One year ago, Masters Faye and Tary Yip launched the British Health Qigong Association (BHQA), affiliated to the national Chinese Health Qigong Association (CHQA). As Tai Chi readers will know, Faye serves as Chinese Liaison Officer to the TCUGB, and we are fortunate that through Faye and Tary’s work we now have a UK organisation dedicated to the education, training, grading and development of Chinese Health Qigong system in the British Isles and beyond. On 24- 26 September 2010 we celebrated the BHQA’s first anniversary with a special conference and training weekend that attracted over 80 participants and special guests to a very fine venue in Wolverhampton, near Faye and Tary’s Deyin Taiji headquarters. We were most fortunate to be able to learn from a delegation of visiting Masters from the CHQA who presented an overview of the main Health Qigong systems and led the teaching sessions throughout the weekend.
Until fairly recently the teaching and practice of qigong in the UK has varied widely in terms of both content of acceptable qigong practice and in the skills and knowledge of practitioners and teachers. A fairly ‚Äúopen- door‚Äù policy has led to many different kinds of practices being included under the qigong umbrella both nationally and internationally. Because of the long history of qigong practice and myriad of systems taught and practiced in China it has been difficult to set or quantify standards. The concept of Health Qigong has been around since the time of the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook of Chinese Medicine. Over the years, many different practices have grown up around this health history. But do they work? And if so, how?
Dr Cui Yong Sheng explaining Wu Qin Xi – 5 animals
These questions are being addressed by the CHQA who are codifying modern qigong ‚Äúsets‚Äù by studying the existing practices, involving practitioners in well defined laboratory and clinical tests and, from the results, defining a standard series of qigong sets based on traditional practice. Alongside this research, they have devised methods and materials for teaching four of the newly standardized classical qigong sets: Ba Duan Jin (Eight Treasures), Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Frolics), Yi Jin Jing (Tendon- and Muscle- Changing Classic), and Liu Zi Jue (Six Healing Sounds). Participants in the conference were fortunate to be able to focus on these methods for the whole of the weekend.
The conference opened with formal introductions, after which Doctor Cui Yong Sheng presented an overview of Chinese Health Qigong systems, explaining their health benefits and how important these exercises could be in improving health throughout the world. He set out the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of health: ‚Äúa state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity‚Äù 1 . It reflects not just on physical and mental health, but also how one copes with the pressures of society.
Dr Cui went on to outline the cost of poor health in USA and Europe, emphasizing the high proportion it takes of national wealth, or GDP. For example, in the USA from 1950 ‚Äì 1970 the cost of healthcare, per person, rose from $76 to $230, even adjusted for inflation! By 2000 the national health cost was $130 billion and in 2003 it rose to $150 billion, accounting for 20-30% of the GDP, whereas in Europe healthcare costs averaged 12 – 15%. 2
The CHQA research studies into qigong practice showed a reduction in individual health care cost after one year’s regular practice. Dr Cui suggested that the practice of Heath Qigong could help countries cut their health-care costs dramatically, as more people would benefit from improved health as a result of regular practice. He noted that, currently, German insurance companies pay for people to train in qigong, on the basis that ultimately it would improve their health and they would have fewer health claims in later life. In most developed countries, the major causes of serious illness are much the same, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, liver problems and dementia.
Dr Cui noted that in developed countries much of ill health can be traced to environmental causes, with longer working hours, increased pressure and lack of exercise contributing to the problems. Although we have seen great advances in combating disease there are still many factors that we seem to be unable to address. He concluded that there were many illnesses that seemed to be difficult to treat, but through practice of Health Qigong, we have tools to help overcome them. Aside from improving body function the exercises also help to calm the mind and rebalance the body, mind and spirit. These aspects directly relate to the WHO’s definition of good health.
Master Wang demonstrates qigong pole
Dr Cui asked the audience what made qigong different from other exercise systems or sports like basketball. Most exercise and sport involves movement, breath and focus but with qigong we bring them all together in an integrated way, with mindfulness being an integral aspect of the work. He then led an exercise with the audience encouraging us to focus on listening to our breathing, really paying close attention to the sound, feel and depth of the breath. By doing this we can do a lot of the work of qigong, not only during formal practice, but also in everyday life.
In an overview of the specific health benefits of qigong Dr Cui noted there were specific benefits of different qigong systems. The practice improves blood circulation and increases immune function. Dr Cui related these to key acupoints and their purpose: the Yongquan point (centre of the ball of the foot) aligns with the Jian Jing (at the top of the shoulders where the middle finger connects with the recess when folded over in the front of the body) when the feet are shoulder- distance apart. The Yongquan is referred to as the Bubbling Spring because this is the point where the energy rises from the earth to enter the feet. The energy rises straight up from the Yongquan, through the body to the Jian Jing. Dr Cui then led a short meditation routine to illustrate this feeling.
With the help of Master Wang Yu Lin performing postures from two Health Qigong forms Dr Cui illustrated the benefits of correct postures and their effectiveness in opening channels and meridians to regulate the energy flow.
