Week 2: The Art of Meditation and more about Qigong Practice
Welcome to week 2 of the Qigong study group.
This week's focus will be on meditation and the basis of meditation from a Daoist standpoint.
The basis of most Qigong is in the mystical traditions of Daoism and Chinese folk practices and philosophy.
A highly recommended piece of reading is the Daodejing (Tao T'eh C'hing 道德經) written by one Laozi (Lao Tzu) around 500 BC. The title of the book could be said to be "The Book of the Way and It's Power". The exercises we will be doing this week have their basis in this philosophy, so I would like to share a few selections from it that are relevant.
1. THE EMBODIMENT OF TAO
Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it.
Without words, the Tao can be experienced,
and without a name, it can be known.
To conduct one's life according to the Tao,
is to conduct one's life without regrets;
to realize that potential within oneself
which is of benefit to all.
Though words or names are not required
to live one's life this way,
to describe it, words and names are used,
that we might better clarify
the way of which we speak,
without confusing it with other ways
in which an individual might choose to live.
Through knowledge, intellectual thought and words,
the manifestations of the Tao are known,
but without such intellectual intent
we might experience the Tao itself.
Both knowledge and experience are real,
but reality has many forms,
which seem to cause complexity.
By using the means appropriate,
we extend ourselves beyond
the barriers of such complexity,
and so experience the Tao.
33. WITHOUT FORCE: WITHOUT PERISHING
Knowledge frequently results
from knowing others,
but the man who is awakened,
has seen the uncarved block.
Others might be mastered by force,
but to master one's self
requires the Tao.
He who has many material things,
may be described as rich,
but he who knows he has enough,
and is at one with the Tao,
might have enough of material things,
and have self-being as well.
Will-power may bring perseverance;
but to have tranquility is to endure,
being protected for all his days.
He whose ideas remain in the world,
is present for all time.
Dao can not be described adequately in words, but it can be experienced, by eliminating the thoughts of the mind. The rational, logical mind cannot explain or comprehend the Dao; the spiritual mind can understand it by shunning wisdom and forgetting knowledge. Only a fool can understand this. The Dao cannot be understood or explained; but through the process of meditation, you may become it.What affects Qi?
Now, for more information about Qi and proper Qigong practice.
From a Chinese standpoint, many things affect Qi either positively or negatively. These things may affect the San Bao (Jing/Qi/Shen) on the whole, as well, or may just be rooted in one of them. Unlike other metaphysical approaches, it is thought that the universal energy of Qi is strongly linked to the physical body and mind. Hence, what we do, how we think, what we consume, and how we live our lives affects Qi. Here I will list a few of the positive and negative things affecting Qi, and some general guidelines to follow when practicing Qigong that affect the whole-body holistic health.Positive things
- Qi is affected strongly by diet. Some foods that are known for bolstering the Qi are fruits, vegetables (particularly leafy greens), and nuts. Generally speaking, any food that is high in protein (nuts, fish, chicken, pork, tofu, soybeans) is said to also be good for Jing. Red meat is fine occasionally but try not to overdo it.
- Qi is affected positively by tea. The most beneficial tea for your health is by far, green tea. Besides clearing the mind and strengthening the vital force in the Lung, Spleen and Triple Warmer meridians, tea has loads of beneficial antioxidants including one called epigallocatechin gallate
that fights bacterial infection and sepsis. Drinking tea before meditating or doing Qigong will clear and focus the mind, still the thoughts, and improve good Qi flow through it's antiflammatory flavanoids which will relax the muscles and the lungs. Tea will be discussed at the conclusion of this course.
- Qi is, of course, affected positively by Qigong and martial arts practice.
- Qi is affected positively by certain herbs and Chinese herbal tonics. These will be discussed at the end of the group. One in particular that is noted for bolstering Jing, and to a lesser extent, Qi, is Chinese ginseng root.Negative things
- Qi is affected negatively by poor diet. This sums it up pretty well
but is a bit on the hokey side. Avoid junk food, fast food, and processed food.
