Approaching the subject of chi kung (qi gong) is often met with considerable confusion and mystery. As an integral component of Abimoxi, the healing methods employed within the Chinese martial arts, the topic of chi kung is clearly presented without confusing terminology and concepts.
This text explores the art of chi kung starting with a practical discussion of its fundamental principles and concepts. Foundational methods of chi kung practice are explained in detail. Methods used in three specific areas of chi kung practice are also presented, including beginner level exercise.
The specific areas include health and longevity chi kung, methods employed in directing chi for self-healing, and immortal way chi kung. Finally, a review of several regulations and precautions, which the practitioner must be cognizant, are reviewed.
This text is intended for those interested in chi kung as a component of Abimoxi, as well as those interested in chi kung as a personal exercise process for personal health and well being.
Chi is the basic life energy or life force. This energy not only exists in the body but also permeates the entire universe. An understanding of chi itself and the practice methods developed over generations to build and ultimately use chi for a variety of purposes, are referred to as chi kung. Chi kung can be used to foster the use of chi for health and longevity, self-healing, healing others (medical chi kung), religious purposes, and for the martial arts. Throughout practice, the development of a person’s understanding of chi kung will evolve through many levels. However, for beginners, especially those interested enough to being reading this book, an awareness of several general concepts, related to the flow of chi in the body, is essential.
The flow of chi involves circulation of chi within the body. The process of circulation involves the Theory of Channels. The channels, sometimes referred to as meridians, act similar to blood vessels in the body or more precisely, since no physical structure contains chi, a series of jet streams within the body. It can be appreciated that while chi is everywhere in the body, similar to air surrounding the earth, a predominant gathering and flow of chi in the channels is like air gathering and flowing in a jet stream around the earth. Therefore, the Theory of Channels is based upon internal pathways of chi flow. Two special channels form the small circle. These include the Ren and Du channels. Located along the midline on the front of the body is the Ren channel. This channel is the governor of all of the yin energy channels of the body. Located along the middle of the back is the Du channel. This channel is the governor of the yang energy channels within the body. These two channels join in the lower dan tien. The lower dan tien serves as the area where, in the beginning exercises, chi is accumulated, and then circulated through the Ren and Du channels. Since the Ren and Du channels are responsible for maintaining the appropriate amount of chi in the twelve regular channels, bringing the energy in these channels into balance requires the chi to circulate freely and easily throughout these pathways.
The channels within the body cannot be detected by natural sight or even with the most up to date technologic methods. It is therefore difficult for people, trained in the ways of science, to accept their existence and activity. Since it is difficult to prove to science and western medicine that such things exist, the Theory of Channels is often disregarded in the west. This situation is similar to the concept of germ theory prior to the invention of the microscope. Until the invention of the microscope the theory of germs, for example bacteria, could not be proven. There are currently no instruments sensitive enough to detect the presence of chi or map the channels. Nevertheless, medical results attainable through the application of treatments according to the Theory of Channels are sufficiently compelling. The successes of these treatments form a strong base of evidence regarding the theory.
Areas within the body, where chi is built up, is equally important. There are three main areas of energy accumulation in the human body. These include the “upper” dan tien, the “middle” dan tien and the “lower” dan tien. For beginning practice, the lower dan tien is the point of concentration. Chi is generated in this area, therefore, focus at the lower dan tien is essential during the beginning periods of practice. A sufficient amount of chi is required for a person to begin circulating chi. Within Chinese medicine, the lower dan tien is referred to as the “ocean of chi” for this reason.
In the advanced levels of chi kung practice, self-healing chi kung, it is possible to direct the flow of chi from the lower dan tien to points along a channel, for example, where chi has become blocked and resulted in an illness. In the absence of advanced level abilities, treatment of specific diseases can be accomplished more rapidly and assuredly through the use of acupuncture, herbals, or western medicine. These act immediately on the affected points and organs in the case of Chinese medicine, or body biochemistry and physiology, in the case of western medicine. Moreover, when chi kung self-healing is applied in combination with acupuncture and herbal therapies, a highly effective method of rebuilding bodily health and clearing illness is possible. Of note, during good health and in the absence of disease, overall health and longevity can be improved and enhanced through the practice of chi kung. In either case, the practice of chi kung will act to fortify the immune system and cleanse the body.
