Home' Nova National : August 2010 Contents 24 © NOVA AUGUST 2010
A serious illness can often be the spur to find alternative
methods of healing. Such was the case with Dr Carl
Snyman who brings a medical doctor's perspective to
his own search for health through Qigong.
While qigong gave rise to
Traditional Chinese Medicine
also a health practice in its
The word "qigong" literally means
energy work. It is a system of postures,
gentle movements, breathing techniques
and focused intent, designed to maintain
and regain health and increase vitality.
There are literally thousands of forms
of qigong. They can be divided into three
main groupings: medical qigong, esoteric
qigong and the martial arts. Through
the ages these different groupings have
been influenced by Buddhist, Daoist and
Confucian thought. Yet all qigong forms
share two major components in varying
degrees -- Moving and Quiet Qigong.
There are forms of qigong, such as the
style I teach, which were developed to
make qigong accessible so that the benefits
are easily experienced. But to truly master
qigong takes many years of committed
practice. For this reason, high level qigong
masters have always been respected
in Chinese society and have included
scientists, philosophers and government
Today in China, in the early morning,
you will find ordinary folk gathering in
small to large groups to practise qigong in
public parks and gardens. It is estimated
that every day between 80 and 200 million
Chinese perform some form of qigong
exercise to achieve good health and long
life.The other place where you encounter
qigong is in the Chinese hospitals where
the form offered is medical qigong. Patients
are taught qigong, in one week workshops,
to strengthen their health after discharge.
A popular and widely acclaimed form of
medical qigong is Xin Guoling Qigong
used for the treatment of cancer. By
performing goose-type movements and
breathing exercises, Xin Guoling Qigong
increases the amount of oxygen in the
body, which helps the immune system to
attack cancer cells.
How did qigong originate? It is
probably the Daoists who contributed
most to the development of early Chinese
medicine and qigong. In their search for
longevity and, ultimately, immortality, the
Daoists, in their temples, developed many
healing and life prolonging methods,
including qigong. These physical exercises
imitated and were named after animals,
birds and even dragons!
In 1960, Dr Liu Gui Zheng brought
qigong from the temples into the
hospitals. Since then, Chinese hospitals
have done a lot of research into the
effectiveness of qigong, which is now
included in the curriculum of major
Chinese universities and colleges and is
an integral part of the Chinese National
Increasingly, Western universities and
hospitals also study the effects of qigong.
Various research studies confirm such
positive health benefits as normalising
blood pressure, decreasing the body's
excessive stress responses and supporting
the immune system. More and more
people in the West practise qigong and
institutions like The Stanford Center for
Integrative Medicine offer cancer patients
The form of qigong that I teach focuses
on strengthening the kidney, spleen
and liver channels, which correspond
respectively with the hormone, the
immune and the auto-nervous systems. It
is these three systems that govern most of
our body functions.
In order to better understand TCM
and qigong, I would like to introduce two
of the basic concepts that underpin them:
these are the concepts of "qi" and "qi
Qi is most frequently described as
lifeforce or vital energy. Asian people view
qi as the subtle invisible "stuff " from
which all things are formed. All living and
non-living things have this vital force:
human beings, animals, trees and
mountains, and so on. In China, most
scientists and ordinary people take the
existence of qi as a fact of life. Denying
the existence of qi would be the same as
Although there is no precise modern
Western definition of qi, in the West it is
often referred to as bio-magnetic electricity
or human electricity. Indeed, qi can be
described as a type of energy, much like
electricity. And like electricity, qi is invisible.
In the same way that electricity enables
a television to produce images and a bulb
to produce light, qi enables us to walk,
talk and think. Qi is what gives us power.
The concept of qi basically corres-
ponds with the concept of quantum
physics which states that, in fact, there
is no substance, only energies. All living
things, including our bodies, are bundles
of energy. We humans are electrical beings
and our human body is an electrical
system. Our human brain, for example,
generates more electrical impulses than all
the telephones in the world put together.
The concept of a lifeforce energy in the
human body was common to many ancient
cultures. Ancient Western civilisations in
Egypt, Israel, Greece and Native Americans
also all had words for this concept. In fact,
when Ötzi the iceman, Europe's oldest
natural human mummy, was discovered,
they found 57 carbon tattoos on his body.
The simple dots and lines on Ötzi's body
correspond to the acupuncture meridians
and points for problems that, thousands
of years later, modern science has revealed
he suffered. This might imply that
acupuncture was a fully developed health
practice in Central Europe at the same time
that it was used in ancient China -- about
5,500 years ago.
Why is qi important? As the ancient
Chinese philosopher Guan Tse wrote, "In
order to do anything in life, we first must
The energy of the human body is the
foundation of our health and life. When we
have a lot of energy, our immune system
works at full strength. All the cells in our
body depend on energy for their existence.
The more qi we have, the more active we
can be and the more we can achieve.
We constantly expend qi in daily living.
We use qi when we process our food, work
and play. For this reason, we regularly
need to replenish our internal stores of
energy. The obvious ways of replenishing
qi are by eating nutritious food, getting
sufficient sleep and following a balanced
lifestyle. Another particularly powerful
way of gathering qi is through the practice
The use of energy as medicine to
cure and prevent disease and degeneration
has been studied and practised for
thousands of years in China and other
Asian countries. In Traditional Chinese
Medicine, a balance in the flow of qi is
seen as the equivalent of health. When qi
flows harmoniously through our body,
we enjoy good health. When qi does not
flow smoothly and becomes blocked,
discomfort and illness result.
Accordingly, TCM identifies patterns of
imbalances rather than the trying to find
a single cause as is the case in modern
Western medicine. The Chinese believe
that diseases and disorders are caused
by an imbalance in qi between organs, as
well as problems with specific organs.
They reason: "Don't only treat the head
if the head hurts, or only treat the foot
if the foot hurts."
The second concept that underpins
TCM and qigong is the concept of the qi
channels that circulate qi throughout our
body. Just as we have a blood circulation
system made up of blood vessels, so
we also have a qi circulation system in
our body. There is a difference though.
The difference is that qi flows along a
network of invisible pathways called the qi
channels, also known as "meridians". Just
like electricity, the qi channels embody a
kind of informational network.
Though these qi channels are invisible
to the naked eye, science has confirmed
their existence. In 1991, experiments
were conducted with a Supercond-
ucting Quantum Interference Device.
This machine mapped the lines of the
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