According to Eastern philosophy, living the good life is all about living with balance and harmony. Both are available to each of us, regardless of our age and fitness level, when we cultivate them through our daily activities. When we care for ourselves, we enhance our awareness of nature, of our bodies, and our spirit – each being a key component to balance and harmony.
Qigong is a significant tool in cultivating balance and harmony – and today I would like to explain the following three fundamentals in traditional Chinese medicine that can help us understand the great value of Qigong:
- The three treasures: Jing, Qi and Shen
- Dao Yin
Yangsheng means to “care for life” or “nourish your life force.” Two Chinese characters form the concept of Yangsheng. Yang means to support, to raise, to nourish or to keep. Sheng means giving birth, life, or being alive. Together both characters mean “care for life.” This is a key concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine: We should care for our health by balancing and nourishing the energy in the body, which is fundamentally different from the traditional western approach to medicine, which focuses primarily on treating the symptoms of illness. This difference in focus is visible in early medical illustrations of the body from Eastern and Western medicine.
The Three Treasures
Many of the books describing Yangsheng have roots in Taoist philosophy and practice. They describe each person’s life (sheng) as sustained by three treasures, Jing, Qi and Shen.
- Jing 精 refers to “essence” and represents the physical body, which contains both our energy and spirit.
- Qi 氣 translates as the vital energy of the universe, but is also used to describe the vital energy within your body. This energy is often seen as your breath, as Qi is also translated as ‘vital breath’ or air.
- Shen 神 refers to our mind and the spiritual body. By learning meditation we can become aware of our spiritual energy, and focus our intention on moving our vital energy.
Each of the three treasures is represented in an energy center within our bodies, which we refer to as the Dan Tians (Dantiens). We’ll come back to this concept when we discuss Qigong.
The practice of working with our vital energy is referred to as Dao Yin (guiding, breathing and stretching) and is the modern predecessor of qigong. The Dao Yin exercises are designed to develop strength and flexibility in muscles and tendons, but more accurately they are specific movements, breathing techniques and meditation practices to cultivate and circulate qi.
Dao Yin is sometimes referred to as Daoist yoga, as it was practised in Chinese Taoist monasteries for health and spiritual cultivation. The main goal of Dao Yin is to create balance and harmony and cultivate chi, the internal energy of the body.
By cultivating our life force with movement, posture, breathing techniques, and meditation we can enhance and replenish the three treasures, thus extending and nourishing our lives.
Let’s look at the concept of cultivation for a moment. While we use the word “practice” to describe our adoption of Qigong and other techniques into our lives, it is important to focus less on practicing an exercise, and more on nurturing our life energy. Put another way, Qigong is not intented to be an exercise. It is a way of life. Qigong literally means "cultivating your energy."
To refine the vital energy or life force for optimal health, qigong combines movement, breathing, and mindfulness to help develop awareness of balance and moderation. This involves working with the three energy centers (Dantians) in the body (Jing, Qi and Shen).
Qigong is composed of two words in Chinese:
- Qi - The air, breath, vitality, the universal force of life, energy.
- Gong - Work, use, practice, transform, cultivate, or refine.
Bringing these two concepts together, Qigong refers to using the vital life energy to create a healthy body, mind and spirit - to achieve the natural balance that you are meant to have.
Jing 精, which holds our essential life energy, our energy and our spirit, is located in the lower Dantian. Qi 氣, the ‘vital breath’ or air, is associated with the middle Dantian. In Qigong, we focus on using our breath to increase our vital energy or life force. Finally, Shen 神, or mind and spirit, is located in the upper Dantian. Awareness of this energy helps the practitioner connect with their authentic emotions while letting go of unwanted feelings that may block qi in the body.
Qigong techniques and exercises are very forgiving, and can be adapted to the physical condition of an individual. There are standing and sitting versions, hard and soft versions, and all can be practiced in a small space, for just minutes a time. Each is easy to learn and practice, yet remarkably effective.