Taijiquan as Qigong
by Michael W Acton
In China Taijiquan is now considered a Qi Gong as well as a highly respected martial art. Qi Gong, however, is not considered a martial art. Though there are many Qi Gongs that have been devised to support the characteristic fighting skills of the many martial arts of China, they do not generally comprise a fighting system on their own.
The reason why Taijiquan is so highly regarded as a Qi Gong is because the training methods and martial strategies comply with the essential principles of practice in most Qi Gong forms. The movements of the Taijiquan slow set require the practitioner to regulate body, breath and finally mind throughout a long series of movements that are based upon rotational movement, stretching and contracting, and shifting of weight, slowly and precisely. Integrated, harmonious and co-ordinated circular movements are the hallmark of the slow hand form of Taijiquan, and though the movements have martial function, the form stimulates both a relaxed, functional efficiency and the accumulation and circulation of Energy throughout the whole body.
In addition, Taijiquan is considered to be one of the internal schools of boxing. A prerequisite of the internal schools is the ability to ‘relax’ while cultivating correct martial forms, power and strategies. The training strategy for cultivating the Taijiquan is based upon a relinquishing of preconditioned body habits and reflexes (fight or flight) and it can be considered a process of unlearning or ‘investing in loss’. The practitioner must undergo a strict re-education in body mechanics, movement, Energy awareness and cultivation, as well as the technical training of a martial vocabulary that is found in the various forms. This is all before embarking upon two-man sets designed to develop the characteristic martial qualities that define Taijiquan. This early building of the right Taiji body, mind and martial power (Jin) is really important, and without this achievement the later stages will not yield the best results.
It is commonly acknowledged that the internal methods of cultivating martial skills are slower and more difficult than the ‘external’ methods. It is also said that they have greater durability and longevity when they have been achieved, and in fact bestow good health and a renewed vitality in spite of age. It is also said that the external styles which rely on strength, speed and martial applications cannot be maintained into older age and at some point, unless they become internalised, ability and health may be lost or compromised.
Taiji is also considered a profound health practice because many of its most famous practitioners maintained their good health well into old age, living much longer than the life expectancy of their time. In Chinese culture this would be attributed directly to the regular, skilled practice of Taijiquan. Its reputation for good health, balance, mental clarity and robust strength and vigour into old age is without equal. It is referred to as ‘Eternal Spring’.
Learning to walk and ‘standing like a pole’
It is always interesting when teaching standing and walking step in Qi Gong, and especially Taiji, how difficult many people find it. This does not mean that they had it so wrong in the first place, since they evidently have the mobility to function adequately in the world, but bringing it within the sphere of awareness and bringing it under scrutiny changes significantly the sense of our mobility, co-ordination and balance. It also casts a revealing light on our posture and functional and co-ordinative skills.
When we begin to question our habitual mode of walking we are undertaking in our adult life an investigation of something we probably all feel we left behind in our childhood: upright mobility and learning to stand and walk. Qi Gong and Taijiquan training requires us to become particularly aware of our movement and posture and how we hold and balance ourselves. Qi Gong and Taijiquan all should start with an investigation into our standing and walking skills, since there is generally, by the time we have reached adulthood, much that needs to be addressed in bringing both standing and walking into conformity with Qi Gong and Taiji principles. It is a conformity that has evolved to give us optimum health, comfort and happiness
Standing is a chance to consider some of the alignment principles that we have mentioned in Chapter 10, and walking is a chance to apply those principles to movement and balance. Cultivating an awareness of postural alignment is less about forcing the body into a newly adjusted shape and more about building relationships between previously disparate parts and slowly increasing awareness of both external (physical) and internal (energetic) components, as well as really beginning to feel the force of gravity and how it acts upon us.
