Qi (chi) is the vital life force that circulates through the body and gong (kung) means practice. It has been around for at least 3,000 years and some books say it might be 10,000.

Qigong fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution during Mao Tse Tung’s regime but came back into use in the 1980s when the Chinese government was looking for a way to provide health care to the masses that wouldn’t require high tech machines and expensive medications. Since it was previously used by the educated and noble classes of society, teaching and using this form of treatment for the masses fit into the government philosophy of benefits for the working class.

My first exposure to qigong came in 1992 while working at USC’s Facial Pain Clinic in the dental school. I had heard the word and knew it had health benefits, but it took another five years before I found teachers.

There are about 100,000 different schools of qigong with various specialties, some for beauty, intelligence, artistry, improving health abilities of all kinds, as well as personal development. Some forms are done as exercise and others as treatment. Some forms are more active emphasizing movement and others are done quietly while sitting. Some use special breathing, others don’t.

In all cases, qigong uses the mind to move the chi and to put healing messages along these energy channels, unlike acupuncture, which uses needles to stimulate the energy flow.

qigong charactersMovement of the chi also creates movement of the blood, bringing oxygen and nutrition to all the cells in the body. The intent of qigong is to bring better health and longevity to the individual. I look at qigong as exercise for the internal organs and moving the chi through the body in a similar way as acupuncture minus the needles.

Qigong uses simple movements that are easy to do and takes less time to learn than tai chi, which takes up to two years to master the basics. Tai chi uses graceful movements to develop balance, coordination and strength, but has its origins in the martial arts and came after qigong, with its origins in health development.

Some of the benefits of qigong include improved immunity, better sleep, less pain from arthritis, improved memory, improved cardiovascular and lung function, normalization of cholesterol levels, improved hearing and eyesight, improved kidney function, increased energy and endurance, softer skin, better coordination, improved spirits, increased bone density, and enhanced abilities.

Qigong emphasizes internal health and complements Western exercise, which emphasizes strength, flexibility and cardiovascular function. East meeting West could provide an awesome combination for maximizing health.

Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for more than 30 years, specializing in integrative manual therapy, utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 100, Alhambra, CA 91801. Sheila also offers a qigong “Chinese energy” exercise class. Your first class is free. Call (626) 576-0591 for more information or visit www.yonemoto.com.

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