Week 1: What is Qi?
Welcome to my study group.
We will start with a lecture on the basics of Qigong terms and ideas. If you have any questions on the lectures, or simply want to discuss them with others and share your interpretations, post in the lecture thread. (This thread)
Taken from my article, Beginning Daoist Qigong EX.
The basic theory surrounding energies in this qigong is as follows, written by an old friend (Mad Daoist).
...."Qi: I have decided to start my discourse on the topic of Qi. Qi, a concept originally formulated by the Daoists, makes everything in the universe, well, tick. It spins the galaxies, energizes the creatures of the universe, and makes plants grow. It is the very essence of life itself. To have Neiqi is to have life itself."
"How does one get their Neiqi, originally? There are many theories. Most think the Original Qi is received while still in the womb as a fetus. While theoretically not known how, it is thought that fetuses have an amazing ability to act as a cosmic battery, absorbing the very Qi of the universe into itself. Naturally, the Mother provides quite a bit herself."
"Neiqi runs along the human body in a series of meridians. There are twelve medical meridians, largely considered a Confucian, perhaps acupuncturist concept. Then there are the Eight special or Psychic meridians. They are mostly a Daoist concept. Of course, these two systems of lines cross with each other, borrow from each other, etc. [editor's note: Discussed in depth later.]"
"Neiqi is stored in the Dantian. Now there are three Dantian, Original Qi resides in the lower Dantian, post-birth Neiqi (qi gathered through water, qigong, and food) resides in the middle Dantian."
"Your level and amount of neiqi determines your general health. You accumulate neiqi through exercise, eating, sleep, herbs, etc. One method of exercise geared for neiqi cultivation is something known as Qigong, here in the west. There are many qigong forms, types, and lineages. Taiji has qigong properties, for instance. However, there is a raging debate going on for exactly what qigong is. What Chinese critics say is mostly true, many forms and exercises brought from China to here are immediately called qigong, when in fact they have about as many qigong-like properties as Richard Simmons' "sweat you butt off to the oldies", for example. One should always check before you call something qigong, for it is fast becoming dangerous waters."....
...."Jing: Neiqi is free-flowing and nice. It's good for health, meditation, etc. However, when put to use for martial applications, it falls short. However, neiqi can be converted into neijing, for the sharp demands of the Nei-jia. (Internal Martial Arts) Neijing will hence forth be called jing. Jing is at a higher frequency than qi- it's a lot more powerful. In the words of Waysun Liao, "Your opponent can feel your jing, but not your qi. You can feel your qi, but not your jing."
...."But I digress. Neiqi leads jing, it controls it. Once you can learn how to convert neiqi into jing, [ed: Through Qigong and meditation this naturally happens] you can use it effectively against an opponent. Jing is far beyond the reaches of normal time and space. It's a power called down from the universe itself for use by human beings. Jing's only limit is your own yi. I'll get to that pretty soon."
"I think it was quite wise when a famous Ba-gua master compared jing to a Dragon. If you treat the dragon right, you can unleash it on your opponent, and the dragon will lend you his strength. Treat the dragon wrong, and it'll take a bite out of you. This illustrates the point that jing is not something to be played with, it's a real weapon, and should be treated as you would a knife or even a handgun. However, be careful with it, and it'll be your most powerful weapon."
"Furthermore, there are many synonyms for qi that you will encounter, from many different languages and traditions. Almost every human culture has had a word describing an all-pervading, universal life force. Some of them are: Ki, Prana (sanskrit), Orgone, rLung (tibetan), orenda (Native American, Iroquois), energy, life force, magickal current, ruach (hebrew), the Light, Holy Spirit (christian), spiritus (roman), Pnuema (Greek) and psi."
"The ultimate goal of this art and this guide is to develop a universal link with energy, and a feeling of strength in body, mind and spirit. The practitioner, through the presented exercises, goes from being just a person controlled by forces to a person in tune with and above these forces- at peace with his environment, where ever he happens to be."
So, what have we learned from the proceeding writing?
- Qi means "breath" and refers to universal spiritual energy. It can also be written C'hi and is pronounced "chee". In Japanese and Korean martial arts, it is called "ki" (kee). In Yoga it is called prana
-Neiqi (naychee) is the original Qi from conception and controls and regulates Qi in the body. In some schools of Qigong and Traditional Chinese medicine, this term is "Yuan Qi".
- Jing (pronounced 'jean') means "force" or "power", is separate from Qi yet born from it, and is developed through the neijia (internal arts like Taiji or Qigong).
