In 1989 Western science finally "discovered" something that has been common knowledge in the Asian cultures for thousands of years. Through a huge study (if a study is not huge it does not mean much to Western science) it was discovered and then reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 1989 that moderate, gentle exercise is more effective than conventional agressive exercise. This suggests that the pumping iron, jogging, jazzercise approach is actually less effective in enhancing fitness levels than was thought. Simple walking is actually a superior fitness generator.
Slow, non-intense, daily practice of moderate exercise, as it has been done in China through Qigong and in India through Yoga for centuries, is now emerging, with scientific authorization as the fitness enhancement practice of choice. While it seems belated in a culture so scientifically evolved, this information is a real miracle in a time of serious crisis in our health care. Already fit who can jog, do aerobics and afford health club membership. Now, especially when we look to how the Asian traditions have refined this idea over time, the unwell, the bedridden, those limited to wheel chairs, elders and even the partially paralyzed can derive significant fitness building through moderate self-applied practices of Qigong and Yoga.
The movement arts of the Asian cultures are profoundly beautiful and extremely extensive. In China there are literally thousands of movements and postures with variations depending on whether they originate in northern or southern China, in specific families, specific monastic traditions or in one of many lineages of a simplified, preliminary approach that is easy to learn and use to support practitioners toward better health.
Beyond these preliminary movements and postures there are the 108 specific gestures in Yang style Chi and there are other short and long Tai Chi forms. There are the Qigong forms that mimic many animals: tiger, crane, bear, deer, eagle, snake and rhinoceros, as well as the mythological dragon and phoenix. There are forms for the seasons, the climates, the elemental forces of the cosmos, the colors, the internal organs, revered immortal masters and particular health disorders. Some forms are just practical and for fitness, others are esoteric and spiritual. All have fitness and health applications.
It must be remembered that in the Asian cultures the Qi, the vitality or energy, is of foremost important in health and fitness. The preliminary methods regarding movement and posture may seen strange or senseless; however, they are focused first on enhancing and moving the Qi. It is an illusion to think that the best way to mobilize the Qi is with vigorous movement. Some of the movements and posture which seem to have the least content or action are actually the most profound methods for generating Qi, circulating Qi and enhancing one's own awareness of Qi. Use these movements and postures as a seed to grow your own passion and devotion to your personal practice. Look to the martial arts, to ballet, to yoga, to personal self-expression for inspiration. Admire and copy the animals, as did the ancient physician Hua To. They have an inherent sense of nature's rhythm and law. Borrow from the great masters and the great traditions but also bring your own essence forth as well. Hold to the remembrance that it is the life force, the vitality, the bioenergetic field, the Qi that is your focus.