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Traditional Breath Energy Exercises

Traditional Breath Energy Exercises

What is "Qigong"?

The Chinese word qiliterally means air or breath. In traditional Chinese medicine the meaning broadened to refer to a person's vital energy (yuan qi, which includes, but is not limited to , the air one breathes in. Qigong is a series of breathing exerises aimed at stimulating vital energy so as to strengthen immunity to disease, adaptability to external environment and the ability to repair internal damage. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that a person full of yuan qi will enjoy good health. of course qigongis not a panacea; it must be practised in cnjunction with other forms of exercise and theapy in order to offect a cure. To a great extent, all Chinese artial arts (gongfu or kungfu) rely on the mastery of qigong techniques for the attainment of mental and phsical harmony.

All forms of qigonginvolve three mutually dependent basic processes: regulation of posture, regulation of respiration, and dregulation of the mind.

of the many Qigong exercises, the following three forms are the most common: a) the relaxing exercise; b) the strengthening exercise; and c) the internal training exercise.

The Relaxing Exercise

This easily learned form has a wide range of applications. Body position: Lie flat on back (Fig.1), head on a pillow naturally , eyes and mouth slightly closed , teeth slightly clenched and tip of tngue touching hard palate. 
Respiration:Breathe normally through nose--regularly, slowly , evenly and quietly. Say the word "calm" to yourself when inhaling and the word"relax" when exhaling. Relax a different part of the body at each repiration, first head, then arms, hands, chest bdomen, back, small of the back, buttocks, legs and feet. After al the muscles are relaxed, concentrate on relaxing the blood vessels, nerves and viscera.

Frequency and duration of training: Individual fitness levels will be the primary determining factor. In general, a convalescent ordered to take a complete rest can perform this exercise theree or four times a day, 20 to 30 minutes each time, while a person working part or full time can exercise once or twice a day, each time for 30 minutes. There is no definite length for a course of treatment. It ususally takes two or three months, or even longer, to achieve noticeable effects.

The Strengthening Exercise

This form of exercise can be applied to cases of neurasthenia, hypertension, heart disease and pulmonary emphysema. The emphasis is on attaining a state of tranquillity rather than on respiration itself.

Body position: a) Normal sitting position (Fig. 2): Sit erect on a square stool with feet flat on the ground, legs shoulder-width apart, knees bent at a 90 degree, thighs perpendiculer to trunk, palms testing in a relaxed manner on knees, elbows naturally bent, shoulders down, chin slightly withdrawn, chest in, and eyes, mouth and tongue as in the Relaxing Exercise 
b) Cross-legged sitting position (Fig.3): Sit on a cushion, either with one leg folder over the other, or with both feet turcked under legs and both knees off the cushion, Buttocks should protrude slightly, head erect, back straight, shoulders down, chin slightly withdraw and chest held in . Place hands below the navel or over the small of the abdomen, with thumbs locked and palms facing upward. For eyes, mouth and tongue follow the instructions in the Relaxing Exercise. 

c) Standing position (Fig.4): Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned in arms raised as if encircling a big tree, hands at shoulder level and elbows lowered, and fingers forming a circle as if clutching a large ball. 


a) Natural breathing : Breathe throught the nose as in the Relaxing Exercise.

b) Abdominal breathing: Inflate abdomen naturally while inhaling and deflate it while exhaling. With no pause between inspiration and expiration, breathing should gredually be deepened to reach six to eight full cycles per minute. This must be done naturally without forcing any deep breaths.

Attainment of tranquillity: Focus your attention on a bdomen --this is the basis of the Strengthening Exercise . In the initial stages of training , this may be achieved in the following ways:

---Count from one to ten as you breathe, one number for each cycle of respiration. Start afresh if distractions cause your mind to wander. Repeat the one-to-ten count several times in succession.
---Clear your mind of all distracting thoughts and let it follow the rise and fall of your abdomen naturally while breathing.
---Direct your attention to a point about 5 cm, below the navel, allowing it to hover there without overstraining your mind, Begin again if your mind wanders.

