Movement teachings from the Far East

About crane, dog and monkey: Tai-Chi, Yoga and Qigong are extremely popular right now. Time to take a closer look at the Far Eastern movement teachings

Qigong, yoga and tai chi are popular relaxation methods not only in the Far East

© Getty Images / Ulza, Oleh Slobodeniuk / E +, iStock / Tolimir

The white crane spreads its wings, "is the name of an exercise from Tai Chi. In Qigong you want to" ward off the monkey "and in yoga you become a" downward-looking dog ". It sounds interesting to strange to outsiders when the followers of Far Eastern movement teachings talk about their exercises.

Some figures require minimal movement, others require maximal contortion. Can that be healthy at all? What should the movement trends bring? And for whom is what suitable? Three experts answer the most important questions.

Man doing yoga

© Getty Images / Oleh Slobodeniuk / E +

1. Yoga

Dr. Holger Cramer is head of research at the Clinic for Naturopathy and Integrative Medicine at the Evangelical Clinics in Essen-Mitte and researches the effects of yoga on our health. We interviewed him:

How would you describe yoga?

The term yoga comes from the ancient Indian Sanskrit and means: "yoke a draft animal to a wagon". One interpretation is that yoga is supposed to unite the senses and thoughts in order to control the mind. In the West we often think first of the static postures, which in some styles are fluidly connected in sequences. In addition to these physical exercises, yoga also includes meditations, breathing techniques as well as ethical and philosophical aspects.

What are the benefits?

Yoga has a relaxing effect on the body and mind. The health insurance companies therefore subsidize courses to reduce stress. A 2017 Cochrane review shows that regular exercise alleviates chronic back pain. Yoga can lower blood pressure and increased fat levels, thereby protecting the cardiovascular system. It is suitable for losing weight, building muscles and relieving menopausal symptoms. In the case of psychological stress, moderate depression and after cancer, it helps to alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Are there any risks and side effects?

In yoga it is important to respect your limits and to listen to your body. Studies show that one in five practitioners has injured themselves, mostly slightly, at some point. Serious incidents such as strokes very rarely occur in previously ill patients. Inverse postures like the headstand increase intraocular pressure. They are therefore not for people with eye diseases such as glaucoma.

Who is yoga for?

Because it is so diverse, almost everyone will find a style for themselves - from the more sporty power or Ashtanga to the spiritual Sivananda Yoga. I would recommend courses for beginners so that an expert can correct them. Anyone who has physical or psychological problems is in good hands with a medically trained yoga teacher

Where can I find associations / teachers?

  • Professional Association of Yoga Teachers in Germany (BDY)
  • Professional Association of Independent Yoga Teachers and Yoga Therapists e.V. (BdfY)
  • Professional Association of Independent Health Science Yoga Teachers (BUGY)
  • German Society for Yoga Therapy (DeGYT)
  • German Yoga Umbrella Association (DYV)

Woman doing tai chi

© iStock / Tolimir

2. Tai Chi Chuan

Prof. Dr. Peter Kuhn from the Institute for Sports Science at the University of Bayreuth deals a lot with martial arts. Also with the rather calm - Tai-Chi and its effect on practitioners. We interviewed him:

How would you describe tai chi chuan?

It is an ancient Chinese art of movement. The character "Tai" means big, "Chi" means extreme and "Chuan" means fist - together they stand for the ultimate martial art. Anyone who comes into contact with it for the first time here in the West will usually see slow, flowing, almost dance-like movements in tai chi. The practitioner elegantly refers to imaginary attacks and skillfully evades them. Many people are first excited about the aesthetics of this art. If you practice regularly, you will be impressed by the meditative movement and its positive effect on body and mind.

What are the benefits?

With tai chi you are in the moment. The concentration on your own body and deep abdominal breathing calm the mind and strengthen self-efficacy. Because Tai Chi strengthens the leg and core muscles, trains the sense of balance and promotes coordination, regular practice prevents falls - especially in old age. We published a study on tai chi in multiple sclerosis (MS) in the journal BMC Neurology. People with MS who were previously barely able to stand were able to use tai chi to even balance on one leg. Healthy athletes also benefit from training because they learn to prevent injuries.

Are there any risks and side effects?

The risk of injury is low. It is important to perform the exercises functionally. For example, a good teacher makes sure that the knees do not tilt inward when bending and that the spine is naturally upright.

Who is tai chi chuan for?

For everyone who does not suffer from special orthopedic restrictions. The elegant movements often appeal to people who otherwise have little to do with sport. Associations or health insurances provide certified teachers.

Where can I find associations / teachers?

  • German umbrella organization for Qigong and Taijiquan (DDQT)
  • Federal Association for Taijiquan and Qigong (BVTQ)

Woman doing QiGong

© Getty Images / Ulza

3. Qigong

Dr. Yanqing Wellenhofer-Li is an expert in TCM and Qigong. She works in the Competence Center for Complementary Medicine and Naturopathy (KoKoNat) at Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technical University of Munich. We interviewed them:

How would you describe Qigong?

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) "Qi" is regarded as life energy. "Gong" means persistent exercise or work. In the imagination of TCM there is raw material power like the Qi from food or subtle like our thoughts or the air we breathe. A Qi deficiency can lead to fatigue, insomnia, depression, digestive problems and migraines. Qigong is the two thousand year old art of collecting, strengthening, regulating and making the Qi flow. Through gentle movements, deep, calm breathing, and healthy imagination, it helps to stay healthy and alleviate illness.

What are the benefits?

Studies show that Qigong has a preventive and relieving effect on back pain, high blood pressure, stress, cardiovascular diseases and rheumatism. In cancer and chronic diseases, it can improve the quality of life. It regulates the respiratory, immune, digestive, circulatory and locomotor systems and helps with constant tiredness and stress. In addition, pulling, turning, stretching and bending of the spine, joints, muscles and tendons make the body more flexible. Positive ideas during the exercises lift the mood, which can relieve depression.

Are there any risks and side effects?

If done incorrectly, headaches or dizziness can occur. Cardiovascular patients should exercise between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Blood pressure and adrenaline levels are higher in the morning than in the afternoon. In the case of acute illnesses, severe exhaustion, circulatory or blood pressure problems, severe joint diseases and during pregnancy, I advise you to first discuss with a doctor whether Qigong is advisable.

Who is Qigong for?

For people who enjoy harmonious movement, who want to improve their health and relieve nervousness, stress and anxiety symptoms. In Qigong, less is more - and better slow than fast. This is how beginners achieve double success with half the effort.

Where can I find associations / teachers?

  • German umbrella organization for Qigong and Taijiquan (DDQT)
  • German Qigong Society e.V.
  • Federal Association for Taijiquan and Qigong (BVTQ)