There are so many opportunities for keeping fit and healthy in Penang that you can be spoiled for choice. Favourites of Penangites and expats include hiking, walking, running, cycling, golf, swimming and military style boot camp. These are all excellent forms of exercise, but what about the more traditional forms of health and fitness that living in Asia has to offer? Exercising the Eastern way includes qigong, taijiquan (T’ai Chi) and yoga.
Qigong is a mind-body healing method that originates from China. It’s one of the oldest aspects of Chinese medicine. Qi (pronounced “chee”) means “life energy” and Gong means “skill” or “work”. Qigong means the practice of absorbing, circulating and refining life energy for health of body and mind.
There are three essential aspects to qigong:
- Regulation of body which can involved static postures or moving exercises.
- Regulation of breath such as abdominal breathing or lengthening the inhale or exhale.
- Regulation of mind. This could involved focusing on the movement itself, focusing on energy points or visualisation.
The integration of these three aspects is what differentiates qigong from most Western types of exercise. The most commonly known form of qigong are the moving forms such as Wild Goose Qigong, the Five Animal Frolics, Soaring Crane Qigong, Zhineng (Intelligence) Qigong and Taiji Qigong.
Taijiquan (T’ai Chi Ch’uan)
All Chinese martial arts include qigong at the higher levels, but the inner martial arts include qigong from the very beginning. The most well known of these is taijiquan. It should be clearly understood that while there are teachers who teach a slow taijiquan form alone for health, the real focus of taijiquan is martial. Taijiquan includes fast forms as well as slow and weapons training. It would be correct to say that the slow taijiquan form is a form of qigong. You should be aware that there is a Taiji Qigong (also called Taiji Shibashi) which is a specific qigong with 18 movements and has nothing to do with the martial art of taijiquan.
Health Benefits of Qigong and Taijiquan
There are many benefits of qigong and Taijiquan such as relief from stress, reducing high blood pressure, improving blood circulation, and digestion, managing depression and increasing overall well-being. Another benefit, especially for older people is fall prevention. Because of the integration of body, breath and mind, qigong and taijiquan have many benefits that calisthenics does not.
Qigong vs Taijiquan
Even though qigong has many benefits, it is not a total health solution.A lot of qigong forms don’t focus on upper body strength and some don’t even focus very much on lower body strength either. If that is the case with the form of qigong you take up, then you should also engage in other weight bearing exercises to ensure you keep your bones strong. A martial art like Taijiquan would be a more or less complete system if you train in the whole system including weapons, since weapons give some weight bearing exercises for the upper body.
Yoga in its true form is a complete system of self-transformation which has been practiced in India for thousands of years. One aspect of yoga is called hatha-yoga which literally means “forceful yoga”. The practice of hatha-yoga traditionally involves physical postures called asanas, purification practices called kriyas, hand gestures called mudras, breathing exercises called pranayama and meditation. However, the hatha-yoga that is taught these days mostly consists of a series of asanas, either held for a length of time such as in Iyengar yoga, or in a flowing series such as Ashtanga Vinayasa Yoga.
Health Benefits of Yoga
The health benefits of yoga are numerous: through regular and consistent practice, yoga will help on both a mental and physical level. Mentally, yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety and give an overall sense of well-being. Physically, yoga can increase flexibility, balance and muscle strength as well as improving posture and increasing lung capacity.
The Penang Qigong Association also run Zhineng Qigong classes in Butterworth and Pulau Tikus.
For taijiquan classes for adults and children go to the Zhong Ding Centre. Website.
There is also FREE morning tai chi classes available in Armenian Park (Junction of Armenian St. & Acheen St). Classes are 7.15am to 8.15am on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (not Monday or Thursday).No class if it’s raining. Beginners welcome. Website.
For yoga classes, click on the link here.