Many people who come to Qi Gong have health issues and some of those health issues are exacerbated, or indeed caused, by postural and mobility problems. So in learning the postural principles of Qi Gong and Taijiquan, you must be careful and progress slowly, lest you exchange one problem for another. Forcing new body shapes can be damaging. Postural alignment must be both explained and demonstrated. Manipulating the student is also beneficial, but more important perhaps is the time spent on guided standing and walking practice. This establishes over time a clear idea of what exactly needs to be remembered and adjusted and allows for the experience of simple practice to lay sound foundations of awareness of alignment, co-ordination and balance. When the mind is able to hold the idea of a connected shape, then the shape arrives, albeit slowly. Generally practice should begin with standing, and stepping first without, and then with, arm movements. Both Qi Gong and Taijiquan use both forward and backward stepping. Backward stepping can present new and sometimes novel sensations that bring us directly into an awareness of our sense of stability and the relationship between our front and back.
Revisiting our standing and walking skills serves the purpose of addressing posture and co-ordination, and gives us an important opportunity to begin work on understanding stability and balance in motion. Qi Gong and Taijiquan aim to create an efficient and highly developed awareness of weight distribution and relaxed movement, driven less by excessive (and often over-compensatory) muscle tension, and more by ground force and smooth mechanical efficiency. Developing these skills is fundamental and comes first.
Fundamental to this idea of efficient functional mobility is developing relaxed, smooth and integrated movement and an increased ability to focus the mind on maintaining correct physical structure. Practice requires regulating the integrated relationship of the external physical components and the internal energetic components.
The main way of establishing the external co-ordinative skills is to maintain a sense of connection between the shoulder and opposite hip, elbow and opposite knee, and hand and opposite foot. In addition the vertical connection between the base of the torso and the top of the head must be asserted. Building this awareness creates a sense of integration in forward and backward as well as rotational movement. If you joined up these points diagramatically with elastic lines and moved about, you would see how the external elements of the body should be connected to retain a sense of cohesion in movement. In addition, you will very quickly see how, if you overextend or over-rotate shoulders and hips, you will lose that relationship, and hence lose your integration and possibly your sense of balance.
The internal energetic components are much more complicated and are often neglected, since they take some time to develop. They begin with the mind, or mental idea (Yi Nian) and the intention to create coherent posture and movement. The mind intention leads the Energy (Qi) to form the shapes and smooth and integrated movement. Constant practice refines movement and the elastic strength (Jin) that evolves from correct Qi Gong and Taijiquan practice. That relationship is described as mind intention (Yi) mobilising Energy (Qi) which supports the internal force (Jin).
Qi Gong and Taiji training must therefore deal with establishing these connections. It is obvious that the external connections are the best place to begin, and this can be done with standing and walking practice. More advanced walking practice in Taijiquan will incorporate martial movements taken from the slow form and repeated in forward and backward stepping, as well as more complex step routines. The primary purpose is to establish the connections and to cultivate the quality of Energy required to fulfil the movement, and eventually the right amount of power and stretch to achieve the fluidity. It is important to strengthen, tone and stretch the body appropriately (not excessively) and provide a vocabulary of specific movements that reflect function and/or stimulate the cultivation and circulation of Energy (Qi flow). The vocabulary of movement must become so habitual that it totally replaces previous habitual modes of standing and moving.
In simple standing (Parallel Feet – Ping Xing Bu) the rules of body alignment must be observed. Proper alignment must build an awareness of the downward gravitational force and the return ground force so that the vertical axis facilitates the distribution of weight efficiently downwards while allowing the efficient return of the ground force up. From this energetic experience we understand all our mobility and functionality. It is the context of our awareness.
Physical tension in the body creates resistance to the sense of ‘sinking’ that results from the efficient downward distribution of our weight. In turn the sense of the return upward force generated from the ground must rise up comfortably without hindrance. Your physical structure must therefore be appropriately aligned so that the forces within and on the body can be distributed effectively.
The skeleton should feel erect, as if pushed upwards in opposition to the ground, while the big muscle groups should feel as if they are sinking, pulled downwards by their own relaxed mass. This internal up and down sensation is important in establishing our ‘centre’ and our sense of being ‘rooted’. It also allows the torso to drain tension and to be properly supported by the spine and seated on the ‘platform’ that is the pelvis. The challenge is to refine the integrating link between the torso through the pelvis into the legs and the feet. The proper relationship allows the joints and spine to be ‘opened’ and ligaments and muscle groups, particularly in the back, to be progressively stretched.
