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(6 pages total)

Tonic Herbs that Every Qigong Practitioner Should Know

[Editor's note: Due to the length of this article, it will run in two installments, starting here with the first 25 herbs. The author uses terminology with which most of our readers are familiar, but briefly, the three treasures of Chinese medicine are "Jing" (essence), "Qi" (energy), and "Shen" (spirit). To achieve health, these treasures are balanced by bringing yin (deficient) or yang (excessive) qualities into equalibrium by using herbs, diet, meditation, exercise, lifestyle changes, etc.] See Part 2 of this article.

Superior Herbalism

Chinese tonic herbalism is the most sophisticated and effective herbal system in the world. It differs from other herbal systems in that it emphasizes the promotion of health rather than the elimination of disease. In this sense, tonic herbalism is extremely similar to qigong. Though qigong offers a wide variety of remedial exercises and techniques, quite clearly the emphasis is on developing superior health and spiritual power by performing exercises that harmonize the body, mind and spirit, that develop the Three Treasures, Jing, Qi and Shen, that integrate the organs, and help us harmonize with the environment and the universe.

Of the several thousand herbs used in the Chinese herbal system, there is an elite group of about fifty herbs known as the "Superior Herbs." These very special herbs have also become known as the "tonic" herbs of Chinese herbalism.

The tonic herbs have traditionally been used by the people of China and other Asian societies to enhance vitality and lengthen life. The most extraordinary of the tonic herbs have routinely been used by the wisest people in Asia because they were believed to possess profound life-enhancing benefits. These superior herbs are not considered to be "medicinal" in the usual sense of the word. They are not used to treat or to prevent specific diseases or disorders (though modern medical researchers have discovered many such uses for the tonic herbs). The tonics are used to promote overall well-being, to enhance the body's energy, and to regulate the bodily and psychic functioning so as to create what the Chinese call "radiant health."

Radiant health is defined in China as "health beyond danger." Radiant health is dependent upon one's ability to adapt appropriately to all the stresses that one encounters in the course of one's life. The tonic herbs are said to provide adaptive energy that helps us handle stress much more easily. It is possible to develop a very high degree of adaptability to the many changes that constantly take place in our lives. And by overcoming stressful circumstances successfully, we grow as human beings. Many people have discovered that health is not as difficult to obtain as happiness and true mastery. The tonic herbs have served as a primary tool of Daoist and Buddhist masters for thousands of years. Only herbs that meet specific qualifications are considered "tonic." For an herb to be recognized as a tonic (a superior herb), it must have been found over many centuries to have profound general health-promoting actions that result in a long and healthy life. Secondly, the tonics must have no negative side-effects when used reasonably, so they may be taken continuously over a long period of time if desired, yielding cumulative, long-term benefits. This emphasis on safety is in accordance with the first law of Chinese herbalism"Do no harm." Thirdly, a tonic must be believed to affect the psyche so as to help improve one's state of spiritual and emotional well-being and happiness. Fourthly, many of the herbs in this category taste good. In fact, most of these tonic herbs are routinely used in healthy Chinese cooking. The tonic herbs are considered a food group in the Chinese diet.

The Chinese tonic herbs have always held a very special place in Chinese culture. The "superior herbs" have been associated with the highest qualities of living and thus are associated with the ideals of long life, radiant health, happiness, wisdom, physical vitality, adaptability, sexual vigor, mental acuity, slow aging, love, compassion, and harmonious relations with nature and with one's fellow human beings. The ultimate purpose of consuming Chinese tonic herbs is not to eradicate diseaseit is to achieve these ideal goals of living.

In order to achieve this kind of health and well-being, one must work on all aspects of one's life. But many practitioners of qigong in the west are not aware of the importance of tonic herbs in both their practice of qigong, and in their overall physical and spiritual development. It has become clear over many centuries that the great tonic herbs can make a major contribution toward ultimate well-being.

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