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The daily pressures of modern life can result in us often feeling like we’re carrying a weight around on our shoulders. Increasingly doctors are proscribing medication to overcome these feelings, but the answer might be simpler than you think.
For thousands of years, ancient practices like Qigong breathing and Tai Chi have been used to relieve stress, improve sleep and make people feel more energetic.
These surprisingly simple exercises free up your head space, and have knock on positive impacts on your overall health.
In this article we’ll give you an introduction to Qigong breathing and show you how you can use it make your life better.
Specifically we’ll cover:
- What Qigong breathing is
- Benefits of Qigong breathing exercises
- Specific Qigong breathing exercises you can try
- How it relates to other things like Tai Chi and meditation
Scroll down to continue reading, or use the table of content below to jump to the relevant section.
What is Qigong Breathing?
Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice, developed from Taoist and Buddhist traditions which focus on exercises, meditation and energy manipulation. The methods of Qigong include developing energy, endurance, flexibility, spiritual advancement, and health improvements.
The word ‘qi’ represents breath/energy, and the word ‘gong’ represents work/cultivation, so combined and interpreted in the English language, this translates to ‘breath work’.
There are various different types of Qigong exercises and meditation methods, combining sitting and standing poses, learning how to control breath regulation, concentration, and relaxation. The purpose of breath regulation is to guide energy within the mind and body, enhancing awareness, like many other meditation techniques.
Qigong methods help to improve a persons’ overall health, by developing energy within and throughout the body, removing blockages, relaxing joints, and strengthening tendons and bones.
Much of Qigong breathing is about mindfulness, consciously think about how we breathe, rather than accepting it as something that just happens.
Benefits of Qigong
There are many benefits of Qigong, which explains its global popularity for such a long time. Some of the key benefits include:
- Sleep – A wonderful benefit of Qigong is the ability to enjoy a deep, restorative and relaxing sleep pattern. Too often we allow our minds and bodies to become entirely worn out, yet we cannot switch off when we go to bed. Our minds are still racing. Qigong will help you on your journey to find deep relaxation and quiet within your mind to enjoy a full night of restful sleep.
- Energy – Combined with a better night’s sleep, Qigong will make you feel more energetic in your waking hours; offering more energy, vitality, and even fertility, giving you that youthful feeling. With more sleep, and more energy the following day, Qigong really promotes happiness and a different outlook on life.
- Circulation – For those with circulation problems, Qigong is a great way to improve circulation, warming the hands and feet up, and generating more internal warmth when needed. Once the blood gets pumping and your circulation improves, you will likely notice physiological changes such as, normalising blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and even clearer skin, through the elimination of toxins within your body.
Qigong breathing can be a really useful tool when you’re trying to lose weight as well:
- Many people turn to food in times of stress, so finding alternative ways to relieve stress will help to prevent you taking on those unnecessary calories
- Also, dieting can be hard, particularly during the fast days if you are using an intermittent fasting routine. Qigong breathing, used in conjunction with meditation, is really effective at keeping your mind focused, and keeping you motivated to lose weight.
Qigong Breathing Exercises
The key to Qigong breathing is to breathe from your belly, and not from your chest; just like you would have done as a baby. This type of breathing practice is essential in Qigong exercises and tai chi.
Lifting the muscles of the diaphragm, your body naturally pushes air in and out of your lungs.
When you breathe from your belly, you focus and centre your attention within your body, rather than your head, ensuring you’re more physically grounded. This process enhances relaxation, especially within your neck, shoulders, and arms, where we tend to hold most of our tension and stress. This, in turn, improves blood circulation and flow, which looks after your internal organs and internal muscles.
The process for Qigong breathing is as follows:
- Whilst inhaling, breathe through your nose and feel the breath enter your nose, down your throat, and into your lungs and belly. Let your body do the work for you, allow your belly to expand and move forward, without tensing.
- During exhale, allow your belly to return to its original and natural position and relax; this is applicable to your chest too. Try not do think about the air reaching your chest.
- Focus your breathing to be smooth and deep. You shouldn’t be straining or holding your breath, and this process will form naturally over time.
Qigong breathing can take a while to ‘master’, and may have more of an effect by having a full understanding of the history of Qigong, and how it can help you. The end goal is to train your body so that Qigong breathing becomes part of your lifestyle, so you don’t even have to think about it.
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Below are three specific Qigong exercises that you could try:
1. Gentle Sway
Allow your arms to move from your shoulders, twisting from your waist in a gentle swinging motion; be sure to focus the movement from your waist and not your knees. This process massages your internal organs, in a gentle and relaxed way.
Start moving your arms side to side, across your torso, and back to front.