Simply standing allows us to cultivate an investigative inner awareness. It is an opportunity to simply stop, sense and cultivate our stillness and symmetry and feel the internal energetic climate and currents. We quickly realise that we can adjust this climate by simply standing, sensing and dissolving habitual tension. If we observe ourselves internally, systematically moving through our bodies (Fang Song Gong), relaxing the muscles and the joints and noticing areas of stress and tension, not only can we change our physical self but we begin to feel layered aspects of our very being and realise that we can change the inner climate for the better. Simply standing allows the undistracted awareness of our sense of being in space.
Basic standing is used for much fixed-step Qi Gong practice and is the beginning and end posture of all Taijiquan forms. Its natural simplicity also allows the opportunity to develop the directing mental intention that is required in much Qi Gong. Generally standing may be accompanied by the hands laid on top of each other over the external location of the internal Lower Dan Tian. Mental focus here combined with standing engenders a naturally relaxed and attentive feeling and awareness of Energy at our centre. It also puts us directly into contact with our three primary axial centres – Lower, Middle and Upper Dan Tian
Because walking is more complicated and requires more physical exertion, it must be introduced slowly. Generally, stepping skills should be developed first, followed by hand–arm co-ordinated movement. Stepping or walking step practice in Taiji brings about integration of movement. It encourages a new awareness of our lower body mobilty and the pelvic link to the spine. It allows us to work on retaining relaxed alignment and horizontal stability when stepping forward and backwards.
When hand movements are added it is the beginning of building the connection and integration of upper and lower. Body alignment must therefore be in place, since otherwise most people find that they are trying to regulate too many elements. In addition when the hands are introduced, typically extending one out and withdrawing the other, with simultaneous advancing and retreating leg movements, we soon discover that waist rotation is also required. Waist rotation is the channelling and connecting factor between the lower and upper body. The shifting of weight forwards and backwards creates alternating return ground forces, amplified and directed by the leg–waist relationship and transmitted up the back. This Energy can then be distributed to either arm or to the hands. How the Energy is distributed depends on the mechanical and energetic integrity of the body and the unhindered physiological pathways, as well as the directing will of the mind. Only relaxed musculature and properly aligned structure can provide the right transmission and sensation of this.
Finally, everyone has their own measure in walking and in standing. For instance, some individuals may have a tendency to step too far, or assume too wide a posture. I have noticed that such excess may be related to one’s self-perception and projected persona, rather than to one’s actual size.
In Parallel Feet posture most people assume a stance wider than their shoulders, believing that it expresses their solidity and ‘firm’ centre, and in stepping they may step out so far that they put the body under stress. Conversely, some people may take a stance or a step that is not wide enough to reassure them of their stability. Your own measure must be the result of practice and ability. Critically, standing in Parallel Feet posture or stepping forward or backward should not mean compensatory movement in the spine or pelvis. This would be considered in Qi Gong terms to be unnecessarily demanding and requiring too much effort.
In stepping, the leg must be able to step out and withdraw without committing the weight of the body or compromising the stability of the head, spine, waist and weighted leg relationship. For most people walking is barely controlled falling. Qi Gong and Taijiquan walking teaches us to remain stable at all times (Zhong Ding) and never to compromise the stability of our centre by rashly overextending our step and falling uncontrollably forward. This also applies to extending the arm and hand movements.
All movement must be judged by its relationship to the ‘stable centre’ and the integrity of the posture, either in fixed step or in motion. There should be no excess in movement and also no deficiency. This can help us achieve the perfectly balanced movement. The reduction of excess stress and strain in our body is a major strategy of Qi Gong and Taijiquan. In achieving the truly balanced state and all that that entails, we are able to maximise our mobility and functional potential. In addition we are able to calm our mind and facilitate the use of our mind to direct our posture and movement.
Qi Gong uses walking and fixed-step practice and it is this fixed-step practice that offers us one of the simplest Qi Gongs both for health and for martial training. It is commonly referred to as ‘Pole Standing’ (Zhan Zhuang) and is a standard practice in Taiji training. It is worth mentioning this because out of all the Qi Gong systems its simplicity and effectiveness in both cultivating and maintaining health and in developing martial power and coherence is profound.
