As Chinese New Year approaches we decided to have a look into some health and fitness lessons that we can learn from China and Chinese culture.
Chi gung is a system of movement, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality and martial arts training. Its origins are from Chinese medicine, philosophy and martial arts, where chi gung is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi), translated as “life energy”.
So what can we learn from chi gung about keeping fit and staying healthy?
Chi Gung and Relaxed exercise
Generally, most workouts in the west focus on either cardiovascular exercise where we burn energy through aerobic activity or lifting weights. Here we push our bodies to the limit so that we’ll burn fat and increase our lung capacity, working the heart too. The idea is that the body will get fitter by being stretched and strained.
Chi gung has a completely different approach to exercise. It aims to maintain a ‘relaxed power’ where deep breathing and relaxation allow the chi energy to flow through the relaxed body while engaging in fluid and relaxed movement.
Tense muscles block chi, so when we are out of breath, tense from lifting or straining then the life energy can get stuck. Chi gung attempts to increase the flexibility of our vascular system while calming our nervous system, allowing us to feel both very calm and in an optimum state of fitness.
An exercise to strengthen our whole body
Rather than just focusing on our muscles or lung capacity as independent areas, chi gung looks at the whole system and seeks balance and optimal health. As well as muscles, nerves and the cardiovascular system, chi gung considers the condition of our internal organs and aims to restore them to health through breathing and movement as well as a focused attitude of mind.
Calm mind, healthy body
Chi energy is seen to flow along the nerves of the body and at advanced levels of chi gung one is able to feel individual nerves. The nerves interact between the body and the mind, and it is through the nerves that we can gain access to information about our body.
Chi gung emphasises getting in touch with the body and clearing out blockages.
As your chi gets stronger through practice, the nerves are strengthened and you become more attuned to subtle energies in the body. People with poor coordination and other motor problems can beneﬁt too.
It is said that the mind moves the chi, and the chi moves the body. Chi gung’s ability to strengthen the nervous system makes it a great technique for stress relief, and can rebuild bodies that have broken down due to long-term stress.
Learn your body
As chi gung is also a meditative art it trains the mind as well as the body. It increases our body awareness, which can help us learn to move more effectively, with less strain and a reduced chance of injury. It increases flexibility and balance and can promote a more rapid healing from past injury by reducing tension in the other parts of the body so that the chi energy can flow to the part in need of healing.
A good base for other activities
Chi gung is the basis of the power of the Chinese martial arts, whether kung fu or the more subtle internal forms such as tai chi.
It is amazing how the gentle, smooth movements of chi gung enable the advanced practitioner to defeat a boxer or street fighter. It is a completely different approach to exercise and martial art that looks at relaxation as a real advantage. It can help us focus at work and in social situations, get better at the other sports we do too. Who’d have thought Chi gung could help your tennis serve or golf swing? Have a go and find out.
Stress and emotions
Most exercise is a good short term stress reliever though qi gong looks to go one further and balance the emotions in the long term too. There are specific movements and processes for dealing with repressed emotions and overexpressed emotions too, whether that is depression, grief, frustration, irritability, they have an app for that! Let’s be honest, in today’s ‘always on’ world we could do with any tips for stress we can get our hands on.