Yoga and Qigong

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Introduction to Yoga

Yoga is a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. The various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. There are numerous schools of yoga. Hatha yoga, the most commonly practiced in the United States and Europe, emphasizes postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama). Some of the major styles of hatha yoga are Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vini, Kundalini, and Bikram yoga. A more exhaustive overview of the different yoga styles can be found at https://www.jenreviews.com/types-of-yoga/.

The 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that yoga is one of the top 10 complementary health approaches used among U.S. adults. An estimated 6 percent of adults used yoga for health purposes in the previous 12 months.

Qigong has been called "Chinese Yoga", just as Yoga has been referred to as "Indian Qigong". Qigong can be considered as a combination of a number of Yoga (the science of self-realization) and Ayuerveda (the science of self-healing) practices. Both Yoga and Qigong are excellent for focused stretching, strengthening, and health maintenance. Unlike Qigong, Yoga has no direct martial art application and it is not part of a particular healing tradition per se. Qigong is the foundation of both Tai Chi and Kung Fu (now referred to as Wushu) as well as being considered both part of and precursor to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Most Yoga involves very little, if any, movement, and breathing practices are key to Qigong from the beginning. Although the founder of Yoga (Patanjali) describes a progression from asanas to pranayama (breath practice), breathing isn’t built-in to a lot of Yoga classes or instruction, or it isn’t taught until some skill with asanas is achieved. This can take years, depending upon the style of Yoga. Yoga also does not have counterparts to Qigong's medical practices that involve energy transmission or self-massage. Although there are these differences, the practices are ultimately quite similar in their physical, mental, and spiritual effects.

Historically,  yoga and qigong have had different types of movement and posture. The important "cross over" of practices like yoga and qigong, however, where the practices may be considered functionally equivalent, is the meditative state. The important difference, of course, is how you get there. In yoga, you generally become very still to meditate. The vigorous yoga vinyasa practice is considered the way you "prepare" to meditate -- the way you prepare your body to be and sit still. In qigong, the entire movement (which can also be vigorous), is a meditation. You don't prepare to meditate with your movement as much as you are meditating as you move already and meditating throughout. This is the only way Bruce Lee was able to accomplish his feats -- with focus and power throughout. And it is the secret of qigong  that even ordinary movement (like pouring tea) can be imbued with the same conscious principles of movement and stillness. This kind of attentiveness amounts to virtually injury-free practice, and this kind of  movement and awareness-imbued  qigong practice is already being used to teach people how to rehabilitate from injury or how to prevent falls (and prevent injuries) during movement.

Medical Yoga Therapy. Abstract: Medical yoga is defined as the use of yoga practices for the prevention and treatment of medical conditions. Beyond the physical elements of yoga, which are important and effective for strengthening the body, medical yoga also incorporates appropriate breathing techniques, mindfulness, and meditation in order to achieve the maximum benefits. Multiple studies have shown that yoga can positively impact the body in many ways, including helping to regulate blood glucose levels, improve musculoskeletal ailments and keeping the cardiovascular system in tune. It also has been shown to have important psychological benefits, as the practice of yoga can help to increase mental energy and positive feelings, and decrease negative feelings of aggressiveness, depression and anxiety.

Taoist Yoga - Mixing Qigong with Yoga

 

There are many forms of Taoist Yoga practiced in China. It's principles are beginning to make their way into mainstream yoga practice. Here is an observation from Ellen Pucciarelli from the Energy Arts newsletter:

"One Taoist Yoga concept that I see yogis/yoginis struggle with is the 70% rule. A Taoist Water Tradition guideline that states you should only do a Taoist Yoga movement, or any chi technique, to approximately 70% of your capacity. Basically that striving for 100% produces tension and stress in your practice, and therefore should be avoided. As yoga students, we sometimes become so preoccupied with the end result of a posture that we completely tune out what's happening inside ourselves, including our effort levels. Struggling in a posture past 70% may bring more stress and tension into our lives and we definitely don't need more of that. When we overly exert ourselves to get "somewhere" in a posture, where does that really take us? Rarely are we taught to stop and check in with what's occurring on the inside (actually we have been taught, but usually only after something occurs, like pain or worse, an injury). And even more rare is receiving permission to back off from the 100% effort level, but if we are able to incorporate the 70% rule when practicing Taoist Yoga (especially when we're new), we can begin to fully realize the potential of the practice. We can begin to cultivate an internal awareness, and just as importantly, we can bring this awareness into other activities and aspects of our lives."

