2008-05-04 21:00:48 China Daily
BEIJING, May 5 -- Through centuries of practice, many different schools of Chinese mind and body exercises such as qigong - breathing exercises - and taichi have proven to help improve health and even possess some healing powers.
According to traditional Chinese medical theories, these exercises, which involve regulation of the mind, body and respiration, enhance the development and circulation of qi, the vital energy in the body.
However, qi has remained somewhat elusive to modern medical science, as it is yet to be measured or proven to exist. Researchers from the International Alliance for Mind/Body Signaling and Energy Research in the United States have applied the latest biomedical technologies to gain a better understanding of the physiological aspects of such effects.
At Alliance laboratories, different types of measurements were made on more than 20 high-level qigong and taichi practitioners and several control subjects. Researchers find that when the taichi practitioners are doing movements, which are co-ordinated with deep breathing cycles, there is a big increase in peripheral blood flow. While achieving the effect, practitioners must be relaxed.
In theory, human brain tissue will harden with age. However, after measuring the brain response of some qigong practitioners who have been training for many years, researchers find their minds are as responsive as people in their 20s. Researchers believe that the result is related to their breathing exercises, which allow more oxygen to reach the brain. This way, they can keep their brains as flexible and elastic as the young.
The study also reveals that when qigong practitioners enter a deep meditative state involving mind regulation, they show a pattern of high-frequency heart rate variation indicative of relaxation normally seen during deep sleep.
Researchers conclude that qigong and taichi practices lead to measurable changes in mind and body functions that can be explained in part by conscious control of the autonomic nervous system.
The positive results in the lab partly explain why there are so many taichi and qigong practitioners in China and around the world. Despite the on-going controversy over its effect in the science world, people show even greater interests in the cultural values of the practice of taichi, particularly the legends and figures related to it, which have always been a spring of source for writers, TV dramas and movie makers.
For many people, either a practitioner or not, taichi quan (or Chinese shadow boxing) means more than a system of physical exercises and a secret key to keeping fit. It helps people maintain physiological balance through circular movements.
Taichi quan was also named "chang quan (long punch)", "shisan shi (13 postures)" and "ruan shou (soft hand)" in the past. The origin of taichi quan is still a mystery as historians of Chinese wushu are still looking for earlier sources than the commonly known possible inventors, such as Xu Xuanping of Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Chen Wangting and Wang Zongyue of Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
The most well-known candidate is Zhang Sanfeng, whose lineage remains unclear. He is often dubbed "founder of taichi quan" especially among some enthusiasts for kungfu-themed TV drama series and movies.
(Source: China Daily)