Bend your knees slightly and allow your hips to sway, whilst keeping your mind clear. Focus on the unnecessary stresses to begin with, then with more practice, move your focus onto the swaying and the motions of your arms.
The gentle sway introduces you to being mindful, allowing you to focus on the present, and nothing else around you.
2. The Bounce
Keep your feet parallel and shoulders width apart, with your arms hanging by your sides, allow your knees to become loose and bounce. Your arms should feel entirely natural, not tense, and in doing so, your arms will become jelly-like, allowing them to be free.
Don’t allow your shoulders to tense; this is considered the zero position, giving you a feeling of deep relaxation.
The bounce brings awareness to your internal tension, massaging your organs.
Stand straight and allow your eyes to close halfway; clear your mind and bring you palms up, concentrating the vision you have on your palms.
Allow you breath to slow down, in a natural manner, without any force, creating a light trance-like feeling.
With your hands together, bring your palms to touching position with your fingers pointing upward. Slowly move your hands apart, around 30cm, then bring them back together, ensuring no physical exertion is created. Imagine you are compressing air between your palms.
Continue to move your hands back and forth, diagonally, horizontally, and vertically, in slow and natural movements.
The accordion promotes awareness and sensitizes yourself, feeling your mind and body’s energy.
You can read more here about specific areas Qigong exercises target on your body, including how these areas can provide particular health benefits.
Qigong and Meditation
Although a breathing exercise, Qigong is good practice for meditation, due to it efficiently enhancing the mind, body, and spirit to function at a higher level, reducing stress.
When we think of exercise, we often refer this to tensing and working our muscles, but Qigong and meditation is all about letting go. Meditation focuses on calming the mind and body, releasing stress, and learning how to restore harmony within ourselves; Qigong has powerful preventative and restorative effects.
The inward/outward focus that goes into Qigong breathing allows us to concentrate on our energy awareness, through deep relaxation and widening your consciousness.
Qigong breathing teaches you to create a different frame of mind to other exercises, and can be combined with meditation techniques; a frame of mind that is large enough to use your whole mind, body, and spirit, allowing everyday distractions and stresses to fade away.
Qigong is a combination of exercise and meditation and is known to have many health benefits, including overcoming illnesses. In general, Qigong really focusses on the whole body; it improves health and well-being.
When you enter a meditative state, and allow your mind and body to completely relax, you will truly start to notice the peacefulness within yourself. You can invite healing and transformation by simply finding peace and tranquillity; using this within your everyday life to own the skill of when to act upon things, and when not to.
Qigong and Tai Chi
Tai Chi and Qigong are a combination of slow and deliberate movements, meditation, and breathing exercises, at a low intensity level. The practice is not focussed on intense exercise to lose weight, or increase cardio; instead their purpose is to improve circulation, balance, and alignment, which in turn restores your energy.
Because Qi offers low impact meditations, both sitting and standing, it is an excellent practice for beginners, or those with health problems, but can also benefit elite athletes with its focus on muscle control and balance. You may have seen Tai Chi movements; they are slow, and flow in a constant and smooth motion. This is how Qigong is applied, without any pauses, releasing stress and tension.
Qigong breathing, combined with Tai Chi, and meditation is a great source of stress relief, relaxation, mind and body control, and a wonderful boost to your mind, body, and spirit. The practice can offer a life changing experience, changing your attitude towards every day obstacles, providing relaxing sleep, and giving you more energy.
The gentle, flowing movements are not taxing on your joints, and offer amazing health benefits. The meditative and deliberate approach to each movement can be adapted to any fitness level, increasing flexibility and balance. Even if you haven’t been active for a while, Qigong can introduce you, gently, back into moving, with slow controlled movements.
Tai Chi is particularly popular among seniors for exactly this reason.
The gentle, rhythmic, and deliberate movements of Qigong and Tai Chi will build your stamina, reduce stress, enhance your immune system, and increase vitality. Maintaining a consistent practice of Qigong can maintain youthfulness, re-establishing the body, mind, and soul.
This short video from Bill Farr “shows five simple techniques that will build chi… and remove negative energy.”
Start your Qigong Journey Today
Starting Qigong breathing exercises is a great example of a small change you could make to your everyday life that could have massive benefits.
Practiced for just a few minutes a day, you’ll soon find that you’re sleeping better, have more energy and a more positive outlook on life.
It makes an excellent addition to a morning routine, if you have some time before you head off to work, or in the evening when you wind down with a green tea before bed.
The beauty of these exercises is that you can do them anywhere, at any time of day, and at zero cost. So why not give it a try for a few days and see how you get on?