In their seven thousand years of history, the Chinese people have experienced all possible human suffering and pain. Chinese culture is like a very old man who has seen and experienced all of the pain of human life. Yet through his experience, he has also accumulated a great store of knowledge. Chinese culture, as reflected in its literature and painting, ranks among the greatest achievements of the human spirit. It reflects humankind’s joy and grief, pleasure and suffering, peace and strife, vitality, sickness, and death.

Within this complex cultural and historical background, the Chinese people have long sought ways of living healthy and happy lives. However, as they looked for ways to better themselves and seek spiritual fulfillment, they have also tended to believe that everything that happens is due to destiny and that it is prearranged by heaven. Despite this fatalistic belief, they have still looked for ways to resist the apparent inevitability of sickness and death.

Daoism and Buddhism have not only brought the Chinese people a peaceful, spiritual mind which may untie the mystery of human life and destiny, they have also created a hope that the development of Qìgōng may give people a healthy and happy life while they are alive and an eternal spiritual life after death. When viewed from this historical background, it is not hard to understand why a major part of Chinese culture in the last two thousand years, other than warfare and possibly medical science, were based on the religions of Daoism and Buddhism, and spiritual science.

The emphasis on the spiritual life, rather than the material, is one of the major differences between Eastern and the Western cultures. An example of this is in the maintenance of health, where the West emphasizes the physical body more, while the East tends to also treat the person’s spiritual and mental health.

Most Westerners believe that if you strengthen your physical body, you also improve your health. They emphasize the exercising and training of the physical body, but they ignore the balancing of the body’s internal energy (Qì), which is also related to the emotions and the cultivation of spiritual calmness. Daoists call this “Cóngwài Jiàngōng” (從外健功) (building the strength externally) or “Yuǎnxīn Zhī Wàigōng Yùndòng” (遠心之外功運動) (distant mind’s external exercises, meaning “external exercises without mental concentration or attention”).

Balanced Qi Circulation

People who exercise a lot and whose bodies are externally strong are not necessarily healthier or happier than the average person. In order to have true good health you must have a healthy body, a healthy mind, and also smooth and balanced Qì circulation. Accord- ing to Chinese medicine, many illnesses are caused by imbalances in your mind. For example, worry and nervousness can upset your stomach or harm your spleen.  Fear or fright can hinder the normal functioning of your kidneys and bladder. This is because your internal energy (Qì circulation) is closely related to your mind. In order to be truly healthy, you must have both a healthy physical body and a calm and healthy mind. True good health is both external and internal.

When someone gets involved in body building, he will emphasize building strong muscles. According to acupuncture and Qìgōng theory, he will also energize his body, stimulate his mind, and increase the level of the Qì circulation. If he trains properly, he will naturally gain physical health. However, if he exercises too much, he will over-energize his body and over-excite his mind and Qì. This will make his physical body too Yáng (positive). According to Chinese philosophy, too much of something is excessive Yáng (陽) and too little is exces- sive Yīn (陰), and neither extreme is desirable. When your body is too Yáng or too Yīn, your internal organs will tend to weaken and to degenerate sooner than they ordinarily would. A person who seems to be externally strong and healthy may be weak internally.

In addition, when a body builder gets older, his over-stressed muscle fibers may lose their elasticity and degenerate faster than those of the average person. This causes the Qì to stagnate in the Qì channels. This phenomenon is well known among older practitioners of external martial arts, where it is called “Sàngōng” (散功), meaning “energy dispersion.” The proper amount of exercise will generate only enough Qì to stimulate the organs and help them function normally and healthily. Overdoing exercise is like getting too much sunshine, which we now know will cause your skin cells to degenerate faster than the lack of sun.

Qìgōng practitioners believe that in order to gain real health you must not only do external exercises but must also “Cóngnèi Zhújī” (從內築基) (“build the foundation internally”), or do “Xiàngxīn Zhī Nèigōng Yùndòng” (向心之內功運動) (literally “toward the mind’s internal exercise,” meaning internal exercise with mental concentration). Strengthening yourself internally and externally at the same time is called “Xìngmìng Shuāngxiū” (性 命雙修). Xìng means natural characteristics, personality, temperament, or disposition. It is shown internally. Mìng is life and refers to the life or death of the physical body. Shuāngxiū means dual cultivation. The expression therefore means that if you desire to gain real health, you must cultivate your character internally and strengthen your body both internally and externally. The internal side is approached through meditation and Qìgōng exercises.

Western Qi

Many people believe that Qìgōng is a product only of China, India, or other Oriental countries. As a matter of fact, internal energy cultivation has also been common in the Western world, usually within the context of religion. Many people have been able to find their internal foundation and strength through meditation or praying in their church, temple, or mosque. Through their devotions and the practice of prayer, they are able to build up their concentration, confidence, and will, all of which are prerequisites to internal strength. The practice of such disciplines allows the energy in the body to become balanced, bringing health and strength to some, and even, in some cases, seemingly supernatural powers. Jesus is credited with many miracles, but he told his disciples, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do, shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12). All of the major Western religions have had branches or sects that used practices similar to the Oriental Qìgōng disciplines.

However, there have also been people without any particular religious belief who have meditated by themselves and, through the buildup and circulation of Qì, developed psychic or healing abilities. Unfortunately, in earlier times such people were often killed as witches or heretics, so people who found they had such powers tended to view themselves as freaks or worse, and hid their powers. These negative attitudes only kept people from researching and understanding such abilities.

Many people in China and India have developed amazing powers through their meditation training. Fortunately, these powers were understood as being a result of Qìgōng, and so people were encouraged to train and research the subject. Although Qìgōng is becoming a more acceptable subject in the West, the Chinese and Indians are still way ahead in this internal mental and physical science.

Since 1973, acupuncture has been widely accepted by the American people, and even by many in the medical establishment. More and more people are becoming familiar with the concept of Qì. Qì-related arts such as Tàijíquán and Qìgōng exercises are getting much more attention than ever before.

Many people are learning that the study of Qì can be very beneficial, and I feel certain that in the next twenty years Qìgōng will become one of the hottest fields of research.

The above is an excerpt from The Root of Chinese Qigong, Third Edition, Secrets for Health, Longevity & Enlightenment, Publication Date September 4, 2022, by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399107.