WHAT IS QIGONG?
Many of my readers and business partners will most likely not have any idea as to what Qigong actually is. When asked by people what it is I do, and I respond by telling them that I am a ‘Qigong Man’, many don’t know what it is. The first association they make is to the practice of Tai Qi. Tai Qi has been pretty mainstream in the English speaking world since the 1960’s. Until then it was just something that Asian people practiced in parks in the morning. A mysteriously slow moving set of exercises that looked totally boring!
Since its inception into our mainstream culture, compounded with the scientific revelations of its various physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits; Tai Qi has grown to wide popularity here in the U.S., and has since influenced many devoted followers and students in its many forms and schools.
Now Qigong is the new kid on the energetic block, and although it may be new for many people here in the U.S., Qigong has ancient roots that pre-date both Tai Qi and Acupuncture, and is commonly referred to by practitioners as the oldest branch of chinese medicine. Other branches include acupuncture, herbal medicine, tui na (massage), cupping, and dermabrasion (Gua Sha).
I like to refer to Qigong as the ‘mother of Tai Qi.’ It is an ancient meditative mind/body movement practice that works with subtle energetic vibrations in the universe that help promote health, balance, and longevity. Qigong literally translates as ‘work on one’s life force’, and there are a few different Qigong training schools: martial, spiritual, and medical. Depending on your inclination, your teacher, and your ultimate path – you will most likely find yourself training in one of the three primary Qigong applications. A little from all three is the most attractive for me, and although I am more drawn to the spiritual advancement in Qigong and to my ability to contain larger amounts of ‘healing Qi’, I don’t deny the importance of having a strong defense and the ability to apply Qigong to its martial uses as well.
Now as I can only speak from my own experience, I believe there are a few things that the potential student should educate him/herself with, prior to engaging in a devoted Qigong practice. This is because these ancient practices are extremely powerful and if practiced incorrectly will further exacerbate any conditions or ‘Qi Deviations’ in your body. All of which could ultimately lead to more severe diseases and internal physical breakdown of your vital organs. These patterns can be altered, and this is simply meant to make you more aware of HOW you are practicing. Basically, if Qi is flowing in the wrong direction before you start a practice, and you begin to increase that flow through your daily practice, does this mean you are correcting the Qi Deviation, or merely enhancing your own wrong actions? We may not know we are in fact moving in wrong action, but in the end your body will not lie.
#1 FINDING THE RIGHT TEACHER
This is probably the single most important thing before starting a Qigong practice. You may need theinstruction and guidance of a master. Look for someone who has 20 plus years of experience in the practice. You may also want to find someone who has a strong spiritual life and a teacher who empowers the student in finding their own Identity, and not a teacher who indentures the student into following and serving only themselves. Often I am asked by people who I study with, and people are surprised when I tell them that MY TEACHER is neither Asian or male. It is almost a sort of reverse racism we are experiencing here in the U.S. with regards to who we bestow respect upon when it comes to mastering and teaching ancient Asian energetic arts. As if a Caucasian, African, or Latina woman could neither master these forms, nor be expected to hold any deep wisdom or knowledge in the Tao.
You man be drawn to study or find the teacher that is the most accessible; or, as is often the case in many fields, the one who is best at marketing. Don’t be deceived by this. Oftentimes you will find the best teachers tucked away in small spaces, with few students, and in unlikely locations. You may ask, ‘If they are such great masters – then how come they have so few students?’ A good question! My answer is, ‘because the training is usually rigorous, demands high levels of integrity and truth, and requires a fluid Ego in order to progress.’ You know the old adage: ‘When the Student is Ready the Teacher Appears’? Well, you will know when you have found the right teacher. Trust in that and follow the truth.
#2 CONSIDER GETTING A DIAGNOSIS
Although you may feel completely healthy and ask why you would ever need a diagnosis, there are levels of sensitivity in our bodies that many of us are simply unaware of and unable to “tune into” due to our own misuse of attention and consciousness. What do I mean by that? Most of us (myself included) overuse our intellect and our mental attention simply because we have been patterned to do so. To begin to train sinking into a deep internal awareness requires dramatic shifts in mental attention and one that must be facilitated by a master. It is extremely unlikely that a beginner could easily enter into an ability to ‘read’ the energetic structure of their internal organs, flows of Qi through the meridians, the pulses, the tongue, the blood, and other diagnostic components of the mind/body system. For example, if you happen to have a propensity for anger and would be diagnosed as someone who has ‘Liver Yang Rising’, then it would be in your best interest to not practice movements that increased the Yang energy in the body, and you would never know to stay away from running the Fire Cycle (up the back of the spine and down the front of the body).
