August 2018 – Spirit Dragon Institute

Spirit Dragon Institute

Authentic Traditions ~ Modern Teaching

Qigong Healing

What can you expect from practicing Qigong Exercises?

Many people are fascinated by the healing powers of Qigong. It seems the stuff of legend and if you search online, you can read about personal accounts of people who have used Qigong to overcome health challenges. From these personal accounts we know that people have benefited form practicing the exercises of Qigong, but what can you expect?

First a disclaimer- if you have any health issues always seek the advice of a qualified physician- they are professionals. Don’t rely on advice form the internet, always research, and keep in mind the responsibility of due diligence.

First Qigong is not a medical treatment, and as such can not claim to cure or treat any disease. (this is from a legal standpoint). But, Qigong and health exercises have been a part of health maintenance routines both in the East and in the West for a very long time. As a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong forms part of a holistic approach to maintaining optimal wellness, along with acupuncture, acupressure, massage, and diet.

Ancient Chinese theory is that movement is the essence of life, stagnation brings death and disease, and Traditional Chinese Medical Theory is founded on that assumption. The basis being the 2 energies of Yin and Yang, which are used to describe the interplay between form and function, movement and stillness, and expanding (heat) and contracting (cold).

The ancient Chinese observed nature and noticed that running water never gets stale and that door hinges (made of wood) that are always used never get worms. This is the basis for much Qigong theory. Consistent exercise improves the flow of vital energy and blood. Gentle movement practices remove stagnation and improve circulation. This maintains the body and allows the body to also become stronger over time.

So far what we have described is called general health maintenance Qigong. These are exercises that provide a balanced workout for the entire body and can be used as a health maintenance routine which will help the body reach its optimal level of performance and strengthen itself over time. This is accomplished because the exercises gently stimulate the body, the joints, muscles, nerves, internal organs, etc, every part of the body is gently worked and massaged. This is all done in a low impact way that does not leave the practitioner out of breath or exhausted at the end of practice. There is no need to recover from such an exercise practice, so in theory this would leave the body stronger after each practice. The results of practicing for a short period of time might not dramatically show in a healthy person, but long time practice over time can show tremendous results.

There is another type of Qigong which is called Medical Qigong. This is different from General Health Maintenance Qigong in several ways. First Medical Qigong practices address a certain disharmony in the body. Because they address a certain disharmony in the body these types of exercises are not suitable for everyone to practice. They are only for people who need to have some imbalance addressed. Once the disharmony is alleviated then there is no more need to practice the exercise. This is a specialized knowledge of Qigong and requires guidance. Choosing the right exercise for the internal condition of the body requires knowledge of Traditional Chinese medical Theory and also a very good understanding of many Qigong exercises and how they work. This type of knowledge was traditionally an aspect of Chinese Medicine, but unfortunately in the modern time there are not many practitioners that are qualified to address imbalances with exercise recommendations.

There is also something called External Qi Therapy that is sometimes used to address imbalances in the body. This is an actual Qi or energy treatment that is given to a person, much the same way that acupuncture, acupressure, or massage is given. The difference is that it only uses energy and is sometimes done with touch and sometimes done without touch. This technically is not Qigong exercise, but instead is a medical application of Qi or energy that is sometimes used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and also in folk medicine 9from many cultures). I think that the biggest drawback of this type of practice is that there are many charletons out there that will con people out of their money. They are providing a service without measurable substance or results and it is easy for them to get away with it, usually with lots of smooth talk about theory and leading statements about what should be felt until the person believes that they are feeling what they “should” be feeling.

Lets switch gears and talk a little more about Qigong theory and how exercise can be an important part of a health maintenance routine. The Chinese believe that imbalance starts off small and then if not addressed can become larger and larger and more serious. In this train of thought small imbalances can be rectified by small changes. Small imbalances might be able to be addressed by small changes in lifestyle. Exercise and diet might be able to address slightly larger imbalances. As the imbalances become bigger and bigger more drastic measures are need to restore balance such as massage therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, and herbal medicine.

