Analysis of Basic Elements of Health Qigong (Body Regulation) Hu Xiaofei Beijing Sport University
Health Qigong is a sports project which regards health as its purpose and gentle body activities as its basis, and achieves physical and mental state through regulating body, breath and mind. That is to say, in health Qigong, gentle body movements are its form of expression; regulation of body, breath and mind is its method of exercise; tendency to the integration of the three aspects above is its principle of exercise. Hence, while practicing health Qigong, how to recognize, understand and perform the three aspects is the core problem which health Qigong practitioners should value and also an issue which is worth our further discussion.
Section One About Body Regulation
I. Concept of Body Regulation
Body regulation, that is, regulation of body shapes, is active and conscious adjustment and exercise of body postures or movements, thus gradually making them meet with the requirements and purpose of exercise. It’s the prerequisite for breath and mind regulation, the foundation for exercising health Qigong. Its basic purpose is “correct shapes and relaxing body”. “Qi won’t be smooth if the shapes are not correct; mind won’t be stable if Qi is not smooth and spirit won’t be orderly if mind is not stable” explains the purpose. It’s an important method of improving health as well. There are many famous quotations in ancient and modern times which expound the effects of body regulation. For instance, “Running water never becomes putrid and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten”. “As long as you exercise, your body will be strong”. “Life lies in movement”. “For those who are engaged in sports, they have their own way of living and make their body averagely developed so their life is orderly and regular”. All of these quotations are concrete functions and demonstration of the body regulation effects. In traditional exercise, the ‘bear-hang’ and the ‘bird-stretch’, stretching the body to make it flexible, conduction, induction and massage, solemn body like elephant all belong to the scope of body regulation.
II. Object and Content of Body Regulation
(I) Object of Body Regulation: Body regulation is to regulate the inside and outside, top and bottom and all parts of the entire body. Hence, the objects of body regulation are numerous. From top to bottom is head, neck, shoulders, elbow, wrist, palm, finger, chest, belly, upper part of the side of the body, rib, spine, back, waist, buttocks, hip, anus, leg, knee, ankle, feet and toes, etc; five sense organs include eyes, ears, nose, throat and tongue; the torso includes chest, enterocoelia, pelvic cavity and backbone, etc; five internal organs include liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidney, etc; all of them are the objects of body regulation and maintenance of health Qigong.
(II) Content of Body Regulation: Regards to the objects above, the content of body regulation is rich and colorful. It includes: body posture, form of movements, movement direction, relative position, method of exercise, way of exercise, exercise trajectory, exercise speed, exercise strength, amount of exercise, exercise frequency, exercise order, preparation before exercise and integration after exercise, etc. These elements are endless and belong to the body regulation content of health Qigong. All of them serve for making mind peace and regulating breath, dredging main and collateral channels, circulating Qi and blood, strengthening bones and tendon, balancing Yin and Yang and harmonizing five internal organs.
III. Methods and Requirements of Body Regulation
In the exercise of health Qigong, the basic purpose is “correct shapes and relaxing body”. Focusing on this purpose, explicit and detailed methods and requirements are established for regulation of the entire body. For instance, the requirements for “correct shapes” are standing still, upright head and neck, vertical spine and chest, sinking shoulders and elbows, loose waist and hip, tongue against palate and looking straightforward, etc; the requirements for “loose body” is peaceful mind, combination of the inside and outside as well as run-through. The methods and requirements adopted for body regulation of health Qigong should follow detailed exercise ways and practice features for each method. They have been described in detail in every method book so they won’t be mentioned here again.
