Qigong Classes in Bristol
Our classes in Bristol offer in-depth instruction in several styles of Qigong, but focus in particular on the practice of Taijiwuxigong (‘Tai Chi Five Subtle-Breath Cultivation’). As the name suggests, this Qigong is closely integrated with the Tai Chi that we teach, and offers a very clear way to achieve many of its important health benefits. This way of practicing also makes use of Spontaneous Movement exercise, in which we allow the movement of our dantian to stretch and open our body without seeking to impose direction. This is a very useful tool for understanding how to work with Tai Chi forces, and is a very effective way of helping to clear pathogenic factors from our body. Through this practice, we can recover that joy and vigour lost behind the everyday pressures of life in a big city like Bristol.
What is Qigong?
Please note that ‘Qigong’ is the most commonly accepted way of writing these characters in English, but it is also possible to see spellings such as ‘qi gong’, ‘chi kung’, or ‘chi gung’. Also, when I make general assertions about Qigong on this website, I am talking only about Taijiwuxigong or one of the other related systems that we teach in our classes.
The Chinese word ‘Qigong’ is made up of two characters. ‘Qi’ is a character that has a number of different meanings. Classically it referred to clouds in the sky, and from there the meaning expanded to become a general term for gas. Thus, it is not hard to see how it also came to have the meaning of ‘breath’. On top of this, in Chinese philosophy, ‘Qi’ refers the fundamental substance of existence, and in Chinese medicine to the vital energy of a person.
The character ‘Gong’ is most readily understood as ‘skill’ or ‘achievement’, and this means that through practice we can become skilled in working with Qi. This process of developing skill will challenge us physically – much the same as it would if we attended any other kind of exercise class – but the energetic and mental aspects of this practice mean that it can be so much more. When we practice there will be moments of great joy, but there will also be challenges. Both of these are OK, and we simply accept that this is the reality of this form of exercise – over time our mental and physical habits become stuck in certain patterns, so it is only natural that we will have to make an effort to free ourselves.
In its modern usage, Qigong is essentially a catch all term for different methods of working with Qi in order to nourish life. Different styles of Qigong will most likely teach exercises that seek to harness the body, breath and mind in order to promote good mental and physical health, but the underlying theories that guide their practice may differ. All styles make some claim as to the positive effect that their practice has, but I can only speak for those that I am familiar with. I would recommend doing some research before investing yourself, and maintaining a questioning mind as you explore.
Qigong vs Tai Chi
Given the way that Chinese words have been pronounced in English over the years, people often find it hard to distinguish between the ‘Chi’ in ‘Tai Chi’ and the ‘Qi’ in ‘Qigong’. However, when we look at the Chinese characters, it becomes apparent that they are very different words.
Our use in this country of ‘Tai Chi’ is based on an earlier phonetic spelling for these characters, and the modern way of spelling this word in Chinese would be ‘Taiji’. This word, derived from Taoist philosophy, refers to that moment of movement from emptiness into activity – when Yin and Yang start their unceasing dance of creation. Thus, when these principals were incorporated into martial arts, the style which evolved came to be known as ‘Taijiquan’. (Here, ‘quan’ means ‘fist’ and is commonly used in Chinese to refer to various different fighting arts.)
So, Taijiquan is a martial art based on the cosmic principles of Yin and Yang, and uses a deep understanding of these two forces in its application. Tai Chi standing postures allow us to cultivate completely spontaneous movement, but we are often still informed by a sense of martial application. When we practice the Tai Chi form, we use this martial intention to direct the movement of our dantian from one posture to the next.
Qigong is, for the most part, not practiced with martial intention, and this can make it more approachable for those with no interest in ‘fighting’. Here, our body and mind are free to develop in whatever direction is needed to promote good health, so the quality of mind we cultivate in Qigong can be somewhat different to that of Tai Chi. On the deepest levels, however, both practices lead to the same place, and so there is no distinction; we simply choose to take a certain path depending on our physical abilities and inclinations.
In Qigong, most postures are performed with the weight distributed evenly over both feet so they need not be as physically demanding as in Tai Chi – making them more accessible to those who have hip or knee problems. Also, the movements are simpler and repeated, making them easier to remember and practice at home. The nature of these exercises means that one does not have to learn a long Tai Chi form at the same time as trying to master the subtleties of internal exercise. The repeated nature of the movements also means that people who have been practicing for many years are performing the very same exercise as beginners – they have simply learned to go deeper into the internal movement.