- Qi (more specifically, Jing) is affected negatively by excessive sex, especially for the beginning Qigong practicioner
. This is more true for the male than the female, as traditionally in China the male is seen to be losing Qi while the female gains it. How much is excessive? Well, I once read a Daoist treatise that structured it as such by age (the Chinese age cycle for men is 7 years, and 8 years for women- this is roughly the time it takes for all the cells in the body to be reborn, coincidently):
14 years-21 years: once a day
21 years-28 years: once a day
28 years-35 years: once every other day
35 years-42 years: twice a week
42 years-49 years: once a week
Anything older: once a month
Since Daoist Qigong is concerned with strengthening Qi, and Jing, sexual activity is not recommended more than what is stated in the above outline. However, a natural result of doing Qigong is developing a large amount of Qi and Jing. Hence, after many years of practice, you will have such energy that you are affected very little by sexual activity- but at this point you should have good control over the mind and desire that it is not necessary or wanted. For the purposes of developing Qi in this group, I would recommend sex no more than twice a week until the Qi, and Jing reserves are built up in the body.
- Qi, and Shen (spirit) are affected VERY negatively by drugs and alcohol. This includes smoking cigarettes, and frequent marijuana use. Hallucinogens or even very strong marijuana induce hallucinations, and thus delusion. Alcohol is poison, when you drink you poison the body, the rational mind and the Qi. Avoid at all costs.
- Air pollution and air quality, particularly if living in a large city, negatively affect Qi.
- Qi and Shen are affected negatively by lack of sleep. Get at least 8 hours a night, or more if you need it. Good sleep equals a balanced body and mind, and thus a balanced Qi. Regardless of our Qigong practice, our body knows what we need and balances our yin and yang while we sleep. Get good rest and try to follow the natural cycle (sleep at night, be awake during the day).
- Qi and the San Bao are affected negatively by improper Qigong practice- for example, holding the breath, hyperventilation, or moving Qi backwards in the channels, opposite the natural flow.
- Qi, and any kind of spiritual work, is said to be negatively affected by certain electronics or radio frequencies. The biggest one I'm aware of are the electronic emmissions of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors and TVs. Since Qi is considered to be bioelectricity generated by the human nervous system with some similarities to electromagnetic radiation (yet completely distinct from and above such forces), it would make sense that any high voltage device like a CRT could interfere with or impede Qi flow in the body. Make of this what you will, but I make a point to leave the room with all my electronic equipment when doing Qigong. Besides, there will be less noise to distract you.Guidelines for practicing Qigong
Here we will discuss some basic guidelines and principles of proper Qigong practice. As opposed to the above section, which discusses how different things affect our Qi, this section is about action- that is, what to do and what not to do in Qigong practice.
- Practice Qigong in a clean, dry, quiet place where you won't be easily distracted. Having the mind led astray while practicing Qigong is one of the biggest obstacles you will face.
- Do practice Qigong outdoors. Qigong is best done outdoors in the fresh air. Find a park with a lot of trees, go back in the woods to a secluded spot, and practice. The quality of the Qi you get from the air in the great outdoors is much better than stagnant indoor air. If you have to practice indoors, try and open a window and be near it when you practice. The fresher the air, the better. When you become more accustomed to practicing Qigong and feeling Qi you will notice the difference yourself.
- Do pay attention to the time of the day you practice. Yang Qi is strongest at noon and Yin Qi is strongest at midnight. Other good times to practice are sunrise and sunset. If you feel unbalanced in one or the other, practice during the opposite time of the day for 3 nights. This also relates to the bodies natural cycles of Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine. More information can be found here
- Do practice Qigong every day. Generally speaking, you will not lose Qi or lose your ability to manifest Qi by not practicing for a long time; however, you won't make any gains either. It is similar to physical exercise- the more you practice, the better the result. If we think of Qi like spiritual muscle, and Qigong as exercise for that muscle, then you can see the importance of sticking with a routine.
- Do research. Yes, I said it- research Qigong. See if there are any classes on Qigong in your area. Research the scientific studies about Qigong and testing done on Qigong practitioners to validate your experiences. After this study group, learn other forms from other people or even books. The more you put in, the more rewarding your practices will be, and the more you will believe in Qi as being a very real, tangible force.
- Don't practice Qigong too much. Twice a day (morning and night) for a half hour is enough to start with. Eventually, you can move up to 2 hours at a time if you have the time and inclination. You may meditate as much as you want, but too much Qigong can be bad for you and lead to stagnant Qi, delusion, and something called "Qigong sickness", which is basically acute psychosis brought on by too much Qigong practice.