IV. Features and Functions of Body Regulation
Based on the basic purpose and requirements of health Qigong, the body regulation of health Qigong takes on the following features and functions:
(I) Correct Body Shapes and Relaxing Movements
While exercising health Qigong, practitioners should keep their body impartial and relaxed, limbs open, loose and coordinated no matter it’s about body postures such as walking, standing, sitting and lying or requirements for the process and methods for movements such as pitching, stretching, rotating, running and jumping, rising and falling, opening and closing, etc. It’s demonstrated in all nine health Qigong methods. Distinct deficiency and excess can help practitioners do a good job in correct shapes and loose body. The benefits of the feature for practitioners’ method exercise are as follows:
1. Restrain mind to help breath: studies show that relaxing and natural body postures and movements can better help practitioners with their peaceful mind, respiratory muscles and chest pressure formation. It’s because relaxing body can make muscles get easy to the uttermost, further effectively reduce unnecessary extra stimulation and lower the excitability of the cerebral cortex. Besides, it can help practitioners relax their mind and spirit; the relaxing status of drawing in the chest slight and erecting the back can make the respiratory muscles and chest remain in a good and relaxing status. This is helpful to the formation of slow, even, thin and mild breath. However, if practitioners can’t achieve distinct deficiency and excess, it’s hard for them to have correct shapes and loose body and some muscles of the body will be in a tension state. It will definitely send a series of centripetal nerve impulses to relevant cerebral cortex and further affect the effects of meditation. Just as the ancient people say, “Qi won’t be smooth if the shapes are not correct; mind won’t be stable if Qi is not smooth and spirit won’t be orderly if mind is not stable”. It’s a case in point. Therefore, distinct deficiency and excess and correct body shapes can help practitioners restrain mind and regulate breath. It’s the foundation for regulating mind and breath.
2. Circulate Qi and blood: studies show that full relaxation of limbs can effectively increase the open amount of microcirculations and promote the smoothness of blood capillary in muscles. That is to say, the body posture of correct shapes and loose body can relax all muscles to the uttermost, increase the development amount of blood capillary and further facilitate the blood circulation of the full body. In terms of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it can dredge the entire main and collateral channels, and circulate Qi and blood. We may have such experience while doing standing exercise. The more relaxed the body part, the more comfortable and warm; after exercise, we can feel our skin and body are warm. Such warmth is the real portrait of dredging the entire main and collateral channels, and circulating Qi and blood. According to TCM, “main and collateral channels will be smooth when they are warm; blood will circulate when it’s warm”; “people won’t have pain if everything is smooth and otherwise, people feel the pain”. Hence, the feature of correct shapes and loose body can help regulate viscera on the inside, prevent diseases and preserve health.
(II) Soft, Gentle, Round and Consistent to Exercise Full Body
When it comes to “soft, gentle, round and consistent”, movements in the exercise need to be mild instead of still; speed should be slow instead of too fast; the movement trajectory should be in an arch shape instead of straight; the movement process should be even and continuous instead of intermittent. The entire exercise should leave people with a feeling of smooth “silk” such as the bird-fly in Wu Qin Xi of health Qigong. As to “exercising full body”, the exercise of the entire set of methods needs to be comprehensive, complete and orderly instead of being partial, fragmented and disordered. Stopgap measures shouldn’t be taken. The principle is shown in all methods of health Qigong. The feature is helpful to distinct deficiency and excess, correct shapes and loose body so it can also help practitioners restrain mind, smooth Qi and circulate Qi and blood.
1. Unity of body and soul: it can combine the spirit and body of practitioners. Lao Zi once said, “You need to keep your mind and body integrated all the time”. Therefore, the purpose of exercise is to integrate spirit and body. In order to achieve this, the most important thing is to let practitioners highly relaxed in both mind and body. To achieve the status, correct shapes and loose body must be achieved from the perspective of body regulation. The feature of being soft, gentle, round and consistent to exercise full body is the prerequisite for the formation of correct shapes and loose body. It’s because soft, gentle, slow and consistent movements will make exercise relatively simple, stable and relaxing. This can help practitioners keep their body impartial and further serve loose body and peaceful mind. At the same time, it can reduce the extra burden on spirit due to discordant body postures, forms of movements, movement speed and exercise process; it decreases extra stimulation for cerebral cortex so as to better help practitioners enter the conception of body and soul integration. On the contrary, if movements are stiff, straight or intermittent, it will definitely cause tense spirit and absent-mindedness for practitioners, thus being unable to obtain peace.
