Baduanjin Qigong: Internal Kung-Fu for the Everyday

Continuing the discussion on qi (also spelled chi), the natural potential energy present within the body, today I would like to discuss the topic and practice of taichi. Many of us associate taichi with that timeless cliche where old people move slowly in unison at the local park. Still, many are unaware that in its original form taichi was meant to be practiced as a martial art. As an internal martial art, it serves as an active meditation whereby one controls the flow of Qi within their own body, but what does this mean exactly?

taichi douche

As an internal martial art, taichi and qigong serve as active meditation whereby one controls the flow of qi within their own body, but what does this mean exactly? First, it is important to note that qi literally translates into “breath” or “air” and any practitioner will tell you the same thing in order to master one’s qi you must learn breath control. By creating tension through stretches and coupling these movements with controlled breathing one can improve blood flow, more efficiently and easily oxygenating muscles in areas that may have fallen into neglect. 

The challenge lies in memorizing the movements, finding the time to learn proper breathing, or even finding time to complete all the movements in order before your schedule demands you elsewhere. This is probably why taichi is so often associated with the elderly and retired strata in society and it is also why I recommend beginning with one of the most simplistic forms of Chinese qigong or internal kung-fu: Baduanjin.

Baduanjin, also known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade, traces its origins back to Henan Province anbaduanjind the Shaolin Temple. It is believed to have been practiced by peasants as a means of defense when preparing for the spontaneity of a wild animal attack and was later adopted by the Shaolin Temple, a mecca for kung-fu, incorporating it into the essentials of their training. Today the forms are practiced by most as a form of calisthenics and can be done either standing up or sitting down. Personally, I move through the Eight-Section Brocade to wake up, improve my energy levels, and reduce stress and any added health benefits I view as icing on the cake. As with any sort of stretching exercise, daily practice will promote the healthy release of endorphins and a general improvement in one’s physical wellbeing.

While Baduanjin is easy to learn and perfect for at home practice it’s important to remember that it is also a spiritual exercise and is part of a larger spiritual tradition, to truly reap the benefits qigong can offer it is always best to seek face to face instruction.   

For those more interested in the health benefits gained through laymen’s practice this video, though no substitute for actual instruction is a great way to learn the movements and familiarize yourself with the breathing patterns. Above all remember to stay healthy and do what feel good for your body.

An Age Old Treatment: Cupping Therapy

Though eastern medicine comes in many forms for different ailments, perhaps one of the most recognizable is cupping therapy. Somewhere between massage and acupuncture cupping works by creating negative pressure within a closed space, usually a glass or plastic cup, though in more antiquated practices therapists have been known to use bamboo or cattle horns. This pressure created by each cup opens and pores and redirects both blood and Qi (the body’s natural potential energy) in order to pull pathogens through the skin itself removing impurities from the body. Therapists can create a vacuum and apply the cups in a few ways; lighting a cotton ball inside creates immense pressure as does more pumping the air out but for those looking for a more comfortable treatment, one that doesn’t leave large red circles all over their back the cups can be exposed to a candle flame or warmed by a soothing bath in essential oils.

Cupping

In its more extreme form cupping is focused on relieving the body of any impurities through intense, prolonged suction. Though this method is completely safe patients may complain about looking like an alien for a day or so as they walk around with bulbous circles on their back, however, both these and the later bruises are relatively painless. For those seeking the utmost in their treatment cupping methods can also be applied in a medical setting as a form of bloodletting. In this procedure, a pump creates the vacuum and the cups are removed after only a short while for the practitioner to make many small incisions on each owetcuppingf the areas under pressure. With the cups returned to their places, the pressure is left on for about an hour allowing the old blood stored in capillaries to seep out, needless to say, this not an “at home” sort of treatment. In fact, the best place to find a cupping specialist is at your local spa or homeopathic treatment center, though some doctors may also offer treatment.

My favorite way to enjoy the milder benefits of cupping therapy is what’s typically referred to as the dry method, as opposed to the wet (bloodletting) method, the dry method utilizes less exposure to heat greatly reducing the vacuum’s strength within each cup. It also feels luxurious to drench myself in essential oils and allow my boyfriend, the massage therapist, to move the cups up and down my back resulting in a similar sensation to deep tissue massage. In any form, traditional cupping therapy can serve as a soothing way to cleanse the body or work out some knots. While I recommend completing an online certification, it is completely safe to practice on yourself or with a partner so long as you understand the minor risks associated with the practice, the most common of which is burning your skin from overheating.

To learn more about the risks involved in cupping therapy click the link: here. Or, if you’re inspired and would like to look into earning a certificate in the area, online course and certificates are offered at cuppingtherapy.org.