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Shaolin qigong is an ancient form of meditative exercise. It originated in China, and was first practiced by monks in the Shaolin temple. Practitioners of shaolin qigong claim it offers many benefits including greater strength, flexibility and balance, and improves the health of various body systems such as circulation and digestion.
The practice of qigong is similar to Tai Chi, which is also a Chinese exercise form popular around the world. Martial arts students often use qigong in their training. Some people even consider qigong itself a martial art. The exercises combine slow fluid movements, deep breathing, and focused meditation, similar to many forms of yoga.
The name qigong comes from the Chinese word qi, pronounced "chee," which is a life force or universal energy, and "gong," which means effort or achievement. The shaolin qigong exercises are meant to move this life force throughout the body. Practitioners believe energy blockages can disrupt a person's physical and mental health. By doing the qigong exercises, they can remove these blockages, and balance the flow of energy throughout the body.
Qigong exercises can be divided into four types: static, dynamic, meditative, and those that use external items. With static qigong, the person must hold a particular poster. Dynamic exercises use specific, slow movements. Meditative qigong uses meditation and visualization techniques. Other types use external aids such as herbs and fragrance or massage by a third party. Most shaolin qigong practitioners use a combination of these types.
Most teachers of shaolin qigong say that it can take many years of daily practice to perfect the techniques. That may seem disheartening, but practitioners of the exercises sometimes begin seeing benefits within a few weeks. In addition to a general sense of well-being, people report feeling relaxed and less stressed after performing the exercises. Some research suggests that daily practice can lower blood pressure, increase blood levels of HDL or good cholesterol, and decrease LDL or bad cholesterol. Some patients with diabetes or asthma also report some relief from symptoms after qigong practice.
There is no scientific proof that qi exists, or that the practice of shaolin qigong provides the health benefits its supporters claim. It's considered an alternative health therapy, and most doctors recommend that practitioners use it to complement traditional forms of medicine. With that in mind, those wishing to try out the exercises can do so by finding local classes, purchasing a qigong DVD, or visiting a qigong training website.