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
Tranquility is an essential aspect of qigong practice. Master Chang Sang Feng said “With the calm spirit, there is free energy flow. The tranquil spirit allows the production of free and appropriate flow of energy, as well as the alignment of the body. As one’s emotional nature arrives at a calmer and more tranquil state, the body relaxes more and achieves a natural alignment.
So, practice tranquility, or meditation, at the start of your practice and then carry that into your movements. You will find a greater ability to be aware of your movements and of the quality of energy that is within your form.