The following progression is suggested for the Strengthening Exercise:

  Stage I
(1st week)
Stage II
(2nd-4th weeks)
Stage III
(5th week and beyond)
Body position Normal sitting position
(or supine position for
those in delicate health)
Normal or cross-legged
sitting position
Sitting or standing position
(the latter for stronger trainees)
Respiration From natural to partial
deep breathing
Natural deep breathing (abdominal)
Attainment of
Count respiration cycles or
follow them mentally
Following respiration
cycles mentally or concentrate
on a point 5 cm. below navel.
Concentrate on a point
5 cm. below navel
Frequency &
3-4 times daily, each
time 15-20 min.
3-4 times daily, each time 30 min 3-4 times daily , each
time 30-45 min
  1. Correct position
  2. Regulated breathing
  3. Freedom from distractions
  1. Deep breathing down
    to diaphragm
  2. Initial tranquillity
  3. Training becomes
  1. Regular, deep, even
  2. Complete tranquillity
  3. Noticeable benefits
    motivate further

The Internal Training Exercise

This is particularly suited for individuals suffering from duodenal ulcers, hepatitis, constipation and ptosis of the stomach. Stress is laid on breathing.

Body positions:

a) Normal sitting position (see the Strengthening Exercise);

b) Supine position (See the Relaxing Exercise);

c)Recumbent position (Fig.5); Lie on your site (usually on the right) with head slightly forward, right arm bent and resting on pillow about 7 cm, away from head, palm upward, while left arm is extended nauturally, hand on hip with palm downward. Left leg rests on the right leg, both legs lightly bent.

Other prosition may also be adopted povieded they are natural and comfortable.

Respiration: Breathe abdominally through nose - inhale, exhale, pause (i.e. stop breathing ) for 3-4 seconds, in hale, exhale, pause... repeat. During each pause, raise your tongue and meditate before dropping your tongue and inhalling again. Meditation consistes in silently saying something meaningful to yourself such as "becalm", "relax" or "it's good to be calm and relax", each syllable lasting for one secnd. Progressively lengthen the pauses by saying more words. Do not exert yourself when holding your bereath, nor hold it in your chest or throat. Simply stop breathing and focus your attention on the region of the navel.

How does Qigong Cure Diseases

Qigonghas proved effective in treating certain chronic disorders and, as indicated by recent experience in China, is particularly helpful to sufferers from stomach and duodenal ulcers, ptosis of the stomach, habitual constipation, neurasthenia and high blood pressure.

The role qigong plays is three-fold:

First, it helps restore vitality . By inducing a state of tranquillity, qigong allows the body to restore vital energy, build up disease-resistance and alleviate functional disorders. physiological experiments show that when a person is in a tranquil state induced by qigongexercise , his cerebral cortex is in an inhibited state, which allays the over-excitation of cortical cells that may result in functional disorders. This may explain why qigong has proved beneficial in the treatment of neurasthenia, hypertension and gastric ulcers , which are all closely connected with the nervous system.

Secondly, it helps conserve energy. Experimental fingdings indicate that, int he course of performing qigongexercises, oxygen consuption is reduced by 30.7 per cent and energy metabolism by 20 percent.

Thirdly, it massages the abondomental cavity. Qigong, particularly th Internal Training Exercise, produces a meassaging effect on the abdominal cavity throught the mechanical action of breathing, since the diaphragm moves up and down over a much larger range than usual. Such massaging promotes gastrointestinal peristalsis, reduces the amount of extravasated blood in the abdomen and aids digestion and absorption. This is why one who practises qigongmay have a sharpened appetite and put on weight--and also why qigongcan cure habitual constipation and ptosis of the stomach.

How to Practise Qigong

To benefit from qigong exercises, the follow-ing principles should be observed:

