Chinese medicine and philosophy lean heavily on the concept of chi, a universal energy that flows through the body and powers it. Chi is said to enter the body when a person breathes, circulate through the body and exit upon the exhale. An unimpeded chi flow aids in health, happiness and longevity, whereas blocked chi flow results in sickness and depression. Chi kung, also spelled qigong, is a discipline used to cultivate chi in the human body through the use of meditation, movement and deep breathing exercises. This practice has a number of health benefits, principally because it reduces stress.
The majority of people breathe shallowly using their chest and throat, which limits the amount of oxygen and chi drawn with each breath. Chi kung, however, teaches the proper method of breathing into the diaphragm to expand the stomach. This increases the amount of oxygen taken in with each breath. One of the most basic breathing exercises in qigong is to inhale slowly through the nose for four counts while touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth; holding the breath for two counts; and exhaling through the mouth for four counts. Other methods exist, such as breathing through alternate nostrils, and their purpose is to send more oxygen to the brain.
Breathing methods are not the only component of chi kung training; moving meditations also help in cultivating chi. In fact, chi kung principles carry into the Chinese martial arts such as taijiqian and the various schools of hard martial arts. Coordinating movements with proper breathing and chi flow increases the power of strikes and helps the practitioner to maintain a rooted stance. The movement sequence in taiji, also known as 24-form Yang tai chi, is considered a moving meditation because it focuses on slow movement into the stances; the mental focus required to do this is a form of meditation.
Another concept in chi kung is the existence of meridians. Similar to blood vessels, meridians carry chi throughout the body starting from the central point, the dantian. This is the center of gravity located below the navel. Chi moves from the dantian through the torso and to the limbs subject to the direction from yi, or conscious willpower.
Practicing qigong has several health benefits. It improves cardiovascular and respiratory performance partially because of the greater oxygen flow into the bloodstream. The deep breathing exercises also reduce or eliminate stress because it directly counteracts the body's natural response to stress: the introduction of adrenaline into the bloodstream, increased heart rate, and faster breathing.