Why Qigong? A personal perspective
I was originally introduced to Qigong on one of my very first retreats by Vessantara, I have been practising ever since. He in turn had and continues to receive instruction from his principle teacher, in this respect, Master Lam and I in turn from him. It is this system of practise, together with a mix of my own experience and principles from Thai Bodywork/yoga that I have been sharing with members of TES as part of our meditation evenings. Why?
The language of ‘energy’ has always seemed to resonate. The ‘energy’ precepts somehow seem to make more ‘sense’ to me than the conceptual ones. It seems a little closer to my actual experience, at least in general terms. It’s a bit like the difference between using words and pictures. On the whole the language of pictures manages to convey something that words don’t, although you may argue, it might be the hands within which the words lay and I can’t argue with Han Shan, Blake or TS Elliot but you get the general idea.
This language of energy of Qi (Qi defined as universal life force, prana, spiritus etc.) has been around for a long time. If you take the Upanishads as your reference (I find them a bit mythical) a very, very long time. At least in terms of Qigong they first appear in written form in a collection of texts known as ‘The inner classic of the Yellow Emperor’ (the basis for all traditional Chinese medicine) by an unknown author around 300 – 100 BCE.
Both Buddhism and Taoism have had there respective influences which accounts for the differing versions of the same text. So it is not new, far from it. The practises of yoga, qigong etc use the language of energies extensively and due to my personal predilection for such language and I am, in turn, drawn to them.
The central point here is that the energies of body and mind aren’t two. That what we do to the body energies effects the mind and vis-a-vee. In Qigong the body is moved and/or held in a particular posture and it is purported to bring about a particular mental state/event. When practising there is definitely a connection between the movement and a my mental states. However, explicit definition, at least as I have experienced to date, isn’t quite as definite as the methods might suggest. Accepting that it maybe due to a lack of sensitivity on my part or a deficient/inexpertly applied technique. Having said that, as long as there is a perception of positive movement, mental and physical, when engaging with the exercises, that’s all that really matters. If there wasn’t, what’s the point, right?
So by working with our body we can effect our energies and our mental states. We can practise the cultivation of stamina, balance, being grounded, centred, alive and vital all of which are positive emotions and, in Buddhist parlance, forms of metta.
We are also using the breath to help to connect, ground and let go as well as to focus and train our attention. You might recognise this as another application of the underlying principles of the mindfulness of breathing.
Finally, it all happens within the context of full body awareness the foundation upon which all successful meditation is based. So, for me, my personal practise and that which I share with those who are interested is “an experiential body based manifestation of the Triratna system of spiritual practise”. Through the practise of Qigong we work on both body and mind simultaneously which is a pre-requisite for an effective practise of seated meditation.
The practise of Qi-gong definitely generates a greater awareness of the body mind experience but life isn’t quite like that. We don’t exist in self contained bubbles (or possibly we do) apart and separate from life but rather in a constant ebb and flow, pulse or throb of life. How can Qigong help here? There’s no doubt that self awareness is indispensable but is there a teaching, an extension to the practise of Qigong that takes it out of the arena of self and into that of life? The answer seems to be yes, specifically, partner exercise’s such as Tui Shou or ‘Push Hands’. Tui Shou is not a separate practise to Qigong rather a natural extension to it.
So, whilst maintaining a personal practise of Qigong, Ba Duan Jin and time permitting, Dao-in there is an exploration of partner exercises which I find very revealing which has ramifications for communication, relationships and how to ‘move’ effectively within them. For example…
There is a force arising, whether from within or from without, you can’t stop it coming what do you do? There are some very simple and direct partner exercises that show that when force is met with force there is a locking of muscles, of minds of metaphorical “horns”. If we run away you just take the energy in the back instead of head on.
The alternative offered by Tui Shou practise is the principle of “following the energy”, “yielding, neutralising and issue”(issue as I understand it to mean is using the energy, with metta, towards the opponent). Tui Shou offers a practise, in supportive conditions, of the application of the principles that underpin the practise of Qigong. Maybe you could say it’s qigong in action? e.g. Can we stay centred, balanced, vital etc in the face of life’s challenge.
These practical, actual, body/mind experiences are far more convincing than mere words.
In these partner exercises you learn to “listen” not just to the ‘self’ but to ‘other’, to develop a ‘receptive, creative and appropriate response’ to life not just with the body but, as the two aren’t separate, with the mind as well.
I would be very interested to hear from anyone who might want to mutually explore this area of practise a little deeper than we are able to within the context of the practise sessions.