  1. Relax and remain at ease. First of all, relax your body. Don't shrug your shoulders or throw out your chest. Don't shrug your shoulders or throw out your chest. Don't strain yourself to maintain your chest. Don't strain yourself to maintain your posture; always stay comfortable. All muscles must be relaxed, especially those of the lower abdomen. Clothes and belt should be loose. Second, set your mind at ease and adopt a cheerful attitude, free from all cares and worries. Regulate your breathing after initial relaxation is attained. It is usually during exhalation that you can feel yourself mentally and physically relaxed. Tranquillity is attained by focusing your attention on the exercise, banishing all other thoughts from your mind and avoiding as many external stimuli, such as sound and light, as possible. You will find yourself in a state of perfect calm wherein you will be unconscious of your own body weight. You may feel irritated at being unable to concentrate in the beginning . This is quite natural. Tell yourself to calm down and to be confident and patient. Persistent practice will bring steady progress.
  2. Corrdinate meditation with respiration. In qigongexercises, respiration must be guided by meditation. In other words, conscious efforts must be mad to regulate the rhythm of breathing , thereby directing the flow of vital energy to various parts of the body.While the key to meditation lies in tranquillity, respiration cannot be considered satisfactory unless it is " fine , deep, ling, slow, stable, leisurely and uniform". Both the Strengthening Exercise and relaxing Exercise emphasize meditation while the Internal Training Exercise emphasizes respiration; but in any case, meditation and repiration must be corrdinated.
  3. Combine motion with stillness. As qigong calls for stillness and a minimum of motion, it should be supplemented with some active exercises for better therapeutic results. Active exercises should follow qigong exercises -- in other words, motion after stillness.
  4. Progress gradually. Qigong is an art that can be perfected only through long and disciplined practice. Start with the easier methods with regard to body position, breathing and the attainment of tranquillity. Each training period should last , 15-20 minutes in the beginning and may be gradually lengthened as time goes on.

Here are some further suggestions:

  1. About 15 minutes before practising qigong, stop reading and all other mental work, go to the toilet if necessary, and prepare yourself mentally for training.
  2. Don't stand up abruptly after the exercise. Massage your face with both hands and rub your eyes gently before standing up slowly and stretching your limbs.
  3. If you are short of breath or feel irritated while doing the exercises this may be due to inappropriate posture, incorrect breathing, a bad frame of mind or a lack of interest in exercising . Discover the cause and correct it.
  4. If you feel dizzy or get a headache, this may be due to breathing with too much effort, impatience for quick results or a bad mood. Discover the cause and correct it.
  5. Do not train on an empty or full stomach.

Suspend training when you are too tired or have a fever, diarrhea or a bad cold.

Prevention of Side Effects

Generally speaking , no side effect should be felt in the three forms of exercise provided they are performed properly. However, they may occur with beginners who are not used to the body positions and methods of breathing and meditation required in the exercises. These side effects can easliy be prevented or overcome.

(A) Side effects in posture:

  1. A stiff back after sitting for a long time. This is either because you are not accustomed to sitting that way or because of incorrect posture. To avoid this trouble, start with the supine postion and gradually attempt the sitting position; or change to the supine position when you tire from sitting ; or simply shorten the time of sitting.
  2. Numbness in the legs while sitting in the cross-legged position. This may be prevented by limbering up your legs before sitting. If numbness still occurs, massage your legs, change position, or stand up and move about a little and then sit down again.

(B) Side effects in respiration:

  1. Difficulty in breathing and restlessness usually caused by forced deep breathing. Take a short walk in the room and calm youself before resuming the meditation.
  2. Shortness of breath or a stitch in the side. This usually happens when you breathe too hard, try to hold your breath too long, or "trap" your breath in the chest or throat. Symptoms will disappear once these faults are overcome.

(C) Side effects in meditation:

  1. Lithargy. In most cases, this occurs when lying down or due to mental exhaustion. You may feel better if you sit up or gaze at the tip of your nose with half-closed eyes. Don't practise qigong exercises when you are overtired. To prevent drowsiness, which is quite common with beginners, sip some hot tea and take a short walk before sitting down to meditate.
  2. Extraordinary sensations . Sometimes while in a state of deep tranquilly, you may feel numbness, itchiness, pins and needles or a burning sensation in the skin or muscles of some parts of your body. By concentrating your meditation on the small of the abdomen and refraining from breathing too deeply, these symptoms will som disappear.

(D) Other side effects:

  1. Palpitation of the heart. This usually occurs when, in a state of tranquillity, you breathe too deeply, hold your breath too long, or are too nervous. Discover the cause and correct it.
  2. A throbbing sensation around the temples. Change your head position to relieve pressure on the ear.



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