Oct 25, 2017
If you practise QiGong, you might be well aware of the internal (physiological and spiritual) effects of your practice and probably even be able to follow and even cultivate the flow of Qi inside and outside your body. If you are at such level of mastery, you may not have any questions regarding how to better your practice.
But if your QiGong is more like a regular physical or spiritual exercise you are looking to improve, the seven simple and unconventional steps outlined below, might be of the greatest benefit. You may have read or otherwise received some advice on how to improve your form, how to move smoothly and feel the energy inside, etc.
Without trying to repeat what was already written and said multiple times, the below list will try and fill in some gaps: Some of these methods might strike you as not directly related to QiGong, yet they will offer enormous improvements to your everyday QiGong exercise.
What do you practice QiGong for?
Broad as a concept QiGong is, its applications are equally extensive. QiGong includes breathing, meditation and exercise techniques, on a higher level even medicine, healing, nutrition, and many more areas of holistic health and well-being. QiGong could be practised sitting (or in any still position), in movement, it can be a form of meditation or exercise, you can do Qigong for spiritual advancement, enlightenment, or simply physical health and longevity. Whatever your goals, both your body and spirit will benefit from regular QiGong practice and if you do any form of moving QiGong exercise, applying the below steps to your practice will see immediate improvements in your results. Not only will these steps be applicable to the traditional form of BaDuanJin, but to almost any form or style of QiGong you may practise, so keep on reading.
Practise your stances every day, even outside of QiGong
There are five fundamental stances known to GongFu and QiGong practitioners: MaBu (or Horse Stance), GongBu (or Bow and Arrow Stance), XieBu (Or ‘Twisted’ Stance, PuBu (or Sliding Stance), and XuBu (or Empty Stance). To learn and practise all five stances, the most basic Shaolin form WuBuQuan is a very good resource, where with the addition of TuLiBu (or Crance Stance), the actual number of stances would be six. If you have such interest and access to Shaolin GonFu training, it would be best if you seek out a teacher and attend at least basic courses to learn proper stances.
If you have no access to a teacher but are interested in learning the stances check out the below video. (You need not go as low in each stance as the demonstrator did.)
Of course, some of these stances are rather difficult and most of them will never be used in the most basic QiGong form, the BaDuanjin, still, practising these additional stances will have the added benefit of strengthening your legs and willpower. If you are interested in only learning and practising the absolute basics, essential for BaDuanJin Practise, you must only learn and practise two of the five (or six) stances mentioned: MaBu and GongBu.
You will find detailed instruction on how to perform these two stances correctly in the Beginner's Book of Meditation. (Edit: Unfortunately that title is no longer available. The upcoming book, "Understanding QiGong" will have detailed instructions of the stances and much more.) What is important for improving your training is the frequency of your practice.
For the best results, you should practise your stances every day, in addition to your regular QiGong exercise. When you are just starting out, your legs and back may be weak. Holding these stances will require a considerable effort putting a great strain on your neuromuscular system. Exhausting yourself with just standing correctly will have a deteriorating effect on your QiGong form. Practising the stances every day will address this problem, as you can gradually build up your strength, stamina and flexibility necessary for you to be able to concentrate on your QiGong. Practise every day, gradually increasing the length of each practice session:
• First, hold each stance for only 2 seconds.
• When you are comfortable with that, increase the length to 5 seconds.
• When that does not seem challenging (after a few weeks probably), increase the length you hold each stance for, to 10 seconds,
• …and so on, up to 20, 30 and eventually 60 seconds in each stance.
When you can hold MaBu for a minute without breaking a sweat, you have built up more strength in your legs than most QiGong practitioners ever will. This will not happen any time soon. Practise meticulously, put in the effort and you will see great returns in your QiGong!
Consider learning joint mobility
QiGong forms are very beneficial for your joint health, when practised correctly, but if your mobility has suffered many years of sedentary life, working at a desk, and sitting all day long, some additional, more targeted joint mobility exercise will have the benefit of being able to perform each movement with greater accuracy, having your joints prepared for movement, further strengthening the already great effect of QiGong on your health.
The human body was designed for movement, yet we tend to sit all day long, be it at work at home or in transport. Without going too deep into the various adverse health effects of sitting that much, the one most immediately applicable to consider is: Your joints will stiffen, limiting your movement.
Your joints are lubricated with a special liquid called synovial fluid. This works much like oil in an engine, reducing friction between moving parts. When you are motionless, your body considers your joints out of use and reduces the amount of synovial fluid secreted into them. When you move, however, the secretion of the fluid will increase, to protect the joints form the increased demand, making your movements smoother and easier in turn.
After not having moved enough for many years and especially if your joints are very stiff, the quality of the movement to reclaim your mobility will be of the utmost importance. To avoid being injured, you must not only move very carefully and slowly, but your movement will have to be anatomically correct. The below training video playlist offers a thorough and superbly effective approach towards joint mobility, from Scott Sonnon, a great advocate of reclaiming health through movement:
Click here to go to the youtube playlist (embedding of the videos is unfortunately disabled)
Practise joint mobility every day, preferably right before your QiGong, as a way of warming up your joints.
This is a no-brainer. Having your joints prepared for movement, now you’d have to make sure the rest of your body can adapt as well. Having great mobility is only half the way without flexibility. While some advanced stances from step #1 will improve flexibility greatly, learning and practising yoga will go much further than those and will be probably much more readily accessible.
While there is much more to yoga than most western yoga studios offer, the physical exercise taught in any respectable yoga place will be well worth the effort even if only used for the improvement of your flexibility. In addition, you can practise yoga right after your QiGong as a way to stretch down and bring your mind back from your practice.
