I started tai chi while studying at the University of Liaoning Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1978 (42 years ago) and started practicing qigong 20 years ago. I worked in a TCM hospital for three years, then came to the U.S. and worked with MDs practicing acupuncture and herbal medicine. I came to AOMA in 2003, and then 10 years ago I started teaching tai chi and qigong here.
Qigong literally translates to “qi work,” so it is work that we do with our qi. Qi is our body’s energy and includes many different kinds of qi. Some are defensive qi, others are nutritive qi, and there are many other types, too. The goal is to spend time practicing qigong to get physically strong and stay mentally calm and in good shape. Qigong moves the electricity inside to power you. Qigong is important to Traditional Chinese Medicine because TCM is based on the Daoist principle of yin and yang in the body as a whole. Yin and yang are like batteries, (with positive and negative energy). Only having one will not work, so qigong balances both. Thus, qigong, like acupuncture and herbal medicine, also balances yin and yang.
Qigong has two parts: moving and non-moving. Moving qigong moves your qi and blood (making the body stronger) and helps with qi and blood stagnation. Non-moving qigong through breathing moves the qi inside without moving your muscles. It quiets the mind and balances the body’s yin and yang.
Slow breathing is for longevity. When one breathes slowly, they can begin to hold in more oxygen and nutrients from the universe and outside air. This push-down of the breath goes all the way to our feet. Shallow breaths may only go to your knees and won’t open the tiny veins and arteries to help the oxygen exchange. The oxygen exchange in our body brings in the good nutrients and gets rid of the bad nutrients. For example, animals like turtles breathe very slowly and are able to live for decades. When we learn to breathe slowly, we can improve our longevity.
Medical qigong is primarily for students who study medicine (such as at AOMA). This qigong is used to help people reduce certain symptoms, heal faster and balance their yin and yang. This qi moves from the practitioner’s hands to our patients to guide out the problems through the meridians and help heal. It all depends on the situation, but medical qigong is used to treat patients or help practitioners themselves. Medical qigong is similar to physical therapy, as it also guides others through the movement. Regular qigong can be added to a healthy lifestyle but sometimes does not have a treatment purpose for others. It is just like an exercise to keep yourself healthy.
Medical qigong can be used in many different situations. For example, people with diabetes can be taught how to breathe and how to have more energy by strengthening their spleen and stomach, which will help them reduce their food intake and reduce overall symptoms from diabetes. Our part is to ask patients to move by doing qigong, strengthening the digestive system to help their diet in order to help their diabetes. Another example is doing 13 qigong exercises to help insomnia patients go to sleep, mostly through the use of non-moving qigong. This is quite similar to meditation but different.
Tai chi is a set movement form that balances yin and yang through the hands. Qigong has many different forms and is more still and focused on breathing. Tai chi requires more movement and is generally more physical. Tai chi also originated from martial arts, so it requires extensive balance footwork and muscle strength. Additionally, every movement of tai chi requires holding a ball of yin and yang. Tai chi can make one feel very peaceful by feeling the qi go to the tips of the hands. In tai chi, the movement and meditation occur at the same time. Moving qigong focuses more on movement, and non-moving focuses more on meditation and breathing. Tai chi combines both beautifully: a quiet mind while the body is also focused on moving.
I practice daily in the evening doing qigong and tai chi after dinner at around 8 p.m. I like to do the traditional, long tai chi form and horse stance. In the evening before bed, I do non-moving qigong.
For tai chi, I do the traditional, long tai chi form. At AOMA, we teach the yang-style tai chi short form. For qigong, I usually do the Nine Turns Meditation, Horse Dance (not necessarily daily) and Return to Spring. I like to cycle through a few of the different qigong practices.