“Qi is the basic principle of the entire universe. It creates all matter and its mutation. Qi is the beginning and the end, of life and death”. (Emperor Huang, in the Classic of Internal Medicine )
A more contemporary description is: “Qi is light, sound, heat, emotion, thought, matter and all the other things and processes that exist in the universe. In another sense, Qi is none of these things, because each is only an aspect or reflection of it. Understanding Qi as the fire behind the universe is a good start”. (GrandMaster Gary Khor, Australian Academy of Tai Chi).
Qigong is the art of harnessing, channeling, controlling and utilising this life energy for beneficial purposes, the most usual being for health, healing and self-defence.
THE SPARK OF LIFE
The scriptures speak of God breathing life into man. Taoist philosophy teaches that when the Yin and Yang germinal elements ( egg/ovum and spermatozoon respectively ) meet, life does not yet begin until it is charged by the spark of qi from the cosmos. Qi is thus the spark of life.
In the natural state, both the egg and sperm bring their qi’s ( yin and yang ) together. The union is symbolized by the classic Tao ( or Tai Chi ) symbol – of an ever-flowing and ever-spinning energy wheel. When balanced, the Yin half always has a Yang component in it, and vice versa.
Modern science has shown that the spark of energy is really critical. When fertilization occurs, the sperm brings its genetic material into the ovum, but the process of genetic mixing, duplication and further multiplication does not happen until there is an energy discharge.
In artificial reproduction techniques (ART), specifically in cloning, the scientists have to initiate the union with a shock to the cloned egg. After that external burst of electrical energy, the forces of qi take over.
THE SUSTAINER OF LIFE
From that beginning in the mother’s womb ( actually it all happens in the Fallopian tube and the fertilized egg may take 3 to 4 days to reach the uterine cavity ), the embryo is nourished with nutrients, oxygen and qi from the mother. In the beginning, the embryo does not have an elaborate system of channels or meridians. These only develop in tandem with the nervous system after several weeks. The embryonic cells depend on the mother’s supply of qi. It is essential therefore that the pregnant mother keeps herself in good health, taking care of her nutritional, emotional and energy needs. The embryo “breathes” qi from its mother, first through direct cellular, and later through the umbilical cord.
One of the enigmas of modern medicine is trying to unravel the causes of miscarriages. From studies done on natural pregnancies and assisted reproductive techniques, we now know that about half of all early pregnancies are lost ( spontaneously aborted ). Many are lost even before or during the time of the expected menses. In these situations pregnancy is never suspected, and therefore no confirmatory test is done ( note that a pregnancy begins 2 weeks before the menses is due ). All the women may notice is “early or slightly delayed menses”, or altered bleeding.
Although some of the causes have been identified ( inherited major chromosomal aberrations, certain infections, serious maternal diseases, uterine abnormalities, immune reactions, etc ), the cause for the majority of miscarriages remain unknown. Whilst gynecologists empirically treat these cases as having possible genetic/chromosomal, hormonal deficiency or immune reaction problems, there is no certainty.
Since qi plays such a pivotal role in initiating and sustaining life, the lack of qi must also be a major reason for the failure of these embryos/fetuses to survive. Mothers who believe in this energy system can help their babies by gently putting their hands on the lower abdomen ( over the uterus ) and send their qi with love to their little ones. Although the mother’s qi is supplied to the baby through the umbilical cord, the external qi supplied through the hands will still be of immense benefit to the baby, especially if there are problems.
THE NATURAL BREATH
As mentioned above, qi means breath, and the newborn baby starts accumulating his own qi from the first breath, and continues to do so throughout his life. Qi is also obtained from ingested food and energized water, and is absorbed as external qi from the earth; minerals/crystals; plants and trees; lakes, rivers and seas; the sun and other celestial bodies; and from other people, either transmitted intentionally or otherwise. The main source, however, is always the universal cosmic qi.
For the beginner, qi is best imagined as coming in with the physical breath. With practice, you can start absorbing the cosmic qi through the Ba Hui, or the energy point at the top of the head. Earth qi is absorbed through the feet up to the perineum. Air qi is absorbed through the pores of the skin. The qi travels through the meridian channels and are stored in the Dan Tian, the main energy centre in the lower abdomen.
The physical breathing movements actually start very early while the fetus is still in the womb, as a reflex ( in-born ) action to acclimatize the fetus to its air-breathing existence after birth. At birth, the first cry lets out the fluids from the lungs to be replaced by oxygen-rich air. It is customary for midwives and doctors to even spank the babies who are slow to cry, although current medical practice promotes a gentler approach to inducing the babies to breathe!
Babies are natural diaphragmatic ( abdominal, belly or tummy ) breathers. You will notice that their abdomens will rise as they inhale. However, they will change to chest breathing ( with expanding ribcage ) when distressed or if there is any obstruction to the breathing passages. Doctors look for depressions in-between the ribs as a sign of such obstruction.
Abdominal breathing is the natural, efficient way to breathe. Unfortunately most of us have “unlearned” this method and have switched to chest breathing, which is less efficient.
If you are not sure how you breathe, just put your hands on your abdomen. Breathe normally and take note if your abdomen rises or depresses on inhalation. If it rises, then you are an abdominal breather.
An abdominal breather can effortlessly increase his air intake by continuing the inhalation into his chest, but the reverse ( chest breathing followed by expanding the abdomen ) is difficult to do – it requires some practice! If you take a deep breath into the chest first, then it becomes almost impossible to expand the abdomen. The reverse, however, is possible. The chest breather would certainly improve his air intake ( and therefore oxygen supply ) by switching to abdominal breathing.
Qigong breathing is slow, relaxed, conscious and controlled breathing. It is abdominal breathing through the nose with the tip of tongue touching the upper palate ( this completes the “microcosmic orbit” channel around the back and front of the body ). Breathing is deep, but not full ( filling in only about 2/3 of the lungs ).
In certain exercises, chest ( or “paradoxical” ) breathing is done. There are many different breathing techniques in Qigong and related healing arts which are practised to achieve various benefits. Some of these ( spinal breathing, kidney breathing, 2-in 1-out breathing of the Amazing Qigong Walk ) have been described in previous articles and others ( cosmic breathing, skull breathing, skin breathing, embryonic breathing, reverse breathing, and more ) will be described in future.
The most scientifically proven aspect of controlled breathing is the slow, relaxed component. Studies done in USA and Europe have shown that if you slow down your breathing rate from the average rate of 14-18 per minute to 10 or below, there are definite health benefits. The blood pressure of patients with hypertension who were inadequately controlled by their drugs was shown to reduce by an average of 14/9 ( systolic/diastolic BP ), with the best result achieved being a sustained 36/20 reduction! These results were achieved after only 15 minutes a day ( 3-4 times a week for 4-8 weeks ) of slow, controlled breathing aided by an electronic bio-feedback gadget that guides the patients to lower their breathing rates ( reported in American Society of Hypertension annual scientific meeting 2002 ).
I teach my students to breathe at about 6 cycles or less per minute of Qigong breathing. If this is practised long enough, the natural breathing rate will always be 10 or below! If 15 minutes of slow breathing on alternate days can significantly lower BP, imagine what 1 hour of slow Qigong breathing everyday can do! It is no wonder that many have recovered from all sorts of chronic diseases and cancers after practising Qigong.
I have quoted an aspect that science can study ( breathing rate ), but science has yet to catch up with the more powerful components – the mind control and the effects of qi. For at the highest levels of Qigong, it is the mind, in concert with the breath, that magnifies, controls and commands the qi to cause healing ( even “miraculous” ones ) and amazing physical feats. Don’t you think it is time YOU learn Qigong?