Yin Yoga - Principles and Practice. One of the best examples of integrating the fundamentals of Qigong into Yoga can be found in Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga can be considered one form or type of Qigong most closely related to Taoist Yoga. The breathing and meditative aspects are the same, but the musculskeletal and cardiovascular demands may be different. Both Yin Yoga and Qigong target connective tissue and fascia. Muscle and tissue flexibility and associated joint health, and not strength per se, are key to health and longevity. Yin Yoga highlights flexibility and meditative aspects of the practice instead of muscle strength. These are key components of Qigong, although Qigong also has moving forms such as Tai Chi.

Yin Yoga 101: What You Need to Know. Yin Yoga, a less popular style of yoga in the west is an approach that some may have never even heard of. One that in my experience, takes many a few times to really warm up to and even understand. Initially called “Daoist” yoga this style of yoga targets the deep connective tissues of the body (vs. the superficial tissues) and the fascia that covers the body; this Daoist yoga is to help regulate the flow of energy in the body.

Qigong has started to be incorporated into an increasing number of Yoga practices and teachings such as "Yin Yoga". Yin Yoga is based upon Taoist Yoga as practiced in China. It involves the exercising and stretching of connective tissues, such as ligaments, bones, and joints, as opposed to exercising muscles through the application of external heat, lengthening, or contraction. People who discover Yin Yoga realize that there is more to Yoga than their familiar active style of asana practice.

https://somuchyoga.com/yin-yoga/

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

Scientific Evidence of Yoga for Health and Well-Being

Current research suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may reduce low-back pain and improve function. Other studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might improve quality of life; reduce stress; lower heart rate and blood pressure; help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility. (More

The Science of Yoga for Health and Well-Being.

Clinical Digest - Yoga for Health. OCTOBER 2014. This issue of the NCCAM clinical digest summarizes current scientific evidence about yoga for health conditions, including chronic low-back pain, asthma, and arthritis. The scientific evidence to date suggests that a carefully adapted set of yoga poses may help reduce pain and improve function in people with chronic low-back pain. Studies also suggest that practicing yoga (as well as other forms of regular exercise) might confer other health benefits such as reducing heart rate and blood pressure, and may also help alleviate anxiety and depression. Other research suggests yoga’s deep breathing is not helpful for asthma, and studies looking at yoga and arthritis have had mixed results.

 

5 Things You Should Know About Yoga

 

Yoga for Health & Well-Being features the current scientific evidence for yoga as a complementary health practice, particularly for symptoms like chronic low-back pain. Viewers will also learn about research that explores the safety of yoga and how certain yoga poses can specifically affect a person’s body. The video also provides valuable “dos and don'ts” for consumers who are thinking about practicing yoga. Runtime: 16min 37sec. The video from NCCIH includes:

  • A look at innovative technology that examines how older people use their muscles and joints in certain yoga postures. (George Salem, Ph.D., University of Southern California)
  • An overview of a rigorously designed study that shows yoga may benefit people with chronic low-back pain, a common and difficult-to-treat problem. (Karen Sherman, Ph.D., M.P.H., Group Health Research Institute)
  • Valuable “dos and don’ts” for consumers who are thinking about practicing yoga.

Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Like other meditative movement practices used for health purposes, various styles of yoga typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. More...

Weekly and Twice-Weekly Yoga Classes Offer Similar Low-Back Pain Relief in Low-Income Minority Populations.

Comparing the Philosophies of Qigong and Yoga

varnasi meditator

While some argue that yoga's origins can be traced to the Vedas, as evidenced by recent archeological findings that mark yogic history to at least four thousand years ago, still others claim yoga came from stone age Shamanism. It is thought that Qigong originated with ancient Shamanic meditative practices as well. Both Qigong and yoga teach with a similar premise. Taoist views support the overarching wisdom in both. In fact, all the rituals and practices in this triad aim at surpassing the turbulence of a disquieted mind.

There are many reasons to clean the internal organs, and both traditions, from India and China respectively, agree that a sluggish immune system, poor digestion caused by overtaxed eliminative organs, and clogged emotions that can reside in the liver, gallbladder, or heart, for example, can impede spiritual progress. There seem to be some subtle differences in the conceptualization of the energy system in both traditions, however, and thereby the means that masters of each path engage in to purify the body, mind and spirit.

Adding Qigong Diaphragmatic Breathing to Your Yoga Practice

 

Pubmed Peer-Reviewed

Yoga Research

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Energy Expenditure in Vinyasa Yoga versus Walking. YOGA meets the criteria for moderate-intensity physical activity.

Yoga for Youth Program launched at UCLA School of Medicine. The Pediatric Pain Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a multidisciplinary treatment program designed for young people with chronic pain and their families.

