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.