‘Pole’ or ‘Post Standing’ has a long history and there are variations of it in many Chinese martial arts. In martial arts training the postures can be held for a considerable length of time, sometimes an hour or more. In many systems, the depth and size of the posture might be considerable, and over an extended period this becomes extremely stressful. The size of the posture can be the clue as to whether the training strategy is primarily oriented to ‘external’ or ‘internal’ martial arts, or for health practice only.
Generally the posture is parallel foot stance and the legs can be more or less wide apart, the centre being low or high depending on the strength of the legs and the purpose of training. This Qi Gong requires a very strict adherence to postural alignment and internal connectivity and the opening of the joints and lengthening of the spine. From a health point of view all aspects of the posture must be modest so as not to put too much strain on the legs, torso and arms.
Zhan Zhuang is really based on simple and at first symmetrical arm positions, and this puts the body under slight amounts of stress. In holding those postures for a specific duration the mind can focus on reducing the level of stress felt and the amount of Energy expended to achieve the form and the duration of standing. In addition, standing in these postures gives you the opportunity to explore your symmetry and the distribution effect of energetic movement internally. It allows you to train the natural breathing method while putting the body into mild tension, and to cultivate the paradoxical relationship between muscles in tension and simultaneous relaxation.
Zhan Zhuang also massages the internal organs of the abdomen and cultivates an energetic coherence throughout the body. Mentally it requires the exclusion of any distractions and the quietening of internal dialogue. Generally the mental state assumes a state balanced between awareness of the sensed physical experience and exclusion of external distracting influence. Zhan Zhuang unites the dislocation of the distracted mind and the incoherent mind as well as cultivating balanced energetic distribution.
Zhan Zhuang may have as little as five or six fixed and symmetrical arm gestures and that is probably enough for most people. As you might expect though, there are more stepping and asymmetrical arm postures too. This system of Qi Gong is both simple and comprehensive. It is an important method in training the correct mental and physical qualities of Taiji boxing, as well as a simple regimen for health maintainance.
Forms and more forms
The range of forms in both the martial arts and Qi Gong is enormous and bewildering. Most people learn what they find conveniently close to them and may stay with that. Some may seek out teachers for specific study and some may be lucky enough to find someone who has a deep knowledge of various boxing and Qi Gong systems. However, keeping it simple is a good rule of thumb. Practice is the key. Knowing a lot without ever practising what you know is not a good way to go: there will be no benefits. I have often been told in China that to know one form well is better than knowing ten forms badly. This means that it may just not be possible to practise ten forms enough to master any one of them.
There are many crossovers between the martial and the medical in China and many martial artists will have a knowledge of Chinese medicine, though not all doctors will have martial knowledge. Medical Qi Gong may utilise some martial forms, but they will be without martial meaning and will be used for their health-promoting potential alone, and much medical Qi Gong will be without any relationship to Chinese martial culture at all. Threaded through the different systems are the more Spiritual practices which often sit in both camps, the martial and the medical.
Knowing a small vocabulary of Qi Gong forms for different ‘occasions’ may not be a bad thing, provided you are able to practise them all to a reasonable level.
An ideal ‘all in one’ Qi Gong is one of the slow hand forms of Taijiquan. Generally you need to be acquainted with a Qi Gong that tones, stretches and strengthens the body. This is your baseline and it should preferably be a dynamic moving Qi Gong. If you practise a Chinese martial art, then there will be accompanying Qi Gong forms that are associated with it, and which will enhance your martial skills. If your martial art is of the internal school, then the forms will most likely also be partially medical in that they will promote good health and Energy cultivation. The movements of the internal schools and external schools may often be the same, but they are executed and targeted differently and to different effect. For those who do not practise any martial art the medical systems designed as prophylactic and tonifying forms are the best, since they work on the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue as well as opening the Energy channels and cultivating healthy Energy distribution and balance.
