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Qigong (chi kung), an introduction

 

I have had profound experiences, as my spirit turned eastward, with the movement of a form of energy (qi, or chi) I had never felt before. The qi, or chi, which the Chinese Taoist adepts have spoken of for perhaps thousands of years is an important reality which comes into play through the union of spirit and flesh. It is for this reason that I have selected these articles for this site. These are just brief introductions, and further research will reveal far more information. However, the most important aspect to feeling the movement of the qi, or chi, is to be very still, to 'not-do', as the Taoist adepts would say.

Jack Haas

 

 

An Introduction to Qigong
by Solala Towler
 

Modern physics now agrees with the ancient teachings that what we think of as solid mater is really energy in constant motion. The natural energy of the universe has been called by many different names--vital force, prana, orenda, shakti, and spirit are just a few. The ancient Taoists called it qi (chi).


As Hua Ching Ni says: "How can the universe be alive? Because it is the continual transformation of primal chi, the pivotal energy and living soul of the universe. By understanding that all things in the universe are just different expressions of chi, one can see why the sages have always said, 'All things are one, and on is all things.'"

Qi can be thought of as basic life force. Ted Kaptchuck calls it "matter on the verge of becoming energy or energy on the pint of materializing." Mantak Chia describes it as "the glue between our body, mind, and spirit, the link between our perception of the inner and outer worlds." Qi may also be thought of as electricity. It can't be seen, yet it can most certainly be felt.

In some ways, it is the very stuff of life. It is what animates us, what gives us life in the energetic sense. It warms us, keep our organs in their places, and directs all of our movements.

There are different kinds of qi with different jobs to do. There is protective qi , or wei qi , the Chinese version of the immune system. It lies like an invisible electrical shield between the skin and the muscles. Its job is to keep out invading pathogens. When our wei qi is low, our resistance to colds, flus and more serious viral invasions is weakened.

Another type of qi is organ qi . This type of qi is responsible for maintaining the strength and integrity of each organ in our body. When this type of qi is weakened, our organ functions suffer and we are likely to have trouble breathing, digesting our food or sleeping. We may also feel a general feeling of fatigue.

Yet another type of qi is meridian qi , which travels the pathways (called meridians or channels) throughout our bodies, linking organs with each other and to organ systems and helping the blood move and stay within its channels. Meridian qi is what acupuncturists tap into when they insert their needles.

The human body is in reality an energy system. You can even think of the body's meridians as an electrical system, complete with junctions, fuse boxes and miles of wiring, all connecting up in one great multi-dimensional energy circuit.

Since the entire universe itself is made of the very same qi of which we are made, we can utilize the energy of the universe in our own healing work. This is the premise of qigong , the ancient Taoist art of energy work. By tracking and building up our own internal energy and then mixing it with the "heavenly" energy as well as the "earthly" energy, we can become more vital, more healthy and more spiritually realized beings.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different qigong exercises. Many of these are integrated into a whole system, usually called by an evocative and poetic name such as Soaring Crane Qigong, Wild Goose Qigong etc. But all involve some sort of special breathing, specific movements and an inner visualization of where the energy is focused or moving.

Through qigong , as Bob Flaws says: "we can manufacture qi more efficiently, store qi more effectively, and circulate our qi more smoothly. In addition, we can circulate our qi to particular places or organs in our body to bath those areas in healing, revitalizing energy."

Qigong can be done in a moving form, such as in Taiji Quan, or by sitting or even lying down. There was a famous qigong master in China in the 800's named Chen Tuan who perfected a sort of sleeping qigong . He was said to be able to sleep for months at a time, neither eating nor drinking, then awaken perfectly refreshed and energized!

An important facet of qigong is that while there are often outer movements, at least 75% of what is going on is on the inside. Visualizing the energy flow, meditating on certain energy centers or spiritual centers (such as tien mu , the third eye or bai hui, the crown chakra or dan tein , in the lower abdomen) is just as important, if not more so, than doing outer movements. In the beginning the practitioner guides the qi with his or her mind in a relaxed, non-forceful manner. It is said that qi follows yi , or that energy will follow the mind. (Western medicine is discovering this also as the relatively new branch of medicine called phsyconeuroimmunology.) Eventually, the qi will move on its own without the practitioner needing to guide it.

