of Qi Gong has become a way of life.

In fact, most people wait until they are unwell before taking up Qi Gong. That is the way we live our lives in the West. We are forced into a rat race to live the consumerist dream and as a result we keep going until we crash and then Western medicine tries to do a recovery job. This rat race is extremely stressful and we are generally very bad at coping with stress, particularly mental stress which is a major cause of illness today. This leaves us exposed to breakdown and disease. Some people are even so ill that Western medicine can do nothing for them and so they seek out a last resort cure.

The Chinese, though, have always been concerned about good health and believe it is better to ‘cure before illness sets in’. It is said that Chinese doctors only got paid if they kept you well; in other words, the emphasis in Chinese medicine has always been on health maintenance.

But why Qi Gong; why not just do aerobics or jogging and keep healthy that way? Thousands do. The answer is that Qi Gong is far more profound than that as it combines mental, physical and spiritual development. Like Yoga, Qi Gong works on a very deep level to improve your whole way of life and not just your body. Indeed, it is one form of energy medicine, used often in China in the treatment of cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

In health matters, the disciplines of Qi Gong practice often produce dramatic improvements. Take Angela who had suffered from ME for some years before meeting up with Zhixing at the Hale Clinic in London. After some months of personal and group treatment, she says that she could feel she was re-aligning herself and bringing herself back into balance. “I could feel that the Qi Gong exercises were improving my health, even though initially I occasionally felt worse as various organs and energy blocks were worked on. Now, I am able to lead a much more normal life.”

However, the nature of its practice affects not just the physical aspects of disease but can also work to calm the mind and develop a greater sense of spirituality. As Angela says, “When I started, I pursued Qi Gong primarily for my health but immediately felt that it fitted in with my spiritual life which was one of meditation.” In fact, in the increasingly stressful and superficial society in which we live today, some people use Qi Gong as away of finding that deeper sense of consciousness which can bring greater meaning to their lives.

Qi Gong is also popular with those who practice the martial arts as it teaches them to draw on their vital energy (Qi) more efficiently and so perform better. Complementary therapists, too, attend classes as they use Qi Gong to help them keep their own health in order by tuning into the Qi. Zhixing will say that “Qi Gong healing is a way of improving the overall quality of ourselves as people. It is a learning process for us to understand health, life and love”. In that way, it can be considered an exercise system for everybody.

We all have this Qi energy within us but it requires practice to consciously cultivate it. Zhixing explains that “once the vital subtle energy is awakened, it will naturally cleanse the impurity and energy blockages in the body and harmonise the body’s different parts”. Many of the Taoist masters liken Qi to the ‘ginseng within the body’. Qi is present in everything that lives and it can be generally described as the essence which makes you feel alive. There is no English word that completely sums up its meaning but once you immerse yourself in the oriental way of health and living you will reach an understanding of Qi and how it functions within you. You know yourself how sometimes you have more energy than others and that when you are ill or depressed your energy level is lowered. Already that gives you some idea of Qi.

Qi Gong is not just an exercise system but also a system of meditation that works on both mind and spirit. If one part of a person is to be healthy then the whole must be healthy, body and mind and spirit together. The balance of yin and yang needs to be achieved in all areas of our life if true health is to be found. And also, if we are to seek mental, physical and spiritual well-being, we must not forget the development of our creative talents. The practice of Qi Gong can be brought into the way we move, the way we paint, the way we write, and it is no accident that artistic people take up Qi Gong to help them in their search for greater creativity.

Each Qi Gong master teaches in a different way, although the underlying principles of energy centres and yin and yang will always be the same. To the untrained eye, it is a simple mixture of exercise and meditation, and when you attend a class taught by Zhixing Wang the emphasis will be on the meditation.

The meditation positions are many and varied and they not only teach you to focus and empty your mind but also develop within you an overall strength and discipline. Qi Gong is no soft option. However, there is something masochistically rewarding about working through the pain and coming out of a long meditation feeling calm and uplifted. When you get into the swing of it you will find that Qi Gong is something you will want to do almost every day, normally in the early morning or in the evening.

The movement exercises are designed to get the Qi flowing and to cleanse the body, often the intention will be to direct the Qi to a particular weak part of the body. So, for example, if you have indigestion you can focus your movements on the stomach and colon area, or towards the nasal passages if you are suffering from sinusitis.

The exercises themselves are free and flowing and, when performed by a master, very beautiful to watch. As you develop your expertise you can feel the movement of the Qi coursing through your body. The exercises are normally performed standing, although the more precise movements can be done sitting, lying or in almost any position. One of the beauties of Qi Gong is its versatility and indeed it can be performed anywhere, indoors or out.

For anyone who is seeking to become a master of the art of Qi Gong, it is possible to develop unusual abilities. For example, the true Qi Gong master can have amazing perception which enables him or her to observe an ailment within you not by palpation but by seeing inside you with, as it were, X-ray eyes. This, however, is no mystery of the East but, rather, the result of years of total dedication to the Qi Gong way of life. At the very least, you will find your mental, physical and spiritual health vastly improved, provided you stick at it. Zhixing emphasises that “it requires discipline and effort”.

At last, more and more discerning people in the West are coming to value personally what the wisdom of the East has to offer, especially in health matters. This is not surprising, as the influence and the growing affluence of the Asian countries is swelling rapidly like a rising tide. Qi Gong is proving itself a versatile and profound form of exercise and treatment and indeed, when performed properly, it can change a person’s life.

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About Wrio Russell

Wrio Russell started his training in Massage Therapy in 1987 after following a career as an academic teacher (MA H.Dip.Ed) in both Italy and the UK and also training national class gymnasts. In 1989, he became a founder director of the London School of Sports Massage (LSSM) as well as running a small treatment practice, which included both dancers and athletes. However, his real interest has always been in the holistic Oriental approach to health and well-being and, having worked with Qigong and meditation, in 1995 he was guided to the Usui Reiki system of natural healing. In 1998, he became a Reiki master teacher and is now teaching the Reiki system in Eastbourne as well as overseeing the LSSM graduate programme. In the future, he plans to do an increasing amount of work overseas and to write on matters of health and healing. Wrio can be contacted on tel: 01323-729963 and his website is: www.orientaltherapy.co.uk

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