Tai Chi & Qi Gong Journal
An Interview about Tina Zhang's program "Earth QI Gong for Women" by Tai Chi & Qi Gong Journal - Germany.
Nov. Issue, 2007.
Read more on Women's Magazine:Self-defense...
Interviewed by Barbara Nowak & Christine Will
Tina, by the end of this year your book “Earth Energy Qigong for Women” will be published. It is about the Qigong system, which has been developed especially for women. Could you tell us anything about the roots, which mean the historical aspect of this system? (Women as a target group for Qigong exercises, how did women practice in the past and how do they practice in China today?
Any type of Qi work was rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is a system including the acupuncture, herbal treatment, massage, and TuiNa (medical bodywork).
Women in ancient China have never been as a target group for any type of Qi Gong, or martial arts practice except some of the individuals. Some of them are the immortals; some of them were born into rich families and taken care by Chinese herbal Doctors who suggested women to do some exercise to maintain the health, and some of them were legendary female heroes.
Treatments from the book “Yellow Emperor’s Medicine Classic” were practiced in the royal families by a quiet few generations. Even in the “Father of Chinese Medicine” – Dr. Hua Tou’s animal Qi Gong set, some parts are for women’s health, but this was a limited practice in certain areas. In the old days, Chinese women commonly were not supported, and even not supposed to get educated on any subject as men in the society were until after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and even then it was still a considerably poor county economically and lacked medicine. Since then, Traditional Chinese Medicine practices have been established more than ever and the natural exercises of Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong got really popular in hospitals, where they are used as supplemental treatment for patient during their recovery period. The number of common folks increased who were really into the practice of Qi Gong and Tai Ji in the parks to promote their health. Today, there are always many people practicing Qi Gong and Tai Ji in the parks everywhere in China with high percentage of women among them. Moreover, retired women getting together practice is now a common scene.
Could you explain in which way do these exercises for women differ from other Qigong exercises? How do these exercises support the health of the female body?
Some of the sections are focused on the belly rotation and figure eight motion that is specifically designed for women’s pelvic health. The entire routine is soft, and the movements that women will feel comfortable doing . The softness of the movements in this Qi Gong set is an important ideology for women who do not want to move like a man. One of my students gave the best answer to this question when stating that she absolutely did not want to learn how to move her body and generate her energy the way that giant “King Kong” does! So she loves to study Earth Energy Qi Gong for Women.
What kind of effect do these exercises have on the cycles and transitions in a female life, like menstruation, pregnancy and menopause?
It is the effortless exercises with deep inner massage to strengthen the organs and enhance their functions to help ease the transitions in a female life. It is also a positive emotional support system for women to rest and be relaxed during these special stages of their life.
Could these exercises help to prevent, cure or ease gynaecological disorders?
Positive! Women’s health should be taken care by ourselves emotionally and physically. Prevention is a central core of Chinese medicine; Medical Qi Gong is part of TCM system. It works to promote women’s overall health by focusing on abdominal health to prevent, cure or ease gynaecological disorders. I truly believed that an over all healthy body and mind are naturally equipped balanced hormones and to provide for women’s gynaecological needs, and can change unbalance into balance. This is a great natural choice to help women deal with gynaecological disorders. The purpose of this Earth Energy Qi Gong exercise set and what it is designed for, is to cultivate Qi, in the female body to maintain general overall health, enhance performance of the internal organs, such as kidney, liver, spleen, and heart, and to reduce or arrest uncomfortable symptoms during menstruation, per-menopause and menopause. Actually, most of those symptoms are just indicators of underlying hormonal imbalances or metabolic damage from poor nutrition, stress and other factors. All you need to do is to regain the natural hormone balance of your body by taking care of your general health. Importantly, you must realize that with proper support, your body is perfectly capable of achieving a proper hormonal balance, which means you can be free from the unpleasant symptoms of PMS, per-menopause or menopause without taking the chemical risk of medicine. Again, this is a choice!
