Qigong Overview and History
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Qigong is a Chinese word that consists of two characters: Chi + Gong, which can be roughly translated as energy work. Qigong is a collective term for a large number of very diverse (in both function and purpose) systems of physical exercise and meditation. Qigong is not exclusive to China. Every culture on Earth has a record of some system of consistent cultivation of energy. The energy in question has the same origin so it is no wonder that systems from culturally unrelated places often times overlap as far as methods and theory are concerned.
There are three directions in Qigong: Martial, Medical and Spiritual. All three directions have the same goal: freedom.
Martial Qigong aims at the freedom of movement. It deals with acquiring unusual abilities and reducing the vulnerability of the body. Shao Lin Temple fighting monks made Martial Qigong popular all over the world. Shao Lin Temple owes its fame to Indian prince Bodhidharma (Da Mo in Chinese) turned Buddhist monk who came to China around 500 A. D. After settling in Shao Lin Temple and sitting unmoved facing a wall in deep meditation for 9 years he produced a two volume manuscript titled Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Classic (see 18 hands of Luo Han). Most of the incredible feats of strength and sensitivity that we usually associate with Kung Fu are Qigong applications. Taoist masters of the Wudang Mountain fame produced their own version of Martial Qigong. Their so called "internal" martial arts are less popular because of the long time that it takes one to master them. Tai Chi is just one of the examples of such system. Although, mostly slow in practice and soft in appearance, internal martial arts were considered the ultimate in empty hand war technology. The ideal of Martial Qigong is return to the spontaneity, speed and power of an animal by tuning the mind and the body to the natural movement that is present everywhere.
Medical Qigong aims at the freedom from disease. It has as its goal uncommon longevity, elimination of disease, and improved ability to enjoy all facets of life. The collection of medical knowledge amassed over thousands of years of experimentation is awe inspiring. Some 1500 year old manuscripts contains evidence that Qigong practitioners knew the fact that bone marrow is responsible for maintaining the quality of blood and functioning of the immune system. Detailed location and function of various glands (importance of which was not re-discovered until recently) is described in the Qigong books of that period. Most of the things that we know about dreams were learned from Tibetan Dream Qigong masters. Many medical qigong masters life span exceeded 100 years at the time when one was lucky to survive past 50. The practice of acupuncture, herbology and other so called TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) all came from Medical Qigong masters. The precise location of thousands of acupuncture points was recently confirmed by electrical measuring devices. The ideal of Medical Qigong is return to the health, beauty and strength of a teenager by living in accordance with the natural cycles of life.
Spiritual Qigong aims at the freedom of the mind. The basic premise is that the harbored illusion of separateness from nature and other people in general introduces pointless psychological suffering. Fighting against Nature is hard on the body and the mind. The main evidence of this is stress and depression. In short, if "everyone will just stop trying to be happy, we can all have pretty good time." Once satisfied, all material desires give rise to more desires, the pleasure of satisfaction of which is inversely proportional to the complexity of the desire itself. Eventually, we hit diminishing returns, which manifest themselves as apathy, frustration and depression, since we always want to be someone else. The main tool of Spiritual Qigong is meditation. Taoism is one of the more mild and balanced examples of Spiritual Qigong inspired philosophy. Reading Tao Te Ching, the masterpiece written by ancient master Lao Tzu is highly recommended for those interested in this path. Attempts by Spiritual Qigong masters such as Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Shiva to eliminate problems on large scale gave rise to religions. The ideal of Spiritual qigong is return to the original nature of a child and beyond that (it gets really esoteric here) by re-discovering our minds as manifestations of Nature itself.
Qigong practice consists of mental and emotional conditioning (relaxation and focus), massage, breathing, herbology, acupuncture and moving exercises. The three most important elements of Qigong are conditioning of the body, the breath and the mind. When combined, the above allows one to control his or her body function to an amazing degree. The much touted longevity, intelligence and youthful appearance of qigong masters is supposedly due to the advanced qigong's methods of stimulation of hormone production and activation of a larger percentage of brain cells. Qigong, Yoga and Reiki are different names for cultivation of energy.
So if Qigong is so great why modern science ignores it? The biggest problem is that no one really knows what Qi is in modern medical terms. There are some theories and a lot of speculation but the bottom line is very little has been scientifically proven. No one in the science and medical communities really knows what this energy is. For now, Qi is a convenient term for a number psychological, biological and physical phenomena some of which remain unknown that are responsible for our well being. However, a series of scientific experiments were conducted in China with the help of the most skilled Qigong masters. Go to Qigong Science for description of these experiments including much disputed change in the molecular structure of the sample 2,000 km away from the Qigong master. You can also find a brief history of Qigong scientific study on that page.
For further info see Frequently Asked Questions