- Qi and Neiqi (Yuan Qi) are centered in the middle Dantian (dan-dyin) whereas Jing and Neijing (Yuan Jing) are centered in the Lower Dantian.
- A Dantian, or 'elixir field', is a spiritual center in the body. In most Qigong there are three- one in the 3rd Eye or middle of the brain (pineal gland), one in the heart, and one 3 inches below the naval (respectively the Upper or Higher Dantian, Middle and Lower Dantian).
- Qi moves through the body in a series of pathways called meridians.
This knowledge will come into play more intensely later. For the time being, you should at least have a general idea of these concepts as well as proper pronunciation of them in speech.What is Qi?
So, then, we come to what will be seen as a controversial section of this lecture that is new this year. What is Qi?
This warrants an explanation, considering the implications of working with Qi, and should only serve to further your understanding of Qi. To harnass Qi, we must understand Qi.
"Qi" is symbolized by the Chinese character 氣 which is a combination of the kanji (ideogram) for steam, and the kanji for rice. Therefore, the actual symbol is a depiction of steam rising from rice.
In traditional Chinese culture, qì (also chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as "life energy", "life force", or "energy flow". Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. The literal translation of "qi" is "breath", "air", or "gas".
In traditional Chinese medicine and Qigong, the human body is thought to have many types of Qi. Some of these are:
Inherited from our parents
Gathered and formed at conception
Stored in the Kidneys (testicles/ovaries)
Determines basic constitution, strength and vitality
Essential to growth and development
Can be conserved but not replenished
Yuan (Original Qi)
Post Natal Qi
Can be stored and replenished
Gu Qi (Essence of Food and Grain Qi)
Kong Qi (Air Qi)
Zong Qi (Gathering Qi)
Zhen Qi (True Qi) - Composite of Ying Qi (Nutritive Qi) & Wei Qi (Defensive Qi)
Courtesy Yin Yang House
So as you see, the Chinese have many different types of Qi. Furthermore, Qi is used in conjunction with other symbols to represent many types of energy. Not all of these types of energy are metaphysical or linked to the human body. For example, electricity is called Dian Qi. Tian Qi refers to "Heaven Qi" and can mean a thunderstorm or cloudy skies. A generic term for human Qi is Ren Qi. This is further divided into the terms above in Traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, there are many more than are presented above.
Qi in the general sense just means energy. It's when it's applied to the human body that it begins to get more interesting, and people start to disagree.
All of my experience and research points that Qi can be defined as being inexplicably linked to the nervous system of human body, and the bioelectrical systems of the human body. It is not electromagnetic.
In the body it is born of the nervous system. Of course, it is very well possible to control Qi outside of the human body with the mind, and this explains Psi and Magick. However, when it is in the body it seems to align with bioelectricity, yet at the same time not be limited at all by it.
The basis of acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu massage, pressure point martial arts (Dim Mak, Kuk Sool, many others) and many other ancient arts is the Qi of the human body, and studies show that these affect the bioelectricity of the human body. These arts wouldn't be effective and wouldn't exist for as long as they have (3000 years) without some sort of basis.
It has also been shown that doing Qigong increases the levels of bioelecticity in the central nervous system, as well as heat in the human body. Monks meditating were observed with an infrared heat scanner, and their overall body heat increased compared to monks that were not meditating. Additionally, when doing things such as controlling Qi and moving it into the hands, the hands got hotter than normal as well, on the IR scanner. There is an episode of Ripley's Believe it or Not where a Chinese master practiced Qi healing on patients. He wrapped a piece of tin foil in a wet paper towel and projected his Qi into it, while it was on the patient's back. After about an hour of doing this, the paper towel reached almost 200F. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWCn8PkHeuk
So, Qi of the human body seems to be directly linked to the human nervous system. Yet, it is above and beyond it, and when harnessed, is not limited to only affecting things in the body. Why is this? This has a simple answer. It is because another one of the Daoist Three Treasures is Shen, or spirit-mind, which is essentially your conscious soul. The soul controls the Qi in the body, thus it is not limited to just acting in the body, though when it manifests in the body it seems to do so through bioelectricity. Your soul is not limited to what it can and can't do with Qi. It is above bioelectricity and electromagnetism (remember, Qi is not
electromagnetic), though it is capable of harnassing properties of both, yet at the same time doesn't always need to.