The Chinese believe that it is always best to correct imbalances when they are small and to try to never let the imbalance become bigger. Qigong is the practical way to achieve this with simple, gentle daily exercise to stimulate all parts of the body and improve circulation. When you look at Qigong from this perspective you can see the real beauty and logic behind these practices.

The Essential Components for Effective Kung Fu

I was reading an article online the other day and there was a sentence that struck me. It said something like- there is a tendency to define martial arts on how they are unique or what sets them apart from other styles rather then how they are similar. This got me thinking, first- that is very true, and second martial arts are more similar then they are dissimilar. So I thought that this would make a good topic for a blog post. Now keep in mind these are just some thoughts on the topic and not a thesis or even a complete evaluation of the subject.

How to Deal with an Opponent

  • Blocking
  • Mobility
  • Attacking

Scope of Training

  • Skill Development
  • Power Development
  • Sensitivity or 2 Person Work

 

 

How to Deal With an Opponent

First, all martial arts are about surviving physical encounters. Now each style might emphasize a different range of combat or prefer certain tactics, but the goal remains the same- to survive. All arts must train dealing with incoming force, mobility, and attacking.

Blocking

Lets talk about dealing with incoming force. All arts have to deal with incoming force, otherwise there would be nothing to survive. Lets talk about dealing with incoming force by blocking. We will talk about evading under mobility.

When a force is coming in we can either get out of the way (mobility) or we can block the force. This is usually done by one of two methods. We can intercept and cut through the incoming force or we can transform it. Cutting through it is pretty self explanatory, you just cut through it, moving the attack away from its target or stopping the force. Transforming is following the force and while following it, adjusting its trajectory.

Mobility

All arts also train mobility. Moving in, retreating, and evading or lateral movements.

Attacking

All arts also train attacking in some manner. This can be through striking, locking (chin-na), or throwing. Throwing can be any sort of take-downs and sweeps. Joint locking is manipulating the joints. Striking is using the body to strike the opponent.

 

Scope of Training

Training in most styles involves three different areas of development: skill development, power development, and sensitivity/partner training.

Skill Development

Skill development is just that, developing certain skills. These skills can be striking, footwork, blocks, etc. This is usually accomplished through drilling short movements or forms.

Power Development

Power development is just that, exercises or drills for developing power. These practices can focus on many different things depending on the art. Sometimes skill and power development are intertwined and overlap, and sometimes power development exercises do not look anything like the skills the power will be used in. Power exercises can focus on muscular development- something as basic as a pushup or much more subtle in some of the Chinese internal arts of Kung Fu. Power development can also focus on coordination and connection.

Ways to Generate Power

The main components or power for striking that exist in many different styles are:

  1. rotation around the central axis
  2. pushing form the ground
  3. dropping into the ground
  4. whipping the power from the center

 

Sensitivity or 2 Person Work

All these components are usually integrated into two person work. This can take the shape of sensitivity drills, reaction, timing, mobility, and response training, etc.

Going beyond these basic things all arts have strategies that are trained. Like how to continuously attack, how to lead the attacker, how to bait the attacker, how to use the attackers force, etc. These are usually all part of the advanced two person training.

So in general- all arts have these components. Broken down like this it is easy to see how all arts are more similar then they are different. Of course the details are different in different arts, but the similarities far outweigh the differences.

Stretching and Flexibility in Kung Fu

There are many different ideas and approaches to stretching. In this article I will attempt to discuss several of them and also share some of my research on the subject of stretching.

There are two main schools of thought on stretching-

  • stretching is not necessary in and of itself
  • stretching is vital for improved performance and injury prevention

 

 

The first school of though says that stretching is not important. People who advocate this position usually cite as evidence that in any encounter where you will be forced to defend yourself, you will not have time to warm up or stretch. You will have to go in cold, or go from 0 to 60mph at the drop of a hat. So training must mirror what will happen on the street. You should train your skill like you will use it.

