Chi gung works strongly on the body fluids, including blood, lymph and the synovial and cerebrospinal fluids. Unlike aerobics, chi gung does not dramatically increase the heart rate during exercise. The object of chi gung is not to make the heart pump more strongly, but to increase the elasticity of the vascular system. As the vessels expand and contract with more vigor, the heart does not need to pump as strongly, thereby providing it with more rest. The lymph fluids are moved primarily by tiny muscular expansions and contractions. Chi gung employs some of their strongest motions where the largest lymph nodes are located; that is, the armpits, the backs of the knees, and the inguinal (groin) region. Chi gung's relatively fine muscular expansions and contractions move lymph efficiently through the entire system. These actions, as well as the overall increase in chi that chi gung brings, strengthen the body's immune response.
Synovial fluid is found in joints. It lubricates them, allows joint flexibility, and when functioning normally, helps prevent arthritis and rheumatism. From the point of view of Chinese medicine, when "wind/damp" or physical obstructions (coagulated blood, calcium deposits, and so on) get struck in the joints, the results are not only specific joint problems but a decrease in the flow of chi through the entire body as well. Chi gung works with the synovial fluid by compressing and expanding it, preventing and reversing all sorts of joint problems.
Cerebrospinal fluid is basically a nutrient bath and lubricating liquid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. It keeps a constant pressure in the human body, which regulates nerve flow and affects every physical sense. The quality of your physical senses is determined by the health of your spine. Your cerebrospinal fluid, to a great degree, determines just how healthy your spinal cord is and how efficiently the spinal nerves carry messages from your brain to your body and from your body to your brain. All chi gung work strongly affects the cerebrospinal pump, both by physically pumping fluid and by moving chi, all of which encourages the spine to perform at optimal efficiency.
Chi gung also causes muscle tissue to elongate. This activity differs from stretching in the usual sense. The object here is to fill the tissues with energy, so that they stabilize at a given degree of stretch. With most forms of stretching, the body soon shrinks back to its original state when the stretch stops. With the stretches of chi gung, however, the muscles eventually attain a state similar to that of a springy rubber band. A few athletes possess this muscular springiness naturally, but anyone can attain this state with chi gung practice.
Chi gung also adds greater strength and elasticity to the tendons. This contributes to the tremendous flexibility and physical power many chi gung practitioners have, which derives primarily from the tendons and ligaments, not from the muscles. Chi gung has the ability to not only make ligaments more springy but also to shrink and stabilize overstretched ligaments, which make a joint too floppy-a problem experienced by many dancers.
Chi gung affects the bones by directly infusing the bone marrow with energy. This technique is an advanced one, but by the time a disciplined practitioner reaches an advanced level of chi gung, the energizing of the bone marrow has started to occur. Masters of chi gung have been healing people suffering from chronic or incurable diseases since ancient times. In China today, there are sections of hospitals and clinics that use chi gung to treat conditions unresponsive to other methods of therapy, such as Western medicine, acupuncture and herbs. Here patients learn to regulate their own chi, with a little help from their therapist. The range of maladies amenable to such treatment is quite broad, ranging from nerve diseases, such as Parkinson's, to cellular diseases, such as cancer.
Your body will awaken to chi gung in stages. If you constantly practice chi gung, your body will open up in layers. Muscles that were initially numb will begin to regain sensation. Your body will reveal itself to you gradually, in a marvelous process of rediscovery. As your body becomes more alive, you will be able to feel how your physical self works from the inside out.
It takes time for you to become sensitive to chi, but a good rule of thumb to go by is as follows: If you find yourself feeling more comfortable, or if you are able to do more things without strain, or if you do not get sick as often as you used to, or if you start developing a type of effortless concentration and ability to do physical activities you never before even thought were possible-your chi is growing whether you are aware of it or not. Keep practicing and you will eventually feel the chi in a very real, direct way.
Excerpted with permission from "Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body: Chi Gung for Lifelong Health" by Bruce Frantzis which includes energy-boosting exercises that combat stress and aging. Available in bookstores, from www.northatlanticbooks.com . For more info, visit the author's website at www.energyarts.com