I have had many experiences that seem to confirm the link between bioelectricity in the body and Qi. Since I have activated the Qi in my central nervous system through Kundalini practice, a lot of these are very pronounced. They include a very strong feeling of increased energy or electricity in the spine and brain. During Qigong and meditation, this feeling extends to the meridians in the arms and legs and makes the fine hairs on them agitate and stand on end. There is also a feeling of electicity moving out of the fingertips when doing certain Qigong forms (Holding the Balloon). I also sometimes have uncontrollable muscle movements or twitching- this is random, but has affected nearly every muscle in my body. It usually manifests as a twitch in the left eyelid. It seems to me that these kinds of effects, especially the muscle twitching, point strongly to bioelectricity in the body being increased. These twitches don't normally happen to me, they only happen when meditating or practicing Qigong, or for a short while thereafter. Additionally, many others who practice Qigong have noticed similar effects. Since Qigong is one of few metaphysical paths that focus almost entirely on energy in the human body, it would make good sense that practitioners of Psionics or Magick who don't have an overt focus on the energy of the body wouldn't notice similar effects, and thus would try to easily explain away the view that Qi is not bioelectricity.
What Qi really is is for you to decide. Some people like me who have seen tons of evidence, have had experiences, and done research cannot deny that the bioelectricity explanation is a good explanation for things like acupuncture and the other effects of Qi in the human body. Some people completely disbelieve this and think that Qi is a completely separate force controlled by the Soul and not limited to physical properties. Most people don't believe in either! There is good evidence on both sides, however, it seems apt to propose that Qi in the human body is bioelectricity yet is not limited in the way most electricity is, and the reason for this is the Soul (Shen).
However, do not make the mistake of thinking that all Qi is bioelectricity. Qi exists as metaphysical energy in everything outside of the human body, and on the conceptual domain. This Qi can be directly experienced and influenced. However, that is not the primary goal of Qigong. The primary goal of Qigong is working with the Qi inside the human body. Once you can do this, however, you can easily move to something like Psionics that deals more with the energy outside of you. In doing this, the only limit is your own Shen, or Soul.
This is ultimately a subjective experience for everyone, regardless of path. You must find what Qi means to you through practice and then decide what you believe it to be.
Draw your own conclusions after experience and research. There is an old saying: "It takes three months to feel your Qi, and two years to know that it is real." 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 principles of Qigong, 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. * There is an exception to this at a very advanced level, to practice the Wind Path meditation to increase levels of Yin Qi in the body. This comes at the level where you can distinguish between and feel Yin Qi and Yang Qi in the meridians. This is detailed in my article, Advanced Daoyin Qigong.
- 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.
Moving on to the beginning exercises, there are two for this week.
The first is a series of basic Qigong routines used to introduce moving Qigong to the aspirant. First, though, we need to discuss the proper breathing technique used for these exercises. It is said that breath leads Qi and using specific breathing for a specific purpose is a large part of what differentiates Qigong from things like Psionics or Magick. Every energy movement and exercise you will do throughout this course is regulated by breath.
Right now, you want to train your qi to follow the mind. However, one of the translations of "qi" is breath. Therefore, it could be said that qi following breath is a mechanism developed to draw in and promote qi flow. This way of breathing is a way of training the mind to be more in tune with the body and it's surroundings, and to allow qi to flow through the body fully.
Buddhist breathing draws qi down into the dantian. It is done as follows: As you breathe in deeply for 5 seconds, push your stomach out at the end of the inhalation [to allow more air to fill the bottom of the lungs]. Hold for a second or two. On exhalation, simply exhale for about 5 seconds. Breathing should be clear and slow, with no noise heard in the nostrils.
Breathing should always be smooth, consistent, and natural. No hissing or noise should be heard; the breath should be totally silent.
This meditation should always be the one you do before any of the more advanced meditations. It helps to figuratively "warm up the body" to the energy flow.
I used to recommend doing some exercises with what is called "Daoist" breathing. This type of breathing is also called "reverse breathing". In this method of breathing, one sucks the stomach in as you inhale, and pushes it out as you exhale. In doing so, however, less volume of air is allowed into the lungs because of the forceful control of the diaphragm. Over time in repeating this method, this allows the lungs to hold less air, the blood becomes less oxygenated and the Qi is not able to move as effectively. So, in retrospect, Daoist breathing is less appropriate for Qigong development and may cause you to develop problems in the long term with normal breathing and with Qi. For the sake of this study group, even if my quoted text from my old articles says otherwise, please practice all exercises using Buddhist breathing, also called "deep belly breathing".Exercise 1: Basic Qigong Forms
We are going to start right off with some basic Qigong forms.
