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What is Qigong?

A Student’s Perspective

by Jennifer Drechsler

Over the past few months I have read fifty different articles answering the question, “What is qigong?”  Most of them begin similarly: Qigong finds its roots in ancient China. Qi is defined as life force or vital energy and Gong means is a skill cultivated through steady practice. So then putting those two things together in simplest terms, qigong is a mastery of your energy or vital energy cultivation practice. 


But the truth is, after reading so many articles, and even practicing myself, I am still not quite sure how to answer the question, “what is qigong?”


Qigong beings with movement and breath. Some of these forms include dynamic and physical movements, similar to tai chi or martial arts. And others require little or no movement, focusing on mediation or visualization. As a new student, I started my own journey of self discovery and mastery, using movement, breath and focus. Through this personal cultivation practice, I am learning to feel and move my own qi. Beginning with learning a series of movements coordinated with breath, I practice until each qigong form until I can do it with my eyes closed. Once the movement is in my body, I begin to feel the subte flows of energy through each movement, stillness and transition. 


The more I practice, the more I sense the subtle shifting energetics in my own body. Through movement, I can feel the pulsing of energy in my palms and hands, and the tingling of energy flowing through my feet, heart, and crown. I sense the opening connections to earth energy and heaven or sky energy, allowing that energy to flow freely through the taiji pole, the center core of my energetic body. Conversely, I begin to feel  where the energy does not flow, the places with blockages or kinks. At this point in my own journey, I do not always know what to do about those blocked spots, but I continue to work through them as best as I can.  


The more I practice, the more I understand the mind-body-spirit connection. It brings to mind a saying that many teachers say:

The qi flows where the mind goes.

During this time of corona virus, there are days, I felt extremely focused, empowered and embodied. And then days come where I feel  lost, disconnected and sad. After a 20 minute qigong practice, I land in my body, breathe through my feelings and emerge feeling grounded and ready to move through the day. I know that through movement, I can change the way I feel, or think. And the more I change the way I think, the more I want to move. 


The more I practice, the more I heal myself. Qi courses through the body, like a river. Gentle exercise and movement is good for the body. And there are hundreds of studies that tout the benefits of meditation and visualization. The Chinese Medicine theories believe If it becomes blocked or stagnant other parts of the body cannot get nourished properly. And if qi moves too quickly, it can exhaust or degrade the functions of internal organs and systems. Qigong helps to remove these imbalances and restore proper function to organs and internal systems.  


The more I practice, the more I grasp the goals of practicing. Mostly, I learn to get out of the way, let the energy of the universe flow through me, to move my body, so that I can find this moment and live now. Qigong wakes me up to this moment, allowing me to learn to more easily let things flow through me, so that my feelings and emotions do not become stuck. So that I can let them flow through like the energy that flows through my body. 


I am not sure that any of this really answers the question “What is qigong?” I think of qigong more like a classification or category of things like the words food or plants. They each have a description and definition and evoke certain images. But here is a good example. All true trees are plants, but not all plants are fruit trees. All forms or series of mindful movements are qigong, but not all qigong is forms or mindful movements. Breathwork and meditation with movement are qigong but not all qigong is breathwork and meditation.


Plant is a good analogy for qigong too. Seedlings are plants. Brushes are plants. Hundred year old trees are also plants. As time passes, plants change shape, form and appearance, but they remain plants. And like plants, the more time goes by the more my understanding of qigong changes. Understanding the question “what is qigong?” is like energy flow itself, always flowing, changing and moving. 


And at the end of the day, maybe the question “what is qigong?” doesn’t matter as much as actually practicing qigong. Because it is through my practice that I begin to understand what is qigong.  

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