By Dr. James Shyun and Pat Preble
Although chi-kung meditation can take many forms, regardless of the level or degree of advancement, in breathing and posture there are a few basic principles which will always apply.
Calm Body, Quiet Mind
In the beginning of chi-kung practice and throughout all advanced exercises the primary factor to keep in mind is relaxation and tranquility. To reach a level of directing energy flow in the body it is fundamentally important to be relaxed and peaceful. Emotional energy is very powerful in the body. Negative emotional states and mental upsets create tensions which will block the free flow of chi and can trap chi in the muscles causing it to stagnate there. Trapped ad stagnated chi can manifest as physical pain, damage to the internal organs, emotional depressions and in severe cases, mental derangement. Before engaging in chi-kung meditation it is of utmost importance to relax the body, quiet the mind and still the emotions. Do not engage in chi-kung meditation if the mind is scattered or while feeling any negative emotions.
The human body is equipped with two major nervous systems: the autonomic nervous system which governs heart beat, respiration, digestions and all the myriad functions of keeping the body in good working order. The other is the central nervous system which interfaces impulses from the mind to the rest of the body. When the central nervous system is relaxed, the autonomic nervous system can do its work very easily. Alternatively, when a threat is perceived, a complex set of reactions begin within the body. The autonomic nervous system reacts to impulses from mental impressions sent out through the central nervous system. Respiration becomes shallow, heart beat increases and adrenaline is pumped to the muscles. The threat, in actuality may or may not be real. Many times during the working day the body can be thrown into the above reaction as a result of difficulties encountered in the process of conducting business. White collar or blue collar, it makes no difference, when troubles arise and the mind gets upset, the body will respond by initiating defense postures and reactions. Over a long period of time, if steps are not taken to calm the mind and relax the body, tension and blockages may become chronic. Attempting to practice chi-kung with a chronically stressed muscle system in the best of cases will be ineffectual and in the worst case could lead to serious trouble resulting from more chi getting stuck in an already blocked area.
Perceived threats in the external world are not the only difficulties which will compound tension in the body. Imagine a serene mountain path that winds along next to a brightly cascading stream. While golden sunlight filters through green trees the sound of bird calls can be heard on the clear, crisp, sharp air. How does the body feel? Now imagine walking along any downtown street with jack hammers pounding, horns honking, bus breaks squealing, sirens wailing and people jostling each other. How does the body feel?
For chi-kung practice to be effective it is essential to pay attention to all aspects of living which promote tension or stress and take steps to reduce them in order to wholly and completely relax the body and mind. Waking up to a loud alarm in the morning acts as a shock to the body system. When sleeping, the body is very comfortable and relaxed. If there is a sudden, loud noise the whole body system will jump. A clock radio set to a music-only alarm is a good solution. Laying in bed for a few moments, listening to the music, breathing, calmly smiling at the beginning of the day sets the stage for a healthy beginning rather than a jarring jump-start of the body system.
When sitting to meditate be certain that nothing will interrupt or disturb you. If you are in deep contemplation and the telephone rings the body will get a severe shock. The central nervous system will jump and the autonomic nervous system will deliver and adrenalin shock to the whole body. When this happens it is not possible to control chi. Instead, chi will haphazardly flow throughout the system. This could result in trapped chi leading to stagnation and blockages.
When the body is calm, it is easy for the mind to be quiet and a quiet mind leads to a calm body. The two go hand in hand and are the foundations upon which a productive practice of chi-kung can be built.
Active Calm, Peaceful Activity
In today’s world of rush, hurry, tension and stress we relate movement with will power and effort. This however, is not proper to chi-kung practice. In chi-kung meditation the movement of energy is facilitated through a use of gentle and easy mental volition.
There are two categories of chi-kung practice, active and passive. Passive chi-kung meditation takes place while the body holds a specific posture. The body does not move, the mind and breathe move chi to the dantien and all is quiet. But the practice does not stop at this point. Once the body and mind have reached does not stop at this point. Once the body and mind have reached a state of total aware passivity, the mind then gently directs chi to move throughout the meridians of the body. This is a state of active chi in a calm body.
During an active physical practice, such as Tai Chi Chuan, the body moves and by taking on certain postures chi flows throughout various body parts. The mind is in a state of quiet, open awareness, passively participating in the movement. The changing body postures cause chi to flow. This is peaceful activity. Depending upon the condition of the practitioner, either active or passive chi-qung meditation is better employed.
Upper Body Empty - Lower Body Full
During the practice of chi-qung the practitioner should lightly focus attention on the lower dantien. The upper body must be soft and completely relaxed and void of thought. This creates a yin energy state in the upper body. The lower body is the holder of the active yang chi. The goal of the meditation is to unite the upper and lower body. If the upper body is tense and the mind caught up in thoughts there will be too much yang energy in the upper body. Hard cannot unite with hard. For union to take place the upper body must be soft, completely relaxed and empty. Chi will follow the direction of the thoughts and if the mind is quiet and focused on the lower dantien, chi will naturally accumulate there to fill the lower body.
The Mind Directs Chi - Chi Follows The Mind
This principle is related to the previous one. The practitioner concentrates to train the breath and movement of internal chi. In the higher levels of practice the three, mind/breath/chi, become unified into one. In practice this is a very difficult and delicate state to achieve. From the beginning the practitioner must effortlessly train the breath to be slow, natural, even and deep (no strain, no effort, just very gentle and easy breathing). If emotions are not stilled, if the mind is not at peace, the breath will be strained and difficult. An unpleasant thought usually stops the breath. An unhappy emotion sets up tensions in the body which will block both chi and breath.
