After one has successfully completed an introductory breathing practice like Following the Breath, it is time to explore more advanced Taoist breathing methods. The next practice to move on to is regular abdominal breathing. This is really the start of qigong practices. There are various stages in learning this method on the way to mastery. The stages are as follows:
1. You learn how to coordinate and control the abdominal muscles with the breath. The belly expands when the breath comes in and contracts when you exhale. The diaphragm drops on the inhale and goes up during exhalation. The goal of this stage is to make the breath smooth, with even exhalation and inhalation cycles. The mind and intention relax and the process occurs without conscious intervention.
2. In the second stage, with the breathing occurring naturally smooth and even, you focus part of your attention on the perineum (between the genitals and anus). The Huiyin acupuncture point is located here, where the yin governing vessel meets the yang conception vessel. When exhaling, gently bring up the perineum, and during the exhale, allow it to relax. There should be no tension in the perineum or abdomen. You will have to use the mind initially.
3. In the next stage, you will realize that it is not necessary to have your attention placed at the Huiyin. The movement will occur naturally. You cannot hurry this process, you will just have to practice until this happens. At this point, you will feel differently, noticing qi sensations during the movement of the breath in the perineum.
4. Finally, as the qi accumulates in the dantien, you will notice a sensation of whole body breathing accompanied with a stronger sense of qi being outward from the dantien during the inhalation.
Once you have completed these stages of regular abdominal breathing, you can advance to the practice known as reverse breathing. That practice will be discussed later. But for now, if you don’t know regular abdominal breathing and have not progressed through these four stages, you aren’t ready to move on. Remember that you can’t rush this process. You do the practice until it becomes automatic, doing without doing. Stay with your practice.
With the thousands of different styles of qigong that are available, it can get very confusing as to which exercise is best to do. I have learned several styles, but doing them all is impossible. So I have asked myself: “Why choose a daily qigong exercise?”
First, a daily exercise routine reinforces muscle memory you have developed. If you have learned the proper movement technique of a particular qigong practice set, then you help maintain the correct posture and alignments. This forms the basis of your ability to perform other exercises correctly and maintain an energy flow balance.
Second, you don’t have to think about what you are doing, you just do it. It keeps things simple. Doing without doing is a basic Taoist principle. You are the movements and the movements become you. You embody the movements.
Third, it keeps you on track with how your body is functioning. You can use the daily exercise to use a reference point to see how your body and mind are for each day. Maybe you will notice that there are some things that you do which influence your health in a more positive way, and vice versa. It helps keep your life in a healthy perspective
In the end, you have to remember, it’s not how many qigong styles or any other type of exercise that you know how to do that make you healthy, it is whether you do something daily and routinely check up with your body to see how you are doing. It is not a contest. It is more about how you attend to your own being.
What are my recommendations? I have none for you specifically, but personally, I have a short yang style tai chi routine that I do daily. I also do a repetitive commencement move, which works my spine and the microcosmic orbit. What you choose depends on you, but I would suggest that something that takes no longer than 15 minutes would be best, because some days may be less convenient for exercise. A short practice will make it more likely that you will complete it and check in with yourself.
Someone asked recently, “Is Yoga a Good Way to Relax?”. On the surface one would say yes, however I have been to some classes where strenuous effort makes relaxing seem to be the most unlikely event possible. I recently went to a yoga session where the instructor was very advanced, and she was teaching beginners. The problems included the following: (1) she was introducing postures that were beyond the capacity of the students to do, and many were straining to achieve them, and (2) there was little or inadequate one-on-one instruction for corrections and adjustments that were needed.
This is where I think qigong instruction can go wrong as well. We need correction along the way. And if we don’t follow the 70% rule, observing our limitations and not going beyond 70% of these limitations (regarding movements, postures and breath), we can facilitate both progress in our practice and healing. Sometimes we forget to take it easy and let healing occur, and see the achieving of unrealistic goals as a necessary task. Don’t do your practice that way. Allow yourself to become more flexible and breath better through regular practice, you will improve your health faster and have more fun in the process.
Dr. Guan-Yuan Jin, MD, L.Ac., shares the three essential elements of qigong exercises in this video. These elements are regulation of the breath, body and mind. Keep in mind each of these elements as you are doing your practice, however the extent to which you do each of these varies depending on the type of qigong you are doing.
