The Fundamental Concepts of Chinese Qigong

Although each school or style of qigong has a theoretical system of its own, their basic theories have many things in common, since broadly speaking they all stem from the same culture. An understanding of the basic theories is of much help in revealing the connotations of qigong and guiding the practice of qigong exercises

1. The concept of synthetic unity.

Viewing the universe and the human being as an organic whole with each of its parts interrelated to one another is an important earmark of classical Chinese philosophical thinking.

The long history of human evolution has been one in which man constantly seeks to know nature and remold himself. In his persistent effort to unravel his relations with nature, he has the idea that “nature and man form an organic whole,” a concept that was to serve as the core of the theoretical basis of Chinese qigong. this idea has the following implications:

(a) Man was born of nature and forms an organic whole with nature.

As man absorbs the quintessence of qi existing in nature, he grows and develops. To quote the from Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classics, a great medical work of ancient China. “The qi pooled together by Heaven and Earth gives birth to man.” Qi is the medium which connects man with all thing in the universe. One of the purposes of qigong exercises is to strengthen this connection so as to make man better adapted to nature. as human life is affected by the diverse changes taking place in nature, qigong exercises must conform to the laws governing these changes.

(b) As part of nature, the human body receives information from it.

In the course of its development, the human body steadily improves it structure and function and has developed within itself a system that corresponds to the universe. This system is called the “mini universe in the human body.” Thus in this system the head is said to correspond to heaven, the abdomen to earth, the heart to fire, the liver to wood, the kidneys to water and so on.

Such relationships between different parts of the body and different things in the universe must be taken into account by a qigong practitioner of a more advanced class in order to improve his fitness effectively.

(c) The human body is an organic whole, with all its parts interrelated.

The various internal organs exists in reciprocal relationships and ailments in that organ may be caused not only by problems existing in that organ, but have something to do with another part of the body. That is why qigong lays stress on regulating itself the overall functions of the body instead of confining its attention to exercising any individual organ or any part of the body.

(d) The part reflects the whole.

By “regulating the overall functions of the body,” we do not mean taking care of all parts of the body indiscriminately. Among the qigong people there is a proverb which says, “Pull one hair and the whole body is affected.” In other words, there are certain key points on the body which have important bearings on its overall functions. On the palm of the hand for instance there are many points which are related to different parts of the body. The concept that “the part reflects the whole” forms the important part of the theory of synthetic unity of qigong.

2. The Theory of Yin and Yang.

This theory is a foundation stone for traditional Chinese medicine and ancient ways of preserving health.

The ancients found that the cosmos was an orderly harmonious systematic universe, and that everything in the universe is a unity of opposites: heaven and earth, movement and stillness, day and night, life and death, and so on and so forth. So they divided all things in the universe into two major categories: yin and yang, which were also regarded as two opposing aspects of everything.

Initially Yin and Yang were looked upon as something concrete as they were supposed to represent different kinds of things. Later, with the development of mans thinking, they became abstract concepts symbolising things with different characteristic features. Thus Yang stands for anything that is superficial, energetic, positive, ascendant, rapid, intense, bright, open, out-reaching, hot, etc, while yin stands for anything that is innate, calm, slow, descendant, dark, contracting, closed, cold etc.

Everything has its Yin and Yang aspects. Take a mountain for instance. Its yang side faces the sun and is bright and warm, and while its yin side is shady and cool. The human body also has its yin and yang parts, the former including the trunk, the back and the limbs, and the latter including the lower part of the body, the abdomen and the internal organs. Heat in the body is yang, and cold is yin. Sometimes the right part of the body is considered yang and the left part yin. Imbalance between yin and yang in the body would result in ailment.

Qi as a substance is also divided into yin and yang categories. Yin qi in the natural world is heavy and tends to sink downward, while yang is light and tends to float upward. As far as a man’s relations with nature is concerned, there is yang qi existing outside the body and yin qi circulating within it. The purpose of qigong exercises is to achieve a better balance of yin and yang not only within the body but also between the body and the external world.

Yin and yang are very closely related to each other. First, one cannot exist without the other. Second the two can be transformed into each other under certain circumstances. Third, the two are completely different in nature and tend to restrict each other. Forth, the two are constantly changing and maintain balance, the rise of one is attended by the fall of the other. It is through such endless process of relative changes that thing develop and life is maintained.

Based on the balance between yin and yang, and in the light of the of the human physiological features of the human body, qigong exercises are composed of different kinds of, movements and postures designed to improve one’s physique.

Picture 1These movements maybe “solid” or “empty”, dynamic or static, “open” or “closed,” and they maybe performed during inhalation or exhalation – all according to the theory of yin and yang.

There are two ways of denoting yin and yang, firstly, they may be represented by two different signs:

“__” (a whole line) for yang and “— —” (broken lines) for yin.

Secondly, they may be described in the “taiji” diagram (picture 1). The white part of the circle is yang and the shaded part is yin, the two forming the integral whole resembling two fish chasing each other they represent eternal movement. The black spot in the white region and the white in the black are indicative of the dialectical relationships between yin and yang. The curved line dividing the circle is where yin and yang acquire balance in the court of movement and mutual transformation.

