My First Qi Experience

I was ten years old, lying in my bed.  My dad was standing in the door way speaking in a low deep voice, "10 feel your body relaxing, 9, going deeper now, 8 very relaxed, 7, your body is so relaxed that it feels like your floating on a cloud…" He was guiding me through a visualization.  Every night before bed, either my mom or dad would guide us kids through a deep relaxation technique.  By the time I was 15, I was proficient in self-relaxation and visualization techniques.   I would use the technique to help with school and sports.  

Each night, my practice would get more and more intense.  I started feeling a tingling and a buzzing coursing through my body.  I was both excited and a little scared.  This new sensation was mysterious.  Intrigued by the new discovery, I would practice diligently each and every night.  The electricity in my body was palpable.  My hands were lit up, my spine felt like a super conductor, my head was light as helium, and my feet buzzed like a street corner light.  What was happening?  What was this strange and amazing sensation?

Since these early day discovers of electricity, I have been fascinated with internal energy.  It wasn't till I was browsing a spiritual bookstore in downtown Berkeley that I discovered more about the experience.  

Invisible Forces

Life is ruled by invisible forces.  Like the wind, this force can't be seen, but experienced.  When the wind blows, we don't witness it directly, but we can feel it across our skin, we can see it moving the branches of the tree.  Energy is the same, we don't see it directly, but we experience it as it animates everything in our bodies from the heart beat to the thoughts in the mind.

Gravity is another invisible force that rules life.  We are all bond by the laws of this force, this magnetic energy.  What is gravity?  Again, we experience it, science can describe it, but know one knows how to define it.  Your heartbeat, gravity, thoughts, emotions, are all invisible.  We can describe each of these, yet we don't know where these forces come from, how to define them, or even where they originated.  Invisible forces like love and gravity have big impact on our lives.

We don't need to know exactly what these forces are.  Just in the same way, you don't have to be a cardiologist and know all the intricacies of the heart organ to get the benefits of exercise.  You do it and whether or not you know how many chambers the heart has or not, you get the benefit.

Qi or energy is the invisible, immaterial substance that propagates life and animates our bodies with movement.  Within, it gives birth to our thoughts, emotions and consciousness.  Externally, energy is infused in both the infinite space of the Universe and the infinitesimal space of the smallest particles.  It is the spiral dance of the planets, the magnetism between the electron and proton, and the attraction between male and female.  Energy is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the emotions we feel.  It is the force that allows the planets, stars, and galaxies to work in perfect harmony.  Mountains arising, forests growing, rivers flowing, and all life proliferating are expressions of this life-force energy.

Energy as Medicine

A doctor came into my office for a treatment on a rainy day with his wife.  "My husband needs an acupuncture appointment," she said.  I brought him into the treatment room and the first thing he said was, "You know, I don't believe this is going to work, but I'd rather come in for a treatment than listen to my wife nag at me all day."  I laughed and said that it couldn't hurt, that at least he'd get a good rest.  "What do you mean 'I couldn't hurt, you sticking me with needles.'"  I explained that acupuncture is for the most part very relaxing, that it comes from a medicine that sees the body in a completely different paradigm than Western medicine.

The doctor came back a week later, his wife had a smile on her face as they came into the office.  When I brought him back to the treatment room I asked how he was.  He said, "I still don't believe in this, but it's the only thing that's working."  We had a good laugh.  Qi is beyond concepts and ideas.  Qi isn't something to be understood or even believed in.  It's to be experienced.

In Western medicine they look at the different systems of the body.  For example, if you have issues with the lungs or sinuses, you go to a respiratory specialist.  If you catch frequent colds, you might talk to a doctor who specializes in the immune system. We have specialist for all the different systems of the body—the nervous system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the respiratory system, the immune system, and so on.

In Chinese medicine, they focus on something completely different—the electrical system.  The electrical system is the energy of the body.  Each of the systems within the body need power.  The heart needs energy or electricity to beat, the nervous system needs electricity to communicate, the digestive system needs energy to pull out the nutrients from the food and get rid of the waste, the brain needs energy to create images or light in the mind.  Everything in the body needs energy to function.

Think about it this way. If the power lines go down or flicker on and off during a storm, everything in the house stops working or only works sporadically.  Without electricity, we have no heat, we can't cook our food, watch TV, or use the computer.  If we apply the same principles to our minds and bodies, we see that low energy causes shortages in our overall vitality, the way we metabolize food, our stress levels, our libido, our creativity, and our enjoyment of life.

You live in two bodies simultaneously—the bio-mechanical body and the bio-electrical body.  Chinese medicine is based on the bio-electrical body, the energy system.  Western medicine is based on the bio-mechanical body.  Both systems work.  Both systems are correct.  But to feel like a well-integrated, healthy, whole person, we need to understand that we are more than just a sack of bones and muscles with a pump, with a tube on one end and a hole on the other with a thinking mechanism that is just about survival.  We have energy, feelings, thoughts, a personality, a soul.  These are all invisible.  See if you can put your personality in a test tube or do surgery on an emotion.  These invisible energies give life texture, context, and sensation.  Yes, the heart is a pump, but love makes life worth living.  Yes, sound creates vibration on your eardrums, but music turns it into bliss.  Yes, light enters into the eyes, but the smile from a baby lights you up in unexplainable ways.

"You are not just this body," a teacher told me. "You only think you are. You are something much more mysterious. You are Qi."

The above is Part 2 of "Introduction to Qi Gong" an original article by Lee Holden.

Photo: Julia Reardin