The second school of thought believes that stretching is of the utmost importance. They will site research and anecdotal information stating that stretching improves blood flow, keeps the tissue and joints flexible, reduces the build up of lactic acid (speeds up recover time), prevents adhesions, and can reduce the risk of injury.

In truth, both ways of thinking are correct. In actual practice either side of the spectrum will not produce optimum results and would be too narrow minded, thereby stunting the potential for full development. A middle path is much more effective.

So what is this middle path? Most movements and forms training in the martial arts do not require a lot of stretching and warmup to preform, unless your style utilizes a lot of high kicks and/or low stances. Usually you can go light on the movements at first until the body is warmed up and then go at full bore.

Actually going through the movements of your art can create a natural flexibility in the body. For example, most of the basic trainings for the Five Family Southern Shaolin is done from a Horse Stance or transitioning from a Horse to a Forward Stance (I would be talking about the breathing exercises and the basic hand techniques). Practicing these aspects of the style over time will loosen up the hips. Over time the hips will get more flexible and will be able to do the movements to a greater degree of movement without a warm up. In other words, the body will adapt to the training and over time the flexibility needed to do the movements will be developed and gained.

So where does stretching exercise fit into a training regimen? Stretching as an exercise is good for many things including: becoming more flexible, increasing the range of motion (if the limitation is not due to a structural issue), good health (circulation and free flow of Qi and blood), decreased recovery time from strenuous exercise, injury prevention, etc. Stretching can be used for a warm up, cool down, or as a workout in and of itself. Stretching takes the tissues of the body and works to loosen and elongate them, thereby creating a more subtle and flexible body.

Stretching should not be confused with joint mobility or joint loosening exercises- these movements fluidly take the joints through ranges of motion and work to lubricate and maintain the mobility of the joints. Sometimes there is a blurry line between stretching and joint mobility- especially in some Dao Yin exercises where movement and twisting is combined with stretching (it is sort of like the best of both worlds on the physical level).

Here are some general tips for getting the most out of your stretching routine:

  1. Try not to stretch cold muscles- warm up first (this is not an issue when stretching at the end of a workout session)
  2. If you feel pain something is wrong
  3. Don’t bounce or strain
  4. Relax

The Stretch Reflex

First, the stretch reflex is when you muscle tightens up to prevent your joint from going into a position that you body does not have the strength or control to come out of. The stretch reflex basically defines your limit of flexibility. Notice it has nothing to do with how tight the muscle is. It is a protection mechanism. You body protects itself from over extending.

Of course, sometimes the muscles are tight, but for the most part the limit of your flexibility is determined by when the stretch reflex kicks in. It is there to protect you.

To improve your flexibility you need a combination of flexibility and strength. Normal stretching will develop the strength of the muscle at he extended position over time just by the action of going into and coming out of the stretch. But this process can be very slow. Modern exercise science has some faster ways to increase the flexibility of the body. Some methods include contracting the stretched muscle to increase the strength at the extended or lengthened position, thereby telling the body that it is ok to be in the extended position and nullifying the stretch reflex (making it go a little farther). Some of these methods can be used to dramatically increase the flexibility in a short period of time and the drawback of some methods is they can be quite extreme. Because you are using force there is more danger of injury.

In traditional training there are many methods to improve the flexibility. Traditional stretching sets that I am familiar with include movements to strengthen the muscle through its whole range of motion, relaxing into the extended positions, movements and twisting from the extended positions, and dynamic motions that balance out the passive exercises and further help to strengthen the muscles in their extended positions.

How how do you get started in your stretching adventure?

Well if you already train a martial art, you probably have loads of exercises to do, hint look at some of the warmup stuff that you might have over looked as you were anxious to jump into the fighty stuff of your art. Train the movements of your art to gain strengthen and natural flexibility.

