No sooner had I attended Soren Gordhamer’s Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco than I headed east to immerse myself in yet another practice of mindfulness and ancient wisdom — so I could “live connected to others not only through technology” but through our hearts and minds as well.
I traveled to Mt. E’mei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in Sichuan, China, to attend the International Health Qigong Federation conference for the heads of qigong federations around the world.
It was a special gathering of people from China to Portugal to Canada to Finland and Estonia – with dedicated practitioners sharing with China’s masters how qigong can help improve our wellness and lead to greater fulfillment in our lives, loves and society in general.
What a lovely follow-on to Wisdom 2.0 for a career-driven tech warrior like myself – in an effort to “thrive” in a life full of “well-being, wisdom and wonder,” as Arianna Huffington so elegantly describes in her latest work.
The Art of Qigong
Qigong is a traditional Chinese form of exercise for health and fitness. It is deeply embedded in Chinese culture and is a pillar of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.) In ancient Chinese wisdom, qi is the vital energy force and building block of life. It shapes and connects heaven, earth and all things. As a Chinese system for health and well-being, qigong integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention. Its goal is to help one heal the body, calm the mind and reconnect with spirit, to create a balanced lifestyle for greater harmony, stability and fulfillment.
And like the mindfulness meditation promoted in Wisdom 2.0, qigong leads to a more mindful state of being and way of life.
While many in the U.S. are familiar with tai ji (tai chi), qigong is the foundation from which other such practices have emerged. Tai ji is a softer internal style of qigong, while wushu (kung fu) is a more vigorous style in the family of martial arts.
What I found so compelling about qigong was how gracefully it is integrated in the three schools of thought in China: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. At the gathering on Mt. E’mei, renowned scholar on Chinese philosophies, culture and TCM Professor Lou Yulie from Peking University, taught us how
- Confucianism governs the importance of integrity in our relationship to the world,
- Taoism governs our relationship to our body, health and the environment, and
- Buddhism governs our relationship between heart and mind.
Each Chinese philosophy incorporates the concept of “qi” and how we must cultivate a high integrity qi as a way to live (Confucianism); maintain and rekindle our original source of qi or essence of self (Taoism); and prevent negative qi from interfering with our pursuit of wisdom (Buddhism.)
One way we can do that is by practicing qigong to enhance how our qi flows. For it is only when the states of yin and yang are in harmony that qi can produce life. Yin is the feminine nature of things, while yang is the masculine nature of things. If harmony is lost between them, within ourselves or society in general, problems will arise or life itself will be lost. This concept of balance according to a “golden mean” is pervasive in early teachings of Confucius, Aristotle and others.
It’s a holistic picture this ancient wisdom paints – for how we are all striving to live today, centuries later.
Some traditions really are timeless!
Practice of Qigong for Health and Well-being
The practice of qigong is an art to express oneself and cultivate harmony in pursuit of “the way” of Nature, as defined in Taoism. As a health practice, qigong’s movements are designed to stimulate blood flow, strengthen limbs, muscles and everything in our physical form; and combine physical exercise with spiritual cultivation.
In class, we studied just two groups of movements:
- Daoyin Yang Sheng Gong Shi’er Fa – to stretch and strengthen the body in a fluid and continuous way,
- Wu Xin Xie – to imitate animals in their natural habitats to cultivate flexibility and grace.
All of the qigong movement systems are meant to help preserve health, sharpen cognition, improve physical and emotional balance, and lead to greater adaptability for changes in life.
Many countries around the world, like Portugal and Spain, Cuba and Mexico, Sri Lanka and India, Hong Kong and Singapore, Slovenia, the Netherlands and UK, are promoting qigong as both a health practice and a sport. It has been found to help the elderly improve flexibility and cognition, and alleviate mild depression.
And it helps everyone develop a more mindful way of just being.
Perhaps the greatest way to appreciate the power of qigong is not to read about it, but to see it.
Watching Professor Wang Xiaojun from Beijing Sports University practice qigong was extraordinary! His grace and fluidity of movement were beautiful and very special.
He and our other teachers, Professors Hu Xiao Fe (Beijing), Lei Bin, Wang Zhen (Shanghai) and Shi Ai Qiao, were very knowledgeable and impressive.
Many thanks to new friends in China and around the world for sharing this ancient wisdom and contemporary practice to help all of us live well and thrive.