It’s been an exciting & historic weekend here in Boulder, Colorado, for qigong enthusiasts, for it marks the first time ever that a major delegation of practitioners from China’s Wudang Monastery has visited this country. The Wudang monks & priests performed four Taoist ceremonies, demonstrated a wide variety of tai qi, qigong and martial arts forms, and treated us to sublime performances of Taoist sacred music. The program also included talks on Inner Alchemy and Chinese/Taoist philosophy, I Ching readings and Talisman drawings. This Taoist Summit, which was sponsored by the Association for Chinese American Enrichment and held at Boulder’s Millenium Hotel, drew to a close today. The delegation now proceeds to Austin, Texas, where ~ from July 10-17, they will be offering a similar program. The weekend, for me, was profoundly enriching ~ intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually ~ and if you’re able to attend the Austin program, I would highly recommend it! (For information about the Austin program, including a beautiful short video, please go to http://www.healingtaoinstitute.com)
In the wake of this program, I felt that an introduction to the ancient art-form/spiritual practice of Qigong (the basis of all martial arts forms, including taiqi) might be of interest, particularly to those who are hearing about it for the first time. “Qigong,” most generally, refers to practices whose aim is the cultivation (“Gong”) of life-force (“Qi). There are literally thousands of different forms, though they are often divided into two major groups: (1) External forms, which utilize physical movement as a way of accessing, cultivating and moving qi; and (2) Internal forms, which are performed with the physical body in a relatively motionless position, and which utilize the breath, imagination & intention of the practitioner to access, cultivate and move qi. In these practices, it is the human body and its life-force that is the “altar” upon which spiritual practice unfolds.
I. Benefits of Qigong practice
There are many wonderful benefits derived from practicing qigong (chi kung), which fall into five general categories:
?1. Curing illness and promoting health.?
2. Enhancing vitality and developing internal power.?
3. Promoting youthfulness and longevity.?
4. Expanding the mind and the intellect.?
5. Spiritual cultivation.??
According to Chinese Medical thought (which is based upon Taoist philosophy), practicing qigong can cure as well as prevent all kinds of illness, including diseases like asthma, diabetes, hypertension and cancer … which are generally considered “incurable” by conventional western medicine. Practicing qigong is also very effective for overcoming emotional and psychological problems. (In China, there are hospitals which use only qigong for the treatment of a wide variety of conditons.) Once the physical, mental and psychological levels of our being are functioning harmoniously, we can then begin to use Qigong practice to develop ourselves spiritually. The pinnacle of Taoist Internal Alchemy practice is the attainment of “Immortality” ~ a merging with the Tao/Void (which in Buddhism is called becoming a Buddha).
II. Qigong Hardware & Software
There is a basic Yogic axiom which states that “Prana (life-force, energy, qi) follows Citta (mind, intention). What’s also true, however is that ~ according to Taoist philosophy & practice ~ mind/citta not only “leads” but also is made of energy/qi. Actually it is only because mind is made of qi, that it can then direct qi Ã¢Â?Â¦ by virtue of another fundamental principle of qigong practice, namely: qi attracts qi. So the energy of our mind (our intention, our focus, our will), when directed to a certain place (say, in our bodies, or else upon some “external” person or project), begins then to attract additional qi/energy to that (internal or external) place.
In this culture it is not uncommon for people to consider the mind to be synonymous with the brain. In terms of Taoist practice, however, they are two distinct, though inter-related entities: the brain being somewhat analogous to our computer’s hardware; the mind to its software. The energy-forms of the mind are, in qigong practice, understood to be the “software” for our brain/central nervous system. What we know from quantum mechanics, of course, is that the “hardware” of our computer just as much as its “software” is ~ at the level of the quantum field, the level of sub-atomic particles ~ simply energy, or space infused with thought-energy. But in terms of our more Newtonian day-to-day living, it’s still useful to make this distinction (between hardware & software, brain & mind), and explore the relationship between the two.
We can apply these principles to one of the simplest, yet most powerful, of qigong practices: focusing the mind (mental qi, or shen) on the lower dantien (the field of the lower abdomen, below the navel, in front of the sacrum). By simply keeping a portion of our attention here, we attract additional qi/energy into that reservoir, creating a store of life-force that can then be used in all sorts of useful and pleasant ways. You can experiment with this any time you have a free moment Ã¢Â?Â¦ by simply dropping your awareness, your focus, deep into your belly, gently holding it there, and noticing what you feel. Doing this practice for even just five or ten minutes per day can be deeply beneficial ~ physically, mentally & emotionally.
III. Three Qigong Practices To Bring You Back To Center
1. Gently rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper front teeth. This connects an important energetic “circuit” used in qigong practice (called the Microcosmic Orbit) and will both energize and center you.
2. When you’re standing, walking or sitting in a chair, keep your feet hip-width and parallel at their outer edges, toes pointing straight forward (your big toes will probably be just slightly narrower than your inner heels). Many people have the habit of standing & walking in a “pigeon-toed” or “duck-footed” pattern. Much better to stand and walk with your feet parallel, an alignment which then translates into proper alignment of the legs, hips, spine & entire skeletal system ~ which will open the flow of energy in your body, and bring you back to your center.
3. Bring one or both of your hands into “praying” position, in front of the center of your chest (at your sternum/breastbone). This will bring your awareness back into the center-line of the body.
IV. Four Simple Lifestyle Recommendations Supportive Of Qigong Practice
1. Try to spend an hour or two every day in a place of inspiring natural beauty (or at least outside, in a garden or near a tree). Taoist practice has its roots in the close observation, appreciation & attunement to the wisdom of the natural world: the elemental rhythms of the plant, mineral & animal kingdoms. There is much to be gained, for the qigong practitioner, from simply being in a forest, or near a lake or river, or in the mountains … with an attitude of openness, receptivity & curiosity.
2. Try to include in your diet an abundance of fresh, organic (and preferably locally-grown) fruits, vegetables & whole grains. If your diet includes dairy products, fish and meat, it’s particularly important to select the organic varieties of these, whenever possible. Try to reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, pharmaceuticals and recreational drugs.
3. Every three to five years try to do an herbal intestinal cleanse & parasite-removal program. An excellent one (and my recommendation) is the Dr. Natura program (http://www.drnatura.com). Dr. Kam Yuen (http://www.yuenmethod.com) also offers excellent anti-parasite products. Parasites (from the very large to the microscopic, and found throughout the body) are arguably the world’s number one (and largely unacknowledged) health problem.
4. Cultivate an attitude of friendliness, kindness & compassion toward all living beings (including yourself!).