The practice of chi kung, therefore, can fill the body with an optimum level of chi. At a minimum, optimal chi can thereby enhance vitality, health, and life expectancy. On the other hand, optimal chi can result in considerable strength. The body as a whole can be viewed as a tire. Insertion of a substantial amount of air in the tires of a vehicle results in the ability to carry a substantial amount of weight. This is also true of the human body when filled with a high level of circulating robust chi. The vitality of the internal organs of the body become invigorated, leading to a highly vitalized and strong body. Thus, with healthy organs, the body will be full of life. On the other hand, when the organs are not functioning properly, the body will likely perish. Using the analogy of an automobile, when the body of a car is in good condition but the engine is non-functional, the vehicle will be useless. On the contrary, even though the body of the car may be in poor condition, the vehicle can remain functional when the engine has been properly cared for and is in good condition.
The Calm Mind
Three key factors are necessary in the proper practice of chi kung. The practitioner must adjust the body into a suitable posture, and the breath and mind must be brought under control. People who have been brought up according to the attitudes of western culture generally approach tasks in an aggressive and hard working manner, expending considerable effort to accomplish the goals and objectives as effectively and quickly as possible. While the practice of chi kung is a formidable exercise with far reaching goals and objectives, the western approach to accomplishing these, however, adds a more difficult challenge to practice. Essentially chi kung must be approached from the standpoint of no effort or strain whatsoever. Practicing should be devoid of an attitude of reaching the goal as soon as possible. The rule of expending more effort to reach the end sooner does not apply in this practice. Trying hard will lead to increased frustration and accomplish nothing more than to block chi within the body and produce little toward building chi. Chi kung practice, while in and of itself is a powerful tool, must be accomplished with a calm mind, one that is under control. Any kind of strain or effort on the part of a beginning practitioner will potentially lead to negative and possibly severely adverse results. The concept of effortless effort must be applied in this practice, a difficult concept, at times, for the western mind to grasp. Some thought should be given to this concept, i.e. trying without trying. In other words, chi kung practice involves the mind, yet does not rely on mental activity or strength to produce chi. The mind cannot generate, create, or produce chi. In this regard, the mind is an innocent bystander, merely observing the goings on of the light and natural breathing, with calm emotions, and a relaxed body. The mind must be focused yet exerting no effort. These are the attitudes to be developed for the successful practice of chi kung.
It is important to recognize that breathing should be natural and occur without effort when starting the practice of chi kung. Breathing too deeply and/or exerting excessive effort in the mechanical process of breathing results in negative effects, since too much oxygen can mix with internal chi. Headaches and lightheadedness are frequent effects of this type of incorrect practice. This is analogous to an automobile where excessive air is mixed with gas causing excessive combustion. The same consequence arises with the practice of chi kung. The breathing should therefore be allowed to proceed naturally, without effort, merely calm and natural. Once practice has reached a level where the breath and chi have combined and the mind begins directing chi, breathing can be directed deeper. This does not necessarily mean that the volume of breath increases, but that the breath/chi is directed deeper upon inspiration.
Several different types of breathing can be utilized in the more advanced levels of practice. These include:
- Normal Abdominal Breathing – With this method the diaphragm descends and the abdomen pushes out on inhalation, and the diaphragm rises while the abdomen is sinks inward on exhalation. Normal abdominal breathing is the method relied upon when initiating chi kung practice. Inhalation occurs through the nose and exhalation through the mouth with this method.
- Reverse Abdominal Breathing – This method is the opposite in description to normal abdominal breathing. Here the abdomen is drawn in on inhalation and pushed out on exhalation. Inhalation occurs through the nose and exhalation through the mouth with this method.
