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Also, chi, ki

Pronunciation: CHEE (as in CHEese) GUNG (as in lung).

In Chinese, qi means energy or breath; gong means work, study or exercise. Together they mean breath work (study or exercise) or energy work (study or exercise).

Qi is an elusive concept foreign to Westerners and sometimes difficult for them to understand. There is no exact translation nor is there an equivalent word for it in English. By its very nature and its existence is foreign to Western thinking. Contrarily, the intrinsic life force concept permeates the fabric of Chinese culture. Consider it the primordial “force” of the universe–that which makes all things and all things happen. It is the master “template” forming all visible and invisible things.

In English, “breath” is “breath” and nothing more. In Chinese, especially in qigong, the intrinsic energy is divided into many different kinds: sexual jing, primordial yuanqi, yin or yang, prenatal or postnatal, attack or repulse, empty or full, external or internal, hard or soft, tonifying or detoxifying and many more.

Simply put, qi is the “life force” that permeates both humans and the universe. We are surrounded by qi. We live encased in a field of this “vital breath” or “life energy.” It is inside us, as well as outside. We get part of our qi from our parents who gave birth to us. We take in qi from the sun and nature around us. We maintain qi by eating healthy. We deplete it by eating unhealthy, by doing harm to our bodies and in going about our lives. Despite its nature and importance, many are unaware of the energy that supports all of us.

It is qi that links body, mind and spirit. We practice qigong to cultivate unifying these three. The sole purpose of qigong is to generate and manipulate the life force for the benefit of mind, body, and spirit. Training in qigong is like having your own personal biofeedback machine. By increasing your awareness of your body, its sensations, its structure, how it moves, its physiology, and how you can circulate energy around your body, you slowly become more proficient at qigong. Qigong teaches mental and bodily self-regulation. It makes you more aware of bodily functions normally considered involuntary–blood pressure, respiratory rate, even the flow of blood and nutrients to internal organs–and learn to restore a healthier balance, or homeostasis.

Unlike biofeedback technology, there is little cost. Qigong is among the most cost-effective self-healing methods in the world. The only investment one needs is time. with just a half-hour or an hour investment every day one receives the cumulative payback of better health, increased vitality and peaceful alertness.

Although this life force is accepted universally by different cultures, qi nevertheless defies description — the belief that a cosmic life force is ultimately responsible for creating and sustaining all life in the universe.

In yoga it is called prana. Western culture does have something close to the same idea. In the Bible, God breathes life into Adam. This “Breath of Life” similar to the concept of qi.

This “force” is responsible for living things. It exists in the air we breath, the food we eat and the water we drink. It permeates everything in nature. In fact, without this energy there would be no life.

The Book of Changes (I Ching) was likely the first Chinese book to mention qi. Its earliest versions date to the Warring States period (475–221 BCE). The I Ching introduced the concept of three natural energies or powers (San Cai): tian (Heaven), di (Earth), and ren (Man). Studying the relationship of these three natural powers was the first step in the development of qigong.

Flowing water never stagnates and the hinges of an active door never rust. This is due to movement. The same principle applies to essence and energy [qi]. If the body does not move, essence does not flow. When essence does not flow, energy stagnates.

Truly, to be stiff and hard is the way of death; to be soft and supple is the way of life.

Tao Te Ching

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