Practising Qigong (literally translated as "energy" or "work done with skill") is about loosening, relaxing and strengthening the body, restoring efficient body mechanics, and having a balance of Yin and Yang energies throughout the the body, and its energy system. Accomplishing this will also calm, strengthen, and unify your mind and spirit, and maintain an optimal amount of internal energy, as well as circulate it throughout the body for a variety of purposes.
Any physical or emotional injuries, as well as muscular tension, can impede or block the smooth and balanced flow of Qi within the body and affect the health in various ways. Fortunately, imbalances will often clear up on their own. Qi, like water, always seeks to balance itself. However, various methods can also be used to ensure the production of a normal amount of Qi, refine its quality and balance its circulation.
Practised with competence and over the long-term, any valid system of qigong, whether done as part of an internal martial system or solely as a health practice, is said to be good for the Qi.
I once had an e-mail message from someone who wanted to know if it was Qi he was feeling when he experienced a magnetic repulsion and attraction in his hands doing qigong.
I answered that this, along with trembling, feelings of warmth, tingling of the skin, and other sensory phenomena was a common manifestation of such training, but it was important not to confuse the symptoms of the flow of intrinsic energy with Qi itself. In the same way, the heat in an electrical wire is a by-product of the flow of electricity through copper or aluminium and is not the electricity itself.
Without doubt, long term qigong training can change the body, emotions, and spirit in a way that can be likened to refining crude ore into iron ingots and eventually, with further skill and effort, into high-grade steel. All three are manifestations of the same thing, lumps dug from the earth, but the final product shines beautifully and has much more use in daily life.
The process of refining makes the substance stronger and more flexible as a lump of iron ore, relatively inert and useless, becomes a sharp and flexible high-carbon stainless steel kitchen knife. Both are the same substance in essence, but one is the product of time and effort.
Qigong makes this refinement happen in a number of ways. Some are impossible to analyse empirically. Some make sense from a traditional Chinese perspective, and some make sence from a Western logical perspective. My own gut feeling is that deep relaxation and quiet attentiveness eventually encourages both hormonal and attitudinal shifts in the body. For whatever reasons, taking chronic tension out of the spine, the muscles, the fascia, and connective tissues, and learning to quiet the mind creates a powerful tool for change.
And now for the bad news____This process also fuels, and is fuelled, by a general overhaul in your lifestyle. It is unrealistic to believe that you can continue to smoke; eat "garbage," abuse alcohol or drugs; get too little sleep; endure or provoke abusive relationships; work in an environment that stifles your body and spirit, yet counteract all this by doing the Circular Form or standing and moving qigong.
But through your training you may awaken to understanding that what you are doing is harming you. Every way, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, in which you change your lifestyle and attitudes contributes to the process of maturing; a process that seems to have stopped in many people.
Many of us think we want to get rid of our bad habits, but then discover that the process of change is frightening and disorienting. Radical change can mean the loss of attitudes or habits that define us as we are. It can also mean the loss of relationships as people react badly or uneasily to how we are changing.
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