Qigong: The Breath of Life

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    According to an article in one of the Mayo Clinic’s publications, as little as five minutes of deep breathing a day can help you feel more calm, refreshed and alert.

    The article offers advice on how to achieve relaxation through breathing:

    • Sit in a comfortable chair and place your feet flat on the floor.

    • Either close your eyes or focus them on something in front of you.

    • Pay close attention to your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose. Visualize your diaphragm moving up and down to provide more room for your lungs to expand.

    • Allow your lower abdomen to relax and expand as you take your breaths.

    • When your lungs are full, slowly let the air out through your mouth and allow your diaphragm to collapse.

    • Repeat the process. If your mind starts to drift, return its attention to your breathing.

    • When you’ve done your deep breathing exercises, don’t just leap out of your chair. Take time to regain a sense of your surroundings.

    Deep breathing can help reduce anxiety, conserve energy, relieve muscle tension, improve sleep and offer better management of stress and anger. There are also benefits for your immune system.

    Alkaline vs acid

    When we breathe properly, we maintain the appropriate ph balance in our body. The appropriate balance for humans is slightly alkaline. Based on a scale of 14, a pH of 7.0 is neutral. A pH below 7.0 is acid; the lower the number, the stronger the acid. A pH above 7.0 is alkaline; the higher the number, the stronger the alkali. Blood pH is slightly alkaline, with a normal range of 7.36-7.44.

    In a slightly alkaline state, the human system is more resistant to infection. On the other hand, a slightly acid state is conducive to illness, as many infectious diseases grow extremely well in a slightly acid environment.

    Cognition

    Other benefits to proper breathing include improved memory, enhanced thinking and problem solving, improved concentration and a decrease in fatigue.

    On a special with Dr. Phil McGraw (yes, that Dr. Phil) several students were profiled who were significantly underperforming in school. Dr. McGraw had each of them work with a representative of the MENSA (high IQ) group. The MENSA representative concentrated on three techniques proven to make the biggest difference in cognition: breathing, rhythmic movement and focus.

    The MENSA expert explained that breathing oxygenates the blood, providing more oxygen to the brain for better thinking. Rhythmic movement helped to release endorphins to calm the student, facilitate a mind/body connection and provide a feeling of well-being. Finally, by practicing concentration, or focus, the student learned to block out distractions.

    Each student was tested, given a brief lesson in the three techniques and tested again. In every case the students’ performance increased significantly. In the follow up, one young man went from failing grades to "A" marks in three weeks.

    Qigong

    The ancient practice of qigong (pronounced "chi gong") is credited with helping to reduce muscle tension, diminish physical pain, improve cognition, reduce fatigue, strengthen the immune system, aid in emotional balance and offer a sense of well-being.

    In a study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the authors examined depression and how it is treated in the elderly. There is a strong correlation between clinical depression and illness in the elderly.

    The authors of the study took a look at how other culturally based medical systems address depression. In China, qigong exercises are commonly used for a variety of medical conditions. The researchers designed an experiment to examine if qigong breathing could help clinical depression in the elderly.

    Qigong is actually two words – qi can be translated as "life energy" and gong can be translated as "develop" or "strengthen." The goal of qigong is to strengthen life force energy. The focus of qigong is breathing, often synchronized with simple physical movements.

    The study included eight elderly patients with clinical depression, as well as a history of stroke, Parkinson’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis. The patients practiced qigong daily for three months. By the end of the study, seven of the eight improved significantly without any other medical interventions. Their physical activity, sleep patterns and depression all improved.

    Even though the rate of improvement when employing qigong was slower than with medication, there were no side effects and it was less expensive. Other benefits included improved physical function, such as greater strength and flexibility.

    It is important to point out that this is only one study. One study’s positive results are not enough to be considered conclusive. The anecdotal evidence of 5,000 years is compelling, but before 21st century Western society will fully embrace qigong, more studies will have to be undertaken.

    If you would like more information you can search the internet for qigong. You might be surprised by the number of articles containing excellent information. That being said, reading about qigong is not the same as doing it. You can find out for yourself if qigong is effective. Try it. It’s completely safe and can be adapted to any physical limitations you may have. At worst, you will have wasted a little time trying a fun and easy exercise. At best, you will find something that will greatly improve your quality of life.

    Here’s to you, and to the breath of life.

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    Scot Combs is a 4th degree black belt in karate and the head instructor at Full Circle Martial Arts, teaching at the NW YMCA in Shoreview, Minn. He is a hands-on healing practitioner and has practiced qigong most of his life. He is currently studying how hypnosis can aid the meditation experience and enhance human potential. Contact Scot for classes or seminars in martial arts, self-defense and qigong at (612) 220-0935 or [email protected] Check the web for "Martial Arts Explorer," the world's first video podcast focusing on classical martial arts, at http://martialarts.thepodcastnetwork.com.
    Copyright © 2006 Scot Combs. All rights reserved.

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