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Qigong Training Theory

by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, April 13, 2011
(Photo: P. Segadaes)

(Photo: P. Segadaes)

Every qigong form or practice has its special training purpose and theory. If you do not know the purpose and theory, you have lost the root (meaning) of the practice. Therefore, as a qigong practitioner, you must continue to ponder and practice until you understand the root of every set or form.

Remember that getting the gold is not enough. Like the boy in the old Chinese story, you should concern yourself with learning the trick of turning the rock into gold. You can see that getting the gold is simply gaining the flowers and branches, and there can be no growth. However, if you have the trick, which is the theory, then you will have the root and you may continue to grow by yourself.

Qigong General Principles

In Chinese qigong society, it is commonly known that in order to reach the goal of qigong practice, you must learn how to regulate the body (tiao shen, 調身), regulate the breathing (tiao xi, 調息), regulate the emotional mind (tiao xin, 調心), regulate the qi (tiao qi, 調氣), and regulate the spirit (tiao shen, 調神). Tiao in Chinese is constructed from two words, "言" (yan, means speaking or talking) and "周" (zhou, means round or complete). That means the roundness (i.e., harmony) or the completeness is accomplished by negotiation. Like an out of tune in piano, you must adjust it and make it harmonize with others. This implies that when you are regulating one of the above five processes, you must also coordinate and harmonize the other four regulating elements.

Regulating the body includes understanding how to find and build the root of the body, as well as the root of the individual forms you are practicing. To build a firm root, you must know how to keep your center, how to balance your body, and most important of all, how to relax so that the qi can flow.

To regulate your breathing, you must learn how to breathe so that your respiration and your mind mutually correspond and cooperate. When you breathe this way, your mind can attain peace more quickly, and therefore concentrate more easily on leading the qi.

Regulating the mind involves learning how to keep your mind calm, peaceful, and centered so that you can judge situations objectively and lead qi to the desired places. The mind is the main key to success in qigong practice.

Regulating the qi is one of the ultimate goals of qigong practice. In order to regulate your qi effectively you must first have regulated your body, breathing, and mind. Only then will your mind be clear enough to sense how the qi is distributed in your body and understand how to adjust it.

For Buddhist and Daoist priests who seek enlightenment or Buddhahood, regulating the spirit (shen) is the final goal of qigong. This enables them to maintain a neutral, objective perspective of life, and this perspective is the eternal life of the Buddha. The average qigong practitioner has lower goals. He raises his spirit in order to increase his concentration and enhance his vitality. This makes it possible for him to lead qi effectively throughout his entire body so that it carries out the managing and guarding duties. This maintains health and slows the aging process.

If you understand these few things you can quickly enter into the field of qigong. Without all of these important elements, your training will be ineffective and your time will be wasted.

Before you start training, you must first understand that all of the training originates in your mind. You must have a clear idea of what you are doing, and your mind must be calm, centered, and balanced. This also implies that your feeling, sensing, and judgment must be objective and accurate. This requires emotional balance and a clear mind. This takes a lot of hard work, but once you have reached this level you will have built the root of your physical training, and your yi (mind) can lead your qi throughout your physical body.

Regulating the Body (Tiao Shen, 調身)

When you learn any qigong, either moving or still, the first step is to learn the correct postures or movements. After you have learned the postures and movements, learn how to improve them until you can perform the forms accurately. Then you start to regulate your body until it has reached the stage that could provide the best condition for the qi to build up or to circulate.

In still qigong practice or soft qigong movement, this means to adjust your body until it is in the most comfortable and relaxed state. This implies that your body must be centered and balanced. If it is not, you will be tense and uneasy, and this will affect the judgment of your yi and the circulation of your qi. In Chinese medical society it is said: “[When] shape [body’s posture] is not correct, then the qi will not be smooth. [When] the qi is not smooth, the yi [wisdom mind] will not be peaceful. [When] the yi is not peaceful, then the qi is disordered." You should understand that the relaxation of your body originates with your yi. Therefore, before you can relax your body, you must first relax or regulate your mind (yi). This is called "shen xin ping heng," (身心平衡) which means "body and heart [i.e., mind] balanced." The body and the mind are mutually related. A relaxed and balanced body helps your yi to relax and concentrate. When your yi is at peace and can judge things accurately, your body will be relaxed, balanced, centered, and rooted. Only when you are rooted can you raise up your spirit of vitality.

