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HOW CHI-GUNG WORKS

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-Gung is a type of Tai-chi exercise that heals the body by strengthening the flow of internal energy (“chi”).  It is important to appreciate the way chi-gung works in order to practice it properly.  We see examples of the energizing force of nature when we see flowers turn to and reach towards the sun as the morning warms up.  The flower “knows” that the sun is its source of energy.  “Reaching” for the sun is a large part of what allows it to grow.  We know of course that reaching for the sun is a chemical process and can be explained on that level.

We can use this example of a flower to better understand the training of chi-gung.  Your mind (attention, consciousness) can be likened to the sun.  Your body can be likened to the flower, let’s say a tulip.  When we see a bunch of tulips, all opening up and reaching for the sun in the morning, we can imagine each tulip as a part of the body.

When you pay attention to a part of your body in your practice, that part will naturally “reach” for your attention.  Attention and the physical body are naturally attracted towards each other.  In a natural state they are completely integrated with each other but in our modern world our minds are focused on our thinking mechanism.  This is so much the case that the terms “mind” and “thinking” are synonymous.  We can hardly imagine the mind doing anything other than thinking.   

We have withdrawn our attention from the body so that almost all of it can be used in the thinking process.  But the body longs for attention, which is a form of energy, just as the tulip “longs” for the sun.  Without the sun the tulip will wither and die.  Without the energy of attention the body will degenerate.  When we practice any form of chi-gung you are called upon to pay attention to each part of the body, to release any excess tension there and to allow the body to expand with the in-breath and relax with the out-breath. 

Your attention is not fixed in the head or in the thinking process but rises and fills the body with the in-breath and settles into the ground and condenses with the out-breath, creating an ebb and flow like the tides of the oceans.  This releases your attention (your mind) from a fixed position in the body (your head) and from a fixed process (thinking).  Now attention becomes fluid, functional and connected to all parts of the body. 

At the point when your attention meets a part of the body you breathe in, that part opens and stretches, just like the tulip, and the body receives the energy of attention.  When you breathe out, that part of the body relaxes.

There are yet greater sources of energy than your own attention.  There is the chi of the whole flow of nature.  As each part of the body reaches for your attention, it also reaches for this greater flow of energy.

In the chi-gung practice of Zookinesis we are taught that when the body opens up to your own attention, this also allows the body to receive the greater flow of energy from nature.  You are breathing in, expanding the part or parts of the body you are working with and bringing your attention to that part of the body.  When your attention is no longer locked up in your head, but releases and flows to that part of the body, you will feel a greater source of energy that comes flowing in and energizes both your body and mind.  You then feel connected to all of nature. 

This is not a mysterious process but a natural, biological process.  It is our natural, healthy state. 

When your mind and body are connected and the chi energy of nature is allowed to flow, your mind and body start to heal on all levels.  It will heal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

You may have heard that practicing chi-gung by yourself or with an inexperienced teacher can actually lead to internal damage.  The main reason for this is the apparent lack of understanding of the dynamics of attention.

There are two basic modes of your attention – yin and yang attention.  Yang attention happens when you forcefully push your attention towards part of the body.  In yin attention you allow your attention to settle and to be absorbed by that part of the body.  This is an important distinction though it often takes many years of practice to fully appreciate the difference. 

In our culture we almost exclusively use yang attention, except perhaps, when we listen to music.  We allow music to take our attention away.  We willingly let our attention travel on the magic carpet ride of music because we know how good it makes us feel. 

When we pay attention to a part of the body in our chi-gung practice we need to use yin attention. As the body opens on the in-breath it will pull on energy within your body, trying to absorb it.  This will create a movement of energy towards that part of the body.  Allow your attention to settle into that flow of energy, merge with it and be pulled into the body. 

At first the student hears these instructions but can’t make sense of them.  He or she has to be led step by step through a series of internal experiences.  This gradually builds up a feeling “picture” of what is going inside the body.  The teacher explains the principles of chi-gung and what these inner body feelings are according to those principles.  A whole new world opens up for the student as he realizes that the quality of his internal world directly affects how he interacts with the external world.  In this way, chi-gung can greatly improve his everyday life.

Students often fear the fluidity of the attention.  They feel it is like a loss of control of their fixed-pointed minds.  This is why chi-gung practice is slow and gradual and connected with physical movement.  The movement exercises allow you to retain the feeling of control while allowing your attention to become fluid. 

There is also a fear of the greater flow of the chi energy of nature. You may fear losing control when you experience a force greater than yourself. When you realize that this energy is healing in nature, that it connects you with the flow of all life on this planet, you can lose your fear. 

This greater connection to life is physically felt in a very concrete way.  When you feel it you immediately remember having experienced this state of being, even if it has been many years since you felt it last (perhaps as an infant). 

You must then end the conflict between the fixed-pointed, thinking mind and the mind that is connected to the body.  These are not really two separate minds but are two ways in which the mind can work.  Your body obviously continues to work while you are thinking.  The blood doesn’t suddenly stop flowing.  Yet your thoughts can influence the health of your body.  In many disciplines the emphasis is on thinking the “right” thoughts to keep you healthy such as in the many “positive thinking” teachings.

With chi-gung, the emphasis is on allowing the thinking mind to think and allowing the rest of the mind (the “Body-Mind”) to work properly.  We can allow our attention to completely fill the body while at the same time allow it to fill the thinking process.  If the attention is fluid it can operate in many ways at the same time.  If it is fixed-pointed it can only operate well in one mode.  It is only the fixed-pointed mind that hurts the body by pulling the energy of attention away from the body.

When the body is filled with the energy of your attention and of chi from nature, it grows strong and healthy.  You feel that you are part of the whole world and no longer isolated.  Your body is no longer a big lump “down there”, carrying around your brain, but it feels like a vibrant, energized, alive being which it truly is.