In addition a set that specifically targets the five main organs of the body (Wu Zhang: the heart, spleen, liver, kidneys and lungs) is beneficial for investing in long-term health. Finally a still Qi Gong like the Small Heavenly Circulation is important. More advanced Qi Gongs that involve external Qi absorption require a very good foundation in the three regulations of body, breath and mind. The practitioner must be sensitised to a mature level regarding both the external conditions that are favourable to Energy absorption and their own energetic state. These methods include ‘Heavenly’ and ‘terrestrial’ Qi absorption to replenish and purify one’s own energetic storehouse.
These Qi Gongs stretch the boundaries of faith for a lot of people, who may feel good from Qi Gong practice but fail to see how, or what, you might be able to absorb from outside yourself, unless it is in food or liquid. The methods generally involve absorption of Energy from shrubs and trees or from the sun and moon, or simply ‘Heavenly Energy’, ‘terrestrial Energy’ or ‘atmospheric Energy’. Daoist Qi Gong specialises in Energy absorption and moon, sun and stars, as well as localised beneficial atmospheric Energy (running water, lakes, etc.) are all part of the broad sweep of Qi Gong practice and worth investigating. In a world where natural Energy may be interfered with and impaired by energetic fields generated by human activity, we need to consider very seriously the conservation of natural places and areas where we can have good-quality exposure to ‘natural’ Energy. Finding quiet places without any Energy pollution is important to Qi Gong practice and is an aspect that is becoming harder to achieve as our cities, parks and countryside become more polluted and energetically distorted and masked.
Qi Gong is about balancing the systems and these types of Qi Gong have evolved to circulate, replenish, refresh and accumulate, as well as absorb, certain desirable qualities. Any learned form or Qi Gong activity, though, needs to be practised diligently for several years for its benefits to emerge fully. All Qi Gong benefits are cumulative in that they are the result of repetitive and right practice, and this is also the same for Taijiquan, whether for martial or health purposes (as a Qi Gong).
There is a natural tendency, when we have achieved a technical proficiency, to do fewer repetitions on the basis that you know how to do that now, so you can move on to something else. Qi Gong does not work this way, and technical proficiency alone will not always reveal the benefits until it is hardwired and the body, breath and mental activity have been regulated and harmonised satisfactorily. In a sense, technical proficiency is a stage and may be considered the ‘craft’. For it to become an ‘art’ you will need to get beyond that stage. Repetition, therefore, is a key in both refining technique and cultivating the right body and internal landscape to maximise the benefits, and also to take it beyond the ordinary limits of an acquired skill.
Too much Qi Gong practice, however, can cause problems and imbalance, creating a predominance of certain feelings or desires and/or discomfort and possibly illness. Moderation is the key to successful practice. However, too little will not bring significant benefits, so it is important to be sensible.
Practice brings its own rewards and if you persevere, practice will gain value within your personal context and you may begin to miss it when you do not practise. It does not take long to begin to enjoy the feelings during and after practice and it is important to realise that those feelings grow and change and become more refined. A simple Qi Gong form practised regularly is better than overly complex forms that you may struggle with. Qi Gong is about taking the raw and coarse ingredients and refining them to the subtle and pure.
Finally, do not learn too many methods, since it not only becomes impossible to practise them all, but it will also be difficult to understand them all thoroughly. There is no perfect form, only perfection through practice. Do not expect too much too quickly. It takes time to adjust the body, understand the breathing and fashion the right mindset to create the best ground for growth.
Prolonged practice has a significant benefit to our physical and mental well-being.
As a holistic practice it is important to work on all three aspects of the ‘three regulations’: body, breath and mental activity. In fact it is impossible for the beginner to do this while studying a form, since the early days are primarily centred on co-ordinative and physical (external) achievement of posture, shape and movement.
From the beginning, though, mental awareness and learning how to consciously maintain the correct posture and shape are important. Generally speaking it is not worth trying to understand ‘regulation of breath’ until body shape and external accuracy are achieved. However, since the practice of Qi Gong is a process of continuous refinement and the aim is to harmonise body, breath and mind, there comes a point where all three regulations must be linked and then the long process of mature and subtle refinement can begin. Awareness of integrated movement, harmonised with inhalation and exhalation, is really first base.
