How does Qigong work?
Let's say you want to raise your arm. What makes your arm move?
Muscle contraction shortens the muscle, which pulls on the ligaments and make the bones move.
But what makes the muscle contract?
An electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic field produced by living cells or tissues such as nerves or muscles. (a bit like an electric current).
But what sends this electric current? Your intention (Yi) to raise your arm.
In Chinese Martial Arts there is a saying: Wherever the thoughts go the energy goes. Or simply, the thought or intention (Yi) guides the energy (Qi).
Qi is everywhere. We could roughly classify it as Heaven Qi, Human Qi and Earth Qi. Humans are the connection between heaven and earth qi. We absorb earth Qi mainly through the Yongquan acupoint (Kidney 1) located on the sole of the foot and the heaven qi through the Baihui acupoint (Du mai, or governer channel 20) located on the top of the head.
Qi travels inside the body mainly through the meridians (acupuncture channels), but also through the bloodstream (in the blood cells) and with the air we breathe. Qi also emanates outside the body to form what is called subtle bodies (also known as aura).
A healthy body consists of a body in which the Qi flows freely with no obstructions. Disease are caused generally by two main factors: Qi stagnation (caused by obstruction of the flow) or Qi deficiency, which can also be caused by an obstruction or by a weakness which depletes the Qi and is not being regenerated.
Weak Qi is due to various factors such as poor constitution at birth, unhealthy lifestyle, poor diet, exhaustion etc... Obstruction of Qi flow can occur through trauma (accident, injury etc..), bacterial or viral invasion, or from an emotional factor, just to name a few.
Emotions are "energy in motion". It is meant to be expressed so it can flow freely. However if the emotion is kept inside, or if we dwell on it too much it stagnates and it creates an obstruction of Qi. There are no "good" or "bad" emotions. An emotion is nothing but energy and there is no loss of energy so if we don't express the emotion it goes inside organ tissues and eventually becomes a potential pathological condition.
How does Qi Gong work?
Qi Gong Is the art of cultivating and controlling energy. By relaxing the body we allow the channels to open up and increase Qi flow. Also, by developing internal sensitivity we can eventually identify a source of potential pathology before it manifests on the physical plane. By learning to guide the Qi through thought (Yi) we can learn to make the Qi flow where it is needed, thus preventing the problem before it manifests itself in the physical body. We can also heal it once it's manifested by dealing with the source of the problem (the Qi stagnation or deficiency) with movements that will help repair the damage done by sending more Qi and helping it flow.
In the case of a trauma injury that has difficulty healing and the tissue fibers have healed in random patterns which makes it prone to get injured again, becoming a chronic problem, the slow movements of therapeutic Qi Gong realigns the damaged tissue fibers with the healthy ones to eventually make it stronger, this process takes time.
The body regenerates itself in a cyclic manner. This is why Qi Gong, to be effective, must be practiced everyday for a minimum of a hundred days. In a hundred days, new connections are made in the brain (called neuropeptides) and a chemical change occurs inside the body which allows Qi to circulate in new pathways and thus strengthen itself and grow. This is how healing is possible through Qi Gong. The older the injury or condition, the longer the healing process is because it uses the body's natural healing abilities.
The human body is equipped with an innate healing and regenerative system that when properly supported can help recover health. The use of Qi for healing purposes addresses the origin or the source of the problem and brings the entire body's energetic system back into equilibrium, thus preventing further issues on an emotional, mental or physical level.
The results of therapeutic Qi Gong are not as fast as with taking pharmaceutical drugs, but on the other hand there are no side effects. Whereas pharmaceutical drugs forces the chemical change and often causes a chemical imbalance that creates side effects and potential health problems elsewhere in the body and sometimes only addressing the symptoms, neglecting the source of the problem causing it to be recurring. The problem is that in modern society people want quick results and don't give their body enough time to recover.
Of course this is a simplified explanation. We left out many details for example how the breathing part of the exercises brings more oxygen and strengthens the immune system, or the way the deep abdominal breathing is actually massaging the internal organs and squeezing out the toxins, but this summarizes the main principles of how Qi Gong works.
(Thanks to Shadia Habib for her contribution and suggestions)