THREE ESSENTIALS IN QI GONG PRACTICE
Part 1- The Physical Phase
When you begin to study the methods of Qi Gong you normally begin with some form of movement and postural practice that might typically be referred to as a “dynamic”,”self strengthening” method. This focuses primarily on structural integrity, co ordination, smoothness of movement, stability and relaxation/softness. There are many traditional sets of movement which belong to this category like “8 Section Brocade” and the “Yi Jin Jing”. These traditional sets of movement can be done in a moderate more therapeutically oriented way but are more typically practiced in a dynamic way. Dynamic normally refers to the stance width, low and deep postures and the extension of the limbs. The basic idea is to stretch and tonify the muscles and “unstick” the “interior” (especially the connective tissue fabric) strengthen the muscular-skeletal system and move blood and qi. The subjective results with regular practice are significant with much improvement in strength, stamina, flexibility, muscle tone and organ function. All good,but this is only part of the story and it would be a mistake to believe that this is the full Qi Gong experience, because pleasing though it may be it is only the first steps. Many students of Qi Gong find this stage fulfilling enough though and often do not feel the need to progress through other levels. Indeed they may not even be aware of other levels of practice. this is a shame since there is so much more. I find repeatedly that it is at this point that the Qi gong student must be wary and for two main reasons. The first is that up to this point the student has been able to fit the movements into a preconceived notion of exercise based primarily around “stretch and strengthen”. The second is that the habit of using muscle strength rather than cultivating whole body integrated tensile strength is built into our western physical culture. To unlearn it is very difficult but necessary if you are to overcome these hurdles and dive deeper into the Qi gong experience. The old maxim ” to miss in the beginning by a small amount is to miss the mark completely” is very relevant. Qi Gong is a long term project and should be seen rather like a mountaineer who having climbed some small hills, attempts some mountains and so on.
When you practice dynamic Qi gong first you learn posture and structure. Then you learn methods of transition. Whilst doing this you are told to “relax” which means to give up excess and unnecessary muscle tension. Then you must refine the body structure in terms of alignments so forces can be reconciled and dissipated to achieve a high level of co-ordination, functional integrity and efficiency. When you begin to understand these requirements you begin to develop what I call “sensing-awareness”. This is an introspective state that not only directs the structure and changes but simultaneously evaluates the sensations of what is going on. It is the intelligence at work, bypassing verbal analysis in the search for a natural sense of immersion, completion and comfort. When you can sense the tensional properties of the body you realise that micro adjustments can change the play of forces and create different sensations. Each posture and change becomes the manifestation of “internal” forces dynamically organising into different forms. Now, it begins to get interesting since you are moving beyond the normal gross physical awareness and becoming aware of the body in a more subtle and energetic way. This is the real beginning of the Qi gong journey.
Next week I’ll roll out some thoughts on the second of the three essential in Qi Gong practice – Respiration.
Keep up the practice.