As you practice these forms, try to keep a quiet mind. Do not let thoughts distract you. Try and pay attention to how you feel and any physical sensations you receive while doing the forms. I have my own, and I know the common ones most people feel and experience but I will not elaborate further for risk of suggestion.
The forms are Lifting the Sky, Pushing Water and Shaolin Archer, some of the most basic Qigong forms everyone knows. These are what I first started with.
5. Lifting the Sky
The next exercise is the first exercise to involve movement while meditating. It is called Lifting the Sky.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward. Breath deeply and calmly, and feel the tension in your body sink away into the ground. Now, move your hands from your sides to be directly in front of you, palms up, with the middle fingers on each hand touching. (You may also just keep your hands at your sides as if standing normally). Your hands should be loose and relaxed, and they should be in front of you at about the same level as the dantian is (in front of your waist). Now, take a deep inhalation, and move both your arms upwards and over your head until the palms are facing towards the sky. Your neck should be craned back and looking upwards. Exhale, and bring your hands down in front of you again to the starting position. As you do this, meditate in a fashion similar to Void meditation; there is no focus on qi, as the form itself causes qi movement in the body, and any focus on qi on your behalf will only impede the purpose of the form. Repeat this qigong form as much as you want to.
6. Pushing Water
This exercise is another one involving movement, and practiced within a mindset of Void meditation. It is called Pushing Water.
Begin by standing with feet a little more than shoulder width apart with your feet diagonally opposite (toes pointing outward, think of it like a horse stance with the legs straight at the knees - ed). As you breath in, bend at the knees and sink your weight downward while still keeping the back straight. Your knees should be facing outwards at about a 45 degree angle and you should be up on the balls of your feet as you sink your weight lower. Simultaneously raise the hands outward to the side until the palms and arms are parallel to the ground. Exhale, and return to the starting position, slowly lowering your arms back to their sides and raising the weight upward, completing the Wuji stance again. Repeat this form as many times as you feel comfortable doing, and once again, the exercise is to be done in a Void mindset. Don't focus on the Dantian at all, or try and move qi into your system, as the exercise itself does that for you. Instead, simply focus on your breath and the exercise itself.
Sadly, for Shaolin Archer I cannot provide an adequate writeup as the arm and hand movements are much more complex and beyond me to put in writing.
However, I have made a short video instructing and demonstrating all three forms which is unlisted on Youtube. It is available in HD and has been redone for 2013's study group. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eK4AdAaPdQ4
If you have any difficulties or questions concerning these forms, please ask.
Practice these three forms for a half hour a day for the next week, if possible, and report your observations and results. If you are unfit or injured and have pain doing them, or difficulty doing the full motions, then simply do them for as long as is comfortable to the best of your ability. You should aim to practice each form for 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can go by breath count. Practice each form for 9 breaths (repetitions). You may go as high as 27 breaths for each form, but traditionally it is warned not to exceed 27 breaths because this can generate too much Qi, and can lead to Qigong sickness (mental illness).
On to the next exercise, which is Zen meditation.Exercise 2: Zen Meditation
This is a preparatory meditation which isn't in any of my writing that I know of, although it is useful to teach beginners.
Sit down on the floor, with your back against a wall, crosslegged. Rest your palms on your kneecaps, fingers and hand relaxed. Push your shoulders back against the wall, and let your head be natural (don't push the back of your head against the wall). The point is to sit up straight and not slouch. Lower your head slightly so your chin is parallel to the ground. This will henceforth be referred to as the basic meditation position, regardless of whether or not you have a wall to lean on. It will be used in future lessons. Anyway, pick a spot in front of you to focus on- this could be a marking on a wall, a point on the floor, a feature of something hanging on the wall like a photo. The only requirement is that this spot be rather small yet still visible from your current position. It needs to be a speck.
Now, begin to breath deeply and normally. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, with your stomach moving normally (NOT Daoist breathing). You don't want your breath to distract you, it should be natural, but deep. Try not to get distracted and look away from the spot, and try not to think about anything else but that spot.
Do this exercise for 30 minutes daily for the next week and post your experiences with it in the experiences thread.
There is a short video describing the basic meditation position used for all seated meditation in this study group, seen here (available in HD): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5XZLP2GTgA
That concludes this week's material.
Good Health and Training.