What is Taijiwuxigong?
Taijiwuxigong is a system derived in the most part from Tai Chi practice. Dr Shen Hongxun, the founder of this style, was teaching Tai Chi to a group of elderly students who found it difficult to remember the sequence of the Tai Chi form. He therefore took a few movements and focused on them as individual exercises. Then, as the system developed, it came to use various exercises to clear and open specific areas of the body. According to Dr Shen, when the ‘First World Conference for Academic Exchange of Medical Qigong’ was held in 1988, ten Qigong styles were demonstrated and all participants agreed that Taijiwuxigong was the most effective.
One meaning of ‘five subtle-breaths’ referred to in Taijiwuxigong is the five areas of the body that we ‘breathe’ through in our practice, and ‘subtle-breath’ refers to the refined breath that we achieve in deep meditation. The exercises that we work with are:
The Heaven-Earth Daoyin: which helps to open the spinal column, to lengthen the straight muscles of the whole body, and to open the central channel.
The Head Daoyin (A & B): which help to realign the cervical vertebrae and enlarge the inter-vertebral spaces, enhance qi circulation in the left and right channels, and circulate qi in the front and back channels.
The Shoulder Daoyin (A & B): which help to make the muscles and ligaments around the shoulder more supple, help to clear the channels that run down through the arms, and promote the opening and closing movement of the dantian.
The Chest Daoyin (A & B): which create more supple up and down movement in the diaphragm, facilitate expansion and contraction of the rectus abdominus muscle to massage organs and assist in peristalsis, and help the movement of qi in the torso.
The Abdomen Daoyin: which exercises the muscles of the waist and back, massages the organs of the abdomen to improve absorption of nutrients and excretion of waste, and circulates qi in the front and back channels.
The Heel Daoyin: which stretches the whole body and massages all of the organs, helps to open the central channel, and creates circulation in the front and back channels.
The Enclosing Daoyin: which stretches the spinal column, relaxes all the muscles of the body, opens the central channel, and brings qi to the dantian.
We use these exercises to activate the dantian (the energy centre in our abdomen), and use the movement generated there to open the channels of our body in order to expel Binqi (disease causing factors). This dantian is not something we can find by dissecting the body, but is rather that space just below the navel and between the muscles of the abdomen. Thus, when we say that this area becomes active, we are referring to the manner in which we these muscles become involved in, and ultimately lead, every movement throughout our body. We activate this area in order to generate an internal force that we then guide around our body. Then, once we have opened and cleared many of our body’s longstanding problems, we can develop a feeling of great harmony with the natural world.
Other Styles of Qigong Practiced within our School
In addition to Tai Chi and Taijiwuxigong we make use of a number of other methods which Dr Shen taught as aids for recovering health and well-being. These systems include:
The Emei Daoyin: a set of ten standing and two meditation exercises which Dr Shen believed were the best traditional Qigong system developed in China. The exercises offer a wonderfully precise way to work deep into the physical and energetic channels of the body, clearing blockages that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. These exercises are particularly useful for those who use their hands in an exact or exacting way, as they were developed to support martial, massage, and bone setting techniques.
The Dragon Daoyin: a set of nine standing exercises which mimic the spiralling movement of the Chinese dragon. These graceful movements help to open the spine, and open the five large channels of the body. Ultimately, the dantian force becomes like two dragons that twist and spiral up each side of the spinal column to the crown of the head.
The Five Animals Daoyin: a set of five standing exercises which emulate the movements of a deer, a bear, a bird, a monkey, and a tiger. Emulating these animals helps to develop a very free and spontaneous state of mind which makes this a very light and playful way to exercise.
The Tendon Changing Daoyin (Yijin jing): a system of nine standing exercises which help to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons of the body. Given the overall emphasis within our school, we use these exercises to correct the alignment of the spinal column and eliminate negative emotional information.
The Sound Daoyin: a group of sounds that we use in order to direct internal movement around our body, bring vibration to our dantian, and calm our minds. In Tai Chi practice these sounds add outward force to our martial applications, but in Qigong we use them to bring awareness back into our body and cultivate deep states of meditation.
For a detailed discussion of qi in Chinese medicine and Life Nourishing exercise please see here.
For a detailed discussion of Taiji and its place in Chinese cosmology please see here.