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Qigong and Tai Chi Benefits

by Catherine Kurosu, MD, LAc and Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT, November 19, 2018

Now is the time to start your action and make things happen. We all have different plans even though we have similar goals. We must put theory into action. Without action, nothing works. As unique as each of us is, as individually tailored as each healing plan might be, there is one item that should be on everyone's list: exercise.

Moving your body should be included in your daily routine. Our body is made of many parts, similar to a machine that is made of many components. Think of a machine that is not used regularly: it can rust, its parts becoming stiff and unmovable. Our body is similar. It needs to move to prevent stiffness and poor function.

It doesn't matter what kind of exercise you do; as long as you exercise, it gives you benefits. You should choose whatever exercise you like so that you will do it consistently. People have many choices of exercise: jogging, walking, going to the gym, playing sports, dancing, aerobics, yoga, tai chi, qigong, and martial arts. But in fact, no matter how good people say a particular exercise is, you won't do it if you don't like it. You need to find the right ones for you.

Generally speaking, most Western exercise promotes blood circulation, whereas most Eastern exercise promotes energy circulation. Both are very important in preserving good health and preventing illness. One type of exercise might be better than another type for some people, but not for everyone. We are all different, so we choose different exercises.

Eastern Exercise versus Western Exercise

Eastern­style exercise works on an internal level, whereas many Western exercises work on an external level. "Internal level" means intrinsic energy that may not be measurable. "External level" means aspects that are measurable: for example, elevated heart rate, increased respiration, more muscle mass, and firmer muscle tone. Here we are using the term "Western exercise" to describe cardiovascular exercise. Eastern martial arts certainly improve cardiovascular fitness. No matter the type and style, you should choose whatever exercise you like and do it regularly.

Here are some differences between Western exercise and Eastern exercise:

Western Exercise

  • A Western workout improves muscle mass and muscle tone but does little for flexibility.
  • Western exercise can improve circulation by increasing both heart rate and breathing rate.
  • Movements are typically fast, heavy, and vigorous.
  • Western exercise focuses more on external energy.
  • Western exercise places more focus on the physical body and less on the mind.
  • Age may be a limiting factor; people may have fewer choices as they get older.
  • There are some restrictions for people who have certain medical conditions.
  • Western exercise can be used for health maintenance, stress management, and prevention, therefore increasing longevity.
  • Younger people are more likely to participate.
  • Western exercise is more yang; it is more dynamic and forceful.

Eastern Exercise

  • Eastern exercise improves energy circulation, flexibility, and muscle tone.
  • Eastern exercise improves circulation by improving fundamental internal energy.
  • Movements are slow and gentle, suitable for all ages and abilities; you are benefiting and feeling good emotionally, mentally, and physically.
  • Eastern exercise requires proper breathing and mental focus.
  • You can practice anywhere; no need for special equipment or special clothing.
  • Eastern exercise improves posture and balance.
  • Eastern exercise is fun to learn and sometimes challenging, which is great for preventing brain aging.
  • As you get older, instead of losing your abilities, they may improve; tai chi and qigong are perfect examples of this.
  • With practice, Eastern exercise benefits mind and body; it is a great exercise for stress reduction.
  • Eastern exercise includes preventive work, improving organ function, assisting in healing, and promoting longevity.
  • Eastern exercise is more yin; it is more calming and restorative.

People often ask, "How do these exercises fit in our lives? With so many beneficial exercises, how do I find time to do them all?" People do yoga, aerobics, weightlifting, and other forms of exercise. But after hearing so many good things about qigong and tai chi, especially for healing, they have a problem finding time to do it all. We recommend that you pick your priority for the day, but over the course of each week maintain a balance between Western and Eastern exercises to obtain maximum cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and neurological benefits.