Until very recently in modern China, qigong was very popular, with millions of people practicing it daily, but mainly for health benefits. Only recently has the spiritual aspects of qigong been taught, although traditionally qigong has always been used for both physical and spiritual growth. Here in the West people are, of course, interested in both. But traditional Taoist wisdom teaches that it is very difficult for one to do intense spiritual work when one's energy or health is compromised. There is simply not enough qi to do practices or even to read and understand inspiring books. Therefore, the first step is to do qigong to raise the energy level in order to become a healthier, more vital person. Then one can begin deeper self cultivation practices.
 

An Introduction to Qigong—The Chinese Art of Being

John Du Cane

Transcribed and edited from a talk delivered at a class on the nature, origins and benefits of qigong.

What is the relationship between Qigong (Chi Kung) and Tai Ji (Tai Chi)?

 
(A special note about the spelling of terms: At one time, the most usual way to transliterate Chinese terms was based on the Wade Giles system—which gave us "Chi Kung" and "Tai Chi". More recently, the Pinyin system has dominated—and given us "Qigong" and "Tai Ji". To complicate things, though, many people still prefer to use the old spelling of Tai Chi while adopting the new spelling of Qigong. You will see that same mix of transliteration systems below).

Tai Chi is a martial art and its full name is Tai Chi Chuan, which means, "supreme ultimate boxing". There's often confusion with the Chi word in Tai Chi, because—despite sounding similar—the Chi word in Tai Chi isn't the same as the Qi word in Qigong.

However, Tai Chi martial artists—who punch, kick, block, and take down—appreciated many of the methods taught in Qigong, which means, "working with your Life Energy." The "Qi" here signifies Life Energy, breath, or Life Force. "Gong" means "dedicated practice."

So Qigong's a very generic concept, as generic as yoga, which means, "union," usually union with the human and the Divine, or union of body and spirit.

Where did Qigong come from and how did it develop?

Qigong is generally considered to have been around for 5000 years, but if you think about it...every culture is going to have some form of Qigong, when you define it generically as "working with your Life Energy".

By legend, Qigong had its origins in communal healing dances and shamanic practices, which is something that we find in other indigenous cultures such as Africa, the Americas, and Australia. Many different cultures have employed the idea of getting together and dancing around as a healing practice, of spontaneous movement, or of stylized movement imitating certain animals.

Over time, other systems and dances developed in China and were systematized by Chinese medical practitioners. Around 1800 years ago, a famous Chinese doctor, Hua To, put together "The Five Animal Frolics," which is a system I teach, and which has stood the test of time. He essentially took both folkloric and shamanic healing systems and put it into a lay health regime that anyone could practice.

Over the years, different interest groups saw aspects of what was implied in "cultivating your energy" and started to develop techniques for their own goals. The monastic traditions—Taoist groups, Buddhist groups—started using Qigong practices to enhance their spirituality. Their qigong practices allowed them to go more deeply into meditation.

One of the things that I really like about Qigong is that it helps take you out of your mind, which is one of the essentials to being able to go deep in meditative practices. It kind of seduces you into it stillness.

Martial artists appreciated Qigong because, when you employ Qigong techniques, you learn to master tension and relaxation. Part of the whole skill training in Qigong is know how to be extremely relaxed, but to employ tension when you really need it. And to have that kind of awareness in your body that allows you to be much more fluid and generally mobile with the way you use your energy.

As we get older, we tend to start to stiffen up. We tend to become stagnant. Areas in our body become tense and we lose the buoyant flexibility we had as young kids—and the kind of buoyant flexibility and vitality you see in wild animals.

So Qigong looks to bring that quality back into our lives. Martial artists have found this extremely useful. Internal martial artists found that when they practiced the skill of moving slowly and attentively, they developed a greater skill in the ability to be deeply relaxed, yet also suddenly issue force. They were better for it in their martial art.

Qigong encourages sensitivity. And, it encourages responsiveness, which is another quality valued by martial artists. So, Tai Chi employs breathing and movement practices to enhance that sensitive energy.

