CHAPTER 5: THE FUNDAMENTALS OF QIGONG TRAINING
Participants at a qigong class were relaxed, quiescent and natural
(This chapter is selected from Tao Bing Fu and Yang Wei He (edit), Collection of Qigong Therapies Volume 2, Beijing People’s Publications, 1980, published in Chinese)
Qigong is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine. It is an art where by using his subjective functions a practitioner attains physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. It has extreme benefit in preventing illness, curing illness, maintaining health, improving vitality and promoting longevity. It is an excellent method to overcome chronic diseases and strengthen bodily conditions.
There are certain changes during qigong training. Some of these changes are normal, and some are not. Generally speaking, when practitioners follow training fundamentals, and practice systematically and gradually, most of the changes are usually normal. Only when practitioners do not follow fundamentals practicing qigong, the changes are abnormal. Hence, it is important to know and follow these qigong fundamentals.
There are many methods to practice qigong, and these different methods have different nature and requirements, but generally there are certain fundamentals of qigong training that need to be followed. Theses fundaments are as follows.
Be Relaxed, Quiescent and Natural
There are three aspects in this fundamental. The first aspect is to be relaxed, which is one of the most important fundamentals. During training, it is not enough to relax the body, the mind must also be relaxed. Practitioners must not be agitated. It is only when practitioners are not agitated, they can be relaxed.
But to be relaxed is not to be listless, lazy or aimless. Being relaxed and being focused are complimentary. So when practitioners are relaxed, they are also focused. As correct training requires particular techniques, practitioners must be focused on these techniques.
Why is it necessary to be relaxed when practicing qigong? It is because when people are at work or during their waking hours, their body and mind are in a state of excitement. In such a situation, although the body may be both excited and relaxed, agitated and loosening, there is more excitement and relaxation. Being relaxed is a form of rest for being excited. Thus while practicing qigong practitioners must be relaxed.
The second aspect is quiescence. It refers to the mind being quiet and peaceful. Quiescence and movement are also complimentary. Basically, every dimension of life is movement and change. The mind is always working, and work requires the consumption of energy. Hence, the mind requires that in a certain period there must be a state of quiescence, so as to eliminate fatigue and to conserve energy.
Hence, in qigong training it is necessary to enter silence. But the form of entering silence in qigong is different from sleeping or resting. It is a form of silence while being awake. Thus, while entering silence in qigong training, there is movement, and this movement is in the mind while in a state of quiescence.
Being relaxed and being quiescent operate together. Being relaxed contributes to being quiescent. Being quiescent enables practitioners to be more relaxed. So, being relaxed and being quiescent are two mutual requirements at the same time.
The third aspect is being natural. This refers to many dimensions in qigong training, like posture, breathing and intention. During qigong training, the posture, breathing and intention must be performed in a natural way, and must not be forced. Only when these dimensions are natural, practitioners feel comfortable and derive good results. This point is very important. There is a saying that “the worth of qigong practice is in being natural”.
Unity of Intention and Energy
The unity of intention refers to the required condition during qigong training. Intention refers to the purpose of practitioners during qigong training. It is the functions of the mind. The intention of practitioners has a direct influence on the results of the body.
Qi or energy refers to the practitioners’ “zhen qi” or “real energy”, that is also called vital energy, which includes cosmic energy breathed in from the environment, and the internal energy of the practitioners. It is sometimes called dan tian energy.
(Editorial Note: Dan tian refers to the energy field at the abdomen.)
The unity of intention and energy refers to the practitioners using the movement of his intention to influence the movement of energy. It enables the movement of intention be unified with the movement of breathing.
When performing qigong breathing, practitioners must coordinate his breathing according to his intention. In natural breathing, practitioners practice so that their breathing is long and gentle, like “caterpillar emitting silk, continuous and unbroken.” In circulating energy, the practitioners employ their intention to gently direct the direction of flow of their internal energy. They use intention to lead energy flow, so that gradually their intention and energy become one.
Using intention to lead energy flow should not be performed in a forceful way. Practitioners should not force their intention to lead energy flow. It is following the flow directed by intention.
Movement and Quiescence Mutually Trained
Unity of movement and quiescence is the result of mobile-quiescent qigong. Movement refers to movement of posture as well as movement of internal energy flow. The former is referred to as “external movement”, and the latter as “internal movement”.
Quiescence refers to quiescence of posture as well as quiescence of internal energy flow. The former is referred to as “external quiescence”, and the latter as “internal quiescence”.
A fundamental of qigong training advocates that as qigong is an art to manifest and harmonize a person’s physiological and psychological functions, it increases the “movement” of the functions, so as to attain yin-yang balance, generate energy flow in the meridians, harmonize energy and blood flow, develop vital energy, and eliminate illness.
According to traditional Chinese medical philosophy if the energy flow is not smooth, illness will occur. To ensure the flow of energy, it must have “movement”. Hence, movement is fundamental. But this internal movement must occur in the presence of quiescence. Hence quiescence, the internal quiescence of the mind, is a fundamental of qigong training.