Women naturally also have an interest to be fit, appear younger and therefore more attractive. Would you say that these Qigong exercises help us to keep our bodies in a good shape, to lose weight or to achieve stamina and more flexibility?
I would say “Yes” again. This set of Qi Gong exercise was designed for both women who have never done any exercise in their life, and women who pay attention to their inner health and appearance. Generally, it is impossible to look younger, healthier, and in better fitness shape without a healthy mind and body. Qigong exercise is not simply a workout through a long time of sweating and muscular contraction to gain a muscular body, stamina, and flexibility which some western exercises are focused on. Instead, Qi Gong is a type of exercise for general health. Opposite to these fancy ideas and new workout mechines, this Qi Gong for women is a program ideally focused on keeping the natural body that women were born with, and women’s real needs, which are an "internal beauty", triggered by an effective Qi Gong exercise system. Its aspect of physical fitness is using lower abdominal breathing to gain physical endurance, repetitive motions and medically structured postures to lose weight (loosing weight has a lot to do with people’s emotion, stage of health, and life style), and its compression and expansion of the skeletal joints in almost every section of the exercise to gain real flexibility in the joints and tendons as well as the muscles. In addition, Qi Gong trains a concentrated mind – a type of mental exercise which takes place during the practice. I think that it is a special achievement for our mental health, which does not exist in other physical exercise.
Women should realize the important thing that makes you look younger is a healthy body with a healthy weight distribution. With illness and a depressed mood one is not going to look younger, instead looking terrible, regardless how fit they are. However, inner health can defiantly reflect on your appearance: you will have beautiful looking skin, not just a make-up; you will have beautiful teeth and nails, not just a polished one; you will have healthier hair that does not need dyeing very often or start to dye at a young age.
How would you explain the name Earth Energy Qigong, where do you see the aspect of the Earth? (Explain us the aspects of Yin energy)
Femaleness is the creator of Yin energy that makes us naturally softer and more sensitive than men in general character and opposite from Yang, or Heaven energy that men naturally have. A woman’s physical body naturally has a deeper, stronger connection to the Earth’s energy than men have. This energy is a drawing-in kind energy, which takes or gathers the natural energy of the Earth into our energy center, which is located one and a half to three inches below the navel. In Chinese, this is called the “Dan Tian” area (abdominal area). The pelvic area is the important area where the reproductive organs (uterus, ovaries, vagina, and cervix) and the bladder and appendix are located. Like the Earth giving the birth of life to everything, this area is both literally and figuratively creative space, out of which women can produce babies, relationships, careers, etc. When our energy is not flowing enough or has some blockage in this area of the body, gynaecological and emotional problems could happen.
The lower Dan Tian is akin to the Earth itself. Focusing on Qi cultivation in the Dan Tian and pelvic areas build a healthy foundation for a female’s unique anatomy. Exercising properly and naturally using Chinese Traditional Medicine theory to open and increase the flow of Earth energy through the meridian channels is needed to support a female’s bodily needs with her own unique anatomy and needed focus on the different periods in a woman’s life.
Obviously your training sequence is structured that certain topics are touched in a very logical way. In the beginning, there are exercises, which help you to relax mentally, after that the joints are released. The following exercises refer to the five element theory: there are exercises referring to the element of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Could you tell us something about it from the point of view of Chinese Medicine?
The Five Element theory is based on the observation of the natural cycles and interrelationships in both our environment and within ourselves. The foundation of the theory rests in the correspondences of each element to a variety of phenomena. The theories of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements were created and developed by the ancient Chinese through their long and faithful tradition of observing nature's cycles and changes. They held that wood, fire, earth, metal, and water were the basic substances constituting the material world. The interchange of these five basic substances were considered an indispensable part of daily life. They also noted that the material world is in a constant state of flux due to the dynamic movement and mutual antagonism of yin and yang factors.
