History of Qi Gong

Qi Gong is a term that describes a very complex and diverse tradition of spiritual, martial and health exercises from China. Qi Gong is a modern term that was used by the current Chinese government to catagorize over 1,500 different styles of these exercises into a meaningful context. Qi Gong was originally described in the earliest texts as Tuna, or breath exercises, and Dao Yin, or exercise postures. It was also used in Taoism as a way of attempting physical and spiritual immortality.

The earliest records from the archeaological discoveries at the Ma Huang Tui Tombs revealed a series of dance like postures combined with breathing that were used for health. Researchers at the Shanghai Qi Gong Research Institute have theorized that Qi Gong probably originated from the dances of early Wu Shaman. Dance was used in their rituals and ceremonies to induce trance states for communicating with the spirit world. Many of these dances were based upon animal movements and included the wearing of skins and masks to further heighten the effect.

The later development of specific systems such as Hua To’s “Frolic of the Five Animals” incorporated the early developments of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Theory of Channels and the Three Burning Spaces (upper, middle and lower). They were combined with these Shamanic practices into a series of exercises that attempt to preserve and further the health of the individual. The concept of self exercise, rather than participating in group rituals and ceremonies, marked the beginning of Qi Gong systems. This paralleled the development of Naturalism or Natural Law by the Confucian School of Philosophy. The idea that the individual had responsibility for self cultivation or development was very important. Concurrently, the rise of the the Taoist Philosophical School and its emphasis on nature and following the Natural Way also helped stimulate the development of Qi Gong Systems. An underlying premise in these systems was that of Qi, defined as breath, vital substance or vital energy. Qi was believed to circulate externally in Nature in its various manifestations such as weather, plants, animals, minerals, etc. This was probably a development based upon early animistic beliefs that all things have a vital force. Qi also was believed to circulate internally through the rivers, valleys and mountains of the body. The development of the concept of channels or pathways was based upon a much more literal sense of the geography of the body that is still revealed in the traditional names of acupuncture points, i.e. Kun Lun Mountains, Spirit Pass, Sea of Blood. Health was based upon the free flow of the Qi through the channels. If the Qi became blocked, an area of the body then had too much (i.e. excess) and another had too little (i.e. deficiency).

All of these concepts were integrated within the framework of the theory of yin-yang, the two primal complementary polar energies. When in an appropriate relationship the person enjoyed health. When the relationship was inappropriate, disease was the result. Qi Gong exercises integrated these concepts into physical exercises that attempted to harmonize the yin-yang relationships in the body and to keep the qi circulating freely. Historically, this effort was stimulated by the Taoist alchemical tradition. Since the early Chinese had no concept of reincarnation, the finality of death stimulated the search for ways of prolonging life. The person was seen as an amalgamation of the yin and yang souls, or the hun and the po. During life, these souls worked together within the body. At death, they separated, and the hun or yin soul wandered shortly after death to soon dissipate while the po or more spiritual soul rose up to heaven, to either maintain a residence or to also dissipate and be reabsorbed by the Source. In the pursuit of immortality, the alchemists tried to discover ways of returning and consolidating the yang souls so that at death they would maintain the consciousness of the individual rather than dissipate. They utilized herbs, minerals, special dietary regimes, breathing and physical exercise practices in attempting to avoid death and prolong life. Many of these early practices gave rise to the later development of Qi Gong Systems used today for developing and maintaining health.

In China today, Qi Gong is very popular. The government supports the practice of health exercises and funds research and teaching institutes. The current categories in China include a variety of systems. They are differentiated as either health exercises for preventing disease and maintaining health or for healing existing conditions of disease and recovering fully. This category also includes the use of Qi Gong to develop the ability to project Qi from one person to another in order to restore balance and effect healing. Specialists in Qi Gong develop these abilities from practitioners and they learn specific Qi Gong exercises for specific health problems. These have been very effective for treating chronic degenerative and stress related disorders.

The differentiation of specific systems is based on their particular activity. They use external movement, or are done standing, sitting or lying down. These are described as Dynamic or Quiescent, sitting, standing or prone. The most common health maintenance systems use standing Quiescent – Dynamic postures. These can be seen in any park in China usually being practiced in the early morning. People practice in groups or individually. Often, they will stand in front of a tree or rock and they will try to absorb Qi from these natural sources of qi. The practitioner will assume a standing posture and hold a specific position for a period of time. While standing they may move their arms or body purposefully or they may hold their entire body still. Some systems use both dynamic and quiescent postures. Other systems encourage spontaneous movement of the body in accord with the flow of Qi. Generally, movement is performed standing, but there are many systems that utilize movement while seated.

Lying down postures are generally used with the very weak, elderly or ill persons and tend primarily to focus on breathing and visualization methods. In any of the circumstances, the primary goals are to activate the Qi and increase the circulation of the Qi through the channels and internal organs of the entire body. This is the basic approach to the Qi Gong Systems in general. Any system may utilize any number of specific variations in accomplishing this goal.