Have you ever seen a movie clip of men and women in China practicing a never-ending series of graceful, swaying hand and body movements outdoors, in parks and other open areas?
Chances are they were practicing Chi Kung or Qi Gong (pronounced “chee gung”), a Chinese system of exercises and meditation that is thousands of years old.
Qi Gong uses visualization, controlled breathing, self-massage, stances, movements and meditation to improve the health and well-being of its practitioners. Interestingly, many Chinese martial artists also consider Qi Gong an important tool to advance their fighting abilities.
As a system of health, this ancient practice is based on the fascinating idea that the human body is fully capable of maintaining and healing itself, and all that we have to do is learn how to help our bodies do so.
How is this relevant to you? If you suffer from poor posture, a weak back and spend most of your day hunched over a desk or at a computer — you’re a prime candidate for painful back-related conditions including lower back pain, neck and shoulder pain and sciatica, among others. That is, if you don’t suffer from these conditions already!
If you want to stop these painful afflictions in their tracks, Qi Gong is a simple, easy and convenient solution. You don’t have to be an expert to benefit from Qi Gong practice. Almost anyone can use it to maintain and improve their health.
The first and most important step is to learn how it works.
The Concept of Chi Energy
The central idea in Qi Gong is chi energy, a vital life force that flows in every living being and is responsible for all life and health.
The main goal of Qi Gong practice is to build, circulate and direct the flow of this energy throughout your body to promote and maintain physical and mental well-being.
If you suffer from injuries or are subject to unmanaged stress, flow of chi is believed to be blocked, eventually resulting in illness and disease. On the other hand, regular Qi Gong practice generates healing chi energy that circulates through your entire body, realigning your posture, healing wounds and injuries, detoxifying your body and relieving any pain resulting from injury and poor health.
In some Qi Gong systems, masters apply their own powerfully developed chi energy to the affected areas of a practitioner or patient’s body as a form of therapy.
Health Benefits of Daily Qi Gong Practice
For the most part, western medicine believes in treating disease after it has manifested clear symptoms — by this time the damage is usually extensive and medical or surgical intervention becomes necessary. As a result of this approach, many physicians in the west are forced to accept that certain illnesses are incurable.
On the other hand, in traditional Chinese medicine no disease or illness is considered incurable. Qi Gong exercises are designed to allow chi to flow naturally and freely throughout the body with the idea of preventing illness or disease from reaching an advanced stage. Qi Gong is preventative, especially when carried out daily. Of course it may happen that a patient may reach an advanced stage or the illness may move very quickly to the point where the damage is too severe to repair.
In most cases, according to Qi Gong’s proponents, even a 5- to 20-minute daily routine delivers many health benefits, including:
- Reduced stress of daily life
- Increased energy levels
- Improved posture
- Reduced stiffness and tightness
- Relief from many physical ailments including back pain, neck pain and sciatica, among others
- Improved long-term health, disease prevention and longevity
How Does Qi Gong Relieve Back Pain?
Back problems may start with a small injury or muscle imbalances from unbalanced repetitive motions. It may hang around or get worse because of poor posture and a weak back. Even a small injury can take a long time to heal. Back muscles help to keep balance and carry the body’s weight, so they are almost always working. Poor posture also puts weight on the wrong places and creates pressure on the spinal column.
Qi Gong is thought to relieve back pain by realigning the vertebrae and reducing pressure on the spine. As time passes, practitioners become more and more aware of how to rest and move their bodies in a properly aligned manner. Qi Gong exercises strengthen back muscles, improve flexibility and decrease pain and tightness.
On a deeper, metaphysical level, advanced practitioners believe that misalignment of the back makes the chi flow sluggishly. Regular Qi Gong practice generates healing chi energy which circulates along the spine and other affected areas. Corrected posture means this energy now moves freely, keeping pain away.
Indeed, a study on one small group of women working at computers in Sweden in 2007 showed that Qi Gong significantly relieved their lower-back symptoms and reduced stress-related physiological markers.
Does Qi Gong Have Any Effects on Upper Torso Pain?
Shoulder, neck and upper back pain often result from having tight or tense muscles, usually because of physical and/or mental stress. Experimental evidence suggests that nonspecific pain in these areas (i.e. unrelated to specific injuries) and related muscle spasms can be relieved by Qi Gong practice.
In another Swedish study with 122 participants published in 2007, Qi Gong was as effective as exercise therapy for relief of long-term, nonspecific neck pain.
The deep breathing exercises practiced in Qi Gong add more oxygen to blood. Gentle stretching brings more blood to tense areas, allowing highly oxygenated blood to deliver nutrients and carry away toxins, helping cleanse and relax the stiff or painful areas. All this is good news for your neck and upper back, especially after a long and stressful day at work.
An observational study with deep-breathing exercises similar to those in Qi Gong practice found even patients who underwent major head and neck surgery could improve their tissue oxygenation without any harmful side effects.
Sciatica is a set of symptoms caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve. Symptoms include pain, sometimes severe pain, numbness, muscular weakness, tingling and difficulty in moving or controlling the leg, usually on only just side of the body.
Many regular Qi Gong exercises for the back also relieve sciatica symptoms by relaxing and improving blood flow to affected areas of the lower back, buttocks and legs.
It is believed that advanced practitioners can direct their chi towards specific areas of their body to promote healing. However, even beginners or non-practitioners may benefit from the external application of chi from a Qi Gong therapist.
Putting It All Together
Qi Gong, the ancient Chinese system of self-healing through movements and meditation, may be just what the doctor ordered if you suffer from back pain, upper torso pain and sciatica because of poor posture, a weak back and long hours of sitting at work.
Not only that, daily Qi Gong practice may also fight off illness and disease, improve your long-term health and well-being and maybe even confer a long life!
Now who could say no to that?
Recommended Books and DVDs
Back Pain: Chinese Qigong For Healing & Prevention, by Yang Jwing-Ming.
Gentle Qigong exercises and massage techniques to ease back pain, strengthen the torso and prevent future back problems.
Simple Qigong Exercises for Back Pain Relief (YMAA Chi Kung DVD), by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming An introduction to general Qi Gong concepts and key points for correct practice. Ten gentle qigong exercises to help ease lower back pain, strengthen the torso and expedite the body’s natural healing.
Qi Gong for Upper Back and Neck Pain (Qi Gong with Lee Holden) [CD-ROM], narrated by Lee Holden
Lee Holden combines flowing movement, deep breathing and a meditative state of mind to focus specifically on relaxing and releasing the tension from the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Skoglund, L, Jansson, E. Qigong reduces stress in computer operators. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.2007 May;13(2):78-84. Epub 2006 Nov 28.
Lansinger B, et al. Qigong and exercise therapy in patients with long-term neck pain: a prospective randomized trial. Spine. 2007 Oct 15;32(22):2415-22.
GenÃ§ A, et al. Effect of deep breathing exercises on oxygenation after major head and neck surgery. Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. 2008 Aug;139(2):281-5.