#3 A LOCATION ALL YOUR OWN
Find a little piece of nature, nature, and more nature. Having a set place for your practice is really important and will help you to discipline your practice when just starting out. If you are struggling to get out of bed and go to your local park, or that piece of beautiful grass by the beach, or the clearing in the canyon behind your home, it is your connection to the space that will help you be more disciplined in your approach. You will begin to create your own vortex of energy in ‘your spot’ and you will begin to be called and drawn back to that spot – almost like you have a second home. Having your own indoor studio space is definitely a luxury and will come in handy in extreme weather, but there is something really special about being outdoors and practicing in such close contact to the elements of nature, the universe, heaven and earth, the cosmos and all that universal Qi force surrounding you.
#4 SCHEDULE AN EXACT TIME
We all know the importance of a schedule but few of us actually hold to one. Having a weekly schedule is extremely important – especially when it comes to running your own home business. It is very easy to find yourself getting off track and wasting time surfing around the internet or idling in the mud of the social media jungle. Remember we are running a BUSINESS, and all successful businesses run on a schedule in hopes of accomplishing a set amount of daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals. Some business owners simply use more sophisticated resources when it comes to planning, running, and scheduling their business. It is no different when if comes to going to the gym, rehearsing a song, or practicing your Qigong.
Scheduling an exact time may have more benefits than you could foresee at this given time. People in your community may begin to take notice of you and you will become a fixture at your particular outdoor space. This may ultimately help you grow your own practice if this is your goal for the future. It will demonstrate to those in your community that you are a dedicated and disciplined practitioner who is totally committed to your practice, and if you are correcting Qi deviations they may even begin to experience some healing while watching you do your forms in the park. If they aren’t that sensitive, then they may just enjoy being around you and wouldn’t be consciously aware as to why.
#5 STAY HYDRATED
Staying hydrated is so important when doing any sort of movement or exercise. A large percentage of our physical make-up is water and sipping water during your breaks in practice will go a long way for your longevity and stamina while practicing. The practice of Qigong opens the body, and allows you to absorb universal energies that will begin to hit deeper levels of our bodies: blood, nerves, organs, bones, marrow, and the entire cellular matrix. Because your body opens up, and the Qi begins to seep into all physical levels, your cells get activated (partly through your mind’s attention), and they become more receptive to the input of Gu Qi, or the life force essence absorbed by the body from water and grain.
#6 A NOTEBOOK
You may never know when you will have those moments of inspiration and will truly experience shifts in your practice. Moments where you truly connected to the CORE ENERGY OF EARTH, or moments when you felt deeper movements of Qi in your Belt Vessel, or times when you felt deep ancestral sadness in your Lungs finding a voice and clear expression through your Po. You will wish you had a notebook handy when you begin to chart the growth and development of your practice, and you will definitely want to dictate material and knowledge from the time that you have with your master. Keep a record of your development and discoveries and add them to the great body of knowledge that already exists in the field of Qigong and energetic medicine. Chinese medicine is didactic because of this very reason – we are all thankful for other students and masters having kept detailed notes on their own discoveries, methods, experiences, and universal truths. One of my favorite quotes from the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine) states:
“When the spiritual powers are passed on and transmitted they can no longer turn back; and when they turn back they cannot be transmitted, and then their moving powers are lost to the universe. In oder to fulfill destiny man should go beyond that which is near at hand and consider it as trifling. One should make public upon tablets of jade that which was hidden and concealed in treasuries and storehouses, to study it from early dawn until night, and thus make known the precious mechanism of the universe.”
#7 THE RIGHT PAIR OF SHOES
Having the right pair of shoes is pivotal for your practice. You definitely want to avoid sandals, flip flops, hard-soled shoes, and anything else that is going to restrict your movement. Safety and mobility are our primary concerns here. I suppose you could also go barefoot if you are outdoors and feel like you could move without getting stabbed by the odd placed pine needle. Just be careful to inspect your practice zone for any sharp objects, metal, dog s**t, or other such hazardous material. It is definitely nice to feel the earth under our feet but sometimes the movement of particular forms requires more dexterity of movement when walking, spiraling, or circling the energy in Bagua Circles.