Since the mind is the director of chi in the body, cultivating a peaceful mind and quiet emotions is of primary importance, not only for the practice of chi-qung but for health in general. The body will react to an image in the mind as well as to a physical event. It is important, therefore, to be aware of what chronic thought patterns are daily entertained by the mind. Disaster scenarios and constant worry will insidiously wear away at the time body system and to maintain good health, it is advisable to develop a relaxed and pleasant attitude even in the midst of the most difficult of times. In our daily lives, if we engage in constant worry over problems and allow ourselves to become stressed, the resulting tensions in the body’s musculature will trap and stagnate chi laying the groundwork for potential breakdowns through a weakening of the body’s natural defense system. Before engaging in chi-kung meditation it is a good idea to institute a practice of physical and mental relaxation. To have a daily practice of relaxation will not only aid the practitioner during chi-kung meditation but will also be of general benefit to overall health. Establishing a practice of coming back to awareness of the breath periodically throughout the day and taking a minute or two to calm oneself in the midst of the hubbub of business activity will also greatly aid the practitioner later in the actual meditation period.
Since it is not possible to have strong emotions in a completely calm and relaxed body the very first step, always, in chi-kung practice is to relax, relax, and relax. Put a smile on your face and let the mind calm down and focus on the lower dantien. When internal chi has reached a certain level of accumulation in the lower dantien and when the mind/breath/chi are one, circulation can begin. With the breath slow, light and steady, the mind directs chi to circulate throughout the channels and meridians; neither leading nor forcing and no effort, pure peace.
Exercise and Regeneration
During the course of a specific chi-kung meditation and throughout the development of the whole of the practice the practitioner should pay attention to and be aware of the needs of the body. Sometimes one will be able to ‘work hard’ and sometimes one must rest. There is a balance between work and rest both in a single meditation and throughout the growth of the entire practice. For example, if the practitioner feels tired the mind can be directed to the lower dantien and with a light and gentle breath replenish the body system with chi. If the practitioner has a lot of energy, then the practitioner can work with the mind to direct chi through the channels in the body. It is always important to remember when enough has been accomplished for one session. Sometimes eagerness to accomplish the task gets in the way of a good practice. The practitioner must always be willing to let go of all anticipated or expected results and do the practice according to the degree and level of development of chi in the body rather than according to some inner wish to achieve. This is a difficult process for the “Modern Temperament” to master; stopping and letting go, allowing a slow, natural growth to take place.
Moderation, Timing, and Duration
This principle applies to all levels of developmental stages in chi-kung practice. The goal of chi-kung meditation is to circulate a high grade of refined energy throughout the body system. Once the practitioner has reached a level of ease of circulation and unification of mind/breath/chi a process begins of converting accumulated chi into a refined form of energy for the body. This “fire” cannot be created all at once but must be developed in steps or stages and in moderate degrees while the practitioner engages in active training and then rest.
The body’s meridians and organs are accustomed to a certain level of energy. If the energy level were to be dramatically increased over a short period of time, damage could be done to the system because the meridians and organs would not be able to handle the augmented charge. The result could be similar to that of plugging a transistor radio into the output of a nuclear power plant. The process of development of chi energy circulation in the body must be slow in order to allow the body system to adjust to the increase in energy. There is another danger in too quickly adding too much energy to the body system. Some of the organs may be worn or “thin”. By way of analogy, if the air pressure were to suddenly be increased in the tire in a tire that has many bald spots, it is likely to explode. The same can be true for the inner organs in the body. As the practice of chi-kung progresses much care and attention must be paid to the feeling state and effects exhibited by the body. A feeling of heaviness or sluggishness in some part of the body during or after meditation is an indicator that the body part is not able to hold the higher energy charge. In a case like this the organs must be built up to maintain a higher level of energy circulation. Herbs will help and can be used to rebuild weak organs but they must be prescribed by a physician. From this potential hazard it should be apparent to the reader that, for safety’s sake, a qualified master of chi-kung must be found in order to have the guide in the development of the meditative practice.
Haste Makes Waste
Engaging in the practice of chi-kung should be thought of as a life-long endeavor, which it is. Many plateaus will be reached along the way, sometimes the practitioner will fee as though nothing is happening and then something will change and a new vigor will come into the practice. During a specific meditation and over the course of the whole life remember that haste will spoil relaxation. In this modern world of instant gratification, speed and high intensity living there is the temptation to indulge in feelings of ”wanting it all right now”. Chi-kung cannot be had instantly. Years of practice go into reaching rarefied levels of energy conservation and transmutation. These levels must be scaled step-by-step with care and patience and cannot be reached overnight. Only when the practitioner determines to follow the procedures laid out and takes the time necessary to do the practice according to the prescribed methods of training can success be hoped for.
In sum, there should be no exertion on the part of the mind, neither forcing nor forgetting the task. Breathing should be even, slow, light, gentle and natural, allowing chi and breath to unify on their own with no interference or effort on the part of the mind. Postures should be relaxed and comfortable, no body strain, no muscle tension. The training practice should only be of a certain length, not overdone which will allow the developments to progress easily and naturally, day by day, year by year.