Understanding the health-rejuvenating principles of qi gong (pronounced chee kung) and tai ji can be applied as an adjunct therapy to acupuncture. My interests in Daoist principles of health first began with the study of tai ji quan, which guided me to becoming an acupuncturist.After seven years of practicing tai ji, I soon discovered qi gong from Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming in Boston.
The romanized spellings of tai ji quan and qi gong has proven to be quite confusing. This spelling is based on the Hanyu Pinyin developed by the Ministry of Education for the People's Republic of China in 1954, which supersedes older romanized systems such as Wade-Giles (1859). I believe most people find the older Wade-Giles spelling - tai chi chuan/chi kung - easier to pronounce. Tai ji quan (pronounced tai jee chuen) translates as "grand ultimate fist." The word fist reveals the history of tai ji as a martial art. Today, it is more commonly practiced as a wellness exercise. Another translation of tai ji is "great extremes," in contrast to wu ji ("no extreme"). The tai ji form embodies the Daoist creation story. The form begins and ends in the wu ji posture - a state of emptiness. From emptiness comes the ten thousand manifestations - the "great extremes." All things return to the source - wu ji.
The word qi loosely translates into "energy," and gong means "time and effort." Therefore, qi gong can mean "the study of energy" or "energy work." When speaking of qi gong, it generally implies the study of energy associated with the human body but there are other forms of study. Qi is a life force that penetrates all manifestations, so any study on the natural flow of things can be considered qi gong. For example, astrology, meteorology, feng shui, geography and acupuncture are all forms of qi gong. Tai ji quan is also considered a form of qi gong.Itemphasizes mental focus and breathing techniques with body movement or still meditation. Qi gong without mental focus and proper breathing techniques is more appropriately considered general exercise and not qi gong.
In tai ji, there are Five Regulatings: body, breath, mind, qi and spirit. Initial qi gong and tai ji training emphasizes the practice of regulating the body, breath and mind. Qi and spirit are often subjects of advance training. I often convey to my students and patients "good health is good circulation." Promoting calmness helps the qi circulate and the spirit consolidate. Many people have a hard time relaxing. Our fast-paced society doesn't encourage relaxation and calmness. Calmness does not come naturally and requires training.
Regulating the body to promote calmness requires an attention to postural alignment. Good posture requires minimal muscle contraction and minimal obstruction to circulation. Observing a patient's posture can add important details to a diagnosis. A forward-leaning posture will cause tightness and stagnation throughout the channels along the anterior aspect of the body. I often see this posture in patients who are aggressive, have a lean body type or have a fast-pace lifestyle. A rear-leaning posture will cause stagnation to posterior channels and is often displayed by patient's who tend towards timidity, fearfulness or being overweight.
For my tai ji students, I bring awareness to postural imbalances by self-awareness and experience. When standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, carry your body weight through the center of the feet. Shifting your weight forward on the balls of your feet you begin to feel stagnation building up along the front of the body, especially in the lower legs. Shifting your weight backward on the heels, you can feel the backside tighten. Knowing the extremes, you can then find the center. Bending the knees slightly allows the lumbar muscles to relax. Locking the knees back impedes circulation in the Urinary Bladder channel and causes the lumber region to tighten. Tilting the hips forward slightly also relaxes the lumbar region and opens the Mingmen (Life Gate). The lumbar curve opens when the hips are tilted forward. A large protruding abdomen causes the lumbar spine to extend forward, squeezing off the qi flow from the Mingmen. Obesity and low back pain often coincide. Standing tall to lengthen the spine allows maximum circulation through the channels of the torso; in particular the Du and Chong Mai. "Press the Heavens" (with the top of your head) is a wonderful tai ji quan expression that conveys an image of extending your spirit gently into the clouds. This elevates the spirit and promotes mental clarity. Finally in an effort to define good postural alignment, the shoulders should be relaxed. Test this by lifting your shoulders up and simply let them relax to check if you are holding any tension in your shoulders. While doing the tai ji form it is also important to create an egg-size space in the armpits to avoid obstruction in the Heart, Pericardium and Lung channels traversing across the chest.
In future articles, I will expound upon more principles of tai ji, qi gong and the Five Regulatings that can be used outside of the general practice of these exercises to benefit diagnosis and treatment protocols.
Christopher Carlow, D. LAc is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, Tai Ji Quan and qi gong instructor in Rhode Island. He offers lectures on self-care based on the time-honored principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine emphasizing natural health through diet, qi gong and lifestyle practices. He may be contacted via his website www.NaturesHealing.info.