By Peter Hill
QiGong is often portrayed as a mysterious art of immense hidden power that can be utilized for a variety of purposes ranging from the constructive healing arts like ReiKi (universal life energy) to the destructive martial arts (as in Dim Mak, the delayed death touch). In reality, like with many arts, QiGong has a myriad of layers that often keeps the student or outside observer confused and bewildered. We are going to journey through some of the layers and techniques so you can see the forest amidst all the thousands of techniques (trees) that make up this enigmatic art.
The first step is to look at the characters that make up Qi Gong, which we will translate as ‘Energy Work’. Chinese ideograms and Japanese Kanji are pictures of ideas that provide great insight into the heart of this art. The top character, qi, can also be spelled as ‘chi’ and in Japanese ‘ki’ as is Aikido and Reiki. It is a grain of rice being cooked and we can see the steam releasing its spirit or energy. This character can also be translated as ’spirit’. When you awaken in the morning, your body is often stiff like that uncooked grain of rice. As you start to move you may feel like your mind and body are in two very different places and you may even experience some imbalance as you start to move about. You may not “play well with others” just as uncooked rice tends to require its own space. “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee”, you may hear people say. The heat and energy of the coffee or tea performs some inner energy work and ‘softens’ our hard shell.
You can do that with your own qigong by waking and before getting out of bed, start by taking a deep breath while visualizing your whole body filling up like a large balloon and then breathing out and compressing the balloon into your center. Do that 3 times then do some outward circles with your feet, inward circles with your feet, push the toes forward while pulling the heels back, alternate then do alternate outward and inward circles with the feet. Sit up, put your feet firmly on the ground, stand up, feel the ground, bend your knees slightly and gently twist side to side warming up your joints: ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, neck, elbows and wrists - this is also getting your digestive track moving while awakening your mind and boosting your immune function with diaphragmatic breathing. Muscles are pushing and pulling gently releasing tension that has accumulated through the night and oxygen is permeating your cells throughout the body. Your morning chi gung took 2 to 3 minutes and the short and long term benefits are priceless.
You have softened the hard outer shell and released the inner energy that harmonizes with its environment, projects a more relaxed aura and is nurturing to those it comes into contact with. Thus the character for ‘qi’, a grain of rice being cooked and revealing its inner nature.
The character for gong also spelled as ‘kung’ and ‘gung’ translates roughly as “powerful work to build something” but reduced to ‘work’ in the chi gung translation. The bottom character on the left looks like a fat letter ‘I’. It is a building block thus the energy is being used to build something that is in alignment with your intent. In the article, “Tai Chi Unveiled”, the core rule was: “Do not be overly concerned with form or the way in which form manifests; pay attention to the energy and intent”. The same rule applies to ‘energy work’.
The character to the right of the building block is a person with their arm outstretched holding something heavy – it translates as ‘strong’. As you do the energy work consistently, you become more and more powerful and fluid. So qigong involves the intention of the mind and spirit (unifying your thoughts and feelings) with exercises that involve great oxygenation of all body systems while cultivating flexibility and strength in the tendons, ligaments and muscles.
When we look deeper into the exercises themselves, we can see a variety of chi gung exercises that fall into the categories of stationary, static, dynamic and even ballistic.