Cultivating Chi

Cultivating chi is an important principle of Taoism. Even though we can name and describe the various types of chi and what they do, chi can never be fully understood simply by thinking about it. Chi only becomes a tangible force when you begin to cultivate it.

Cultivate is a particularly appropriate word because, like living things, chi must be nourished and encouraged to develop. And by cultivating chi, we not only come to understand it, we also improve our health.

The Chinese have developed techniques of cultivating chi through exercises called chi kung, which means the practice or art of cultivating chi. But other cultures have also devised systems of exercises to nurture chi.

The first of these systems appeared in the Western world in the form of yoga from India. Certain martial arts arrived at this time, too, including judo and karate, kung fu, and tai chi chuan. Among the last arrivals were the techniques related specifically to chi kung.

In the last decade, chi kung practices have become so popular that they have moved out of the traditional confines of the martial arts studios and traditional Chinese medicine and become more mainstream. Today North Americans and Europeans from all walks of life join fellow chi kung practitioners in Asia in regular daily practice and have learned to appreciate its health benefits.

Chi Kung for Health and Longevity

Although chi kung exercises are often used in connection with the martial arts, traditional healing methods, and some religious practices, they are a Taoist discipline unto themselves. In terms of personal health, by learning to cultivate chi, we can prevent disease and even prolong our lives.

It is said that chi kung practitioners, who specialize in the art of cultivating personal chi, have lived to the exceedingly old age of one hundred, one hundred-fifty, and even two hundred years or more. In fact, there is a saying that if a Taoist priest, often a chi kung practitioner, dies before the age of one hundred twenty, it is an early death.

Traditional Chinese theory maintains that aging is a process that consumes ever more of the diminishing resources of our bodies, particularly chi. Once the supply is depleted, weakness, illness, and death follow.

Fortunately for us, Chinese mystics, philosophers, herbalists, and medical practitioners have discovered a number of ways to supplement our personal store of chi. Their research has yielded a great deal of information and an endless supply of stories.

One such tale recounts the unusual case of Li Ching-Yuen. This famous herbalist and chi kung practitioner was born in 1678, in Chyi Jiang Hsien, in the province of Szechuan. Living most of his life as a recluse in the mountains, he was married 14 times, outliving each of his wives in turn.

In 1927, General Yang Sen photographed this man, reputed to be two hundred fifty years of age. Following Li Ching-Yuen's account of his own history, the general later traced the available facts of the case. All indications were that this man had indeed lived for two and a half centuries.

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