Monday, June 28, 2010

Qi Gong 101: What it Qi Gong is and the different elements of basic Qi Gong practice

This coming Sunday 4th July I will be doing a Qi Gong mini-retreat entitled “Energy in the heart of the City” , and so in view of this I thought it might be a good time to reflect upon two fundamental questions: What is Qi Gong and what are the different elements of qi gong practice?
I have placed the answer in six basic categories below. All of the Qi Gong articles on this web-site basically refer to one or another of these six categories, with a fair amount of organic crossing over. These are the basic categories that I use to practice, explain and teach qi gong in my classes, coaching sessions and so forth.

What is Qi Gong?

1) Qi Gong is learning to develop awareness of and circulate qi or energy.
All qi gong practices really focus around this one basic point. They are all methods firstly to improve the amount (quantity) of qi flowing through our body and mind, thus giving us more energy, and secondly to improve the harmony and balance (quality) of that flow of qi/energy. What is most commonly referred to as “qi” in qi gong is the subtle magnetic and/or bio-electrical energy that flows through the subtle energy meridians in our body. The qi in our body is a part of a vast field of magnetic and bio-electrical energy that pervades and infuses the planet on which we live. Other equivalent words for qi are vital energy, prajna, etheric force and “ki” (as in the Japanese word “re-ki” or “universal energy”).

What does Qi Gong practice consist of?

2) Standing
Qi gong practices teach us how to increase and harmonize the flow of energy through our body by adopting certain special standing positions. If you think about the sky and stars above you as being the positive pole of an electrical circuit and the Earth beneath you as being the negative pole, then your body is like the conductor of electrical energy between these two poles. Qi gong standing postures show how to tap into the energy of the universe simply by standing in an optimal manner.

3) Breathing
Qi gong practice teaches basic breathing techniques to develop and enhance the flow of qi around our bodies. At any given time, if you observe your breathing, you will find that it reflects the way in which your body and mind are feeling at that time. Qi gong breathing techniques focus on giving our breathing patterns eight fundamental qualities; Silent and fine, slow and deep, long and soft, continuous and even.

4) Smiling
This is such a fundamental part of qi gong that I tend to draw it out as an element in and of itself. Basically the expression on our face has a fundamental effect on the energy in our mind and body. By learning to develop a technique called the “inner smile” we can harness this special form of qi or energy for many, many positive purposes in our life.

5) Moving
Qi gong promotes special types of slow, gentle physical movement forms to help promote the flow of qi throughout the body. There is also a mechanical (in the positive sense of the word) aspect of qi gong movement that focuses on putting the joints of our body through their full spectrum of movement on a regular basis. “A used door hinge never rusts” as the saying goes, qi gong movement exercises help us to exercise our joints and basic muscle groups in a way that helps to maintain them in a healthy, optimal state.

6) Practical philosophy
Qi gong is based around a great wealth of practical wisdom from the (mostly) Taoist tradition of health, primal psychology and spirituality. This provides a context and way of life that surrounds, infuses and informs the Qi gong practices outlined in points 1-5 above.

©Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you MUST seek Toby’s permission first.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Basic Qi Gong standing postures 3: Embracing the heart-mind

This third of the basic Qi Gong standing postures I call embracing the heart-mind. For many people the mind is most commonly associated with the brain as it is the brain through which the mind co-ordinates the movements of the body. However, in Taoist thought the mind itself is said to be located in the heart centre. Since this standing position emphasizes building and balancing qi at the heart, I call it embracing the heart-mind.
In general I would say that regularly focusing on our heart space and bringing healthy energy into it is important. Energetically when we can really feel into the core of our heart space we will tend to feel balanced and in control. If we feel out of touch with our heart space, as if there is an energy in there that feels “locked in” or that we feel as if we have no access to (like the door to our heart is closed), then it is difficult to think and feel in a balanced and open manner. For this reason I generally spend a couple of minutes in this posture every day, and use the added flow of energy that comes from the standing posture to really balance and open up my heart.

Embracing the heart mind:
- Begin by adopting the basic Qi Gong standing posture
- Raise your hands to the level of your heart, palms facing the central chest area, fingers between 5and 15cm apart (you will intuitively find a distance that is right for you). The distance between the palms of the hands and the front of the chest can be anything from 10cm to 40cm. That sounds like quite a lot of variation, but again if you bring your hands up to this position and experiment, you will quite rapidly find that there is a certain optimal distance that feels right for you.
- See a ball of light/qi in the centre of your chest space. As you breathe in, feel it gently expanding outward so that the edge of the ball is resting on the palms of your hands. As you breathe out, feel it contracting back into the centre of the heart space. As it does so, try and really feel that the qi and energy at the heart is becoming compact, focused and powerful, displacing any dissonant or imbalanced energy that may have lodged in your heart space for whatever reason.
- Do this for 2-3 minutes, or as long as feels comfortable. Once you are familiar with it if you like as you breathe in feel the ball of qi expanding from your heart to enclose the whole of your body’s energy field, and then contracting once more into the heart space as you breathe out.

Note: For some people, you may feel easier expanding the qi from your heart as you breathe out, and contracting it as you breathe in. This is ok, go with what feels natural for you.
There may also come a stage (and this holds true with all the standing postures) when you feel as if it is no longer necessary to use the breathing to direct the energy in the heart because you can feel the energy in the heart expanding and contracting, ebbing and flowing naturally and intuitively. If and when you reach this stage, the formal focus on the breathing becomes unnecessary.

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you MUST obtain Toby’s permission first, and cite Toby as the author.

Click HERE to read the fourth in Toby's series of articles on qi gong standing postures.

Related articles:

Basic facets of Qi Gong standing for beginners

Qi Gong standing exercises 1: Light body Standing form

Basic Qi Gong standing postures 2: Holding your Buddha belly

Three aspects of Qi within the human body

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Basic Qi Gong standing postures 2: Holding your Buddha belly

This is the second of my articles on basic Qi gong standing postures, click HERE for the first.

This second basic standing position I think of as the buddha belly position, as your hands are in such a position as they look like you are holding a big belly out in front of you, like one of those big fat (Maitreya) Buddha’s that you see so often in chinese households and cultures. You can do it in conjunction with other standing postures (see my article on the three dan tiens HERE) or just as an energy meditation in and of itself.

- Begin by adopting the basic qi gong standing posture
- Raise your hands up to the level of your lower abdomen, with the palms facing toward and just below your belly button, with the tips of the fingers of each hand 3-15 cm apart (find your point of balance here). It looks like you are holding a big belly out in front of you, with the palms on the edge of the lower part of the curve
- Sense see and feel a ball of light in the center of your lower belly. As you breathe in it expands so that its edge rests on the palms of your hands, as you breathe out, the ball of light contracts and intensifies into the center of the lower belly.
- Spend a few minutes (2-3 should be fine) breathing in this way, if you like as you breathe in you can expand the ball of qi/light in the belly so that it surrounds the whole body, contracting to a small size again as you breathe out.
- Return to basic Qi Gong standing posture, relax and conclude.

This is a very helpful exercise for building the strength of the qi in your lower dan tien, which is the center of your physical body’s vital energy. Short time commitment, much to be gained!

Click HERE to read the next in Toby's series on qi gong standing postures.

© Toby Ouvry 20101 please do not reproduce without permission