It is very important for us to have sufficient muscle mass to help support our skeleton, and our movements. Muscles also help us maintain our weight, as they burn twice more calories than fat. Most of us lack muscle, especially those of us who have settled comfortably into the typical modern lifestyle. We sit for hours at work, in the car ( especially during long journeys or traffic jams ), at home in front of the TV; and hardly do any physical work because we have all sorts of gadgets to do things for us, or we can pay others to do them.
As a result, after the active childhood and school years, most people start losing their muscles and gain fat instead, due to inactivity and poor diet. By age thirty, many have started to become unhealthy, and by age 40 are likely to be overweight or even obese ( seriously overweight with health risks ). A survey in 1999 showed that almost 25% of urban Malaysians 40 years or older were overweight, including about 10% who were obese.
Muscle-building exercises are important for both men and women. Older people who wish to stay healthy and live longer must have adequate muscles. In fact, building muscles will directly increase the level of growth hormone ( also called ‘youth’ or ‘anti-aging’ hormone ) which in turn improves the function of all vital organs, including the heart.
Using Qigong principles, it is quite easy to build-up muscles, not to bulky competitive levels, but just sufficient for good health. The prerequisites for effective Qigong exercise are concentration, and conscious and coordinated movements and breathing. I have explained previously how these cause qi build-up and flow, as well as improved oxygen utilization by body cells. The health benefits are much better than if the exercises were done without these requirements.
Qigong exponents have long known that their muscle-building exercises were very effective without necessarily using so much weights or resistance. The weight training movements are done slowly, with full concentration, and with carefully-timed breathing. It was only in the last decade or so that exercise physiologists realized the amazing benefits of slow exercises, and now recommend slow or super-slow weight-training ( Fit for Life 9/3/2003 ). By doing the exercises slowly, the weight is at all times moved by muscular action, not by the momentum of the initial movement. Furthermore, the assistance of gravity is minimized when the weight is brought downwards slowly.
If these slow exercises are done the Qigong way, the benefits are further enhanced. It is also safer since less weights ( when necessary ) are used. It is therefore ideal for beginners and older people who may be prone to injuries.
I will share three of these Power Qigong exercises for you to get started. These exercises can be done anywhere, anytime. You do not have to go the gym to do these, so you should start right away at home. The only weights you need are for the vertical lifts. Since only light weights are required, substitutes are easily available.
POWER QIGONG VERTICAL LIFT
This is a modification of the standard vertical lift. This exercise builds up about 2/3 of the upper body muscles. In regular muscle-training, dumbbells of increasing weights are used for the repetitions, until the maximum tolerable weight is achieved. In Power Qigong, you can start with lighter weights, about half that you would use in the regular vertical lift. Women can start with as low as 1 kg. Dumbbells of 1 to 10 kg are available in fitness stores and in most hypermarkets. A simple substitute is a 1.5 liter full bottle of water which weighs 1.5 kg.
Stand in the basic Qigong stance ( with all its requirements ) while holding the dumbbell in each hand. Slowly flex the elbows to bring the dumbbells above the shoulders. The movement should take about 10 seconds to complete. Next, without stopping, slowly extend the elbows while lifting the dumbbells upwards, until the arms are almost fully extended ( but do not fully extend the arms ). This should also take about 10 seconds. Next, without stopping, slowly reverse the movements at the same slowness until the starting position.
The breathing is ideally timed with each of the four parts of the exercise ( two while lifting, and two in reverse ), starting with inhalation and changing to exhalation at the start of the next part and so on. However, you may start with breathing at whatever rate is comfortable for you, as long as you keep the movements slow. Do not hasten the movements to fit your breathing.
At all times, concentrate on your movements and breathing. Do 10 repetitions before changing exercise.
POWER QIGONG SQUAT
This exercise builds up the leg muscles. Stand in the basic Qigong stance, except that both feet are turned outwards about 30 degrees. Start by slowly squatting down, while bringing both hands towards the upper sternum ( you may also clench your hands ) as you squat down. This should take about 10 seconds. Next, without stopping, slowly reverse the actions ( arms and legs ), at the same slowness, to the original standing Qigong position.
The same rule applies for breathing. Ideally, you should inhale while squatting down and exhale while standing up. However, you may breathe at a faster rate that is comfortable for you, without hastening the movements. Do 10 repetitions.
POWER QIGONG SIT-UP
This is for the abdominals. The starting position is the same as in regular sit-up, that is, lying down with legs bent, and feet comfortably resting on the floor. Place your hands on top of each other ( males right over left, females vice-versa ) over the Dantian ( in lower abdomen about three fingers below umbilicus ). Start by slowly lifting the upper body, until the shoulders are 5 – 6 inches above the floor. Do it in about 10 seconds. Note that it is not necessary to sit up fully to the sitting position. Next, without stopping, slowly reverse the movement to the resting position in the same duration, without moving the arms. Inhale as you sit-up, and exhale as you reverse, or breathe according to your ability.
This is the easiest of the three exercises, but is the most important. Most men above forty already have protruding abdomens that signify higher risks of getting heart attacks. This exercise selectively burns the abdominal fat while building up the muscles. Those who have fat tummies should do at least 3 rounds of 10 repetitions, with other exercises or rest between each round.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE
I have repeatedly stressed the importance of doing all the different forms of exercise ( aerobics, muscle-building, stretching, flexibilty and qi-enhancing ) to be healthy and prevent disease. A healthy diet and lifestyle will further guarantee your wellbeing. There are people who practise slow Qigong exercises but do not do the other exercises for cardiovascular and muscular fitness and are still at risk of health problems and early death.
The good thing about exercise is that the results are fast. You can regain about 20 years of physical health after 6 months of regular exercise. The problem for most of us is to get started.
A caution about silent heart disease – if you are a male above forty, do have a thorough heart check before starting any stressful exercise. Too often we hear of apparently healthy men dying of heart attacks, especially during or after exercising or playing games. My classmate died recently after a game of badminton. He was healthy, not fat, and played badminton regularly. A post-mortem revealed a severely blocked coronary artery. He was not even fifty.