You can try Qigong. Many Qigong exercises work to gently stretch and strengthen the body. Dao Yin has many exercises that resemble Yoga.

There are many books on stretching and Yoga (and anatomy). Study to increase your knowledge.

As you study and train things will go in cycles. Sometimes you will emphasize certain aspects of your training (such as stretching) and neglect others, and in time the emphasis will reverse, creating the ebb and flow that we see everywhere in nature. It is not possible to develop all things at the same time. Be natural in your approach, listen to your body, enjoy the experience, and grow and develop. That is the best way.

Qi Sensations in Qigong

When people practice Qigong, something that always is of interest is- “How do I feel my Qi?”. Because of popular media on the subject the consensus seems to be that Qi is the answer. We need to cultivate it, store it, circulate it, and it will give us power for the internal martial arts (without any effort) and it will transform and heal the body. This is not quite the case. Read on to find out what the role of Qi plays in cultivation and Internal Martial Arts.

First-

Qi is already present in your body and it is already circulating. It is not something that we have to go out and get, and we do not gather and store it like we are putting something in a box.

The process actually works something like this:

  • through the exercises we start to unblock the flow of Qi or energy in the body
  • we quiet the mind and develop concentration
  • the body starts to work better

So how does this work?

Physical movements that twist and stretch the body help to lead Qi and blood naturally. Basically this is stimulating the circulation. Any area that is blocked or constricted is gently moved and exercised. A free flow of energy and blood is established and maintained. Increased circulation of Qi and blood helps the body to get the nourishment that it needs to maintain, repair, and grow stronger.

This is where practitioners start to “feel their Qi”. I put “feel their Qi” in quotes because actually the sensations usually identified as Qi are actually the sensations of the energy meeting resistance. If there was no resistance (i.e. no blockage) then there would be none of these sensations.

These sensations can include feelings of:

  • heaviness
  • lightness
  • cold
  • heat
  • tingling
  • itching
  • distention / swelling
  • even pain and discomfort

These are signs that the channels and collaterals are opening up. Once the flow of energy is unobstructed then these sensations are no longer present but instead there might be a feeling of pleasant and profound calm.

This is important for the student to realize because if they seek these sensations they will hinder development and progress. Or they can fall into the trap of imagining or generating these sensations with their mind and thinking that they are cultivating Qi.

For progress and attainment it is important not to dwell on the sensations that might be felt during practice. Do not look for certain sensations and do not cultivate them. Let them go.

Everyone’s body is slightly different and the sensations that people feel will depend on their constitution and internal landscape. In other words, even though there are common Qi sensations, everyone’s experience is unique.

During practice the student will also learn to quiet their mind and develop concentration. This is important  for cultivation because thoughts, feelings, and emotions all have energy or Qi. If the mind is going to 10 million different places all at once the energy is scattered and will never be able to flow smoothly and naturally. Developing concentration and a quiet mind can be accomplished by many different methods. In meditation we focus on the breath and develop concentration and quiet the mind. In Internal Martial Arts the practice of forms develops concentration through having the intention (Yi)  as the driving force of the movement. In Qigong practice we can quiet the mind and develop concentration through the movements and focus.

By developing concentration and a quiet mind we allow the energy of the body to circulate naturally without any interference. The ancient texts state that from the utmost stillness, movement is born. When the practitioner reaches a state of quiet and emptiness, then the Qi will naturally circulate. This is part of the cultivation process and the first stage is transforming the body and clearing out all the physical blockages. This is a much deeper level then what is achieved through basic Qigong exercise but the sensations can be similar to those stated previously.
Once the body is transformed then there are higher stages of transformation.

The most important thing about developing Qi is to let it flow naturally. It should never be forced or directed, as this can cause problems.

As the body transforms and the Qi circulates naturally eventually the student will reach a state of peaceful calm. To get to that stage the student can not focus on the Qi sensations because those basic sensations are really indications that the blockages are being cleared out and the goal is to get beyond that point or stage.