Shoe #1: What I use and have been using for years is a slip on martial arts shoe made by Mooto. They have a pair made from pine tree which looks really interesting. For under $50 you can get this pine tree pair with a leather exterior to reduce weight, and a mesh interior with reinforced tongue. For details on the product visit the Mooto site.
Shoe #2: Another option to try is a type of low-top boxing shoe. These shoes have a much tighter restriction and a flat surface that are fantastic for traction and for gripping surfaces. You will definitely not slip in these shoes. Buying this pair is going to put you to around $70. If you are doing more external martial training as well as your healing Qigong, and you are on a budget – then you might want to consider getting this type of shoe. You will be able to use this pair in both training situations. This is not an ideal Qigong shoe but will definitely hook you into the earth. Watch out for the comfort level. You want the Qi to flow through your feet and into the earth and vice/versa. A tight fitting boxing shoe may cut off your body’s ability to do so. Check this site out for more detail on the Adidas Attaak and other brands of low-cut boxing shoes.
Shoe #3: Now for the true sports enthusiast who isn’t on a budget we can go one rung up the foot ladder with a Vibram FiveFingers shoe. I’m sure many of you have seen this new breed of footwear roaming around and wondered if they really felt good. I know I have. I have yet to try one of these on but these shoes seem like the most ideal for your Qigong practice. You can check out all the product details at their site as there are many varieties to choose from. Before deciding on which one to buy make sure you try a few on first – find a store that sells them locally and ask questions when shopping. These shoes use the actual size of your feet in inches so don’t go by what size shoe you wear. These shoes are contoured to fit exactly to your feet and are advertised as being a ‘second skin.’
#8 PROPER CLOTHING
I have been taught by my teacher that learning how to heal the body, diagnose, and begin to study your own internal system – can be equated to being a good weatherman. The Chinese study the harmony and disharmony of the body in terms of weather. Hot, cold, wind, warm, dryness, dampness, etc. We talked earlier about how our cells open up during practice due to the increased flow of Qi, blood, and all the extra intake of oxygen going into our system. Another consideration is that the pores on our skin will most likely expand as well, which could open the practitioner up to contracting some environmental Qi in the form of toxins in the air, pollution, and e-smog radiation. I have heard other practitioners say that it is good to wear long-sleeved clothing, even in warmer weather, in order to prevent unwanted Qi from entering your system through the pores of your skin. Protect yourself form external extremes such as cold, wind, damp, and heat. Wear appropriate clothing and wear what makes you feel good and comfortable. Nothing too tight. Basically clothes that fall off your body to allow for a freer flow of Qi.
#9 FINDING VALUABLE RESOURCES
After seeking and finding a good teacher then you may want to seek out some more tools and materials in the way of books, videos, YouTube, and Chinese medical texts. Study, read, and learn as much as you can about the theories and applications of Chinese medicine and this will feed into your study of Qigong and Medical Qigong. Learn as many Qigong longevity exercises that you can. Some books on my shelf include: “Qigong Teachings of a Taoist Immortal” by Stuart Alve Olson, the 5 volumes of “Chinese Medical Qigong Therapy” by Jerry Alan Johnson, and “The Great Tao” by Dr. Stephen T. Chang. Each contain many pearls of wisdom and you will definitely find these a welcome addition to your bookshelf.
#10 STRENGTHEN YOUR CONNECTION TO GOD, TO THE TRADITION & TO THE LINEAGE
For me there is no better internal (nei) gong than that of working on my direct ‘hook up’ to higher powers and to ascended spiritual masters and teachers. Qigong, when engaged in over time and with consistency, will most likely yield strong bones, strong blood, flexible tissues & muscles, more physical sensitivity, more virility, along with altered states of consciousness. Take care to navigate these waters with the proper guidance. Remember these deceptively simple exercises are extremely powerful. You may ask me, ‘Paul, why do you consider your connection to God such a strong influence in your practice?’ My response to that is, ‘Because it keeps me humble, safe, and supported. Because it feels right and good. Because I can.’ If I can live my life in more alignment with divinity and allow myself to be a true instrument for the work that is required of me to heal not only myself, but as many people as I can, then THAT is Qigong to me. Qigong is the art of mastering living in righteousness and wellness, and is the embodiment of the entire truth of the universe through the physical human form, and in how that form moves in total concert with the Tao.