China in Perspective
When looking into the history of China, one finds many fascinating insights into, not only Chinese culture, but also into the capabilities and nature of all humankind. In recent revisions, Chinese civilization has been proclaimed to be over 10,000 years old.
To put that in perspective, America was founded less than 250 years ago, the rise of the British empire was less than 500 years ago, Rome was founded less than 3000 years ago. The ancient Greeks who had their time for a period of about 300 years, were not even 3000 years ago. The ancient Mesopotamian’s, famous for math, the wheel, sailboats, maps and writing, were around 6000 years ago.
Considering the magnitude of impact these civilizations have had on the world as we know it, it begs the question, what did China produce during their long stretch of civilization?
When we look at China, we see a nation that bred some of the world’s greatest philosophers, scholars, architects, and engineers. They achieved unimaginable feats, while most of the rest of the world lived in technological darkness. The small, enigmatic human beings that can manifest unfathomable outcomes with a seemingly inhuman ability to labour. There is a long list of almost stupefying innovations from China. The 8,000 warrior statues made of terracotta, the rivers of mercury, the moving of mountains, the medicine, the tea, the 5,500 miles of Great Wall, the ability to endure incomprehensible amounts of suffering. The vast suffering is what some say advanced the development of much of Chinese philosophy and healing arts. Of course, this is conjecture, and suffering is not historically unique to China.
The art of Qi Gong is believed to be about 5,000 years old, so why hasn’t most of the world heard of it until so recently?
China, in the past, seems to have made seclusion from the rest of the world one of its more serious missions. They didn’t begin trading with the outside world until the 1900’s. Before that, they did have a brief period of trade when during the 1400’s hundreds the Ming emperor built the largest fleet of ships that the world has ever seen. The fleet was said to have up to 3,500 ships, to put this in perspective, the U.S navy today only has 430.
After the death of the emperor, the fleet (known as the ‘Treasure Fleet’) was burnt by his successor, in an almost superstitious stance to power. Along with the fleet, most records of it having ever existed were also destroyed. This kind of tendency toward isolation and secrecy that we can observe from the Chinese, might explain why Qi Gong has yet to become as popular as its Indian counterpart, yoga.
Personally, I see no other reason that this body of knowledge shouldn’t be known to the west to a greater extent.
Benefits of Tai Chi / Qi Gong
It is on par with yoga for its health benefits and could certainly play as big of a role in aiding us into understanding our minds and bodies to a greater extent.
This art is said to lead to increased longevity. Studies have shown that it increases flexibility and agility, boosts cognitive ability in elderly, improves balance and coordination, and increases physical strength and stamina.
A qualitative meta-analysis on the effects revealed that it leads many practitioners to having extraordinary experiences at various levels of bio-psycho-spiritual/energetic functioning. This is congruent with other iconic, though non-scientific literature on the practice.
The metanalysis of randomized controlled trials referenced below, shows evidence supporting the claim that Tai Chi helps in the management of Parkinson’s disease. This is no small feat, considering the lack of options at hand for sufferers of this harrowing neurodegenerative disease.
Results from one of the studies show that patients who received a 6-month training intervention, had 67% less falls than those who did not.
It shows clear and promising signs for helping patients cope with and reduce symptoms. However, the mechanism which might underlie this is not understood, and more research needs to be done in this.
So, What Is Qi Gong Anyway?
Qi (also spelled ‘chi’ or ‘ji’) is often described by eastern exercise practitioners as ‘life force energy’. Whether they are yogi’s who refer to this energy as ‘prana’ or whether they are Reiki practitioners who refer to this energy as ‘Ki’. Qi is said to be present in all living things, such as plants and animals but also said to be in the air around us. It is described as a driving force that influences and nourishes all things, an invisible body of energy that is working in accordance with its laws whether we are aware of it or not.
Dr Yang Jwing Ming, PhD. Physics, and Tai Chi Scholar, suggests in his book ‘The Root of Chinese Qi Gong’, that what has always been known as Qi to the Chinese, is the same as what we now know as bioelectromagnetic energy. This was first detected by Luigi Galvani, an Italian physician and physicist in the 1800’s. This electromagnetic energy is produced in living cells, tissue and organisms, which is so far consistent with the behavioural nature of Qi as described in ancient texts.
‘Qi Gong’ can so be directly translated as ‘energy work’. It is comprised of a series of physical movements and forms, which are integrated with constant mindfulness through the fluidity of slow movements. In this way, it’s not so different from yoga, and in fact operates on many of the same principles. Many of the breathing techniques can be compared, along with the theory behind the mechanism. While Qi Gong has the famous Yin & Yang, Yoga, similarly, has Ida & Pingala.
Qi Gong involves the cultivation of energy to achieve the perfect Yin Yang balance, although we in the west are all familiar with the iconic Yin Yang Symbol, few of us know what it really about.
If you are interested in learning more or beginning to practice yourself, check out the links below (not sponsored).
- Master Yuan Xiu Gang: Learning Zhan Zhuang – Wudang Healing Arts
- Wudang Five Animals Qi Gong
- Dr Yang Jwing Ming Understanding Qigong and Qi (energy) 1 of 3 by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming (YMAA)
- The effects of Tai Chi exercise on cognitive function in older adults: A meta-analysis Journal of Sport & Health Science 2, 2013)
- Tai chi as an intervention to improve balance and reduce falls in older adults: A systematic and meta-analytical review
- The Psychology of Qi Gong: A Qualitative Study Complementary Health Practice Review 15(2) 84-97
- Efficacy and Safety of Tai Chi for Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials