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– Preserve and nourish your Qi -

Damian Allegretti

QiGong (氣功) is sometimes referred to as one of the main therapies of Chinese Medicine along with acupuncture, herbal medicine and TuiNa massage. It is a holistic system of self-healing, exercise and meditation, an ancient and evolving practice that includes posture, alignment, movement, stillness, relaxation, breathing and self-massage. Through different methods, Qi is accumulated, stored and moved throughout the body.

Qi (氣) is the Chinese word for ‘vapour’, ‘air’, ‘breath’, ‘vital energy’, or simply ‘energy’. It is many things, but it is more an image or concept than a word. According to Chinese Medicine, Qi is the animating power that flows through all living things, and a basic requisite for life. Although health includes an abundance of Qi, it also implies that this Qi flows smoothly like a stream and does not become blocked or stagnant. The amount of Qi and its unimpeded movement are both essential.

Gong (功) means ‘work’ or ‘cultivation’ or even ‘benefits/skills acquired through practice’.

Thus, QiGong (氣功) means ‘working with the life energy, learning how to control the flow and distribution of Qi to improve health and harmony of mind and body’.[i] With this definition in mind, we can see how QiGong can be deeply related to the healing process which we work with and witness in our everyday practice.

QiGong can be practiced almost anywhere without any specific equipment. If trying to incorporate it in daily practice,

Among many different concepts, one of the most important ones is the ‘Three Internal Harmonies’.

These three harmonies or ‘unities’ are:

Harmony between Heart-Mind (Xin) and Intention (Yi)

Harmony between Intention (Yi) and Qi

Harmony between Qi and Force (JinLi)

The first two are the ones that we are more interested in exploring: the relationship between Heart-Mind (Xin), Intention (Yi) and Qi. These are not sequential, but actually a unification – thus acting as one thing instantly and without hesitation or thinking getting involved.

The word Yi is usually translated as intent or volition. During QiGong practice we use intention and not force; we relax and release. In QiGong we say that ‘when Yi arrives, Qi arrives’. Thus the more our mind is focused and concentrated on the practice the more Qi we can develop and control.

On the other hand, the more we develop our practice, the easier it becomes to focus and strengthen our intention (Yi). Essentially, QiGong does not work without awareness, focus and relaxation.

Throughout the history of Chinese Medicine, the importance of the intention and concentration have been highlighted in many different texts and by different doctors and scholars as well.

The great Sui and Tang Dynasty doctor Sun Simiao (孙思邈) expressed that: ‘Medicine is intention. Those who are proficient at using intention are good doctors.’

If we go back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) and specifically to the Huang Di Neijing classic, the most important ancient text in Chinese Medicine, we can find the important connection between mind, concentration, intention and the specific act of needling.

The Huang Di Neijing Ling Shu (Chapter 8) has one of the most remarkable lines: ‘Every needling’s method first must be rooted in the spirit (Shen).’ This line is also the opening line of Huang Fu Mi’s (皇甫謐) Systematic Classic on Acupuncture and Moxibustion (针灸甲乙经 – Zhenjiu Jiayi Jing).

There are many passages in the Huang Di Neijing that stress the importance of focusing one’s mind when needling.

Indeed, Huang Di Neijing Su Wen (Chapter 25) contains a sentence that is quite similar to the one cited above. Paul Unschuld (2011) has translated it as: ‘‘For all piercing to be reliable, one must first regulate the spirit.’[i]

It is interesting to notice that there is a commentary by the famous scholar Wang Bing regarding this sentence, where he clarifies: ‘One must concentrate one’s mind and be calm without motion. This is the central point of piercing.’As we can see, the role of the practitioner/healer’s mind, intention and focus is paramount, and has been acknowledged throughout the history of Chinese Medicine. It is a basic requirement in order to achieve best results. It is also essential to observe that, without awareness and relaxation, there can be no QiGong but probably only external movement. Thus I would love to spark this idea in your mind and make you reflect about the role of awareness, relaxation and focus in the healing process.

Regarding QiGong itself, there are countless different styles, schools and methods but, in my opinion, they are mostly based in standing meditation and the ‘Sinking of the Qi’ concept.Standing meditation or Zhan Zhuang (站桩, literally ‘standing [like a] post’) is an ancient form of meditation and ‘life cultivation’ (養生 – Yangsheng). All QiGong and internal arts training begin with this important position, which involves simply standing still. It is an opportunity to pay attention to the tensions in our body, mind and nervous system. Through awareness, it becomes a moment of powerful and deep releasing and relaxation.

Standing Meditation:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward. Unlock your knees and, as if you were to sit in a bar stool, drop your tailbone but avoid forcefully tucking your pelvis. Let your hands hang loosely by your sides and drop your shoulders. Do not collapse your chest; instead keep chest opened, and relax chest and shoulders’ muscles. Imagine that, like a puppet, your whole body is hanging, suspended from your head (Du20 area) and tuck your chin slightly in to open the back of your neck. Everything is expanding. Feel yourself sinking down and relaxing. Pay attention to the subtle traction that affects the spine by being pulled from both ends. Breath calmly and naturally and allow your whole system to calm down. This posture is called Wu Chi (无 极), which can be translated as infinite, unlimited, boundless or limitless.

The method of sinking the Qi implies not only this dropping and descending quality of the posture itself, but the awareness of the Qi and particularly the breathing falling into the Dantian area. What it is usually referred as abdominal breathing, kidney breathing, diaphragmatic breathing or Dantian breathing is in itself a QiGong exercise and, at the same time, an intrinsic part of every QiGong method

After you have set the correct body alignments, the mind can focus on the breath. Bring your attention to the Dantian (‘Elixir Field’). For our purposes, the Dantian is the Ren4/Ren6 area; however, it is not on the surface of the body but located deep in the lower abdomen between the surface of the lower abdomen and the spine. The Dantian also involves Du4.

Abdominal breathing should not be forced by sucking the air in and making the lower abdomen to expand and contract forcefully. Simply focus your attention on the Dantian, and over time the breathing will naturally slow, becoming deeper, longer, smoother, silent and more even. This is the quality of the Qi sinking down.

Health benefits of this combined practice are: Qi sinking and circulating, loosening of joints, lowering of blood pressure, strengthening and stabilizing the legs, calming the mind and relaxing the upper body, cultivating deep breathing and training the lungs, and oxygenating the blood. It also improves peristalsis and digestion as the deep breathing massages the internal organs.

Standing meditation and sinking the Qi can be practiced every day. The length of the session can be from five minutes to one hour depending on your needs and goals.

The principles of standing meditation and sinking of the Qi cultivate a peaceful, serene and clear mind (Shen) and strengthen the intention (Yi). This is the gateway to the Wu Wei (‘Empty State’), which will be explored in Part 2.

Health benefits of this combined practice are: Qi sinking and circulating, loosening of joints, lowering of blood pressure, strengthening and stabilizing the legs, calming the mind and relaxing the upper body, cultivating deep breathing and training the lungs, and oxygenating the blood. It also improves peristalsis and digestion as the deep breathing massages the internal organs.

[1] Cohen, Kenneth (1997). The Way of QiGong:  The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing, London: Random House Publishing, p.3.

[2] Unschuld, P. U. and Tessenow, H. (2011). Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: An Annotated Translation of the Huang Di’s Inner Classic – Basic Questions, Vol. I.Berkeley: University of California Press, p.428.

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