Generally body movement and harmonised breath are the easiest and a first level of competence. This can be achieved quite quickly with diligent and sincere practice, providing the teaching applies adequate focus and offers proper methods of practice. At this stage the mental involvement is primarily to ‘police’ the body alignment and to cultivate ‘sinking’ (Song Jin), the relaxed awareness that is the essential of all Qi Gong that seeks to nurture Energy (Qi) and cultivate health.
Once you have achieved a good standard of physical form, integration of breath and movement and the ability to maintain a relaxed awareness and shape, both in movement and stillness, then it is time to increase the emphasis on the next stage of Qi Gong, which is refining mental awareness and directing intelligence. Regulating and refining mental activity will determine the ultimate depth and success of Qi Gong practice.
At this stage the external shape takes second position to internal awareness and sensation, since the external shape is now informed by internal awareness and the sense of movement of Energy through the postures. This is a much more subtle level of achievement.
Through the methods of ‘regulating’ the body, mental awareness can be said to be nurtured from the very beginning, but this is not the level of awareness that is used to sense internal activity since it should be concerned with regulating the body posture and form only. It takes time and persistent practice to go beyond this level and to understand the components of Qi Gong and bring them into a proper relationship. From the first level of awareness required of Qi Gong practice, the mental state evolves naturally towards a less self-conscious, less physically oriented, directing mode of thinking. The more advanced level should focus on developing sensitivity and awareness of the energetic aspects of Qi Gong practice, which are felt as the changing sensations that result from movement and respiration. Recognition of those sensations in turn brings about a higher level of refinement and more fine-tuning of physical shape and movement. This level is particularly enjoyable because you start to sense the potential and meaning of Qi Gong and feel the pure beauty and sensory delight of a higher awareness integrated with physical movement and breath.
It is important at this stage not to pay too much attention or have too high an expectation of results. Also it is important not to jump this stage, believing that you have ‘got it’. There are levels of subtlety and the work of ‘internal listening’ and not interpreting, analysing or explaining is important if the ‘intuitive’ rather than the ‘analytical’ mind is to be cultivated and, more importantly, if the flow of Energy is not to be hampered by inappropriate concentration or distraction. It is considered that disruptive thinking and over-concentration or excessive will power can create distortions of Energy and hence illness or mental imbalance.
The development of a higher level of mental awareness and the ability to listen to the energetic sensations of the body leads to the more refined ability of bringing the movement and distribution of Energy under the guidance of your mental intention. Although this happens to a certain extent all the time, cultivating the skills of Qi Gong requires us to take what is natural and put it through a refining process, developing those skills to a higher level and elevating a natural process to an art. Projecting an idea, an intention (for instance, raising an arm, or the idea of Energy accumulation at Dan Tian), enables us to progress from idea to actuality and to stretch the boundaries of our ordinary awareness.
This stage brings improvement to all aspects of our functionality, mobility and, which is important, our energetic self-governing and balancing (Yin–Yang) ability. Such advanced practice brings a heightened and tangible awareness of ourselves as a living entity; not the intellectual knowledge and mundane presumption, but a deep awareness of our ‘vital Energy’ and holistic nature. At this level, the door is open to more refinement, distillation and tranformation of the essential ingredients of Jing, Qi and Shen.
When we achieve this level we come to realise that we are not just a closed system (energetically), but that Energy constantly flows through our own system and from our environment. This can be both beneficial and destructive and learning how to guard our Energy and absorb beneficial Energy is an advanced state requiring maturity of practice and a subtle awareness. The internal equilibrium necessary to maintain optimum functionality is constantly adjusting in relationship both to our environment and to our internal climate. That process can be sensed and internal conditions for refinement and maintenance of our internal landscape become possible. Replenishment of our ‘vital Energy’ also becomes a very real option. From this comes the enchanting and desirable goal of ‘Eternal Spring’ or longevity.
Because Qi Gong makes us very aware of our environment and how different conditions impact upon us, whether energetically positive or negative, it teaches us to seek out the most beneficial conditions of nurture rather than negative and damaging conditions. It is a self-preservatory state that is not generally promoted in our modern commercial environment where business exploits weaknesses that encourage poor lifestyle and a commercially oriented health culture. In addition Qi Gong calms and subdues the propensity for excessive emotional responses to our condition and events, and in so doing reduces the emotional impact on us and allows us to maintain a clear and uncluttered mental house. This can be viewed as a sort of emotional detachment. However, I do not mean the inability to empathise, but more the ability to regulate the harmful effects of extreme or prolonged emotional states and involvement which can, according to traditional Chinese thinking, impact adversely on our internal landscape.
Curiously, calming the emotions through practice does not turn you into a ‘cold’ person. On the contrary, it allows you to feel comfortable within a good emotional range while leaving out the extreme reactive emotions that are so often the indicators or the cause of an imbalance. However, there are always times when we are caught out, for example by a sudden death, when emotional reactions are beyond our normal range and the sadness may arise quickly and stay for days, weeks or even years. At these times Qi Gong is a tool that offers us emotional respite, re-centres us and dissolves the stubborn residual tensions and damage held deep within body tissue. In turn, this reduces the ‘internal’ pressure and thereby precipitates a more natural, less retentive resolution of sadness and grief.
Qi Gong practice allows you to progress from the cultivation of physical stability to the realisation of mental and emotional stability. Cultivation of the ‘still centre’ is perhaps one of the most important results of Qi Gong, since the emergence of this state means a growing maturity of practice as well as a deepening affirmation of the Qi Gong experience. It also means that Qi Gong can impact on your daily life by calming excessive emotional response and maintaining mental clarity. The growing internal stillness establishes the ground from which good health and mental well-being spring.
The mental well-being of Qi Gong cannot be thought of as a state of permanent happiness; that would be naive. Neither can good health mean that you never get ill. Mental well-being may be more accurately described as a sensory awareness of wholeness within ourselves. You feel natural and comfortably calm. Consequently, you are less buffeted by the events that surround you. In addition Qi Gong sensitises you to changing conditions (Yin–Yang) and helps you to respond appropriately in a balanced way that conserves your precious ‘centre’, without which you would feel energetically dispersed (emotionally and physically) and easily knocked about. Guarding our centre and our Energy is critical to cultivating the long-term benefits of Qi Gong. Regarding illness, Qi Gong is not a cure-all. Its main role is preventative, but there is no doubt that Qi Gong practice encourages remarkable conditions of recovery and regeneration.
Achieving maturity and depth of practice means that Qi Gong has become an integral part of your life as if you ‘rest within’ its law. It is the law of balance within change. It is the achievement of the Taiji (Dao).
Advanced refinement means to study the minutae of movement, respiration and commensurate internal energetic sensations by training the inward-focusing and inwardly aware and guiding mental state. This stage is about ‘thinking’ the movement of Energy and thereby guiding and inducing the physical sense of it. It is about reducing the predominance of the external and realising the movement of the internal. This idea is extremely important and must be practised until the mental focus becomes the energetic sensation. It is the meaning of the Qi Gong adage that Qi and blood follow the ‘mental intention’.
The actuality of Qi Gong must be cultivated through practice and not through a delusional state brought about by premature expectations or intellectual or physical arrogance. The knowledge must be born out of the practice and not assumed through book learning or being told. In addition, when the Energy is felt, focusing on ‘it’ too intensely will hinder progress and possibly cause an imbalance or distortion. The skill lies in the level of ‘unattached’ mental focus projected from a quiet and still mental state. This is where the difficulty lies, because without the correct mental activity the sensations and guidance of internal Energy cannot be accomplished or refined. Although this process goes on anyway, though generally unnoticed by most of us, the aim of Qi Gong is to take our ‘natural’ state and cultivate it to a higher and more refined level. It is necessary to have this intention or you would never begin the study, but to have too great an expectation will handicap progress. In Qi Gong practice it is best to be unassuming, without preconceived ideas. Just be aware and notice what happens, without explanation or too much scrutiny or analysis. Certainty, confidence, knowledge and achievement are born out of long and sincere practice.