Friday, December 24, 2010

What Are Tai Chi (Taiji) and Qigong?

Many people hear about tai chi in the news or may know a little bit about it. Less commonly, people may hear about qigong. However, people are often confused about how these terms are related to each other.

Qigong (pronounced chee gung)) is two words from the Chinese language. The word qi is often translated as “internal energy”, but this doesn’t really seem to be a very good translation. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it primarily refers to connecting different parts of our body. It also refers to communication where our mind, or intention, moves our bodies. Gong can be translated as exercises or work done on a regular basis. So qi gong can be used to mean “exercises that enhance our vital energy and connectedness”.

There are thousands of qigong exercises for everything from curing illnesses to preventive medicine. Any qigong exercises can be put together in any order to accomplish the health goal. A simple qigong exercise set can be learned in a single class, although a detailed understanding of qigong can take years of study.

Tai chi has roots in the Chinese martial arts. In the West today, it is almost always used for its health and wellness benefits. Tai chi consists of a sequence of graceful, flowing movements always done in the same order. Tai chi incorporates many elements of qigong as part of the long-term practice. Tai chi can take weeks to months to learn a short set and can take a lifetime to master.

There are several parts to tai chi (taiji)/qigong. The first part is the external aspects consisting of the physical movements of a form or an exercise. This is just the tip of the iceberg. After the physical movements are learned, you can start working on turning your movements into slow, graceful, continuous movements, where you move against a gentle force. While learning, it is important to focus on shifting your weight and maintaining an upright posture. Eventually, you develop the ability to loosen your joints, use mindfulness in your movements, and direct your qi throughout your body. The essential concepts are developed as the form is learned and refined as your practice continues.

Tai chi and qigong have been studied by western doctors and scientists and shown to be effective in promoting health and wellness.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Sunday, December 19, 2010


After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. “There,” he said to the old man, “see if you can match that!”

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. “Now it is your turn,” he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.

Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

“You have much skill with your bow,” the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, “but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot.”

There are many ways to look at this parable. This simplest way is to simply say that the Zen master removed the braggart from his comfort zone in order to defeat him.

A deeper look at this parable can also tell us that it is as important to have a strong mind as it is to have a strong body. The point is not to hit the target. The point is to master your mind so that your mind is in control of your body.

There is saying, “The mind commands the body and the body obeys. The mind commands itself and finds resistance. —Saint Augustine (354-430) ” In addition, tai chi teaches us that “Yi leads Li”, or “intent leads external strength”. Both of these sayings talk about developing the mind and will.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, December 12, 2010

High Peaks and Low Valleys

Qigong is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are thousands of exercises and routines that have been used for centuries to promote wellness. I developed this Qigong for Health routine as a healthy and fun way to unwind after a busy day. The first four exercises build your energy. The next four exercises move your mind and body into the calming phase. Alternating between building energy and calming is called “high peaks and low valleys” and is intended to improve the flow of Qi through your body.

All exercises start in wu ji posture with your feet about hip’s distance apart. Relax your shoulders and let all the tension go. Stand with active knees to allow for slow, smooth movements. Use abdominal breathing to encourage deep breathing. This is where you expand your abdomen when inhaling and compress your abdomen when exhaling. Note: This is one of the routines I teach at the Heartland Spa.

1. Rainbow Dance – for stomach and for headaches
Step out into horse stance. Shift your weight to your right leg and lean to the left. Raise your left arm out to shoulder level and look at your left hand, inhaling. At the same time, raise your right hand and hold it above your head so that the palm faces the top of your head. Shift your weight to your left leg and lean to the right. Let your right hand swing down to shoulder height and look at it, exhaling. At the same time, raise your left hand and hold it above your head so the palm faces the top of your head.

2. Flying Wild Goose – for kidneys and legs
Inhale as you raise your arms out to your sides, level with your shoulders. Slowly drop your arms, step forward with the left foot and exhale. Repeat, stepping with the right foot. Continue with alternate stepping.

3. Rotating the Wheel in a Circle – for back strength
Step out into horse stance. Bend forward with your fingers pointing toward the floor and palms facing backward. Begin by swinging your arms to the left, allowing your right hand to cross in front of your body. As your arms begin to circle left and up, allow your hands to turn so that your palms face forward. After your hands have passed over your head and are descending to your right begin to bend forward from your waist. Keep your knees bent and don't move your feet. Allow your left hand to cross in front of your right. When your hands are pointing straight down, you should be fully bent forward. Repeat and alternate direction.

4. Marching While Bouncing the Ball – for strengthening legs, coordination, brain, and balance
Move your hands gently from your sides up to shoulder level in front in time with your legs. Begin with the right leg and hand and then alternate to the other side. Try to lift your leg to horizontal. Change up by using opposite hand and leg.

5. Rolling the Arms – for shoulder and neck flexibility and stress management
Step forward with your right leg and turn your body to the left. Raise your arms, palms up, to shoulder height, with right arm toward front and left arm back as you inhale. Look at your left hand as you bring it forward past your ear, then in front of your chest with the palm down as if holding a ball. At the same time, step back with your right leg, bring your right hand down and in, then in front of you with the palm up, turning your body back to center. Repeat to the right, looking at the right hand.

6. Alternate Punching – for strengthening legs and stress management
Step out to horse stance, bending your knees. Hold your hands in loose fists at your waist. Punch forward gently with one hand, rotating your fist so that your thumb faces down, exhaling. Bring your fist back, inhaling. Repeat on the other side.

7. Opening the Chest – for heart, lungs, and depression
Raise your arms to shoulder height in front and inhale. Turn your palms to face your chest. Open your arms out and slowly exhale. Bring your hands back together shoulder width apart with the palms facing one another and inhale. Turn your palms downward. Lower your hands to level with your waist. At the same time bend your knees and slowly exhale. Raise your arms back to shoulder height, straighten your legs, and inhale. Repeat.

8. Balancing Qi – for promoting qi flow and balancing
Bring your hands to the Dantien, palms up and fingers facing each other. Lift up your hands out and up to chest height while inhaling. Turn palms down, bend your knees slightly, and let your hands move in toward your chest and sink down to the Dantien while exhaling.

© 2010 Eric Borreson This exercise set is modified from the Shibashi Tai Chi Qigong routine.