Many people think that Qigong is a difficult subject to understand. In some ways, this is true. However, you must understand one thing: regardless of how difficult the
Qigong theory and practice of a particular style are, the basic theory and principles are very simple and remain the same for all of the Qigong styles. The basic theory and principles are the roots of the entire Qigong practice. If you understand these roots, you will be able to grasp the key of the practice and grow. All of the Qigong styles originated from this root, but each one has blossomed differently
In this section, we will discuss these
basic theories and principles. With this knowledge as a foundation, you will be able to understand not only what you should be doing, but also why you are doing it. Naturally, it is impossible to discuss all of the basic Qigong ideas in such a short section. However, it will offer the beginner the key to open the gate into the spacious, four thousand year old garden of Chinese Qigong.
Qi and Humans:
In order to use Qigong to improve and maintain your health, you must know that there is Qi in your body, and you must understand how it circulates, and what you can do to insure that the circulation is smooth and strong.
After reading the above discussion, you know that Qi is energy. It is a requirement for life. The Qi in your body cannot be seen, but it can be felt. This Qi can make your body feel too positive (too Yang) or too negative (too Yin).
Imagine that your physical body is a machine, and your Qi is the current that makes it run. Without the current the machine is dead and unable to function. It is the same with Qi in your body. For example, when you pinch yourself, you feel pain. Have you ever thought "How do I feel pain?" You might answer that it is because you have a nervous system in your body which perceives the pinch and sends a signal to the brain. However, you should understand that there is more to it than that. The nervous system is material, and if it didn't have energy circulating in it, it wouldn't function. Qi is the energy which makes the nervous system and the other parts of your body work. When you pinch your skin, that area is stimulated and the Qi field is disturbed. Your brain is designed to sense this and other disturbances, and to interpret the cause.
The Qi in your body is divided into two categories: Managing Qi (Ying Qi, , which is often called Nutritive Qi) and Guardian Qi (Wei Qi, ttrft). The Managing Qi is the energy which has been sent to the organs so that they can function. The Guardian Qi is the energy which has been sent to the surface of the body to form a shield to protect you from negative outside influences such as cold. In order to keep yourself healthy, you must learn how to manage these two Qi's efficiently so they can serve you well.
How does Qi circulate in the body? Chinese doctors discovered long ago that the human body has twelve major channels and eight vessels through which the Qi circulates. The twelve channels are like rivers which distribute Qi throughout the body, and also connect the extremities (fingers and toes) to the internal organs. We would like to point out here that the "internal organs" of Chinese medical theory do not necessarily correspond to the physical organs as understood in the West, but rather to a set of clinical functions similar to each other, and related to the organ system. The eight vessels, which are often referred to as the extraordinary vessels, function like reservoirs and regulate the distribution and circulation of Qi in your body.
When the Qi in the eight reservoirs is full and strong, the Qi in the rivers is strong and will be regulated efficiently. When there is stagnation in any of these twelve channels or rivers, the Qi which flows to the body's extremities and to the internal organs will be abnormal, and illness may develop. You should understand that every channel has its particular Qi flow strength, and every channel is different. All of these different levels of Qi strength are affected by your mind, the weather, the time of day, the food you have eaten, and even your mood. For example, when the weather is dry the Qi in the lungs will tend to be more positive than when it is moist. When you are angry, the Qi fiow in your liver channel will be abnormal. The Qi strength in the different channels varies throughout the day in a regular cycle, and at any particular time one channel is strongest. For example, between 11 am and 1 pm the Qi flow in the heart channel is the strongest. Furthermore, the Qi level of the same organ can be different from one person to another.
Whenever the Qi flow in the twelve rivers or channels is not normal, the eight reservoirs will regulate the Qi flow and bring it back to normal. For example, when you experience a sudden shock, the Qi flow in the bladder immediately becomes deficient. Now, normally the reservoir will immediately regulate the Qi in this channel so that you recover from the shock. However, if the reservoir Qi is also deficient, or if the effect of the shock is too great and there is not enough time to regulate the Qi, the bladder will suddenly contract, causing unavoidable urination.
