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(5 pages total)

Page 3 - Ancient Healthcare for a Modern World

Self-Care in China

In China, the true definition of health care is to care for one's health. The rationale for self-care is that if citizens can do self-applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM), in the comfort of their own home for no cost, then health care is free. An ancient Chinese tradition encourages citizens and physicians to take great pride in healthy longevity. One of the most ancient and revered codes of traditional medicine states, "The superior physician teaches people to sustain their health." In the health crisis (of cost and quality) in the U.S., what could be more useful and cost effective than "free" health care? In China, this variety of free health care is being utilized by millions of people every day, and it is actively supported by the Chinese government.

Chinese self-care, called Qigong, combines careful regulation of breath, deep states of relaxation, specific regulation of bodily movement and posture, and, in certain forms, self-applied massage to generate a physiological state termed the Qigong state. This state is unique in its comparison to aerobics, jogging, and muscle-building, because of the simultaneous application of deep states of relaxation. Qigong requires no special equipment. While aerobics, jogging, and even walking require that the individual be relatively fit, people who are very sick and incapacitated can still practice Qigong.

There are many varieties of Qigong self-care practice. Some are very mild and aimed at the severely unwell. Taiji (t'ai chi), with which most Americans are familiar, is a moderate level of Qigong that is both curative and preventative. Certain types of wu shu and gung fu (martial and athletic forms) are very dynamic. However, when breath regulation and deep relaxation accompany the movements, the Qigong state can be attained. The Qigong state is characterized by a balanced coordination of the healing and health-sustaining resources in the body, including immune function, oxygen distribution, lymphatic flow, autonomic balance, and the ample and free-flowing activity of the body vitality, which the Chinese call Qi.

Qigong Institutes

Throughout China exists numerous large institutes for research and clinical application of Qigong, as well as for training of Qigong students, patients, and trainers. In all parts of China it is clear that Qigong is a high profile aspect of China's official health care system. The institutes in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are large, five to six story buildings with lots of activity. People may either be participating in large classes, seeing particular Qigong teachers for special teaching, or receiving acupuncture, Tui Na (massage), or Qigong-based treatment. The government-supported institutes are also training centers where Qigong teachers, trainers, and Qigong doctors receive instruction.

The Qigong institutes present classes on a daily basis where participants learn general forms of Qigong for overall self-care or specific forms that have been perfected to address specific diagnostic areas such as: particular cancers, arthritis, asthma, hypertension, immune deficiency, etc. Herbal remedies are generally available, as well, to supplement the benefits of the self-care practices.

The Wu Lin Qigong Institute in Hangzhou is more like a retreat where patients and students actually reside. The design of the program is somewhat like a non-acute care hospital, somewhat like a school, and somewhat like a retreat center, but without the luxuries of sufficient hot water, tennis courts, swimming pool, or Jacuzzi. The Qigong schedule begins at 6:30 am, with Qigong practice, followed by a class at 9:00 am to learn and refine techniques, a 2:00 pm lecture, and an evening meditation at 8:00 pm. Meals are Chinese health food, with concentration on grains and vegetables. Acupuncture, massage and herbal formulas are available in the institute's clinic. It is harder to get into a "live in" Qigong program in China than a program at a day use center. The Wu Lin program is a kind of a perk or work benefit, available to certain people who have earned the benefit or who have severe medical need.

Most hospitals in China have departments of Qigong, and in some hospitals Qigong is actually the primary modality. In one hospital in northern China, the only curative modality is a form of Qigong where one specific meditation technique is practiced. At another hospital in central China, a very specific practice of Qigong that emphasizes simple bodily movement is practiced in large groups. The director, Pang He Ming, states that group practice produces a "field" effect (as in magnetic or electrical field) that has a beneficial physical effect on each individual. This particular Qigong institute is famous for its work with victims of paralysis. When the paralyzed patients first attend the institute they just sit in the "Qi field," eventually they can move about and help to generate the "field" for others.

How many participate & How many kinds?

It is difficult to estimate how many people in China regularly practice Qigong. Estimates from government health administrators, physicians, Qigong masters, and the directors of the Qigong institutes range from 80 million to 150 million people. In Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, and other, smaller communities throughout China, the parks are filled every morning with people doing a nearly infinite variety of different self-care practices-some sitting in meditation, some standing in meditation among trees, some in small groups doing self-massage and breathing practices, some in large groups doing taijiquan (t'ai chi ch'uan), some in pairs, some doing taijiquan with swords, some doing taijiquan with large red fans, some doing more vigorous forms of wu shu, some doing a kind of Qigong aerobics with music, and some doing a sort of ballroom dancing Qigong with partners and a voice, over music, saying, "inhale," "exhale."

Hangzhou is a tourist and silk center in China. A popular saying proclaims that "above there is heaven, below there is Hangzhou." In the 8th century AD, a lagoon off the Qiantang River was transformed into a huge lake called Xi Hu, and later the Song dynasty used Hangzhou as the Capital of China. Around the lake are beautiful parks and plazas, which are filled with people practicing the traditional Chinese methods of health enhancement and self-care in the early mornings. At 6:30 am, an estimated six to seven thousand people practice around the lake. It's an incredible sight, an inspiration. It is a kind of health wonder of the world.

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