The Chinese medical practitioners found that they could prescribe Qigong methods and Qigong techniques to their clients. Chinese medicine is preventative in its overall attitude—it has a perspective that the doctor almost owes it to the patient to keep them well. That, the doctor is going to fail the patient if the patient gets sick.

So, after noting certain imbalances in their patient's system, the Chinese doctor would prescribe particular techniques to keep them well.

Qigong operates almost like a self-acupuncture system. Chinese medicine sees you as a series of electric flows, bio-electric flows. A Chinese medical practitioner will look for areas in that flow that have become stagnant, look for areas that have become excessive and then help balance that out. Chinese herbs will do that, acupuncture will do that, acupressure, and also Qigong practice.

Qigong is not always exactly aligned with acupuncture. There are meridians that you can create for yourself in Qigong practice that do not exist in traditional acupuncture maps. But a lot of the time, you are essentially playing with the meridian flow in the body and helping to balance your own energy. For those areas that are stagnant, you are bringing fresh energy into that area. If there are areas that have become excessive, you are going to drain them and help balance them.

Medical practitioners also developed a type of Qigong practice for healing others. One of the skills that develops out of Qigong practice is the ability to transmit information from you to another person. And, again, it's not peculiar to Qigong, but Qigong has it as a strong skill development.

The first part of the Qigong process is to learn to use your consciousness, breath, posture, and movement to affect the transmission of energy within your system. And energy and information are very close, almost synonymous. As you become more skilled in being able to move information around in your own system, speak to your own internal system, you can also then learn to start transmitting into another person. You can sense what's going on with them—and then help them start enlivening their own flow, their balance, to disperse blockages in their system

 

Using the secrets of qigong to live a more effective life
Calming the busy mind, healing the wounded heart and cleansing the toxic body
John Du Cane

QIGONG PRACTITIONERS INSIST there are three central intelligences in our beings, all equally important. There is one in the head, one in the heart area, and an intelligence system in the stomach. If only one intelligence receives attention, the other two suffer. One of the central insights in qigong practice is that all of these intelligences have to be recognized, otherwise they become like abandoned children.

The head or ‘monkey mind’ is very dominant in our culture—we’re very, very busy in our heads. The mind lives to create disturbance—it loves the surges of sudden excitement and wild fluctuations that arise from its addiction to stress as a favored lifestyle.

When we allow ourselves to live in this highly analytic, stressed out state we become preoccupied and inattentive and therefore less effective as human beings. When you’ve got 101 things going on in your mind, you end up not really paying attention to any of them. And all of your relationships—business, family, social, romantic—suffer accordingly. Because, really, nobody is at home anymore. Just an empty, preoccupied husk. One of the skills you learn in qigong is how to stop, let go, and be attentive.

You have to seduce the monkey mind, while its back is turned, to calm down and allow you to get back into your heart and stomach intelligences.

Our modern civilization has become a society of wounded hearts, busy minds, and toxic bodies. A wounded heart could be a neglected or abandoned heart. A busy mind is distracted, inattentive, and preoccupied. A toxic body is tight, closed, and stagnant.

We have become fragmented beings. We have lost our integration and joie de vivre and ability to operate in a connected, passionate way with life. If you want to be effective in business, if you want to be competent and truly help people, you need that passion in your life. If you allow yourself to get stressed out as a matter of course, it’s going to affect every aspect of your life, including the most practical. How practical is it to be sick in bed? How effective is it to be dead?

Qigong teaches us to get in touch with the subtle, bioelectric energy that we need to be alive. It’s important to learn to play with that, like a musician. Learn to be fluid with your energy, in touch with it, massage it, as it were.

When you train yourself to move in a very slow, relaxed way, you can remove all of the tension and blocks in your body, and become more like a wild animal. If you have to, there can be a sudden release of strong energy. But for the most part, you stay in a buoyant, relaxed state, rather like a little kid. As we get older, because of the way we create stress in our lives, we tend to lose that buoyancy, which is so essential to our overall vitality.

Our addiction to stress is one of the most devastating aspects of our modern culture. According to the Chinese, your vitality is intimately bound up in your adrenal and kidney areas. When you allow yourself to respond to pressure by stressing out, you’re depleting yourself and becoming sick and toxic inside. You start feeling run down. That’s your life-wax melting away.