Given the depth of material covered in Dr Cui’s talk, and the space allowed for open questions, it was felt a Q and A at the end was unnecessary so after a suitable break and time to chat with old friends and new faces the delegates gathered for a welcome carvery dinner and exchanged views on the day’s proceedings. All agreed that the day had proved an outstanding celebration of the first year of the BHQA, and very educational on many levels.
Saturday morning saw over 80 participants gather in the large, bright gym to begin work on learning the qigong routines. After a series of effective warm-up exercises we split into two groups. Those of us who chose Yi Jin Jing moved across to the theatre area and the somewhat larger group learning the Wu Qin Xi stayed in the gym to learn with Master Tong Shi Min.
Master Wang Yu Lin taught the Yi Jin Jing, supported by excellent simultaneous translation from Tary. She led the group through each posture, slowly and clearly, at a pace that was comfortable for all. We repeated each movement and transition several times, after which she offered deeper explanations and advice on common mistakes. Her teaching was thorough but accessible with effective but gentle corrections to improve the work. With a short break in the morning and an hour for lunch, the day’s learning seemed to fly past with everyone feeling highly invigorated by the work. It took most of the day to introduce the movements of the Yi Jin Jing, as it is the longest set of the four CHQA Health Qigong sets. A series of precise stretches following the paths of the meridians, Yi Jin Jing offers the practitioner a complete set of back and limb contractions and extensions to maintain and enhance tendon and muscle length, flexibility and suppleness. The names of the movements offer clues to their functional value for daily life (albeit with some updating perhaps for modern living): for example ‚ÄúPulling nine cows by their tails‚Äù trains the focus and alignment required to perform safely and effectively a strenuous pulling task.
Master Tong followed a similar format with translations by Faye, who sometimes became a willing demonstration body for Master Tong to demonstrate aspects of the exercises. The Wu Qin Xi invites the player to assume the identity of each of five animals whilst performing exercises that relate to the animal’s life. During the day, we each became in turn a tiger, bear, deer, monkey and crane (bird). Each animal has two exercises, typically one basic and one more challenging. It was really great fun for everyone involved. At the same time, Wu Qin Xi can transport the practitioner into an imagined sense of the animal and is a fantastic way to focus on how material substance and spirit combine in movement.
Straight after this teaching day the Masters offered interested participants to undertake a 1st Duan grading of either exercise set. About 6 people were graded on the Yi Jin Jing (including one of your authors) and a further 3 did the Wu Qin Xi. It was a daunting prospect to perform in front of all three Masters, plus Faye and Tary. Observers were allowed to watch, too. We were not formally given the results of the grading, but Master Cui provided generalised feedback on our performance. He congratulated the group on our efforts, particularly where people undertook the grading having been introduced to the sets for the first time. He also invited us to pay special attention to the acupoints related to the individual movements (e.g. in the Yi Jin Jing); to the particular style and spirit of each set; and, of course, to the exactness of the movements.
Having worked hard all day, groups of people drifted off, perhaps to enjoy a walk, a cup of tea, or a swim in the hotel pool followed by an evening’s welcome socializing. Several of us went off to a very good local Chinese restaurant. Then it was back to the hotel to rest, for the next day there were more qigong routines to train.
A wonderful surprise awaited us on Sunday morning as we reassembled in the gym. The CHQA has been developing a further qigong set, the stick/pole based on the water element. Master Wang gave us a breathtaking performance, first illustrating the eight individual movements developed in the form, all of which clearly relate to water. She then performed the continuous set, which complements and balances the fire of the tai chi spear. It was a joy to watch. The CHQA are in the process of codifying the form and should be released in the next six months or so.
The day then followed a similar pattern to Saturday, with two groups, one learning the Ba Duan Jin and the other the Liu Zi Jue. The former is a well-known qigong set with which many practitioners will be familiar. The latter is particularly interesting as there is not much external exercise to show for the work. It is all about moving breath and vibration from sound through the internal organs. Though seemingly an ‚Äúeasy‚Äù set because of the lack of external physical demands, this set demands from the outset that the learner focuses on coordinating breath with posture and movement, as well as emitting sounds. Each exercise is designed to work on a particular organ: liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidney or triple burner, and involves reverse and small sky breathing. As well as all that, we also spent a lot of time trying to get our western mouths to make the appropriate sounds! After the training there was another opportunity for gradings, and we all made our way home after a really glorious weekend delving into Health Qigong.
The 1st Annual British Health Qigong Conference was an auspicious time for everyone involved, and it was good to see the level of support the organizers had, not only from their esteemed Chinese guests, but also from the number of participants, from all regions of the UK who supported them by attending this event. It is particularly encouraging to see that people came from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, all benefitting from such a high level of experience, taught in an open helpful manner. We are equally sure that the work of the BHQA and Health Qigong will play a significant role in improving the health of many, throughout the country.
1. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946 ↩