Qigong is a funny word to Western ears, and many people have a hard time pronouncing it, but within it are some profound concepts.
In the previous way of spelling Chinese words in English, the word was spelled as two words, “Chi Kung.” This is closer to the actual pronunciation as we usually think about saying words. Phonetically, it sounds like “Chee Gong” regardless of how you spell it.
To have a deeper understanding of this idea, lets look at the Chinese characters for the word:
You can immediately see that it’s not one, but two characters. The top character means “qi” and the bottom one, “gong” (not the kind you hit to make a sound). Lets break it down further…
The character for qi looks somewhat complicated to those who don’t read Chinese, but it’s really simple. Like many such characters, it is made up of symbols (called ‘radicals’) that express the meaning of the word. Breaking it down further, we have:
This radical refers to steam. Keep in mind that this character was used long before steam power was harnessed in the West. It implies the idea of breath (as in steamy breath) as well activity and movement. By extension, it also means energy.
Let’s look at the other part of the character, which is:
This is the radical for rice. Rice, as you likely know, is a core staple in Oriental diets. Because of this it also represents life, fertility and abundance.
So putting this all together, the symbol for qi expresses the idea of an abundance of life energy. The word I like best for this is vitality.
What about the other character?
This character is “gong”, meaning to cultivate. It also refers to the idea of reward given for work done. In an agrarian culture such as ancient China, the meaning seems very direct – when you cultivate the fields well, you are rewarded with an abundant crop.
Putting it all together
You could summarize all of the above by saying that qigong is the practice of cultivating vitality and energy. And, in fact, the exercises do increase a person’s vital energy in addition to improving overall balance and enjoyment of life.
Does the word make more sense now?
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