Qigong and Taiji are effective for strengthening the internal energy within us. Practicing the movements helps to remove blockages within our energy system by promoting the flow of qi. Theory has it that promoting the energy flow within our body will stem disease and encourage the body to heal itself. Even standing and holding a qigong posture can assist in this process, although standing postures require more mental focus than moving. Properly practiced, visualization, posture and breathing are the key to good qigong exercise. Posture in this sense, can be either moving or static. Movement can refer to either physically moving the body or to the conscious movement of qi from one area of the body to another. What is important, however, is for each of us to adapt our practice to suit our physical capabilities. Equally important is to realize that qigong or taiji can work in harmony with other therapies or exercise routines. As individuals, we must find a way to balance our practice with our lifestyle so that our activities work in harmony to promote physical and emotional health.
This requires us to evaluate not only how we feel about ourselves, but also how we perceive illness or what we believe in terms of health maintenance. Qigong practice affords us the opportunity to actively deal with illness and to create a positive mental state towards overcoming illness and maintaining our health regardless of our current condition. Prevention, as is said, is the best medicine. Qigong will strengthen us internally and assist the immune system so we may be as healthy as possible. It can provide us the mental space we need for reflection, awareness of ourselves, and hone our focus to live as healthy as possible.
We must let the mind lead the body, whether we are practicing qigong, taiji, or simply going about our daily business. We need to actively pursue a healthy state of mind; focus on our intentions and the outcomes of our thoughts, words, and behaviors. If we are ill or stressed, ask, how does our current state prevent us from being or doing what we want. Our emotional health is tied directly to our physical wellbeing. During our daily routines, we need to remain mindful of our emotional activity and how it relates to our physical body. Observing ourselves, recognize tightness in the body; is our breathing smooth and relaxed or is it short and rapid. Is our stomach calm or is it churning? If possible, look in the mirror at our posture. Is the face relaxed? Tension often manifest itself in our expressions – relax your face and you can help relax your inner self. Try smiling!
According to Chinese medicine, our emotional energy is centered in the chest. When we have strong emotions, our energy rises to our chest and then we are not centered. By practicing when we are calm and healthy, we develop the inner connections; the mental, physical, and emotional links to bring about the change we need, when we need it most. Too often, people wait until they are stressed or ill to attempt qigong and other internal practices in the hopes of wresting themselves away from these afflicting states. While qigong can be effective at these times, it is more effective when practiced often as it develops the internal habits to enable us to let go of emotional tensions.
Benefits of Practice
Regular practice creates healthy, stable patterns of internal behavior that can serve us for our entire lives. Again, it is important for us to be aware of our internal selves but we need to avoid putting too much emphasis on achieving a predetermined state. Too much desire or expectation can counteract what we hope to achieve. When we want something badly we can put too much emphasis on trying to make that happen and instead of facilitating progress, we actually hinder it. It is probably better to have no expectation at all!
The expect nothing approach may help those who feel they cannot do taiji because they have no coordination, balance, or patience. They suffer from the “I cannot do that” mentality. Of course, this type of thinking prevents people from actually doing things as it becomes self-fulfilling. The whole point of practicing anything is, at least in the beginning, to develop the skills they lack. The movements often require one to shift the weight slowly from one position to another and this means maintaining control throughout the moves. Practice leads to enhanced mental focus, which in turn leads to strengthening of the stabilizing muscles and improved balance.
Practicing can prevent us from becoming ill and help us overcome the effects of illness, especially when combined with other treatments during times of ill health. Studies published in the Archives of Internal medicine suggest that low-impact exercise like the internal arts can lower blood pressure, increase flexibility, strength and balance while reducing stress and anxiety. Caroline Bollinger reported in Prevention Magazine that a Stanford study found seniors performing 60 minutes of taiji three times a week for 12 weeks reduced their systolic blood pressure by 13 percent and their diastolic by 10 percent. Other aerobic exercise has similar benefits, but the mental aspect of taiji and qigong provide an element that is not present in traditional exercise. The mental focus required of the internal arts helps train the mind to relax, focus, and be calm so one can let go of emotional attachments and patterns. It may take some time, but through self-awareness and consistent practice we can achieve better health through the internal arts.