10 week worksite yoga program improves flexibility, reduces stress and increases musculoskeletal fitness.

Swedish Randomized Controlled Trial finds Yoga effective in reducing stress and anxiety

Comparison of higher order spectra in heart rate signals during two techniques of meditation: Qigong and Kundalini meditation. Heart rate signals increased during Kundalini Yoga meditation, but it decreased significantly during Chi meditation. There are significant differences between rest and meditation states, but also heart rate patterns appear to be influenced by different types of meditation.

Core muscle function during specific yoga poses. This research assesses eleven yoga poses in specific training and rehabilitation programs via examination of the muscle activation patterns in selected trunk and hip muscles. Variations in core muscle firing patterns depend on the trunk and pelvic positions during these poses. Training programs can be developed by choosing particular poses to target specific core muscles for addressing low back pain and declines in performance. The High plank, Low plank and Downward facing dog poses are effective for strengthening external oblique abdominis, Chair and Warrior 1 poses for targeting gluteus maximum, and Chair and Halfway lift poses for strengthening longissimus thoracis. And these three muscles could be strengthened by the Upward facing dog pose.

Study finds positive correlations between the extent of yoga practice and meaning in life and gratitude.

Six weeks of uninterrupted medical yoga therapy is a cost-effective early intervention for non-specific low back pain.

Harvard Medical School review recommends yoga for schools.

Yoga and Healthcare in the United Kingdom. The emergence of yoga therapy in the United Kingdom began about 45 years ago with the emergence of yoga therapy organizations that offered both treatment and training. The integration of yoga into the National Health Service (NHS) is gradually happening Because: (a) yoga research supports its efficacy as a cost-effective, preventive and complementary treatment for a host of non-communicable diseases; and (b) the escalating economic burden of long-term conditions is overwhelming the NHS. The NHS is actively developing 'sustainability and transformation plans' that include yoga.

Yoga in the News

Yoga and Chronic Pain Have Opposite Effects on Brain Gray Matter. Studies Show Link Between Yoga Practice and Gray Matter Increases.

Yoga can help improve employee wellbeing. This is a very good introduction to the benefits of yoga.

The yoga boom has made mind-body exercise more run of the mill. “Yoga has now become acceptable,” said Judith Hanson Lasater, a yoga teacher since 1971 who now teaches restorative yoga, a form that encourages relaxation. “Qigong is a little further away, but yoga has opened the door.” Because some forms of yoga are downright strenuous, qigong appeals to yogis tired of the mat race. “I went to power-yoga studios and practiced in heated rooms crammed with people’s mats, shoved over each other,” said Kyle Burton, 27, from Los Angeles . “But once I was introduced to qigong and learned the difference between a muscle-based workout versus an energetic-based practice, I switched.”- NY Times, April 5, 2007. Read the entire article.

Yoga can also be too hard for some people, especially seniors, and done wrong, can be harmful. "Often people get hurt because they begin yoga without realizing that their bodies are no longer what they used to be," says Time Magazine. Time, October 4, 2007. Read the entire article.

Also see: Yoga bad for your knees, Indian doctor warns. Qigong does not share these drawbacks of yoga, although cautions similar to those with yoga should be observed, especially with Tai Chi. The older you get, the more appropriate Tai Chi and Qigong practice become to staying healthy. 

Also see Energy Cross-Training Part 1/3: The Real Purpose of Yoga by Taoist lineage holder Bruce Frantzis.

Yoga has mind/body benefits for teens. Mood problems, anxiety and negative emotions stayed the same or improved among yoga students, but grew worse among those taking regular PE. And nearly three out of four said they’d like to keep on doing yoga.

Harvard Yoga Scientists Find Proof of Meditation Benefit. Unlike earlier studies, this one is the first to focus on participants with high levels of stress. The study published in May in the medical journal PloS One showed that one session of relaxation-response practice (i.e. the meditation component of qigong or yoga) was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion and reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress. There was an effect even among novices who had never practiced before.

Can Hot Yoga Hurt You? Hot yoga—also known as Bikram yoga—involves a series of 26 postures, or asanas, performed in a studio heated between 90 and 105 degrees at 40 percent humidity. If getting bendy in a steamy room sounds super challenging, that's because it is: A new Duke University review of 76 yoga-related injuries found that Bikram was commonly linked to injuries, along with Pranayama (a style focused on breathing control) and Hatha (an umbrella term for physical yoga practices).

Yoga: Why men don't get it.

John Schumacher, Founder and Director of Unity Woods Yoga Center in Washington DC, discusses the evolution of yoga in the United State and the practice and benefits of yoga.