Many different sets of chi kung exercises were developed by Taoists and others over a period of many hundreds of years. All of them, though, have a common purpose. They attempt to transform the natural energy of chi, found throughout the universe, into a suitable form for use inside the body.
This energy can be absorbed from the outside, compressed, stored, and employed in different ways within the body. Some exercises are designed to manipulate chi already inside the body in specialized ways -- to heal others, for example, or in the pursuit of enlightenment or in the martial arts. Other exercises move chi through the many acupuncture channels to clear energy blockages.
Promoting the free flow of chi to all internal tissues and organs fosters good health. As we will see, these exercises also have many other interesting effects.
Chi Kung Styles
There are many distinct styles of chi kung -- more than 2,000 in China alone. Some chi kung styles are Buddhist and others are Taoist. One chi kung style is comprised largely of standing postures such as The Horse Stance. Practitioners perform the chi kung exercises from a stationary position with very few, if any, movements of the feet.
These stationary chi kung exercises were originally designed to suit the needs of large numbers of monks confined to close quarters in crowded monasteries, temples, and private, nonreligious centers. Such institutions were usually extremely strict in their daily regimen, and the inhabitants often did not have enough exercise to retain good health.
Further, the monks' diet was not always sufficient. For this reason, chi kung exercises, sometimes called temple exercises, were developed. These proved doubly useful when monks found themselves imprisoned, not an infrequent occurrence during different periods in Chinese history.
One of the most interesting and highly developed chi kung styles is that of tai chi chuan. Unlike the standing forms, this practice consists of a series of connected movements.
Often thought of as a dance, tai chi chuan is actually a moving meditation in which all parts of the body, including the internal organs, are exercised and massaged. While beginners require a small room to practice in, those advanced in the discipline need only a few square feet. In addition to being a chi kung practice, tai chi chuan is also a highly effective martial art.
The Origins of Chi Kung
Many chi kung practitioners believe it was a wandering monk who brought the revered art to China. In 475 a.d., Bodhidharma, also known as Da Mo, brought not only Buddhist chi kung but also kung fu and an early form of Zen Buddhism, known as Chan, to China from southern India.
Buddhist origins of chi kung are generally traced to Da Mo, who in later life founded the famous Shaolin temple, located in East China on Mount Sung in Honan Province. Today it serves primarily as a tourist site for vacationers.
The origins of chi kung may also be found in Taoism, however. Other practitioners believe that a form of chi kung originated with Taoist monks many centuries before in China itself and that two distinct forms of chi kung exist today.
Naturally, since two different religions are involved, both schools have distinct ritual traditions, ceremonial observances, and practices for the mind, body, and spirit. Exactly how these practices differ would be the subject for a lengthy book.
Still another closely allied group flourished in Tibet and became the Vajrayana Buddhists. This sect also developed its own special set of chi kung exercises. Each of these schools has many similarities not only in chi kung practice but also on key points of doctrine and philosophy, which clearly indicates at least some common founding principles.
On the next page, learn the effects of the Chinese cultural revolution on the practice of chi kung.