The literal translation of qì (气, also chi or ch'i) is air, breath or gas and in traditional Chinese culture, qì is regarded as the "life-force". "Qìgōng" ("qì-work", "working with qì", "qì-energy exercises") could be simply defined as a set of exercises that one does to get in contact with one's life-force. This involves working with the breath and concentrating on observing one's body internally.
The term "qìgōng", however, originates from the mid-20th century and is misleading in the sense that these days it refers to a large family of traditional internal exercises which do not only aim at developing the qì. Qìgōng is therefore usually used as a general term for different kinds of exercises that aim at preserving and improving health, treating illnesses, improving performance in martial arts, and also developing spiritual insights (e.g. daoist and buddhist exercises). These exercises include slow-moving meditative movement exercises as well as stationary exercises such as standing and sitting meditation. Tàijí can also be considered a type of qìgōng-exercise which aims at using internal skill for martial purposes.
In the qìgōng practiced in Baji Association the movements themselves are outwardly very simple and easy to learn and beginning the practice is therefore easy. More and more details will be added when the practice progresses. Movements are done standing up and don't require you to exert yourself too much - they can be done by anybody. When doing the exercises, it is important to keep the body in a relaxed upright position and the pelvis on an even level. This makes it possible for the dāntián (丹田)-area in the abdomen to open up. Here dāntián refers to the so-called lower dāntián which is located under the navel, inside the lower abdomen. Discovering this "root" or dāntián, filling it with qì and using it as the energetic center of the body where all the movement in the body should start is one of the first steps in developing internal energy control.
It is important to realize that like tàijí, qìgōng is not supposed to be just a "slow moving exercise". The slow movements are a tool for finding out how to change the external disconnected, muscle-using movement into internal movement that is unified, whole body movement controlled by the center. Especially important is to find, maintain and make the zhōngdìng (中定) or `center line' stronger (here in particular, standing meditation can help). In the beginning of the practice the focus is more on the external movement and breathing and using them to recognize and strengthen the internal structure of the body and gradually start controlling the internal energy. Done correctly with paying attention to your body and the sensations, the exercises increase body-awareness, and through this awareness it becomes easier to relax the different parts of the body and keep them in better health. This first stage also aims at opening the energy routes (meridians) of the body to enable the training of the mind (意 - yì, 'intention') in the following stages. As the body-awareness develops the focus of the practice is directed inwards, and the internal energy is also guided increasingly by using the mind instead of the external movements. Little by little a coordination develops between the external and internal movement. Finally the internal movement actually generates and guides the external movement - the external movements only show what happens inside. This will then lead to a even deeper awareness of the body and the possibility to start working with the energies in the body.
Wade-Giles: Ch'i kung, Chikung
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