Benefits from Qigong and Tai Chi

A practice session can be as short as five or ten minutes a day, or it can be longer. Qigong and tai chi practice benefits all parts of the body, including all the organ systems and the brain. Some of the benefits are listed below.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Qi is dynamic. It performs like a motor that pushes the blood where it should go. If a person's qi is strong and circulates well in the body, their blood will also circulate well. If a person's qi is stagnant or weak, it will cause blood stagnation, which according to Eastern medical theory can cause heart disease. Qigong and tai chi contribute to better heart health by regulating the autonomic nervous system. In particular, these exercises activate the vagus nerve—which is a great way to preserve heart energy, normalize cardiac arrhythmias, and maintain normal blood pressure.

Respiratory Benefits

Through deep and slow breathing, more oxygen goes into the lungs. Slow and deep breathing also activates the parasympathetic (calming) part of the autonomic nervous system. Recall that the nervous system interfaces with the immune system. This process helps the functioning of all cells through proper oxygenation as well as improves defensive energy—which in Western medicine we call the "respiratory immune system"—through modulation of the immune system. The lining of the nose, throat, lungs, gut and urinary tract all contain immunoglob­ulin A (IgA). IgA is an antibody in the respiratory tract, which protects it from various germs and pathogens and acts as the rst line of defense against bacteria and viruses. If the respiratory immune system is strong, immunoglobulin A (IgA) can fight germs, allowing less chance for colds and other respiratory infections to take hold. This is why those who practice tai chi or qigong generally have fewer illnesses.

Gastrointestinal (GI) Benefits

Both tai chi and qigong can improve stomach and spleen energy, which is related to digestion and absorption. From a Western perspective, tai chi and qigong regulate the vagus nerve, which also controls digestion. With regular practice, digestive enzymes and digestive movement stay balanced through vagus nerve regulation.

Musculoskeletal Benefits

Once the circulation of the qi and blood are improved, muscles receive more oxygen and blood—the muscles become more resilient, more toned, and stronger. Muscle aging is delayed, and joints become more flexible. Overall, we can maintain a younger body even though we are going through the aging process.

Weightlifting develops muscle strength and muscle mass more than qigong or tai chi do, with the exception of exercises related to martial arts with weapons. Qigong practitioners rely on qi (energy) rather than their muscles, and qi is just as effective as muscle strength.

Nervous System Benfits

Qigong offers huge benefits to our nervous systems, both central ner­ vous system and peripheral nervous system. Qigong helps concentration, improve mental alertness, helps to control emotion, and keep body is ordinary shape. Practice also helps to preserve vision and hearing as the body ages.

Metabolism and Endocrine System Benefits

Balanced qi also helps balance the body's organ systems, which helps balance metabolism and the endocrine system. Qigong practitioners rarely have hormonal imbalance and poor metabolism. Here again, these benefits are due to the effect that qigong and tai chi have on our nervous systems. The central and peripheral nervous systems are intimately connected to the endocrine and immune systems. Neuroendocrine­immune dysfunction can explain a variety of Western diagnoses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis.

Immune System Benefits

Qigong and tai chi maintain normal immune function. These exercises can improve respiratory immunity to keep infections at bay. For cancer patients, a healthy immune system can prevent infections during treatment. For those without cancer, a healthy immune system can identify precancerous cells and destroy them.

By balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, qigong and tai chi also balance the immune system, so that the immune system is neither too weak nor too strong. A weak immune system will result in recurrent infections. An overly aggressive immune system may result in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system turns against the body and attacks normal tissue. Qigong and tai chi help keep the immune system balanced.

Other benefits of Eastern exercise include delayed aging, improved balance, reduced risk of falling and injury, and improved memory.

Engaging in both Western and Eastern exercise is important for maintaining our healthy lives. Neither is superior to the other: they complement each other, balance each other, and are equally valuable.

The above excerpt is from True Wellness: How to Combine the Best of Western and Eastern for Optimal Health by Catherine Kurosu, MD, LAc and Aihan Kuhn, ZCMD, OBT.



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