Qigong, also known as Ch’i kung or Ch’i gong, is an ancient Chinese discipline that involves the mind, breath and movement to create a calm, natural balance of energy that can be used in work, recreation or self-defense.
Qigong exercises have a reputation in China for aiding in the treatment of heart disease, high blood pressure, pulmonary emphysema, arthritis, digestive disorders, arteriosclerosis, skin diseases, depression, cancer and many other illnesses.
For those seeking physical fitness, Qigong loosens the joints and increases flexibility and suppleness while strengthening the sinews and tendons. It has been known to improve the function of the internal organs, delay aging and prolong life.
What is qi?
Qi, or chi, is an intrinsic energy in the body that travels along pathways in the body called meridians. Qi is said to come out of the Tao (a source that is itself inexpressible) to create yin and yang (and associated energies). At certain points along the pathways (acupuncture points) acupuncturists may place needles to cure or alleviate a patient’s conditions. The purpose is to restore the flow of qi. Qi is most often defined as life-breath, a vital force, or spirit. When used in connection with neo-Confucianist Li (the eternal principle), qi means matter-energy.
Qi is inherent in everyone and everything. It is a Chinese word for something that really is universal. So long as a person breathes, he or she has vital qi.
Qigong exercises are intended to achieve the same goal through use of the mind and breath movement. There are thousands of qigong exercises, some for specific purposes. One of the best kinds of qigong exercises is T’ai Chi Ch’uan, which can also be used for self-defense.
Origin of qigong
Treating people with Qigong can be traced back 2,500 years in China to the Warring States Period. People discovered by accident that when a man using Qigong released his energy on an injury, the affected part would heal quickly. From then on, Qigong was often used to treat war injuries. It was later extended to various diseases.
The book, “Wonders of Qigong,” compiled by China Sports Magazine and published by Wayfarer Publications, describes the discovery of ancient documents about Ch’i kung and another related fitness exercise called “Daoyin.” Daoyin exercises are a method that combines regulated breathing with body movements and it is good for all the joints in the body, particularly the shoulders, waist, knees and the respiratory organs. The Daoyin exercises were merged into Ch’i kung methods to form a body of techniques practiced today.
Using T’ai Chi Ch’uan for meditation
T’ai Chi Ch’uan is highly regarded as a moving meditation as well as a martial art. But what does moving meditation mean? And what is meditation?
There are many misunderstandings about meditation and many different kinds of meditation. Some people regard meditation as a quiet kind of contemplation or thinking. Others view it as a kind of “non-thinking.” And many meditate but don’t perceive what they are doing as meditation.
Meditation is basically a way to deal with the mind and emotions directly and the body indirectly. This can be done while sitting, standing, lying down or moving. For martial arts, meditation is important on all levels, but especially the higher levels.
Some people view meditation, including T’ai Chi Ch’uan, as a way of becoming internally calm and peaceful. Others feel it as a way to deal with their contradictions, what is real and what is imagined. Though it’s possible through the force of one’s mind to become calm and peaceful, it’s not usually an effective method for long without learning how to resolve one’s contradictions created by the mind and the emotions.
Competing with someone and defeating them in the qigong exercises of push hands or full contact is a way of resolving one’s contradictions temporarily, until the next opponent is fought. But the perceptive person will know that the real opponent is within and has to be dealt with all day long and even in one’s sleep.
Meditation as a technique can be a practice of just being there, fully absorbed in what you’re doing and continually bringing your attention back to what you’re doing.
This is one of the simplest and best ways to meditate and also one of the most difficult. To do this requires the ability to accept failure because while meditating the habitual mind, the primordial mind, still tries to reassert itself and you have to keep redirecting your attention to what you’re doing. But failure is not defeat. When one is in the present, there is no defeat, not even failure.
T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a valuable way to meditate because you continually get feedback from your body, emotions and mind from the changes taking place as you practice the forms.
T’ai Chi also frees up stagnant energy, revitalizing you so that you are refreshed in your continuing effort. However, movement of the energy can also stir up emotions that have to be dealt with. Stationary, they might remain dormant; by moving, they come to the fore, which provides the opportunity to deal with them.
Self-deception, one of our greatest weaknesses as human beings, is more likely in a static posture because there are fewer checks and balances as to whether you’re dealing with the present or imagination.
In T’ai Chi we need to distinguish between yin and yang, the insubstantial and substantial—what is unreal and what is real. In dealing with these conflicts it’s good to use the T’ai Chi principle of yin and yang. In other words, don’t use force against force. Using force or just strength of will is a simple answer that will work sometimes, but doesn’t reflect real understanding. So don’t try to suppress or overpower contradictions or try to passively think about them. Instead, find a way to neutralize them. If one method doesn’t work, try another. A good way is to redirect your attention to what you’re doing in the present.
In daily life, paying attention to the present happens all the time, especially when you’re doing something you enjoy or when you have to focus on important work. So it’s something that we know how to do but something that we also have to cultivate internally too.
One way to use T’ai Chi Ch’uan as meditation during practice is to visualize the use of the various postures against an opponent. Many masters recommend this as a method of fulfilling correct use of qi, as well as a mental exercise. One of the challenges in this method is that this kind of engagement sometimes leads to tension when there should be relaxation and an emotional excitement when there should be even-mindedness.
Meditation, like T’ai Chi, is addition by subtraction. Less is more. We cultivate ourselves and become whole by subtracting certain aspects of ourselves, even certain things that we enjoy very much. Some of our emotions and feelings about ourselves are very satisfying, even though they’re non-productive and hurtful. And it can be difficult to give them up. In practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan, it’s best to think long term, even if you have urgent short-term needs. The process is more important than the goal because the goal will change over time. Learning is more of a spiral than a straight line.
It’s commonly believed that if a person can find the right teacher, guru, master, religion or belief system, that they will get release from their problems. Unfortunately, too often this kind of search is like walking in a minefield. It’s better to have confidence in one’s own abilities and try to understand oneself better.
The key is an even-minded awareness of the present . . . the experience of the moment. From this kind of meditation, we can develop insight. And without understanding yourself, it’s quite difficult to truly understand others.
A friend once asked her teacher if there was any magic in T’ai Chi Ch’uan. He responded, “Yes, but you have to find it for yourself.”