The irony in our society is that in our quest for creature comforts we’ve actually created more stressors. We’ve produced a competitive environment. When the telephone rings, or when a fax comes in, our bodies react to these stressors. When a car cuts in front of you on the freeway, you have a potential stressor. Going to action movies, reading the newspaper, watching TV—all of these activities trigger that adrenal/steroid surge. Most of us have come to associate stress with pleasure—to the point of being addicted. Many of us, when not in a state of excitement or arousal, don’t feel that we’re enjoying ourselves. There are these lulls when we feel sort of depressed and out of it, so we start looking for the next excitement. That’s a roller coaster.

And then, there is the qigong-induced state of “harmonic balance.” You find this state when you look into a lover’s eyes, sit on a beach in Hawaii and watch a sunset, or listen to beautiful music. It’s that sensation of gentle beauty. Just appreciation and the feeling that everything is okay. But being competitive and yammering at people, arguing, screaming at the computer, freaking out at the emails you’re receiving, dealing with the telemarketers calling just as you’re about to eat, easily destroys this appreciative skill. You start to lose the ability to fall into harmonic balance. It becomes like a distant memory. You’re anxiously looking for it a lot of the time, but you start to lose the ability to manufacture it for yourself. One of the beauties of qigong practice is that you get seduced back into what I regard as your birthright—harmonic balance.

Why is this important? In terms of daily living, when we go into a state of stress, a number of things happen. We tense up, and instead of relaxing when the cause of stress disappears, we stay tight. In this way, we become more and more blocked and rigid in our bodies. Health and responsiveness in your daily life comes from the ability to respond to things with fluidity and flexibility. If you get into the habit of tightening and closing, sooner or later it’s going to impact the way you do business, the way you are with your family and friends, and your health.

Qigong practice starts to take you back into the heart and stomach areas, and allows you to get in touch with how it is to be relaxed and fluid. One of the keys to this is abdominal breathing. If you want to get back to that childhood buoyancy, learn to breathe like a child. The optimal breathing technique is that of a little baby, where the stomach gently inflates on the inhale and softly contracts on the exhale. Your attention and breath is low, near the stomach brain.

What happens when you breathe down in the stomach is that your lymph system is activated. When this system is stimulated, an automatic relaxation response is triggered, which puts you into that "aaahh" state. The lymph system is the body’s trash removal system. It is more extensive than the circulatory system and it’s responsible for removing crud from the body, including excess blood proteins around the cells. If the cells are going to be vibrant and alive, they need to receive blood and oxygen on a regular basis.

Imagine if one day the garbage man just didn’t show up anymore. That’s essentially what happens in a lot of our bodies. When the lymph system gets sluggish, as it tends to do as we age, the body starts to stagnate. It starts to have literal sludge. So no matter what you do, you’re not able to do it with optimal vibrancy or health. And sooner or later, you’ll almost certainly get cancer or some other major disease. When you breathe from the abdomen, and do certain types of upper arm movements, and when you bounce, as in rebounding, you stimulate the lymph system. This crud, if you take these measures every day, will be removed from the body.

We want to avoid disease, because it’s very impractical! But we procrastinate enough about our health that we set ourselves up for disease all the time. Want to be practical in your life? Then adopt a daily practice that stops you getting sick.

When you adopt a practice that takes you into a more serene, contented state, it helps you change how you react to stressors. There are two ways to handle someone cutting in front of you on the freeway. You can grip the steering wheel, shout at the person and treat them like they were stealing your time, stealing your life; or you can just smile and relax and breathe. It’s not going to help you to shout and curse; in fact it’s just hurting you. When you get into a daily practice and gain the ability to relax and breathe, you’re able to handle so-called stressful situations in a much freer, easier way. And this applies to your business. When something doesn’t go the way you want it, you can go ballistic and get all worked up about it, or you can relax out of that state. You need a daily practice to build the skill to be relaxed.
 

 

 

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"The union of spirit and flesh creates a subtle new harmony.

Two unique worlds come together, and through our hearts unite into one.

For it is only in the voice of the flesh, that the song of the spirit is finally sung."

Jack Haas