2. Combination of movement and breath: it’s helpful to the coordination of practitioners’ movements and breath. The breath features of health Qigong is gentle, even, thin, slow, deep and long. It requires movements to cooperate with breath and movements to serve breath. This is different from other sports projects such as martial arts and the art of attack and defense which uses Qi to promote force. Suppose if movements are tense and stiff with rapid speed, or intermittent during exercise, the oxygen demand increases greatly and practitioners have to adjust their breath rhythm, speed and thickness to increase oxygen intake so as to maintain the body’s demand for oxygen; second, it also makes breath intermittent, thick or fast at this moment and thin or slow next moment. Therefore, the abdominal respiration of “gentle, even, thin, slow, deep and long” can’t be obtained, which further affects the adjustment of vegetative nerve and the progress of peaceful mind because “mind will be stable when breath is regulated”. As a result, only when movements are gentle, slow, round and consistent can they better serve breath and ensure gentle, even, thin, slow, deep and long breath.
3. Make body and mind pleasant: practitioners can feel physical and spiritual happiness through exercise. Studies show that “Long-term, continuous, mid-weight and heavy-weight class movements and deep breath will make the brain secrete endorphin.” Endorphin is also known as “pleasure hormones” or “young hormones”, which means such hormones can help people keep young and happy. The feature of health Qigong happens to meet with the requirements of long-term, continuous, mid-weight and heavy-weight class movements and deep breath. The exercise of health Qigong can effectively generate such “happy hormones”. Hence, we all have such experience that whenever we complete our exercise and sweat a bit, we feel warm, comfortable and refreshing. That’s why the old people radiate with vitality and youth every time when they return from their morning exercise.
4. Smooth meridians and invigorate circulation of blood: it is helpful to practitioners’ smooth meridians and running of Qi and blood. Mister Lv's Spring and Autumn Annals·End Volume wrote, “Running water never becomes putrid and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten”. Hua Tuo, a well-known doctor in Eastern Han Dynasty, advocated, “People should exercise their body but they shouldn’t have excessive exercise to make body tired. People must often exercise to digest food, smooth blood vessels and maintain healthy just like the door-hinge is never worm-eaten”. It’s because such feature can relax the entire body including limbs, thus improving the running environment of the Qi and blood in meridians. Besides, full body movements can activate the Qi and blood in meridians, and increase entropy production. Further it will strengthen its circulation. The circulation of Qi and blood is an effective method of preventing splanchnic diseases.
5. Strengthen heart and benefit the lung: the full body movement feature of health Qigong can effectively enhance practitioners’ physical health, improve the heart and lung functions, and reduce fat and pressure. Such feature of health Qigong also meet with the feature of modern aerobic exercise. Studies show that “long-term, slow and gentle aerobic exercise can reduce blood glutinousness while the amount of blood platelet remain the same”. Numerous studies also prove that “slow and gentle aerobic exercise can effectively increase the high density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood of practitioners and lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol. Therefore, it metabolizes the fat of practitioners, soften blood vessels and remove the occurrence of arteriosclerosis and diabetes”. The benefits of aerobic exercise for practitioners are “increase the total amount of blood, strengthen lung functions, improve heart functions, increase bone density, reduce fat in the body and improve psychological status”.
6. Unity between man and nature: the feature of being round and lively can help practitioners fully adapt to all things in the nature. With the summarization of phenomena and rules of the nature and society, it’s not hard to find that round form are the most suitable form for existence of things while round or periodic change forms can be adapted to the development of things to the uttermost. For instance, the trajectory of existence and movements is round no matter it’s as big as the nature and the universe, or as small as atom and neutron; animals and plants in the organic sphere live in a round form; social development and people’s thinking process rise in a logical and spiral way. This means the round form is the most suitable form for the survival of things and can promote social progress to the greatest extent. As a result, each move, each skill or each set of methods of the health Qigong emphasizes arc movements which are circulating and cycling. It stresses the feature of soft, gentle, round and consistent, and goes with the thinking of unity between man and nature. This can help practitioners adapt to the nature and set up the concept of unity between man and nature, thus promoting the development of human lives and achieving the purpose of health and longevity.
