Many articles and sites throw around the terms qi (chi) and qi gong (chi kung). But what is 'qi'? 'Qi' is the Chinese term for the 'vital breath/energy' that circulates throughout the body. The term is used in the context of Chinese medicine/healing as well as the martial arts. It is believed that proper flow of qi promotes good health, while blockage is associated with illness, prolonged injury, and poor body function in general. When qi is circulating inside the body, it is referred to as 'internal qi'; when qi is thought to be projected/transferred from the body (ie, from the hands to another person/object), it is called 'external qi'.
'Qi gong' refers to many different practices involving the coordination of mind, body, and breath (for example, various meditation techniques), in order to develop and circulate qi in the body. Qi gong can be practiced in stillness (ie, in a static standing, seated, or lying position) or in motion. The popular martial art Tai Chi (tai ji) can be considered a type of qi gong when practiced slowly with coordinated breathing and focus of the mind.
Many studies have already shown the resultant benefits of qi gong practice for pain relief, reduced inflammation, lower serum cholesterol, cognitive and emotional functioning, relaxation, flexibility/balance/coordination, a healthy immune system, stronger bone density, lower blood pressure and heart rate, etc. However, the effect of these practices on qi, as well as how qi relates to mind-body function and bio-energy, and the biological mechanisms underlying qi have remained a mystery. Now, thanks to the continuing research of Dr. Shin Lin at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), we are one step closer to understanding the science of qi.
In his studies, Dr. Lin found elevated theta, alpha and beta waves during qi gong meditation, as confirmed by Independent Component Analysis (ICA) of Electroencephalography (EEG). This indicates a combined state of both relaxation and mental concentration. In addition, his research indicates that meditation achieves a state of rest akin to deep sleep, as confirmed by high frequency Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in Electrocardiography (EKG).
Dr. Lin measured cutaneous blood flow using Laser Doppler Flowmetry and found that various qi gong / Tai Chi exercises are very effective at increasing blood circulation, especially when the movements are coordinated with deep breaths.
Dr. Lin used Infrared Thermography to measure hand temperature in comparing slow Tai Chi exercises (similar to those practiced by many as part of qi gong training) to fast Tai Chi exercises (similar to the more rigorous exercise of hard/external styles of kung fu / martial arts). Surprisingly, hand temperature increased by a greater amount following 20 minutes of slow Tai Chi.
In addition, biophoton emission (visible light emission) from the palm increased by a larger amount following slow Tai Chi, as measured by a Single Photon Counting system.
And electrical charges on the fingers actually increased following slow Tai Chi (as compared with a decrease following fast Tai Chi), as measured by Gas Discharge Visualization.
Dr. Lin also measured electrical conductance (at acupuncture points) following qi gong / Tai Chi, as well as following various physical exercises, and following heat treatment and certain massage techniques. He found that conductance increased by a substantially greater amount following qi gong / Tai Chi, when compared with physical exercise. On the other hand, heat treatment and massage produced similar conductance results to some qi gong / Tai Chi routines, although certain specific qi gong techniques still produced far greater increases in conductance.
Thanks to this latest research, we can now begin to understand the biological processes underlying the ancient and mysterious concept of qi. Perhaps qi is not so mystical after all, when you think about it in terms of blood flow and bio-energy (as heat, light, and electricity). And it appears that, in addition to active physical exercise (or rigorous martial training) and a good night's sleep, qi gong practice can be a powerful and complementary way to promote both relaxation and concentration, improve blood circulation, and increase body energy, all of which are important ingredients for healthy body function.
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