In order to learn qigong, you can’t do everything at once. So focusing on one of these three elements and getting it right is sometimes the best option. Learning qigong can only be done in steps. There are so many details to the exercises that it is difficult to get the big picture when you are in the learning process. That is why sometimes you see people focusing on very small details in order to get it right.
Bruce Frantzis, a qigong master from the United States, who also a lineage holder, has what is called a 16-part nei gong learning system. In his system, students learn various types of nei gong exercises that focus on different parts of this system that relate to different levels of being able to move the energy within the body. Learning each of these 16 parts takes time and dedication.
Breathing is a very deep aspect of the regulation of the energy. When one has stable breathing, one can achieve a stable mind, or a regulated mind. With both of these two elements working together, the body can become stable. Qigong and nei gong exercises are designed to yoke together each of these three elements to help improve your ability to sense, regulate and conserve your energy. Achieving all of these elements improves one’s ability to heal and carry out life’s daily activities.
How many different ways can you say the same thing? Qigong, Bio Energy, Reiki and Therapeutic Touch all use the same endless source of healing energy that we have available in the universe. The thing that I see is missing from some of the more recent offshoots is that there is not much emphasis on grounding and preparing the healer/practitioner for the energetic flow that can occur during a session.
This is very important! Learn how to ground toxic qi!
For a standing qigong meditation that helps you accomplish this, see the blog post Grounding Exercise for Healers. This is a basic zhan zhuang exercise that is simple to do and can do wonders for clearing your energies and obtaining a good connection with the earth so the toxic energies don’t get stuck in your tissues from a healing session.
Everyone has different ways to meditate. In qigong, meditation music is not a topic that people discuss frequently. For me, it is useful to have music. It helps me relax, concentrate and remain with inner awareness. The music is best if it doesn’t have any words.
Many different types of music work for me. There are classical pieces that are more meditative in nature, such as the piano pieces by Grieg. I found a qigong blog recently that mentions music in combination with qigong meditation. It doesn’t list Grieg, but there are other classical music pieces that are given which are suitable for meditation. Other music types are mentioned include more well-known pieces by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson and Enya. I think that the list is a valuable one to look at. There are many other options as well, such as the many selections that are classified within the New Age category.
Maybe the music approach will not work for everyone, but I do recommend it for helping you relax your mind so you can better use your inner awareness during meditation and qigong exercises. Sometimes we need a little help to get us on the way and make qigong exercise practice a more enjoyable and effective experience.
I did, at one time, sign up for a forum on yoga. I thought that there was enough similarity between qigong and yoga for me to benefit from interacting with members there. At the time, I had some experience in yoga and lots of experience in qigong. I made several comments, mostly based on my experience in qigong, and referred to qigong as Chinese Yoga. However, the administrator of the forum did not agree with my viewpoint and thought my comments distracting. In light of this, I though I would do some comparisons of the two ancient traditions and show some similarities and differences between the two.
The word “yoga” means to yoke or link the mind and body. Qigong means “energy work,” but in order to do so it forges a link between the mind and the body. Yoga stretches and breathing methods resemble the fire method approach seen in certain qigong schools. Breath, visualization and postures are used to open up the body and create a more flexible and higher functioning body.
There are also water method schools of qigong, where allowing things to change and letting go are fundamental approaches for opening up the body for better functioning. In this school, there is a rule of not going further than 70-80% of your body’s capacity into any stretch, movement or breathing modality.
As both of these approaches are meditation techniques, they can give the practitioner a more calm mind and body. However, the result of the fire approach in Yoga and Qigong may, in some cases, be reflected in more involvement and reinforcement of the ego of the practitioner due to the nature of the approach. The water method of Taoist qigong allows for disengagement of the ego and letting go, which makes it helpful for developing more self-compassion and self-knowledge.
Another benefit of qigong as compared to yoga is that its movement practices can be easier to do that the postures. Although you will find some qigong practitioners that use a lotus posture for meditation, many practitioners of qigong meditation use a sitting posture in a chair to help increase the energetic connection of the ground with the legs and hips. This meditation posture can be much easier for older adults who have limited flexibility.
I am not discouraging those who wish to and can do yoga, I have and do practice it from time to time to help correct imbalances that occur in my musculature. It is very useful for that purpose and can be a very useful tool for helping with your qigong practice. But know that the different philosophical approaches can differently affect the nature of mind as well as the body.