How Does Qi Gong Work?
We understand that Qi is just the translated Chinese word for the electricity that each of our cells make in order for each cell to have enough power to do its job. We can call it bio-electricity. This Qi, this electricity, is distributed through the body by an invisible network or highway of roads called meridians. It is via these meridians that this Qi can circulate throughout our bodies. The reason this is important is because like any man made electrical system, nothing in the body can work without electricity. As a scientist I can verify this when I did a BSc in Physiology and Neurosciences, we spent hours in the lab measuring the electricity that the body’s cells produce. We learnt how this electricity makes the heart beat, the muscles contract and lengthen, the cells of the brain produce neuropeptides, the cells of the digestive system produce enzymes for digestion etc.. Every single process in our bodies is powered by each cell’s ability to manufacture its own electricity and then use this electricity to cause something to happen in the body.
Let’s compare the body to a house full of appliances. The appliances might all be in excellent condition and in perfect working order. However, if there is a problem with the electrical wiring in the walls of the house and the electricity is not able to reach some of the appliances, those particular appliances are not going to work. Sometimes there is too much electricity feeding an appliance and it causes the electricity to short circuit. The smooth flow of electricity is very important to the home and by extension to our health!
Similarly, in the body, if there is a disturbance in the bio-electricity to the organs we will start to experience that as pain or minor illness. If we allow that process to go on indefinitely the organs will become dysfunctional.
Qi Gong works with the electricity that flows along the meridians as well as within the organs, and works to balance this electricity, this Qi. In Qi Gong we do exercises that massage the meridians and the organs, restoring the electrical balance to the body, resulting in good health. Through working with the energy of this system of meridians, we can maintain our vitality and prevent disease from occurring. Most other exercise systems do not work on the meridians in the way that Qi gong does. This is what sets Qi Gong apart from just doing regular exercise. Nor do they emphasize the importance of adding mind intent and breathing techniques to physical movements. When these dimensions are added, the benefits of exercise increase exponentially.
Instinctively we know the more energy we have, the better we feel. As our energy levels increase, we are able to handle stressful situations better. It is only when we are depleted that stressful situations can overwhelm us. Our energy is a great indicator of our overall health. In Eastern terms, the more energy circulating in the body, the healthier we are. Abundant energy manifests in the body as better functioning organs, more flexibility in the muscles, supple joints and balanced emotions. Loss of internal energy creates fatigue, tensions, low metabolism, inability to cope with stress, insomnia and depression.
The Issues are in the Tissues
Qi Gong practice does not only focus exclusively on the body and physical energy. In fact, one of its main benefits is the ability to transform negative emotions and encourage states of emotional calm and well-being. Emotions exist at the level of energy. They are not a material substance but a frequency of energy. If you change the frequency, you change the emotions! Emotions contain sensation. They make us feel something in our body, it’s not just in our minds. In Traditional Chinese Medicine emotions are mapped and held energetically in the organs.
Qi Gong practice helps the flow of emotions by clearing obstructions to the flow of emotions, so that they are expressed gracefully rather than being repressed or released impulsively. Emotional toxicity has a comparable effect to physical toxicity. Continual emotional stress releases harmful chemicals into the bloodstream, impacting the immune system negatively and causing the muscles to tighten. With continued Qi Gong practice you will not only become aware of the physical healing offered by the practice but by the positive transformation in your emotions as well.
Let’s look at the emotions associated with each of the major organs and how they affect them. In Traditional Chinese Medicine each of the major organs (liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidney) has a ruling emotion. The liver is ruled by anger, the heart happiness, the spleen worry or overthinking, the lung sadness and the kidneys are ruled by fear. When these organs are balanced and healthy; kindness, joy, open-mindedness, courage and peacefulness rule respectively.
The emotions of the lungs are sadness and depression. Individuals who have a hard time letting go or live in grief tend to be affected by lung problems. Grief and sadness weaken the lungs, making it even more difficult to let go. This can cause a self-perpetuating cycle of sadness and lung disease. When a person is emotionally balanced their lungs will be strong, they will feel courageous and have the ability to let go of the past and live in the present.
The kidneys are the seat of our ambition and vitality. When the kidneys are strong one will display focus, discipline, determination and peacefulness. The kidneys suffer when a person endures prolonged stress. An unhealthy stress that results in fear and hopelessness. Unhealthy stress increases blood pressure, cortisol and adrenaline levels. These high levels cause a cascade of negative effects in the body. In TCM the kidneys affect the reproductive organs, the ears, the bones and the lower back. Strengthening the kidneys can improve fertility issues, hearing problems, bone disease and lower back pain.
The liver is in charge of our emotional stability. An overworked liver is a liver associated with excessive, chronic anger. It’s important to remember that there are no bad emotions and we feel our emotions for a reason. But an excess and accumulation of negative emotions can negatively affect the liver. An overwhelmed liver can then make it difficult to deal with anger. And an overwhelmed liver cannot perform its physical function within the body. Signs of an overburdened liver include headaches, skin problems, fatigue, allergies and eye problems to name a few. In TCM a person with a deficient liver will be stiff in the joints and the face will appear drawn with deep furrows. The person will be impatient, intolerant and angry. They can tend towards perfectionism, be set in their ways and unyielding. Some liver imbalances may even have a tendency towards clutter (We mirror our environment and our environment reflects our inner selves back to us again). Kindness prevails in a balanced liver!
The emotions of the heart are love, joy and happiness. Happiness expands and takes over us whenever we engage in activities that we enjoy. Our heart guides us towards doing what we love. To be guided by our hearts is to listen to our most accurate guidance system, to our true self. When we are courageous of heart, we stand up for what we believe in. Laughter lightens the heart; and restores and revitalises us.
Fear dampens our instincts to follow our heart. Stress and depression slowly erode the heart’s vitality by increasing cholesterol and throwing off hormonal balance. This causes great stress to the cardiovascular system and increases its need for oxygen dramatically. When we are stressed our breathing is often shallow and fast. When we are relaxed our breathing is more full and relaxed. Profuse sweating while at rest and sweaty palms are a sign of an agitated heart.
While in Western medicine the spleen is an organ of little importance, in TCM the spleen is of the utmost as our centre of stability. It is fundamental in helping us feel grounded and centred. It oversees the blood flow and nourishes the limbs. The spleen allows for the absorption of food as well as the distribution of the energy in food around the body. It controls the five tastes of bitter, pungent, salty, sweet and sour. It helps us taste the flavours in the food we eat. If the spleen’s energy is deficient or in excess, digestion is difficult and incomplete. Excess energy that the spleen cannot allocate often results in diarrhea. If the spleen Qi is fluent, digestion occurs effortlessly and smoothly. The emotion of the spleen is inner balance, feeling centred. An unbalanced spleen allows worry, anxiety and foggy thinking to take over our thoughts. A sign of harmony in the spleen is a feeling of being grounded and centred.