The ancient Chinese applied yin and yang, and five elements theories to the medical field to explain the physiological activities and pathological changes of the human body and to serve as a guide to clinical treatment based on syndrome differentiation. For instance, symptoms are explained as imbalanced yin and yang; the main organs of the body correlate with the five elements as the heart – fire; the liver – wood; the kidney – water; the spleen – earth; the lung – metal. Medical doctors use the creation and destruction cycles of the five elements to explain the network of the internal Qi channels and to apply diagnosis and treatment. According the traditional point view, the organic entity of the human body and its health are based on the balance of the five major organs. Additionally, elements of the theory are useful for assisting patients with nutritional balancing and/or working through emotional issues as each of the elements and corresponding organs generate and relieve certain emotional issues. The metal element and working with the lungs relieves sorrow and grief and generates instinct. The water element and working with the kidneys relieves fear and generates will to live and libido - a pretty good package deal. Working with the liver and the wood element relieves anger and generates vision and inspiration, while working with the heart and the fire element relives blockages to joy and generates love. Working with the spleen and the earth element relieves blockages to compassion and generates intellect. Qi exercises, which stimulate these organs and arouse these elemental energies, also can help one to balance their emotions. When these elements are working in a balanced way, good health is achieved.
We are living in a time where especially women are strained by their jobs and families. Therefore, very often they suffer from stress symptoms like exhaustion, migraine and depression. Has Earth Energy Qigong an effect on the emotional balance?
Emotional balance is as important as physical health. Unbalanced emotions could cause illness just as an unhealthy body could make people depressed, sometimes even could develop to a serious psychological disease. A women’s brain may not be different from men’s brains biologically. But the thoughts in response to various matters is quit different, sometimes they are extremely different from men’s way of thinking. Women, by their nature, spending more time and energy to take care of others more than taking care of ourselves is a very common syndrome. Eventually, everyone finds life is more like an ocean wave than a calming lake. Many emotional problems are caused by one reason: that we did not put the matters of our lives in correct order. In other words, the priorities of life are in disorder and off the balance. Therefore, many things have occupied our time and we struggling every minuet to try to get things done right. But we forgot that we need time to balance work and rest. Earth Energy Qi Gong is a system that tells us to do good things just for each of us, to give us a TIME to rebalance the emotions and to release the stress no matter how the stress may have been caused. The symptoms of exhaustion, migraine and depression are the appearance of one’s unbalanced inner self and show some blockages in our brain and body leading to negative emotions. Looseness is a reflection of relaxation; tenseness is a reaction from nervousness. Learning how to relax the mind helps to loosen the muscles and the joints, which in turn help to relax the mind. Qi Gong practice will help our energy flow positively and overcome negative feelings through a series gentle, relaxed motions, it also helps to develop a positive attitude to look at our life, which also comes from relaxation.
Could you explain one exercise from your Earth Energy book? (To answer this question you could refer to either the Spirit of Vitality or Crane Dance for example. We would also like to have some photos, which demonstrate the movements, so that the reader can follow your explanation).
I would like to excerpt from the book to give an example to explain one of the exercises (photos are not included):
3. Deer walk – An exercise for the improvement of female major organs
- This section correlates with the Element of Water
This deer walking movement was in the first Chinese medical Qi Gong set, which was founded by a famous Chinese medical Dr., Hua Tou, 1700 years ago. The famous Female Deer Walk Exercise will help women to increase and improve their female energy in general. It moves Qi in the abdominal area as well as in the lower back. These areas were considered the essence or basic support of a humans’ life by the ancient Chinese. However, this section is very focused on moving Qi and the blood in the kidney area, abdominal area, and vaginal area. Using the physical motions of contraction and releasing to increase the circulation in these areas, which will effectively increase sexual desire and ability. As a goal of reducing or arresting the uncomfortable symptoms of menstruation and menopause, this deer walk traditionally did a great job for women. Practicing this section for a smooth menstruation seven days before one’s period is strongly suggested to avoid heaver bleeding and the suffering of pain during menstruation. In addition, the deer walk is much involved and related to strengthening the kidneys that helps to improve sexual health and bladder control. In traditional Chinese medicine theory, kidney health is almost everything and is considered the essence of a humans’ life. If your kidneys are not well, you could have problems during pregnancy, hair loss, dry skin, vision problems, vaginal dryness, and low energy. These symptoms can be reduced by constantly practicing this exercise. An important eye exercise is included in part one of this section.
