Tai Chi has become well known as the "perfect" exercise according to a Time Magazine article which appeared in July, 2002. Its long sequence of very slow, gentle, dance-like movements cultivate flexibility, balance, poise & mental concentration as well as a feeling of general well-being among practitioners. Commonplace in China & throughout the Far East, Tai Chi was the focus of a study from 1990-1994 by the National Institute of Aging & was found to be the most effective prevention of falls among elderly adults. A 1999 John Hopkins study found that Tai Chi lowered blood pressure. A recent 2002 study done in Hong Kong found that regular Tai Chi exercise may retard bone loss in postmenopausal women.

What is less well-known is that Tai Chi is a form of "Qigong". Also originally from China, Qigong is an ancient (5,000 years old!) & effective mind/body discipline that is perfect for the modern world. Practiced daily by millions of people all over the planet, it is the perfect adjunct to conventional treatments of diseases ranging from hypertension to cancer. Qigong is based on principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Composed of a variety of sitting, standing, moving & lying-down practices which utilize the breath, posture, & power of the mind, Qigong creates a field of powerful healing energy enabling the practitioner to shift into a state of increased vitality & awaremness. Decrease or elimination of pain as well as accelerated healing are all common results. Studies show that brain waves synchronize, stress reduces, & energy increases.

Qigong is natural. The concept of energy is not limited to our physical bodies. It expands beyond to other energetic sources as well. Consequently, if we depend only on our own energy for our vitality, our lives are limited. On the other hand, if we can open up to the infinite sources of universal energy available to us from nature (sunlight, air, trees, flowers, starlight, moonlight, etc.), our capacity for healing exponentially expands. Transformation occurs as congested, negative, stagnant qi (or chi, "life force energy") is exchanged & replaced with cleaner, more pure energy from the universe. Qigong's potency comes from its focus on working with emotional & spiritual energy in conjunction with that of the physical body.

How is this accomplished? Through the synchronized movement of body, mind & spirit (breath) in particular patterns. These structures are related to maps of energy which are also used in different systems of oriental medicine. Perhaps the most important pattern is called the Microcosmic Orbit. This pathway of energy is considered to be a "reservoir" which all of the organs of the body use to balance their energetic flow. Through meditation the channel is cleared so that energy can move through it freely. Once the pathway is clear & kept open through daily practice, it can be used to channel other forms of energy --purified emotional energy (compassion), energy from nature, & the healing energy of the reproductive organs, to name a few. Different meditative movement & breathing techniques focus attention on one's union with nature & the exchange of one's "negative" qi with the positive qi of the universe.

To find out more, come join world-class Qigong masters on the beautiful Caribbean island of Tobago this winter. Weekly retreats Jan. 24-Feb. 21, 2003. See the website at www.taoretreats.com for detailed information.

Author's Bio: 

Sharon Smith has been practicing Qigong, Tai Chi & other Taoist arts for 24 years & teaching them or 19. Her teachers include Li Jun Feng, Mantak Chia, T.K. Shih, Jeanette Chi, Don Ahn, Yang Jwing Ming & others. Sharon is a Certified Senior Instructor of the Universal Healing Tao system, the work of Master Mantak Chia. Sharon currently teaches seminars internationally as well as regularly at the New York Open Center & the Joyous Life Energy Center. She has also taught at the The Tao Garden, Omega Institute, Healing Tao University, the Learning Annex, Wainwright House, Jubilee Senior Center, Healing Tao of New York, Queens College, New York University, Adult Education Division of the the New York City Board of Education, & the New York State Department of Parks & Recreation. Sharon is a recipient of a Balm Foundation ghrant for her work with senior citizens. She was a spokesperson for Qigong on the nationally syndicated PBS television show, "Asian America".