Make sure you move, not just stand
If you practise BaDuianJin Qigong, as taught in traditional texts and illustrations you must remember: The static positions outlined there will always only mark the end of an elaborate set of movements.
BaDuanJin is a moving meditation exercise, although it is often illustrated with standing figures. The reason for this is rather simple: Even the great masters of ancient China did not figure out how to produce moving drawings. While these static end positions are the most important parts of your form, the movements between are of great importance of their own. Many benefits of BaDuanJin QiGong will be lost if you neglect these movements.
Keep moving smoothly and continuously throughout your practice, unless you reach a static position. Pause there for any number of breaths you usually would, then with the next inhale (or exhale) keep moving on.
Treat it as a meditation
Do you tend to rush through your practice? Or do you treat it as a physical exercise? Does your mind wander while you mechanically go through the movements? If yes, you are missing the essence of QiGong…
Any form of QiGong is essentially a form of meditation and as such, it requires sharp and undivided focus. Where you would focus depends mostly on your level of expertise. When you are only just starting out or learning your favourite QiGong form, your focus should always be on the movement itself. Without worrying too much about being correct, you should keep a sharp focus on trying to reproduce the movement learned, as best as you can. Paying close attention to what you do, will have the added benefit of being able to learn the form of your choice much faster than otherwise.
If you are a seasoned practitioner and are able to go through the movements without thinking about what to do next, keeping a sharp focus would immediately become a lot more challenging. If your movement has already become a routine, it will not occupy your mind and your attention will be dragged away by any external or internal stimulus that may occur, be it thoughts, worries or something in your environment. You must then choose a point of focus and keep all your attention right there:
The most obvious choice is your breathing. All your movements are closely related to your breathing, so focusing there will have the benefit of always being aware of both your breath and your movement. Generally speaking, when your limbs move away from your body, or you ‘give’, you should exhale, while when they move towards your body, or your ‘receive’, you should inhale (there are of course some few exceptions from this). Focusing on this connection between your breathing and movement may be the best for beginners. As you gain more experience, you can move your focus straight to your breathing and let the movements ‘happen’, as if automatically, while never losing awareness of what you are doing.
If you are familiar with embryonic breathing and QiGong meditation, there is no better way to advance it to the next level, than incorporating it into your QiGong practice. Of course, you will need to have considerable experience in both sitting QiGong meditation and the moving QiGong form of your choice, to be able to follow this path.
Anything you usually focus on
Any other point of focus, if it helps you during other regular meditation practices, may be of use here, only you set your own limits.
Look for the ‘energy ball’
If you practise QiGong meditation, you may be familiar with the concept of the shrinking and growing ball of Qi inside your lower DanTien (the centre of your abdominal cavity). When you assume a position such as “Hold the spirit and guard the one’ (pictured), you may become aware of a sort of resistance between your palms. This ‘ball of energy’ will be noticeable in many of the exercises if you pay proper attention and prepare your senses. This ball will also grow and shrink with each inhale and exhale, just like the one in your lower DanTien. You can also strive to feel, or create resistance against your open palm when pushing away from your body.
When there are opposing actions, just like pushing with one hand and pulling with another as in ‘Drawing the bow to shoot the hawk’ or pushing upwards with one palm and downwards with another, like in ‘Separating Heaven and Earth”, not only the resistance against your palms should be noticeable, but such resistance should be felt across your whole upper body.
This sensation is that of the accumulation of many bodily processes, being activated or specifically directed and cultivated, commonly known as Qi. (In the west, the concept of Qi might often mean some sort of immeasurable internal energy, but the original meaning of the concept is much deeper than that, including internal and external respiration, electrical impulses travelling your nervous paths, blood and lymph circulation and all bodily processes, including the immeasurable life force altogether.)
Being aware of your Qi when practising QiGong is essentially putting the meaning back into your practice.
Stop labelling things
You might consider your practice internal or external, soft or hard, health-focused or spiritual, etc. You may even think your practice is better than another one, or consider the feats of some master superior to your ability. Such labelling only means one thing: distraction from the essence of your real QiGong.
Your QiGong is all of the above at once: It is internal and external at the same time, regardless of the form or way you observe. Every QiGong is health-centric and spiritual at the same time, having similar benefits regardless of names or forms. Your QiGong is neither superior nor inferior to any other, it is just different, it is unique, it is your own. The only difference is your perception: The same Qigong becomes spiritual if you have an interest in spirituality or fitness exercise if that is where your mind dwells. Different QiGongs do not have different qualities, but different people do have different minds.
So stop labelling your practice according to what you understand of it and just keep doing it instead, not worrying too much of what you think it means. Your QiGong will benefit from it greatly.
Following the above simple steps will ensure you get the most out of your sessions. Are they easy? By no means. Are they worth it? To the last bit. You will need to invest time, energy, have a lot of determination, but in the end, the returns will out-weight your investment manifold. If you are stuck at any point, do not hesitate to contact me to see if I can help.
Please share this article on your favourite social network and draw the attention of your fellow practitioners, if you fond this advice meaningful.
The free download of QiGong exercise may be a great starting point if you are just considering to learn QiGong, and if you subscribe to the Meditation for Beginners newsletter, you will find even more valuable resources to aid you in learning QiGong.
New to QiGong? Check out the new article Morning Qigong – Start Your Day With The First Movements Of BaDuanJin to learn a basic, 2 minutes QiGong form, that could help you get into the routine of daily practice easily.
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