Where do we start? As a practice of working with the body’s internal life force energy, it’s hard to imagine that Qi Gong ever didn’t exist. Curious people everywhere have long had a fascination with exploring all parts of the human body and mind.
We believe it’s safe to assume that humans have been aware of their internal life force energy (Qi) as long as we’ve had the ability to perceive beyond the physical nature of existence. However, at a certain point, the specific practice of Qi Gong started to take form and become an important tool for empowerment, health, and well-being. This blog post will discuss the origins of Qi Gong and how our modern practice has evolved.
Long ago, people everywhere looked to the natural world for strength, guidance, and sustenance. As a species, our survival was intimately dependant on how we related to the world around us. Survival required that we learn how to work with fire, channel water, and cultivate the earth.
Realizing the power and importance of the natural world, many societies started to deify the elements that they depended on. People looked to the “Sun God,” or “Rain Goddess” as the keepers of these essential powers. The many mysteries and wonders of the universe were seen as distinct entities or beings that humans prayed to for their blessings and good will.
In many cases, societies had leaders who were believed to have a heightened awareness of these deities. Shamans would commune with the Gods and Goddesses to seek the good favor of these forces of nature. Whether they needed rain to grow their crops or fertile hunting grounds to catch their prey, Shamans sought guidance from the deities who commanded the natural world. Often, dance rituals and celebrations were an important way to invoke the will and blessings of these powers.
Over time, some Taoist Shamans started to see these forces of nature differently. Instead of viewing them as anthropomorphic beings that could only be accessed through limited means, they realized that their energies existed all throughout nature. Additionally, they realized that people could learn how to perceive and connect to these powers to have a direct relationship with them. Instead of simply believing that there was a Goddess who commanded the rain, people started learning how to really feel water’s energy. Movement practices, poses, and meditations were essential ways in which people connected to the elements.
It’s hard to identify a specific beginning to Qi Gong, but it’s estimated that these practices started to emerge about 4000 years ago. This transformation brought a new and empowered relationship between people and the world around them. Instead of looking only to dedicated individuals to access the energies of nature, people could work within themselves to cultivate the gifts that surrounded them.
Imagine a hunter 4000 years ago walking through a forest. Experiencing harmony with the energies that surrounded them was essential for finding their prey. With Qi Gong practices, hunters sought to attune their awareness directly to the power and flow of the forest.
In ancient China, many of the practices for connecting with the natural world and cultivating energy were based on movements that mirrored nature. People realized that they could attune their mind, heart, and body to the energies around them. By doing so, they could find harmony and nourishment directly through themselves and the world. These practices eventually became known as Tao Yin, which was the primary name for the practice until about 1000 years ago. At that point, “Qi Gong” became the primary term used to describe the practice in China. “Qi” means “life force energy”, and “Gong” means “to work with”. Therefore, it only makes sense to call these practices “Qi Gong,” because we’re working with life force energy to learn, grow, and heal.
Different Practices for Different Intentions
As Tao Yin and Qi Gong evolved, practitioners started adapting the practice for various intentions. Eventually, the practice diverged into over 3500 different forms, but most of these styles are encompassed in three primary areas that were critically important for different groups of people.
One common reason people chose to practice Tao Yin and Qi Gong was for health and healing. At a time when medical practices were relatively limited or unavailable, individuals and communities were forced to rely heavily on personal practices. Therefore, Qi Gong was an essential part of health and well-being. It’s something that anyone can learn, and has far-reaching effects on the entire system of energy that exists within us. Health is a natural result of finding harmony within ourselves and with the world around us, and Qi Gong is an excellent way to experience that reality.
Another common intention is to build power and be able to protect oneself. Qi Gong practices that are aimed toward this intention are referred to as “Martial practices.” Of course, conflict has existed as long as humans have walked the earth, and all factions have long sought ways to enhance their power. While it is possible to misuse Qi and personal strength, many practitioners used martial practices to prepare themselves for self-defense. Usually, Martial Qi Gong practices accompanied fighting or self-defense techniques, often referred to as “Martial arts.”
The last primary intention of Qi Gong is Spiritual. In Spiritual Qi Gong practices, practitioners seek to cultivate wisdom and their connection to their higher power. By finding alignment with universal wisdom, individuals are able to experience mental and emotional clarity in their everyday lives. Finding purpose, inner peace, and connection to self and others are a few common experiences of Spiritual Qi Gong.
Contemporary History of Qi Gong
For thousands of years, Qi Gong continued to be practiced primarily in China. In the 19th Century, it started to proliferate more in Europe and North America, and then in the 20th Century it spread more quickly. It experienced a setback during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s, during which it was banned. However, it continued to be practiced there in secrecy, and then re-emerged with renewed popularity in the late 70’s.
While Qi Gong was originally practiced to help harmonize with nature for survival purposes, it’s now primarily used to help people traverse the challenges of modern life. Work, relationships, parenting, business, and overall life-stress are leading many practitioners into Qi Gong classrooms around the world. People are realizing how important it is to take care of their own internal experiences of the world. Thoughts, feelings, and physicality are all intimately connected, and Qi Gong offers a pathway for nourishing all parts of your being.
Bringing Ancient Wisdom Into Your Modern Life
At Holden QiGong, one of our primary goals is to empower individuals with the tools and resources they need to face all of the challenges that life has in store. It turns out, that the practices that are most effective today are the same ones that our ancestors used to harmonize with the elements and connect to our source of internal power.
One of the foundational trainings that Lee teaches is called the Five Elements.
The Five Elements teaches us about the five elemental energies that comprise who we are. They influence our emotions, our thoughts, and our physical health. By learning the Five Elements practices, students can embark on their own Qi Gong journey of self-discovery and personal nourishment.
This program is pre-recorded so students can practice from the comfort of their own homes. It’s a beautiful thing to bring ancient wisdom into our modern lives to connect to the energies that have forever been within us. Click on the banner below to learn more about the Five Elements today.
By Ian Drogin