There must not just be quiescence. And there must not just be movement. There must be a unity of movement and quiescence. In some types of qigong, movement is the main factor. In other types of qigong, quiescence is the main factor. But both movement and quiescence must be trained mutually.
In practicing quiescent qigong, there must be external quiescence and internal movement. In quiescence there is requirement for movement. In practicing mobile qigong, there must be external movement and internal quiescence. In movement there is requirement for quiescence. At an advance level, movement and quiescence are unified.
Thus, according to difference of personal factors, like age, gender, character, bodily constitution and developmental stage of training, and considering that different patients may suffer from different diseases, or the same disease at different levels, practitioners should train both mobile qigong and quiescent qigong. For example, after practicing quiescent qigong, practitioners can perform some mobile qigong exercises. Or, everyday practice once or twice quiescent qigong, and then once or twice mobile qigong. For example, in the morning they can train mobile qigong, and in the evening they train quiescent qigong.
At the initial stage, they can first practice quiescent qigong, or first practice mobile qigong, or they focus on quiescent qigong as the main qigong type, or focus on mobile qigong as the main qigong type. All these depend on various circumstances, but generally practitioners should train both quiescent qigong and mobile qigong.
Top Empty Bottom Solid
“Top empty” refers to being light and fresh on the upper part of the body, i.e. above the navel. “Bottom solid” refers to being solid or firm at the lower part of the body, i.e. below the navel. When energy is sunk at the dan tian (which is the abdominal energy field), energy and breathing have returned to the origin (which means that energy flow and breathing have become established and strong), and real breathing has returned to its roots (which means breathing has become natural and firm), that the top be empty (which means light and fresh).
Only when the top is empty, the bottom can be solid, which means a feeling of strength in the inside body, and vital energy filled the whole body. Hence, irrespective of whether practitioners train quiescent qigong or mobile qigong, they should have the feeling of top empty, bottom solid. Top empty, bottom solid is attained by applying intention to manifest energy at the lower body. When intention arrives, energy will also arrive. Hence, during qigong practice, practitioners cannot let intention to be stationed at the top body only, but allow it to be loosened and settle down at the middle or the lower body.
This enables energy to circulate and not be devoid from its roots. (When energy flows round the body, it will be focused at the dan tian, or abdominal energy field.) Top empty bottom solid has great meaning in qigong training. When people are growing up, have grown up, or have experienced aging, if they are ignorant of nourishing life, when they reach old age, they have high blood pressure, feeling of head heavy and feet empty, and their walking is not stable. They have the sensation of “top aplenty but bottom lacking”. These people become tired and angry easily. These symptoms are common amongst people who do not know how to nourish life.
Those who practice the art of nourishing life recommend directing energy to flow to the lower body, to have breathing return to the roots, to consolidate the lower body with energy, and to prevent the symptoms of top solid bottom empty. So, the principle of qigong training is to consolidate the lower body with energy. When the lower body is consolidated with energy, the upper body will naturally be “empty and light”, with the mind fresh, the eyes and the ears clear, and walking steps sure and stable.
Amount of Fire is Sufficient
One of the important topics to be considered when practicing qigong is to have good control of “sufficient fire”. When fire is insufficient, it will be difficult to have good results. If fire is excessive, there will occur deviation. Fire here refers to training time and effort. In qigong training it is important to consider the following factors regarding training time and effort.
In terms of intention, practitioners must practice as if their intention is there or not there, as if forgotten or helpful. Practitioners must not be over intentional.
In terms of breathing, practitioners must aim for being natural. The breath must be slow and soft. It should be deep abdominal breathing that is gentle and long, and energy circulates inside the body. The breathing must be accomplished naturally. It must not be forced.
In terms of posture, it is necessary to be naturally relaxed and comfortable. It must not be rigid nor forced.
In terms of training time, practitioners must complete the practice while still with strength, and still with interest. They must not force themselves to practice longer.
Systematic and Gradual Progress
Systematic progress means practitioners must practice the art according to the methods and developmental steps of the art. They must have three “hearts”, which are the heart of confidence, the heart of determination and the heart of preservence. They must practice with endurance but not aim to practice with haste. They must persevere in their practice.
Qigong is an art where a practitioner manifests his self-training to cultivate his body and heart (which means mind). Self-training refers to following certain requirements, going through certain training time and methods, gradually strengthening a person’s physiological and psychological functions. It strengthens the immune system, overcomes illness and promotes longevity. Thus one must not imagine that qigong benefits can be obtain within a morning or an evening. To obtain results, it is necessary to practice seriously, where a minute of training will produce a minute of benefit, and there are no other ways.
On the other hand, each training method has its own procedure and requirement. Students should follow the procedure and requirement in their training. Progress step by step, from swallow to deep, and practice the basics well. If students do not practice seriously, and practice the fundamental art well, but are hasty and aim to progress fast, not only they will derive no benefits but also derive adverse effects. Progress systematically and gradually. The progress may appear slow, but it is actually fast.
Participants at a qigong class were "top empty bottom solid".