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.
An Introduction to
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
An Introduction to Qigong—The Chinese Art of Being
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
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.
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