There are hundreds of different forms of Qigong, though all had their origins in China. Spring Forest Qigong (developed by Master Chunyi Lin) is the form that I learned and practice regularly. “Qi” means “life force” or “life energy” and “gong” means movement. Through a series of slow, deliberate movements and deep, focused breaths, the body and mind are brought together and emotional blockages are cleared as energy is allowed to flow more freely through the meridians of the body. Regular practice of Qigong active movement exercises can greatly reduce and/or eliminate feelings of stress and fatigue, can balance the emotions, strengthen the lungs, improve vascular function, as well as many other benefits.
Meditation is also an important part of Qigong. (Qigong is not a religion and can be practiced by anyone.) Controlled breathing and a deliberate letting go of stresses and negativity while embracing thoughts of love, compassion, and forgiveness bring balance and feelings of peace.
I struggled with insomnia for about six years and after only three weeks of regular Qigong practice (active exercises 2-3 times per week and 20-30 minutes of meditation daily), my insomnia had disappeared. My sleep was longer, deeper, and more restful, and I found that I was able to deal with stress much better. In addition, my focus in school and retention of new information improved as well.
Qigong, with its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, is a close cousin to the better-known tai chi. Unlike that practice, qigong isn’t based in martial arts. Instead, it uses a variety of gentle movements, says Stanwood Chang, who teaches qigong classes at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Because its motions are simple and repetitive, qigong is more accessible to many people than tai chi, which has long sequences that need to be memorized, Mr. Chang adds.
Traditionally, qigong is described as a practice that cultivates “qi,” or life energy. Qi can’t be measured objectively, says Shin Lin, a professor of cell biology at the University of California, Irvine. But his studies of qigong and tai chi practitioners have found a boost in both alpha brain waves, suggesting relaxation, and beta waves, indicating strong focus. “It has the dual benefit of relaxing you, but also sharpening your mind,” says Dr. Lin.
Natural Standard Research Collaboration, a Cambridge, Mass., scientist group that evaluates natural therapies, gives qigong a grade of “B,” for hypertension, concluding that there is “good evidence” to support its use along with standard medications to treat the condition.