When a person is sick because of an injury, his Qi level tends to be either too positive (excessive, Yang) or too negative (deficient, Yin). A Chinese physician would either use a prescription of herbs to adjust the Qi, or else he would insert acupuncture needles at various spots on the channels to inhibit the flow in some channels and stimulate the flow in others, so that balance can be restored. However, there is another alternative, and that is to use certain physical and mental exercises to adjust the Qi. In other words, to use Qigong.
As you can see, it is very important to keep the Qi or internal energy circulating smoothly in your body. Many different kinds of Qigong exercises have been created to achieve this, but they can generally be categorized into five groups according to the main purpose of the training:
The main purpose of the Qigong styles in this category is to first gain mental and spiritual calmness, peace, and balance. With this mental balance, you can then engage in moving exercises which maintain the smoothness and balance of the Qi circulation. This category uses both still meditation and moving meditative exercises.
it is believed that many illnesses are caused by mental and emotional excesses. These emotions use up Qi, and cause stagnation in the channels and organ systems, which causes you to get sick. For example, depression can cause stomach ulcers and indigestion. Anger will cause the liver to malfunction. Sadness will cause compression and tightness in the lungs, and fear can disturb the normal functioning of the kidneys and bladder. Chinese Qigong practitioners therefore realized that if you want to avoid illness, the first step is to balance and relax your thoughts. This is called "regulating the mind" (Tiao Xin, ). When your mind is calm, and you are emotionally neutral, your Qi will automatically regulate itself and correct imbalances.
In the still meditation used for maintaining health, a major part of the training is getting rid of thoughts so that the mind is clear and calm. When you become peaceful and calm, the flow of thoughts and emotions slows down, and you feel mentally and emotionally neutral. This kind of meditation can be thought of as practicing emotional self-control. When you are in this "no thought" state, you become very relaxed, and can even relax deep down into your internal organs. When your body is this relaxed, your Qi will naturally flow smoothly and strongly, clearing obstructions in the channels and maintaining your health. This kind of still meditation was very common in ancient Chinese scholarly society.
Chinese physicians discovered that certain movements or exercises increased the Qi circulation around the internal organs. Some of these movements are similar to movements which are characteristic of certain animals. It is clear that in order for an animal to survive in the wild, it must have an instinct for how to protect its body. Part of this instinct is concerned with how to build up its Qi, and how to keep its Qi from being lost. We humans have lost many of these instincts over the years that we have been separating ourselves from nature. One typical set of these Qigong exercises which is still practiced today is called Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Sports, i^it). Another is the Eight Pieces of Brocade.
Over the thousands of years of observing nature and themselves, some Qigong practitioners went even deeper. They realized that your body's Qi circulation changes with the seasons, and that it is a good idea to help the body out in these periodic adjustments. They also noticed that during each season, different organs had characteristic problems. For example, in the beginning of autumn the lungs have to adapt to the colder and drier air that you are breathing. While this adjustment takes place, the lungs are susceptible to disturbance, so your lungs may feel uncomfortable and you may catch colds easily.
Your digestive system is also affected during seasonal changes. Your appetite may increase, or you may have diarrhea. When the temperature goes down, your kidneys and bladder will start to give you trouble. For example, because the kidneys are stressed, you may feel pain in the back. Focusing on these seasonal Qi disorders, the meditators created a set of movements which can be used to speed up the body's adjustment. These Qigong exercises will be introduced in a later volume. 2. Curing Sickness
Chinese doctors discovered through experience that some of the movements could not only maintain health, but could also cure certain illnesses. Using their medical knowledge of Qi circulation, they researched until they had found many movements which could help cure various illnesses and health problems. Naturally, many of the them were not unlike the ones used to maintain health. This is not surprising, since many illnesses are caused by unbalanced Qi. When this stagnation continues for a long period of time, the organs will start to be affected, and may be physically damaged. As a matter of fact, as long as your sickness is limited to the level of Qi stagnation and there is no physical organ damage, the Qigong exercises used for maintaining health can be used to readjust your Qi circulation and treat the problem.