3. The Theories of the five elements and eight diagrams.

While concept of synthetic unity and the theory of yin and yang constitute a macroscopic generalisation of the laws of human life, the theories of the Five Elements and the Eight Diagrams provide concrete explanations about the relationships between the different parts of the body.

Picture 2a) The Five Elements.

The Five Elements of metal, wood, fire, earth and water are regarded by the Ancient Chinese as the basic elements of nature. It was found that all things on earth, including human beings could be resolved into these five elements, which move through the sheng (creation) and ke (control) cycles in their reciprocal relations (pictures 2 &3).

The internal organs of the human body can also be classified according to the Five Elements. Thus , the liver is said to be associated with wood, the lungs with metal, the kidneys with water, the heart with fire, and the spleen with earth.

Picture 3Such relationships form an important basis for the device of qigong methods, including the selection of the body parts for an exercise, the direction in which qi is to be conducted, the method of breathing, with the sheng cycle of the Five Elements.

Like Five Elements existing in the external world, the Five Elements within the human body are subject to seasonal changes. Thus the liver, which is associated with wood, is most active in Spring. Such seasonal changes have to be taken into account when one practices qigong for strengthening the internal organs.

(b) The Eight Diagrams

Picture 4The Eight Diagrams is another ancient system of cognition about man and the universe. It mainly concerns itself with handling different kinds of information and revealing the laws of changes in nature.

Each of the Eight Diagrams represents a field of information existing in nature and is denoted by a combination of yin and yang symbols. The name of the Eight Diagrams are:

gian, kun, zhen, xun, kan, li, yin, dui.

Actually the Five Elements and the Eight Diagrams are two different manifestations of the same mode of thinking. The relationships between the two may be seen from picture 4.

In qigong practice, various parts of the human body are viewed in the context of the Eight Diagrams.

The theories of the Five Elements and the Eight Diagrams play an important role in guiding qigong practice. An understanding of these theories is essential to analysing the inner structures of qigong.

4. The Jingluo system and acupuncture points.

The jingluo system is conceived in Chinese medical science as a network of passages running through the whole body, through which energy and information are transmitted from one part of the body to another. The acupuncture points are regarded as hubs distributed along jingluo passages, and their existence has been verified by modern means in many countries.

Picture 11) The structure of the jingluo system.

As a network performing special functions, the channels in the jingluo system are distributed all over the body, linking all the internal organs and extending all the way down the extremities. The longitudinal channels are called jing and the lateral ones luo.

There are 14 main jing channels, 12 of which are linked with as many internal organs and terminate at the extremities (picture 7).

The other two main channels are the Ren channel which runs along the anterior mid-line, and Du channel along the posterior mid-line of the body (picture 8).

There are 15 main luo channels lying across, and linking up with the above mentioned 14 jing channels. Jing channels that lie on the outer parts of the body are of the yang type, while those on the inner parts are of the yin type. Each jingluo channel is punctured by a number of acupuncture points.

Along the Du channel, for instance, there are acu-points like the changqiang, mingmen, dazhui and baihui (picture 8)

2) Functions of the jingluo channels.

The jingluo channels serve as passages through which qi and blood circulate,Picture 2 and have a close bearing on man’s physiological condition.

Congestion of these channels will impede qi and blood circulation and lead to an imbalance between yin and yang, thus reducing man’s resistance to disease. That is why many methods used for treating diseases in Chinese medicine and qigong are aimed at regulating the jingluo channels and clearing them of obstructions.

The acu-points along these channels are vital spots where qi and blood converge and disperse. Treating these spots with acupuncture or acu-pressure, or focusing one’s attention on them in qigong exercises, helps regulate the jingluo channels for the benefit of the whole body.

3) Applying qigong to the regulation of the jingluo channels.

All qigong exercises are in some way or other useful for regulating the jingluo channels. Moreover, there are some exercises which are specifically devoted to this purpose. Following are the most common methods used in what we term ‘jingluo qigong’ exercises:

a. Massaging along the jingluo channels. The massaging (or stroking) movements in this kind of exercise are performed according to the locations and orientations of the channels under treatment, and the amount of force applied as well as the order of performance on different areas must be regulated according to the characteristics of each channel.

b. Will-controlled qigong. This is a kind of qigong in which the flow of qi is directed by one’s will, sometimes with the help of hand movements. It helps activate the circulation of qi in the jingluo channels, and is a good means of preserving health.

c. Special exercises on acupuncture points. Among the numerous acu-points in the body, there are a certain number which are of special importance to human life. For this reason, many qigong methods have been developed with special attention given to exercising these key points for the good of the whole body. Among these methods we may mention the common practise of focusing one’s attention on the dantien, a point about 5cm below the navel, and massage treatment on the youngquan, a point on the sole of the foot.

To sum up, Chinese qigong is a science which attaches importance to both practise and theory. This is one of the factors that have contributed to its continuous development down through the ages.

Picture 3

Originally published as Talks on Qigong by Yu Gongbao
Posted with permission of Master Michael Tse, Qi Magazine Issue 4.

Leave a Reply