- Don't practice Qigong from an improper mindset. Do not practice Qigong to obtain psychic power or abilities. The goal is peace, discipline and spiritual development, not gaining powers that could potentially be used negatively. If you practice only for the purpose of power, you will never find it. It's a nice side effect but not the goal. Do not practice Qigong while emotional, or particularly while angry. Training under these circumstances means you are training with Xin (emotion) and not Yi (spirit-intention). If you are emotional or angry your Shen is disturbed and you will be doing more harm to your Qi than good.
- Don't practice Qigong while sick or injured. Despite some people disagreeing with this, the reasons for it are many. For one, if you are sick with a cold, it will be hard to breath. The air will irritate your lungs and you will cough. It may be difficult to breath in the correct manner because of mucus in the nose and throat. You may be in pain, injured, and this will be too distracting to the mind for it to focus on proper Qigong practice. Your form will suffer and your posture will slouch. You will start to take shortcuts to alleviate the pain, and the mind's focus will be on the pain and not on the breath, posture and Qi. When you are sick, your body and spirit are already using the Qi in the body to burn away the disease. Doing Qigong when your body is already actively fighting infection just slows the healing process and impedes getting better. Light meditation is alright, but any of the moving forms or Qi circulations should be avoided. The best thing you can do is sleep, rest, relax, and drink tea.
- Don't move Qi backwards in the meridian channels. A good example of this would be doing the microcosmic orbit in reverse. I have never done it this way, nor met anyone who has, but I can only imagine what kind of problems this would cause to the holistic body.
- Don't breath in an unnatural fashion, and never hold your breath. Holding your breath deprives the mind and body of oxygen and impedes Qi flow. Hyperventilation is very bad; I have seen it recommended by various forms of African Shamanism and Voodoo.
"Hyperventilation can sometimes cause symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the hands, feet and lips, lightheadedness, dizziness, headache, chest pain, flexor spasm of hands and feet, slurred speech, nervous laughter, and sometimes fainting, particularly when accompanied by the Valsalva maneuver.
Counterintuitively, such effects are not precipitated by the sufferer's lack of oxygen or air. Rather, the hyperventilation itself reduces the carbon dioxide concentration of the blood to below its normal level because one is expiring more carbon dioxide than being produced in the body, thereby raising the blood's pH value (making it more alkaline), initiating constriction of the blood vessels which supply the brain, and preventing the transport of oxygen and other molecules necessary for the function of the nervous system. At the same time, hypocapnia causes a higher affinity of oxygen to haemoglobin, known as the Bohr effect, further reducing the amount of oxygen that is made available to the brain."
When I was young, I once had a panic attack and started hyperventilating beyond my control. My pulse rose, I felt numb all over and I eventually passed out. These things go against the very essence of tranquility, peace and calmness espoused by Qigong practice. Don't do it. The breathing should always be very deep, slow abdominal breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth.
Now that we are finished with our philosophy and a small discourse on proper Qigong practice, we will move on to this weeks' first exercise: Void meditation.
Quoting from Simplified Qigong for Beginners:
2. Void Meditation
The first thing we want to do is try and get in touch with our energy. In Chinese, the word for energy is "qi" (pronounced "chee"). Sometimes, it is translated as breath; and it is very true that breath controls subtle energy flow in the body. Henceforth, when talking about energy I will simply use the term "qi" to refer to it. Additionally, in Chinese, "gong" means "work", so therefore "qigong" translates to "breath work" or "energy work". That is it for beginning terminology.
The best way to actually feel our qi is through meditation. Meditation is simple, yet can be deceptively complex. Like many things in life, it is paradoxical in nature.
Begin by finding a cool, dry, quiet place. Make sure you are free from outside distractions such as TVs, other people who aren't meditating, and loud sounds/music. You want a quiet, peaceful environment. Some meditators say that going and finding a place in a park, outside by a tree or stream, has helped them greatly. Regardless, meditation can be practiced indoors, or anywhere you feel comfortable. The key is to feel comfortable while you meditate.
