Irish Times

By Sylvia Thompson
"Going with the Flow"

Eileen Murray  of Qigong Ireland teaching at a workshop
Reproduced with permission from The Irish Times - 08.04.08.

YOU'RE FAMILIAR with yoga. You've heard of t'ai chi. But, what about Gi Gong (pronounced chee gung)?

This lesser known meditative movement practice also has a significant following in Ireland. "It's a series of gentle flowing movements which optimise the flow of energy around the body and to the internal organs particularly to the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen and lungs," explains Eileen Murray, a teacher of qi gong, based in Cork city. "I have been teaching qi gong to people of all ages and abilities for the past eight years," she says. "You can learn the sequences I teach in a weekend but then it's recommended that you practise every day for between 30-40 minutes," she explains. One professional woman in her 50s says that qi gong restored her energy levels during her recovery from cancer. "I had 50 years of great health and then I had a serious illness which left me very weak but determined to recover. I did a workshop in qi gong one year ago and have been practising it daily ever since. It was very easy to learn but you need discipline to practise it at home," she explains.

Dermot O'Connor, author of The Healing Code (Hodder Headline Ireland) and practitioner of Chinese medicine, includes a chapter on chi kung (an alternative spelling for the same practice) in his book. He writes: "Over 120 million people practise chi kung in the world today, making it the world's most popular health exercise system."

Eileen Murray  of Qigong Ireland teaching at a workshop
Eileen Murray says people who practise qi gong regularly often say they suffer from fewer illnesses. "People recovering from depression, stress and cancer say they function better, have better energy levels, a sense of emotional wellbeing and more restful sleep when they practise qi gong," she says. The qi gong movements can be done in a standing or sitting position. "It's a series of gathering, scooping, circling and curving movements which start at the lower body and move upwards. It's like swimming in the air with minimum effort," says Susan O'Toole, acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist who practises and teaches qi gong in west Cork.

She adds, "We all have daily conflicts and tensions in our lives and practising qi gong helps you meet them as they arrive without fighting them, which gives you deep relaxation of the body. "It's not a panacea or a cure all but it's a discipline and tool which helps us become more in touch with ourselves and with nature," she says.

Dr Stephen Gascoigne, an orthodox medical doctor who practises Chinese medicine, has recommended qi gong to many patients. "It's the Chinese equivalent of yoga which comes from the Indian tradition. Qi gong is more like an internal martial art for strengthening and nourishing people" he explains. It benefits everyone but is particularly useful for people who have had serious diseases and need to build up their immune system again," he says.

Eileen Murray  of Qigong Ireland teaching at a workshop
Like many martial arts, the skills to teach qi gong are I passed on from one teacher to another, rather than through a system of certified training - so members of the public need to be discerning when choosing a teacher. As with all new practices, Gascoigne says that individuals should seek teachers with adequate experience. "You need to be well trained to teach qi gong and it's the responsibility of each teacher to pass it on in the correct way. "Personally, I recommend patients to Eileen Murray because I know she's an excellent teacher," he says. "People who want to learn qi gong have to talk to people who've done workshops with different teachers and then use their common sense to decide on teachers."


Qi gong facts

What is it?

Qi gong or chi kung is a practice of gentle flowing movements, not unlike t'ai chi. There are numerous forms of qi gong, each of which incorporates different sequences of movements.

Where does it originate

It originated in China more than 5,000 years ago and was passed down in secrecy among monks and teachers for generations. It is considered one of the pillars of Chinese medicine, others being acupuncture, massage, herbs and diet.

Why do people do it

People practise it to enhance their physical health, mental and emotional wellbeing.

 Can it be explained scientifically?

Qi gong is largely unaccepted by western orthodox medicine as it is based on the concept of improving the flow of energy (chi or qi) in the body which has not been scientifically validated. However, qi gong practitioners have demonstrated their control over physical functions, with some showing an ability to increase electrical voltage measured on their skin's surface. "