The holistic concept that "nature and man form an organic whole" is the core of the theoretical basis for both traditional Chinese medicin and qigong.
Qi is the medium
which connects man with all things in the universe. One of the purposes of qigong exercises is to strengthen this connection so as to make man better adapted to nature. The human body itself is also an organic whole, with all its parts interrelated to one another.
However, there are certain key points on the body which have important barings on its overall functions.
The theory of yin and yang is a foundation stone for traditional Chinese medicine
and ancient ways of preserving health, qigong included. Everything has its yin and yang aspects, the human body for instance has its yin and yang aspects. Imbalance between yin and yang in the body would result in ailment. As far as man's relations with nature is concerned, there is yang qi existing outside the body and yin qi circulating within it. The purpose of qigong exercises is to achieve a better balance of yin and yang not only within the body, but also between the body and the external world.
The ancient theory of the five elements
provides concrete explanations between different parts of the human body. All things on earth, including human beings, can be resolved into these five elements, which move through the sheng (creation) and ke (containment) cycles in their reciprocal relations.
The jingluo system is understood in Chinese medical science as a network of passages through the body, through which energy and information are transmitted from one part of the body to another. The longitudonal channels are called jing and the lateral ones, luo. Each channel is punctuated by a number of acupuncture points. The jingluo channels
serve as passages through which qi and blood circulate, and have a close baring on one's physiological condition. The acupoints along these channels are vital spots where qi and blood converge and disperse.
The concept of zangfu is a theoretical basis of both traditional Chinese medicine and the science of health care. The term zang refers to the five "solid organs" (heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys) and fu means the six "hollow organs" (gallbladder, stomach, small and large intestines, bladder and the "triple warmer" (whose function represents the summation of those of the zang and fu organs). The main function of the zang organs is to store basic life-sustaining substances such as jing, qi and shen and blood, while the six fu organs are responsible for taking in fresh things and getting rid of stale matter, and for transformning foodstuffs for the replenishment of jing, qi and shen . The purpose of qigong is to cultivate jing, qi and shen.
Jing, qi and shen are regarded as the "three treasure" in the human body and form the main constituants of human life. Jing forms the material base of human life, divided in prenatal jing and postnatal jing. The two types of jing are interdependent. Qi is an infinitisimal substance by which the human body is nourished. It is the basic substance that sustains life, and is vital to the function of the internal organs. Qi exists in different forms and performs different functions in different parts of the body. The most important type of qi is yuan qi (primordial) and zhen qi (genuine). Shen is the generalization of consciousness and all other forms of life activities. All mental and physical activities, including seeing, hearing, speaking, thinking and bodily movements, are manifestations of shen.
Jing, qi and shen are inseparably linked with one another. Qi is produced from jin, the production of jing, in turn, depends on the action of qi, while the production of qi is expressive of shen. The realtionship between the three may be summarized with the following words,,
jing - the base, qi - the driving force, shen - the guiding factor.
Jing, qi and shen are the very basic objects to be achieved in qigong practise, the aim of which is to gather jing, nourish qi and preserve shen, all contributing to good health.
There are countless methods of practicing Chinese qigong, though they all emphasize the need to "enter into a state of tranquility", which is closely associated with the three basic aspects of qigong, that is, regulating of the mind, regulating of respiration and regulating of the body. By tranquility, we mean an extraordinary quiet, calm, relaxed, comforable state achieved through a high degree of mental concentration. It is a peculiar mental state in which the performer seems to be severd from all external stimuli while retaining a certain level of awareness, a trance-like condition that is different from both the ordinary state of consciousness and sleep. In essence, it is caused by steadily deepening inhibition of the cerebral cortex when exitation dominates the ascending reticular activating system. Such a peculiar integration of inhibition and excitation is a kind of complex conditioned reflex built through repeated efforts of self-induction.
While the state of tranquility has much to do with appropriate body postures and methods of breathing, it is closely related to regulation of the mind. What we mean by the word "mind" here is the seat of consciousness by which one thinks, percieves, feels, wills, etc. At ordinary times, an adults mind engages in in a lot of thinking in abstract terms or in terms of images. When one enters into tranquility, concrete thinking based on the senses becomes dominant. Such "sensory thought" is quite different from what it is when one is in a state of activity. Ordinarily sense perceptions are reflections of external stimuli acting on various receptors, and therefore passive in nature. In other words, there can be no perceptions without external stimuli. But when practicing qigong, one is advised to go to a quiet place and close the eyes in preparation and concentrate on oneself. If one also clears the mind of all distracting thoughts, then one is also clear of internal stimuli as well. With the absence of both external and internal stimuli, how do the sense perceptions come about?