Three Levels of Qigong Relaxation

Relaxation is one of the major keys to success in qigong. You should remember that only when you are relaxed will all your qi channels be open. In order to be relaxed, your yi must first be relaxed and calm. When the yi coordinates with your breathing, your body can relax.

In qigong practice there are three levels of relaxation. The first level is the external physical relaxation, or postural relaxation. This is a very superficial level, and almost anyone can reach it. It consists of adopting a comfortable stance and avoiding unnecessary strain in how you stand and move. The second level is the relaxation of the muscles and tendons. To do this your yi must be directed deep into the muscles and tendons. This relaxation will help open your qi channels, and will allow the qi to sink and accumulate in the dan tian.

The final stage is the relaxation that reaches the internal organs and the bone marrow. Remember, only if you can relax deep into your body will your mind be able to lead the qi there. Only at this stage will the qi be able to reach everywhere. Then you will feel –transparent—as if your whole body had disappeared. If you can reach this level of relaxation, you can communicate with your organs and use qigong to adjust or regulate the qi disorders that are giving you problems. You will also be able to protect your organs more effectively, and therefore slow down their degeneration.

Rooting

In all qigong practice it is very important to be rooted. Being rooted means to be stable and in firm contact with the ground. If you want to push a car you have to be rooted; the force you exert into the car needs to be balanced by the force into the ground. If you are not rooted, when you push the car you will only push yourself away and not move the car. Your root is made up of your body's sinking, centering, and balance.

Before you can develop your root, you must first relax and let your body "settle." As you relax, the tension in the various parts of your body will dissolve, and you will find a comfortable way to stand. You will stop fighting the ground to keep your body up and will learn to rely on your body's structure to support itself. This lets the muscles relax even more. Since your body isn't struggling to stand up, your yi won't be pushing upward, and your body, mind, and qi will all be able to sink. If you let dirty water sit quietly, the impurities will gradually settle to the bottom, leaving the water above it clear. In the same way, if you relax your body enough to let it settle, your qi will sink to your dan tian and the bubbling wells (yongquan, K-1, 湧泉) in your feet and your mind will become clear. Then you can begin to develop your root.

To root your body you must imitate a tree and grow an invisible root under your feet. This will give you a firm root to keep you stable in your training. Your root must be wide as well as deep. Naturally, your yi must grow first because it is the yi that leads the qi. Your yi must be able to lead the qi to your feet and be able to communicate with the ground. Only when your yi can communicate with the ground will your qi be able to grow beyond your feet and enter the ground to build the root. The bubbling well cavity is the gate that enables your qi to communicate with the ground.

After you have gained your root, you must learn how to keep your center. A stable center will make your qi develop evenly and uniformly. If you lose this center, your qi will not be led evenly. In order to keep your body centered, you must first center your yi and then match your body to it. Only under these conditions will the qigong forms you practice have their root. Your mental and physical centers are the keys that enable you to lead your qi beyond your body.

Balance is the product of rooting and centering. Balance includes balancing the qi and the physical body. It does not matter which aspect of balance you are dealing with; first, you must balance your yi, and only then can you balance your qi and your physical body.

Qigong has always been an important part of Chinese martial arts training. Without qigong training, a martial artist will have lost the origin of martial power, and what he or she uses will be only muscular power. This will make Chinese martial arts no different from the Western fighting arts. The most unique elements of Chinese martial arts are in qigong training and the buildup of internal energy (i.e., qi). From this, you will begin to understand the way of your life more deeply.

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, is a renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. Born in Taiwan, he has trained and taught Taijiquan, Qigong and Chinese martial arts for over forty-five years. He is the author of over thirty books, and was elected by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the 10 people who has "made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years." Dr. Yang lives in Northern California.


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