The practice of Qigong is thousands of years old, and it continues to be a pervasive part of Chinese culture today. Though Western Qigong studios aren’t as prolific as other Eastern counterparts such as Yoga, interest in this ancient Chinese method of integrating the body and mind is growing — with good reason. Qigong clinics can be found right under our noses in many specialty hospitals working with cancer, pain and internal medicine across the nation. The blend of physical postures, mindful breathing and focused attention offers a complete, holistic wellness system that builds strength, quells anxiety and calms the mind and space in otherwise busy lives.
Qigong in Recovery
Qigong is designed to strengthen the connection between body, breath and mind, and — like yoga and addiction treatment — it is highly effective in supporting recovery when combined with other programming. The word Qigong pronounced chee-gung, combines two Chinese words to arrive at a deeper meaning. “Qi” represents the life force energy that flows through the fabric of the universe, while “gong” refers to the “Practice” or success achieved through devoted effort. Qigong focuses on intentionally cultivating energy (Qi), which leads to better overall health.
Qigong blends perfectly with many recovery programs, because it offers an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the body, breath and mind connection. Throughout the practice of Qigong, students learn strategies for making constructive use of strong emotions. As with recovery yoga, recovery Qigong provides new methods of building self-confidence and creating positive internal dialogue. These steps are critical in creating a life that is free from addiction.
Branches of Qigong Practice
Individuals tend to start a Qigong practice to achieve specific goals: better physical health, greater mental clarity or increased spirituality. Over time, four primary branches of Qigong have evolved to meet the need for particular applications.
- Healing Qigong, or yi gong, focuses on self-healing and prevention of health issues. One of the primary components relates to the safe handling of stress so that emotional reactions don’t have physical repercussions. Some of the most common stress-related diseases include anxiety disorders, depression, sleep disruption, high blood pressure and heart disease. Through healing Qigong, practitioners transform their stress management abilities, releasing negative energy in favor of positive, constructive action.
- Sports Qigong, or wu gong, brings focus to increasing the body’s physical abilities. Postures and breathing are centered around improving stamina, strength, speed, flexibility, coordination, balance and resistance to injury. Athletes favor this branch of Qigong, as do individuals developing their martial arts skills.
- Spiritual Qigong, or fo gong/Tao gong, is intended to move practitioners closer to an integration of the mind and spirit. With deep roots in Buddhism and Taoism, this branch of Qigong develops harmony with nature, tranquility and self-awareness.
- External qi healing, or EQH, is the most advanced of the Qigong practices. Students spend years learning the art of assessing others’ health and energy levels, then harnessing their own positive energy and energy from the environment to encourage healing.
It isn’t necessary to choose between these branches, as beginners have opportunities in all areas. Through dedicated Qigong practice, most students develop an affinity for certain features of the Qigong philosophy, which naturally guides them to the branch of greatest interest.
The Elements of Qigong Practice
While a variety of Qigong practices have evolved to meet specific needs, all have common underlying elements.
Physical postures are the first component of a Qigong practice. Some involve movement and others are stationary, but each serves a particular purpose. Postures may increase qi or improve its circulation. They may focus attention on cleansing and healing the body, or they may allow the practitioner to share qi with others for the purpose of healing. Qigong is represented in the gentle movements of tai chi as well as the bolder motions associated with kung fu. However, regardless of the energy expended, nearly all postures can be adapted for beginners or for individuals with physical challenges.
The second component of a Qigong practice is breathing. Many people disregard the importance of breath, taking for granted the fact that the respiratory system functions automatically, day in and day out. Qigong brings attention to this life-sustaining activity, requiring students to turn breathing into a conscious, deliberate action. Focused breathing makes it possible to create calm space in which to explore the mind’s inner workings while letting go of the many stressors found in the outside world. After participating in breathing exercises, Qigong practitioners in recovery report a sense of balance, well-being and harmony, along with enhanced confidence in their ability to manage their lives.
The final component of a Qigong practice is mind training aka Shengong or mindfulness. Through postures and breathing exercises, Qigong students learn to create a boundary between the worries of their everyday lives and their internal experience. Through mindfulness, they fully live in the moment, connecting with their bodies on a deeper level. This awareness builds the body, breath and mind relationship, and many Qigong students discover the path to better health as a result. As the triad of body, breath and mind become stronger through daily practice, Qigong practitioners gain greater awareness of the energy around them, mental clarity becomes heightened and the body and mind see less day of illness whether it be sickness or afflicted emotions. As daily Qigong practice becomes a norm, the body and mind find less need for old habits as new ones set in to help recovery or addictive tendencies. In recovery, appreciation for and care of the body can be a strong motivator that leads to long-term success.