(III) Combination of Looseness and Tightness, Dynamic and Static
Movements during practice should be both loose and tight, deficient and excessive. The feature of dynamic and static should be demonstrated in such looseness and tightness, deficiency and excess. Moreover, looseness is the fundamental factor while tightness is means. Looseness runs through the entire exercise and tightness shouldn’t be too stiff for a long time. As to “looseness”, it means that when people are exercising, joints, muscles, ligament and other tissues of human body should be fully relaxed, which is deficient. Regards to “tightness”, it means human body should exert force slowly and appropriately, which is excess. “Dynamic” refers to movements conduction under the instructions of consciousness including internal dynamic and external dynamic. “Static” refers to seeming pause of the exercise system or local part in movements conduction, including internal static and external static. For example, it’s fully demonstrated in “Pulling Nine Cows by Their Tails” in Yi Jin Jing, “Tiger Springing” in Wu Qin Xi, and “Holding the Hands High with Palms Up to Regulate the Internal Organs” in Ba Duan Jin, etc. Its functions are as follows:
1. Start internal Qi: as what’s mentioned previously, “looseness” and “static” are helpful to the circulation of Qi and blood in the entire body while “tightness” can make relevant parts such as meridians, acupoints, muscle ligament and nerve & blood vessels pulled and stimulated to some extent, thus facilitating the start and normal operation of internal Qi or blood. Take “Deer Looking Back” in “Wu Qin Xi of Health Qigong” for example. It requires great side pulling and body turning so it can effectively stimulate the liver channels under the armpits, vital points, governor meridians and bladder meridians at the waist and back as well as muscles at the waist and back. Further, it can dredge the liver Qi, smooth governor meridians, regulate kidney Qi and loosen the muscle adhesiveness at the waist so as to achieve the purpose of strengthening kidney and waist, benefiting Qi and smoothing Yang. On the contrary, if movement stretching is inappropriate or the time is short and thinking can’t be concentrated, effective stimulation can’t be generated; if movements are too violent or the time is too long and limbs are stiff, damages may be caused to part of the body. The rehabilitation therapy of many joint diseases nowadays are conducted through static stretching.
2. Relieve adhesion: the relaxation of body and limbs in the exercise can increase the amount of open blood capillary in muscles and make the microcirculations smooth. Appropriate force can stimulate meridian points and nervus vascularis so as to start internal Qi, separate muscle adhesiveness and promote blood circulation. According to the physiological principle, each muscle of human body is composed of muscle fiber, vasoganglion and nerves, etc. The muscle fiber of muscles is coated by connective tissue membrane. If a person’s local muscles are too much stressed for a long time due to work or life habit, the blood vessels will be burdened for a long time and the blood supply in the muscles is insufficient; plus, the attack of wind, coldness and damp evil will make the elasticity of muscles lowered, thus causing strain, adhesion or intensified pain such as people who use computers all the time. At this time, we can pull muscles with the combination of looseness and tightness, especially under the situation of rotating such as “Looking Backwards to Prevent Sickness and Strain”. In this way, it can better loosen the muscles and make Qi and blood smooth. In the long run, the exercise is bound to alleviate stiffness and remove adhesion.
3. Pacify spirit and regulate breath: as what’s mentioned before, the relaxed exercise form can help concentration of thought, peaceful mind, slow breath and circulation of Qi and blood. The exercise feature of combination of dynamic and static is helpful to the coordination of autonomic nerves and strengthens the balance between lymphocyte and granulocyte in the right and left white blood cells, thus enhancing immunity of human body. Besides, static can lead to spiritual relaxation, further slow down heart rate and lower blood pressure. The quotations such as “Spirit should be peaceful instead of being anxious” and “Less will be wasted in peaceful status” just explain it. In addition, the feature of dynamic and static is the prerequisite for combination of looseness and tightness. Without the exercise feature of external dynamic and internal static, spirit won’t be peaceful, movements won’t be stretched and limbs can’t be relaxed; on the contrary, if external static and internal dynamic can’t be achieved, limbs can’t be fully pulled and the health effects of the movements can’t be obtained.
(To be continued)