Health Qigong is an auto-exercise based on the perfect combination of posture regulation, breathing regulation, and mental regulation. The practicer is required to stay focused and take natural and long-lasting breaths during the practice. But physical exercise not only bears gentle and slow movement features but also contains tendon-stretching, bone-drawing, firmness-gentleness alternating, and forces-to-the-ends movements with wide ranges. Hence we need to get fully prepared both mentally and physically before the practice in order to prevent damages due to limitation of joint motions and excessive viscosity of muscles during practice, avoid deformed movements due to stiff muscles, inertial viscera, and absent-mindedness, excite the central nervous system, bring the response, comprehensive analytical ability, and differentiating ability of the brain into an appropriate state, promote the coordination between the motor centers participating in the activity, and thus naturally enter the practice of Health Qigong and achieve good practice effects.
Unfortunately, observation results show that most Health Qigong instructors and amateurs have an inadequate understanding of preparatory exercises before Health Qigong practice. They do not know the purpose, significance, and rules of preparatory exercises, let alone a complete set of effective routines and methods. In most cases they merely do some random conditioning exercises or casually press legs and mobilize joints before practicing Health Qigong. Both the form and contents of such exercises are simplistic and mechanical. To be worse, some practicers even take it for granted that since Health Qigong movements are slow and gentle, preparatory exercises are not even important. As a result, such practicers often give up preparatory exercises completely. This will not only affect the practicing efficiency of the practicer but also cause strains to the locomotor system of the practicer or, in some serious cases, cause certain injuries and thus impede the further implementation of Health Qigong activities.
Functions of preparatory exercises
1. Regulating the mental status before practicing; Preparative execises can bring the excitedness of the cerebral cortex to an appropriate level. Before Health Qigong practice, the practicer can use autosuggestion and meditation to focus the mind, relax the brain, enter a state of peace and quietness, and thus get prepared for the unity of “Three Regulations” in practice.
2. Promoting the functional levels of internal organs in the circulating and respiratory systems; Preparatory exercises promote the functions of the respiratory system and leave elevated-excitedness marks in the respiratory center of the cerebral cortex. Entering the formal movements on top of this elevated excitedness will increase the pulmonary ventilation volume and ensure the sufficient oxygen supply during formal practice.
3. Promoting the coordination between centers involved in movements; Preparatory exercises can connect multiple conditional reflexes related to motor skills so that the practicer has more reasonable rhythms, more accurate movements, more precise postures, and more coordinated motions during Health Qigong practice.
4. Improving the metabolic level and raising the body temperature; Preparatory exercises can raise the body temperatures of the practicer and thus reduce the muscular viscosity, increase the contractive and diastolic velocities of muscles, and strengthen the muscle power. Under a higher body temperature, hemoglobin and myoglobin will release more oxygen and thus increase the oxygen supply for muscles. Due to the increased level of substance metabolism, the excitedness of nerves and muscular tissues will be widely increased. In addition, the increase in muscle temperatures will dilate the small vessels, reduce the peripheral resistance, and increase the blood supply for muscles. At the same time, increased body temperature will add to the extensibility of muscles and tendons, increase their tenacity, and prevent sports injuries.
Requirements of preparatory exercises
The purpose of preparatory exercises is to cause a trace effect in organs and systems of the body. This trace effect relates to the post-excitation effect of the nervous system, the secretion of some hormones in the internal secretion glands, and the temperature effect of increased body temperature.
The length of time that this “trace” stays in the body depends on the degree of stimulation by the preparatory exercise and the interval between the preparatory exercise and the formal exercise. Therefore the workload and intensity of the preparatory exercise and the interval between the preparatory and formal exercises are crucial factors. Generally speaking, the preparatory exercise shall last 10~15min and its intensity shall be so that the practicer feels warmed-up and sweats a little bit without any heavy breath. Due to the “Three Regulations” requirement of Health Qigong, the interval between the preparatory exercise and formal practice should better be no longer than 3min.
Notes about preparatory exercises
1. The exercise shall be both comprehensive and clearly targeted. Except Liu Zi Jue, all exercises of Health Qigong require movements of the entire body and alternating firmness and gentleness. Therefore their preparatory exercises shall be able to warm up the muscles, joints, and tendons. Moreover, Health Qigong exercises involve particular requirements on different parts of the body. For example, Ba Duan Jin involves high requirements on the strength of lower limbs, Yi Jin Jing involves high requirements on the flexibility of the spine column in all directions, and Wu Qin Xi involves high requirements on the coordination between the nervous system and the body. Therefore different preparatory exercises shall be chosen for different formal exercises to be practiced.
2. The preparatory exercise shall be simple, less intensive, and easy to learn. This is because a preparatory exercise is meant to get the practicer prepared for the formal exercise. Compared with the formal exercise, it should be basically auxiliary and secondary. In addition, the both the physical and mental loads of the human body should better be raised in a bit-by-bit manner. Therefore the preparatory exercise must be so arranged that it is easy to learn and not very intensive. Only in this way can a preparatory exercise truly mobilize the practicer both mentally and physically, prevent injuries and cardiovascular accidents, and serve the formal exercise.
3. The amplitude shall be moderate and movements gentle and slow. The preparatory exercise needs to warm up all related joints of the body, stretch relevant muscles and tendons, and raise the service level of the heart and lungs. But at the beginning of the exercise, the practicer’s body is usually not hot enough and the heart and lungs are very inertial. Therefore the preparatory shall be provided with a moderate amplitude and gentle and slow movements. This way it will both warm up the body and prevent muscle strains and a series of problems caused by inertia of the internal organs.
4. The body shall be warmed up in an orderly manner from head to foot. The purpose of the preparatory exercise is to make sure that full-body movements are done under a relaxed physical and mental status. Therefore we should carefully consider the sequence of activities while arranging the preparatory exercise, so that the practicer won’t be confused or have to go out of the way to consider what the next movement is while practicing.
5. The full body shall be stretched with moderate strength. The warm-up exercise shall not only warm up the joints and activate the functions of internal organs, but also warm up muscles related to the formal exercise. This will add to the extensibility of muscles and the amplitude of movements and prevent injuries to muscles and joints. And the exercise of Health Qigong will involve 90% percent of all muscles, including both big and small muscle groups. Therefore, while arranging the preparatory exercise, we should consider stretching all muscle groups of the entire body but with gradual and moderate use of strength so as to prevent injuries to muscles and joints.
6. The “Three Regulations” shall be well combined and relaxed appearance with mental tension is required. The preparatory exercise is in the service of Health Qigong and therefore has to bear the features of Health Qigong. As a result it must both present the characteristics of the traditional sports of our nation and accord with the principles of modern science. And the most distinguishing features of Health Qigong are the approaches of posture regulation, breathing regulation, and mental regulation, the combination of these “Three Regulations”, and the practicing style of relaxed appearance with mental tension, which are quite different from the features of warm-up exercises of modern sports. (Hu Xiaofei and Zhuang Yongchang)
Reference: A Brief Analysis of Preparatory Exercises before Practicing Health Qigong jsqg.sport.org.cn