When people first start to practice Qigong, a common question 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.
Franklin Fick - Five Animal Frolics Qigong - Crane Exercise
What most people call Qi is the superficial sensations that can be felt right from the beginning of practice. Or sensations that can easily be generated with the mind and/or imagination.
First things first, Qi is already present in your body and it is already circulating. It is not something that you have to go out and get, and you do not gather and store it like we are putting something in a box.
When you practice Qigong the process of development looks something like this:
- the exercises work to start to unblock the flow of Blood and Qi (energy) in the body
- you start to learn to quiet the mind and develop concentration
- you start to experience improvement due to:
- increased circulation of Qi and Blood
- less stagnation
- relaxation and calmness
So how does this work?
Qigong contains movements that twist and stretch the body and limbs. 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:
- 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 beginning 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 these beginning sensations that might be felt during practice. Do not look for these specific sensations. Experience them and 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 these are common beginning Qi sensations of the body starting to open up and becoming unblocked, 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 start by focusing on the breath to 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 referring to the sensation of the True Qi flowing that arises after the body has been transformed (open, relaxed, and unblocked) and the mind is calm and focused. This sensation of the True Qi flowing is not like the beginning sensations and can not be mistaken. This is a higher stage of transformation and practice that can only be achieved after going through the first stages of transforming the body and clearing out all the physical blockages.
The most important thing in the beginning stages is to let everything happen naturally. Do not seek or try to cultivate these beginning Qi sensations. Do not try to direct or control the flow of these sensations. Do not use force at all. In the higher stages, when you feel the True Qi arise and flow, there are times when you will can use the mind to direct the flow. But this is still not using force. At this stage the mind and Qi work together.
As your body transforms and the Qi circulates naturally, eventually a state of peaceful calm can be reached. To get to that stage the student can not focus on what is commonly thought of as 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. The goal is for the True Qi to arise. And, that is not the end goal either. Later stages of practice can include the energy within yourself communicating and exchanging with the energy around you. Achieving a true harmony with nature. This stage is the highest achievement.
If this seems like too much, just remember that the health benefits of practice start to show up right from the beginning due to the increased circulation, less stagnation, and calm body and mind. But also keep in mind that correct practice can lead to a very deep level of achievement.