The answer is, all the sensations you feel when you are in a state of tranquility come from your own will, they are something induced by your mental power. To be sure, your initial sensation of relaxation and calmness has something to do with the quiet surrounding and your comforable body posture, but the deepening of such a sensation is primarily the result of your self-suggestion. This is even more true of the sensation of "supreme void and quiescence", since such a sensation can never be experienced in real life and can be realized only through subjective induction.
Thus we can see that regulation of the mind during the state of tranquility is a psychological process that can be mastered. While the ability to enter the state of tranquility is aquired through conscientious training, the attainment of the state of tranquility is a natural process of unconscious development. Here the word "natural" needs to be emphasized because any uneasy efforts are bound to run against the aim of achieving tranquility. The degree of tranquility and the time needed for its attainment vary with the condition of each individual, the type of exercise he practices, and the lenght of time he has spent practising it. The degrees of tranquility are generally graded into three levels, light, intermediate and profound.
One of the common ways of achieving tranquility during qigong exercise is to focus ones thinking on a selected part of ones body so as to dispell all other thoughts. The most frequent used parts are the three dantian regions, upper dantian (around the glabella between the eyebrows), middle dantian (around xiphoid in the pit of the stomach), and lower dantian (in the lower abdomen).
The word dantian, literally meaning "elixer field" is derived from the ancient practice of alchemy which sought to discover the elixer of perpetual youth by smelting and refining certain minerals. During qigong practice, people in earlier times experienced a peculiar sensation of warmth in their lower abdomen when they tried to achieve relaxation and tranquility by focussing on that part of the body. Since different people may get the warm sensation in different parts of the body, there are diverse opinions about the location of dantian. However, it is generally acepted that there three dantian regions, upper, middle and lower dantian. According to traditional Chinese medicine
, the "three treasures" in the body -- jing, qi and shen -- are stored in the lower, middle and higher dantian respectively. Of the three dantian regions, the most important is the lower dantian, which houses several important internal organs and is the hub of many channels and vessels through which blood and qi flow.
It is the fountainhead of energy for the sustenance of life.
Dantian has much to do with mental concentration, an important procedure in qigong, as focus of attention it serves an effective catalyst for bringing about a deep state of mental tranquility. As one keeps concentrating on dantian and clear ones mind of all distracting thoughts, one creates a focus of excitation in the cerebral cortex and gradually strenghtens it while deepening the inhibition in other parts of the cortex. This contributes to the formation of a kind of protective inhibition that is of therapeutic value.
The cerebral cortex is the most important part of the nervous system. When in a state of qigong tranquility, the brain is under a peculiar condition different from that of normal repose, sleep or hypnosis. This condition, which involves active inhibition in the cerebral cortex, contributes to the regulation, restoration and improvement of the crebral function. Improved cerebral function has a positive effect on the hypothalamus-pituary-adrenal axis, which has a direct bearing on the vegetative nervous system. When a qigong performer is in a state of tranquility, the excitability of the sympathetic nervous system is reduced and that of the parasympathetic system is enhanced to benefit the whole organism.
Admittedly, we do find people who make a mystery of qigong for immoral purposes.
Some purposely exaggerate the effects of their qigong methods to fish for fame and compliments. Some even declare themselves to be possessed with esoteric arts that can cure all diseases. Some describe the appearance of hallucinatory images
, a common occurence in qigong practice, as ghosts making their presences felt. Making a fetish of qigong, some devotees would burn incense and kowtow to deities when they exercise. Such practices are superstitious and should be discouraged.
While discarding the dross and retaining the essential of qigong, we should be prudent in dealing with things we find hard to comprehend. Wether a thing is genuine or false can be determined by specific means. We must proceed from objective reality, not from set principles or common sense. The scientific knowledge we have already mastered is only relative truth in the endless flow of absolute truth. Science is not only to solve problems already known to us, but also to probe into what is unknown
. Only then can science be continuously developed. Such is the approach we should adopt in our effort to unravel the mystery.