This amazing guest post was written by Dr. Aram Nalbandyan! You should check out his website here!
There are a few health issues that tend to dominate (or at least be highly publicized) in the United States today. These include anxiety, chronic pain (particularly from arthritis and the like), and depression. About 18% of the adult population in the United States suffers from some kind of anxiety disorder, and about 7% suffers from some form of depression. As far as arthritis and related conditions, about 50% of the population will suffer from some form of chronic pain by the age of 65.
Now, we’ve all seen the pharmaceutical commercials for this drug and that drug, with the 53 side effects that seem worse than the illness itself. Sadly, many people resign themselves to taking pills for the rest of their lives, and while there is a time and place for medication, it is for precisely this reason that Alternative Medicine is coming into the foreground of modern medicine.
I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating…the general idea is that the human body is designed to heal itself under balanced conditions. Unfortunately, regaining the internal balance of energies isn’t always so easy given the stressors of daily existence (some of which, we do to ourselves…think poor diet). There are a variety of ways this can be achieved, and one of them is Qigong.
What is Qigong?
Qigong has nothing to do with the musical instrument “gong” (though, to be honest, there certainly is a rhythm to it). Simply put, it is a system of breathing exercises. Not so simply put, it is a system of breathing exercises done in conjunction with mental focus, and certain stances/postures that increase qi flow and encourages the circulation of qi, thereby rebalancing your body’s internal environment. When your energies are in balance, your body works to heal itself.
Is Qigong the Same as Tai Chi?
While the development of qi is an integral part of Chinese martial arts, such as Tai Chi and Kung Fu, qigong stands on its own. It is incorporated into the martial arts but is not a martial art in its own right. It can get tricky because they are inextricably linked. The fundamental principles of qigong are at the core of both Tai Chi and Kung Fu. The goal is to develop or cultivate your qi. As a discipline, qigong is more akin to meditation than to a martial art…though again, they are very much linked (or at least, should be).
The Benefits of Qigong
At its core, qigong is meditative. As such, its mental and psychological benefits are numerous. The slow methodical breathing combined with relaxed movements reduces stress as well as the ill-effects of anxiety disorders. It helps balance the psyche, which also provides some relief for those suffering from chronic depression. Exercise in general provides some benefits to those suffering from depression due to the increase of oxygen in the blood and the release of endorphins, but qigong goes a bit further. Stress is an imbalance and can cause or amplify things like anxiety and depression.
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Qigong brings the body and mind back into balance. Exercise releases stress and can help reduce both anxiety and depression. With the addition of qigong, you can raise your awareness of your own body and the balance within it. It’s methodical and gives you a sense of control and ownership over your own body and mind. There is no room for the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that accompanies many anxiety and depressive disorders.
With regard to the physical body, the effects of awareness and control are similar. The relaxed stances and movement do not unduly stress the musculoskeletal system. For those with arthritis or other conditions with chronic pain, this is essential. The muscles are not tensed but relaxed, during qigong exercises.
While not an “aerobic” exercise, the slow, methodic, and controlled breathing actually works to increase your lungs’ capacity to efficiently absorb oxygen, thereby increasing oxygenation of the blood. Qigong can improve circulation, which in turn reduces inflammation. For those suffering from arthritic or inflammatory conditions, this can significantly reduce the amount of pain experienced on a daily basis. In fact, chronic pain precludes many people from exercising at all. They’re in too much pain and they don’t want to be on pain medication on a daily basis. Qigong remedies this as well. It is a way to exercise the mind and body without high impact movements.
It’s Always about Balance
When it comes to the practice of medicine, there are many people on one side or the other in terms of Western medicine or alternatives like Traditional Chinese Medicine. As I see it, there are no “sides.” The goal of any form of medicine is to aid in the healing process, not just stave off symptoms. A combination of both Western and Alternative practices is the most beneficial, but there are alternatives to a lifetime on medication.
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