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.
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.
There are basically two schools of Taoist meditation, one that is called the “fire” school and another that is called the “water” school. The approaches in meditation differ considerably. The water school is derived from the original teachings of Lao Tze in the Tao Te Ching. Cultivation of the “valley spirit” figures heavily in the approach of this type of meditation. In contrast, there is the fire school, where one uses effort to make progress. You could say that force is a valid way of describing the fire method approach. It is an outer method of development.
The water method is a means of allowing things to change, but presenting yourself with a consistent practice that helps foster that change. It is an approach of letting go. During the process, because of the regular practice, an increase in compassion for yourself (it is inner development, by the way) and others. Forgiveness, acceptance, detachment and tranquility become more common in your life.
I was reading a review of a recent book by Pema Chodron by a Brigham University student the other day. The review was interesting from the perspective of the author. His perception was that Buddhist meditation was a means of beating a type of consciousness into your being so that you were transformed into a more enlightened being. There are fire forms of Buddhist meditation that require visualization and verbalization as a part of the meditation progress, but as I remember Pema Chodron’s work, compassion and the water method are the primary routes for meditation progress.
I can understand the viewpoint of the reviewer of the book, since I have had many years of indoctrination into the principles of the Protestant Christian Church. The moralistic approach of many of the churches within that tradition can be a hindrance to inner development, and consist of more of a pasting-on of a proper socially acceptable mask on the practitioners. The development may, and frequently does, take on the path of what is called “prosperity theology” or Christian materialism.
The Taoist method of water meditation takes on many forms. An introductory practice is following of the breath. This method is especially good for beginners because it helps cultivate intention (Yi) that can be used in more advanced practices. If you are new to this concept, see the blog entry
An embodied qigong practice needs several factors for success, such as dedication and openness to the application of new principles. You can learn some things from a book, but some things require pondering and experimentation to understand. Sometimes, going to a workshop is needed to help in understanding the depth of the methods. Many people read qigong books and related books on developing self-realization really don’t understand them. I view qigong books as supportive tools for active contemplation of meditations and movement forms that you learn from a competent teacher.
As Eckhart Tolle recommends in this book, The Power of Now, it is important to stop and allow yourself to go beyond the immediate images that come to mind. Ultimately, qigong and Tai chi practice are about embodying the principles.
For instance, take the “string of pearls” image for doing Tai chi, as set forth by Master Chang Sang Feng, where he said: “In any action, the entire body should be light, alert and coordinated, like a string of pearls.” Can you experience this continuity and connectivity in your movements? Can you make all of your movements act as an integral whole with coordination? If not, can you find the points at which the string of pearls is interrupted, dissolving blockages and opening up the blocked connection? Some blockages take time and dedicated practice to overcome or work through. The sequential opening and closing of joints (arms, legs and vertebrae) is an example of what is needed to be realized to embody the string of pearls in your movements. Take your time and practice with tranquility, not striving, and maybe you will embody the “string of pearls.”