The tradition of Chi Gung allegedly goes back roughly 4.000 years to central China near the Yellow River where someone noticed that a variety of exercises and dances which caused the muscles and joints to heat up and many symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism disappeared.
The first book on Chi Gung was written during the early 700 BC, called The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. It lists a variety of breathing and stretching exercises as well as mental visualisations that were supposed to keep people healthier.
Around 380 BC the Jade Pendant Inscriptions of Chi Direction were recorded and soon after Hua Tuo created exercises called the Five Animal Play (monkey, bird, deer, bear and tiger) that taught people how to maintain health by mimicking animals. Numerous other masters created their own styles and refined old ones.
Types of Chi
There are 3 primary types of chi:
Heaven Chi involves energy of the universe, eg the sun, Earth Chi that of land, sea, wind, plants and animals and Human Chi is obviously ours. Heaven Chi influences Earth Chi and they both in turn influence Human Chi. With practice it is possible to partially influence both Earth and Heaven Chi.
According to traditional understanding, chi travels through the body along a series of 12 meridians. This flow is based on a 24 hour cycle as well as on the seasons of the year. The meridians follow pathways that correspond to the major nervous system.
In addition to these meridians there are 2 main vessels, one travelling down the centre of the front of your body and the other going up the centre of your back. Chi Gung is used to increase and decrease the flow of energy, so these pathways are not blocked.
Chi flows through the body in a series of meridians which consist of eight vessels and twelve channels. Vessels are like lakes, reservoirs of chi that fill and empty as the chi flows. Channels are like rivers that connect the vessels.
The twelve meridians are symmetrical on the right and left sides of the body and all are connected with each other. Chi begins its flow in the lungs, then travels to the intestines, from there to the stomach on to the spleen, then to the heart and the small intestine, next comes bladder and kidneys. After this it flows to the pericardium and the sanjiau (triple burner). Finally it moves to the gall, liver and back to the lungs where it starts the circle again.
The most important meridians are the Ren Mai - the conception vessel and the Du Mai - the governing vessel.
Chi Gung can be used for numerous purposes. Usually people are interested in leading healthier lives or healing. All too frequently you can find people who start it just because they think it's exotic and they may find their reason of life. Those can easily be identified by their fluffy bunny look.
Anyway, actual benefits are:
To let the chi flow smoothly you have to learn how to relax your mind and body and how to breathe correctly. Of the three, the mind is the most important as it directly influences the other two.
Once you have learned to relax those three you are able to monitor your chi and control it.
Rooting, Centring and Balance
Additionally you need to learn how to root, centre and balance yourself.
Rooting is concerned with how stable you are. By rooting you lower your centre of gravity by bending your legs slightly. The legs should still be fairly relaxed.
The centre of your body is the Dan Tien, located approximately two fingers width above your navel.
Balancing is a combination of both relaxation and centring.
There are two basic ways to increase your chi supply solitary:
Wai Dan involves using physical postures to create a surplus of chi in your arms and legs and therefore is obviously the easiest method and a good place to start.
Wai Dan offers two kinds of practices, the still Wai Dan and the Moving Wai Dan. In Still Wai Dan you obviously hold one posture for some time while you relax your muscles. Moving Wai Dan involves tensing and relaxing of muscle groups as you move positions, there should be as little tension in your muscles as possible.
Nei Dan raises chi by mental effort only. This makes it harder to learn for beginners as it takes longer to identify the feeling of chi and requires a greater degree of control and patience. You start building chi by breathing exercises and once you have raised a sufficient amount you move through your body by using your mind.