Part One: Starting with the left foot step forward keeping the body weight on the right foot. The back of the left hand touches the acupuncture point of Ming Men and the right hand starting position is in front of the lower Dan Tian (figure 4-29). The right hand travels upward and the eyes follow the hand, gently lean backward, and inhale, with a gradually tightening of the anal and vaginal sphincter muscles, thereby drawing up the pelvic wall and stimulating the energy around the perineum area. Meanwhile, roll the belly upward in a slightly angled leaning back position; follow the gentle extension of the spine upward. The energy in the central channel is going upward and the Qi goes up along the Governor Vessel meridian. When the right hand gets above the forehead and your eyes are in line with your right wrist , move the eye balls to look to the left, and to look to the right for three times without moving the head and body position (figure 4-30). Then, gently straighten the spine first, and the right hand is curved in the shape of deer hoof in a very relaxed manner and travels downward in front of the body. The energy is moving downward in the central channel and the Qi comes downward through the Conception Vessel meridian, (which also can be understood the Qi is circling in the loop of the Microcosmic Orbit). Simultaneously, exhaling and releasing the muscles that you have pulled and tightened in the pervious motion, and the belly rolling downward while lowering the center gravity. Thereby, creating a pumping action in the female internal organ area inside of the belly as well as exercising externally the muscles around inner side of the thighs and vaginal area. This motion efficiently builds up one’s sexual energy and over all energy. Another benefit from this deer walk is that bending backward to massage the kidneys also strengthens the lower back to release the lower back pain. Moreover, the deer walks help the Qi flow through on the back, the Du meridian. When the right hand comes down in front of the lower Dan Tian area (figure 4-31 and32), the left foot pivots and the body weight shifts onto it, then, the back foot (here it is the right foot) steps forward, change hand positions alternately, repeat the same motion you have done on the other side (figure 4- 33 to 36). The total walk takes at least eight forwarded steps, but is not limited to this amount.
You are a Tai Ji Chuan (Tai Chi) and Ba Qua Zhang teacher and you won competitions of many kinds in China and the USA. Are there any martial art elements in your Earth Energy Qigong?
Yes, for example, the last section of the Earth Qigong contains eight energy circle walking which has the elements of health improvement, meditation, and martial arts aspects within its practice. The health aspect of the internal martial arts of Tai Ji Quan and Ba Gua Zhang arts that in a way are a higher level of Qi Gong. Internal martial arts, like Tai Ji Quan and Ba Gua Zhang are in flowing patterns of movement, while medical Qi Gong uses simple motion, or section by section emphasizes strengthening different part of the body or internal organs. To cultivate Qi (energy) inside of your body is one commonly shared element of internal martial arts and healing Qi Gong and, both Qi Gong and internal martial arts practice are the parts of Chinese medicine which promote Qi flow through meridian channels as its core concept of promoting health and as practice of preventive medicine. On the other hand, if you practice internal martial arts without training in Qi Gong, Nei Gong, and concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine, either your practice is an empty form, or your power is not going to develop through a true internal method. In other words, your energy, will power, and vital of martial arts has been lost in the path of seeking the Dao with this kind of practice; you will never be a high level of internal martial artist because you did not practice Qi cultivation and healing ability for yourself and to help others.
Is there anything you would like to advise our female readers?
We should share the experience of practicing Qi Gong or internal martial arts constantly as a healthy life style. A healthy life is neither going to come to you automatically, nor is it guaranteed that you will be healthy forever because you take a women’s Qi Gong class tonight. It is a continuous work that will takes years and years, maybe a whole life for the wisdom to be stimulated into your mind and body which becomes the power that you need for a good life. Along with this practice, if you have chance, try to learn Tai Ji Quan or/and Ba Gua Zhang. They are both beautiful internal arts and their martial aspects can be great fun and everyone likes to play. Enjoy what you have in your life and be happy about who you are.