Sit down crosslegged and rest your hands on top of your knees. Make sure your back is straight and you don't slouch as you sit in place. Now, slowly breath in deep through the nose, and allow your lungs to fill completely with air. Do not hold your breath. Exhale, and allow your lungs to slowly completely release the breath you just took in. Repeat this cycle. If a thought arises in your head, let it go. If you feel your mind wandering, let it wander, but focus on your breathing most of all. Allow yourself to percieve any ideas or thoughts that come to you; acknowledge the thought and move on, as you focus on deep abdominal breathing.
Feel the tension in your body melt away with each breath, and see the tension leaving your body as you exhale. Perhaps the tension appears as a murky cloud; perhaps there isn't any cloud, and you see nothing at all. Regardless, continue to breath deeply and focus on your breath, until it becomes natural to just breath deeply and sit.
Eventually, you may notice flashing patterns of light on your inner eyelids. These are called neural discharges, and they are the result of the increased oxygen flow to the brain causing the nerve synapses in your visual cortex to be overstimulated. Disregard the colorful lights and continue to breath, just existing in Void. Thoughts will come to you less and less often as you deepen your state of mind through meditation and focusing on breathing.
At this point, you should feel very relaxed, and you might feel an electric buzz all around you. It may move around or stay in one spot. It can feel like a very strong heat all over, or it can feel like a very strong chill. Some people feel it most strongly around the head and spine areas. This feeling is your personal qi, or energy flow. If you cannot feel it, don't worry. It can be very subtle, and it takes different people different amounts of time meditating before they can truly feel their qi. It was once said about meditation- "A moment to learn, a lifetime to master."
"What's that Kouji? I just felt my qi, by simply sitting here and breathing?"
Yes, it is that simple. ^_^ Just sitting and breathing deeply takes you to a state of mind where you can percieve many things you otherwise couldn't. Continue to meditate until you feel satisfied. To conclude the meditation, say to yourself:
"I am going to count to five, and return to reality."
Starting from one, count to five in your head. Try and time each count on breaths. Breath in, breath out, one. Breath in, breath out, two. When you reach five, open your eyes and say internally, "I am finished meditating for now." Stand up and stretch. This concludes Void Meditation. Before moving on to Dantian meditation, practice Void meditation until you are comfortable, and until you can feel your qi in a relaxed state of meditation.
Practice this for a half hour a day this week. Please post in the forum thread about your experiences with Void meditation, and any difficulties or revelations you experience.
Next exercise: Dantian meditation.
For the next exercise we will be using Buddhist breathing, or "deep belly breathing".
The next exercise is Dantian meditation. However, this method is different from the one in Simplified Qigong for Beginners. It is different because the exercise in Simplified Qigong uses heavy visualization that is easy for most people to grasp, seeing as the article was written from the standpoint of having even a Grandma understand it... This method is truer to my practice and experiences practicing Dantien meditation.
Sit down in the basic meditation posture described previously (crosslegged with the palms resting on the knees, back straight, chin down). Now, begin to meditate and do Void meditation for five minutes; if you have already done Void meditation for a half hour then you are in the correct mindstate already.
Take your index finger and poke yourself three inches below the naval (belly button), while still meditating with the eyes closed. Push rather forcefully there with the tip of your finger. Now, focus on the residual sensation of pain there. This is referred to as tactile feedback; it is easy to focus your thoughts at that point because of the physical sensation you just created.
Begin to essentially do Zen meditation on the Dantien center. Focus all of your attention, the attention of your whole being, on the lower Dantien point. Do deep belly breathing while focusing on the Dantien. If you find it difficult to focus there, poke yourself again. Try not to let your thoughts wander. If you have previous experience with energy work, do not try and suck in energy into that center; this will happen on it's own. Take note of any feelings or sensations that occur not only at the Dantien, but across the whole body. The goal is to do deep belly breathing while in a state of no mind with the fixation of the mind on that center. Empty yourself, focus on the Dantien, and in doing so, become full. It is a paradox.
Practice this for a half hour; this is the single most important meditation you can do until we learn the microcosmic orbit. You are welcome to practice it more, and practicing it more will hasten your development.
Report on your experience with Dantien meditation in it's thread.
That concludes week two of the Qigong study group exercises.
Good Health and Training.