However, if the sickness is already so serious that the physical organs start to fail, then the situation has become critical. In this case, a specific treatment is necessary. The treatment can be acupuncture, herbs, or even an operation. Some Qigong exercises are designed to speed up the healing, or sometimes even to cure the sickness. For example, ulcers and asthma can be cured with some simple exercises. Recently in both mainland China and Taiwan, certain Qigong exercises have been shown to be effective in treating certain kinds of cancer.1
Acupressure or Qigong Massage is also commonly used instead of needles to adjust the Qi imbalance. This is done mostly by Qigong experts who are able to use their body's Qi to adjust the patient's Qi through touch or acupressure. This is seen in Chinese Qigong healing practices and Japanese Shiatsu massage. 3. Prolonging Life
The two preceding categories either maintain the health that a person already has, or else treat illnesses once they appear. The theories and the principles for these categories are simple, and the training is conservative. Many Chinese Qigong practitioners were not satisfied with this, and searched for a way that would not only maintain health, but would also increase the Qi circulation and strengthen the organs. In this more aggressive approach to Qigong they attempted to find a way to overcome the normal course of nature. They refused to accept that the length of a person's life is set according to destiny. They believed that if they understood the course of nature (Dao, & ) completely, they would be able to find a way to lengthen their lives. This category of Qigong training is practiced mostly by Buddhists and Daoists.
Over the more than nineteen hundred years of research, the religious meditators discovered the way to slow down the degeneration of the organs, which is the key to obtaining a long life. There have been many Buddhists and Daoists who have lived more than 150 years. In Daoist society it is said: "One hundred and twenty means dying young."2
Unfortunately, all of this Qigong training has been passed down secretly in the monasteries. It was not until the last twenty years that these secret theories and training methods were revealed to the outside world. An important part of this train ing to prolong life is Marrow/Brain Washing Qigong. The basic idea of Marrow/Brain Washing Qigong is to keep the Qi circulating in your marrow and brain so that the marrow and the brain stay fresh and healthy.
Your bone marrow manufactures most of your blood cells. The blood cells bring nourishment to the organs and all the other cells of the body, and also take waste products away When your blood is healthy and functions properly, your whole body is well-nourished and healthy, and can resist disease effectively. When the marrow is clean and fresh, it manufactures an enormous number of healthy blood cells which will do their job properly. Your whole body will stay healthy, and the organs will not degenerate.
Although the theory is simple, the training is very difficult. You must first learn how to build up your Qi and fill up your eight Qi vessels, and then you must know how to lead this Qi into the bone marrow to "wash" the marrow. However, except for Daoist and Buddhist monks, there are very few people who have lived more than 150 years. The reason for this is that the training process is long and hard. You must have a pure mind and a simple lifestyle so that you can concentrate entirely on the training. Without a peaceful life, your training will not be effective. This is why the Daoist and Buddhist monks hide themselves in the mountains. Unfortunately, this is simply not possible for the average person.
In the Liang dynasty, martial artists started to use Qigong to increase the effectiveness of their arts. Such training can also help to improve health. However, some martial artists will even use certain Qigong practices which they know will harm their health, if these practices will improve some aspect of their fighting ability An example of this kind of training is Iron Sand Palm.
The Daoists and Buddhists use Qigong to reach a level of attainment far beyond the average person's. They are striving for enlightenment, or what the Buddhists refer to as Buddhahood. They are looking for a way to lift themselves above normal human suffering, and to escape from the cycle of continual reincarnation. In order to reach this stage, Marrow/Brain Washing Qigong training is necessary. This enables them to lead Qi to the forehead, where the spirit resides, and raise the brain to a higher energy state. This is discussed more deeply in the book: Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Chi Kung, available from YMAA Publication Center.
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