- Closing the Chi Breathing – With this method a pause occurs after each inhalation and exhalation. This method is used to “close the chi” momentarily. Inhalation occurs through the nose and exhalation through the mouth with this method.
- Repetition of Words Combined Breathing – Here the practitioner concentrates on the recitation of specific words with each inhalation and exhalation.
- Yaun Guan Breathing – Yaun Quan breathing incorporates deep breathing using the mind to direct chi to the Yuan Guan acupoint, which is located at the center of the sole of the foot. Starting at the Bai Hui point, located at the top center of the head, using the Small Circle pathway, upon inhalation direct chi to flow forward over the top of the head, down the midline, along the Ren channel, to the hui Yin (Ren 1) point, which is at the very base of the trunk of the body. Upon exhalation, direct the chi from the Hui Yin point upward, along the Du channel, back to the Bai Hui point. Breathing is calm and natural through the nose throughout the exercise. Ultimately, chi is directed down to the Yuan Guan once the Small Circle pathway is opened and the Large Circle pathway is practiced.
- Fetal Breathing – This method of breathing is considered advanced where respiration occurs through the navel. The reader should recognize that in the more advanced levels of breathing physiologic breath and chi are united, and the term “breathing” takes on a much broader perspective.
- Skin Breathing – This method of breathing incorporates the practitioner visualizing “breathing” through the sweat pores all over the body. Again breathing, here, refers to taking in and expelling chi and breath directly via the pores.
- Latent Breathing – With this method the breath cycle is very long and slow. Breathing is so gentle that air movement cannot be detected with the normal senses.
These above methods of breathing, except for normal breathing, should not be attempted without the instruction and supervision of a qualified chi kung master.
Breathing and Health
When considering health, fitness, longevity, and even life itself, breathing is fundamental regardless of the breathing method employed. It is obvious that when breathing is ongoing a person is alive, and when breathing ceases, life ceases. Between these two extremes several possibilities exist which consider health, fitness, and longevity, as they relate to breathing. For example, when breathing is normal and appears effortless a person is generally considered in good health. When healthy, the breathing mechanism responds to demands of the mind and body. That is, when sitting and relaxed breathing is slow and effortless, occurring with minimal lung expansion. On the other hand, when physical or even psychological demands require the body to have an increased amount of oxygen, lung expansion increases along with respiratory rate. When in poor health, the lungs do not compensate for these increased demands; breathing is shallow and a person appears out of breath. When these signs are present, it is generally accepted that illness or disease is present. A very important observation regarding those who exercise regularly and effectively is that breathing is controlled and relaxed, allowing for a prolonged and effective exercise period. Individuals who are naive to demanding exercise routines often do not consider the need to control breathing in this manner. Lack of regulated breathing frequently leads to periods of gasping for air in an effort to make up for this type of deficiency in exercise technique. In summary, breathing is not only inseparable from life itself but proper breathing is essential for a vast array of life’s activities.
Breathing, being considered a reflection of a person’s health status, also provides insight into an individual’s strength and vitality. Breathing reflects whether a person is physically capable or weak and whether a person is mentally vibrant or lacks the ability for even minimal motivation. The lung and pulmonary function represent a window into these characteristics. For example, a person with vitality is able to speak with appropriate volume and strength to project words in such a manner that others can adequately hear, and be somewhat motivated by the conversation. In this example, it would be said that a great amount of chi (energy) is present. With inadequate chi the voice would appear weak and depressed. As can be inferred from this description, breathing also reflects the status of the internal organs. In this case, weakness of the kidneys is likely to result in these signs and symptoms. Other physical weaknesses and inabilities are associated with disease such as difficulty in speaking and/or walking due to a blockage of blood flow to the brain, as would occur following a stroke. Similarly, a blockage in the flow of chi may result in weakness and inability. It is understood, within the practice of Chi Kung, that jing, the original essence of energy within the body, undergoes a transformation into chi. If a blockage in this process occurs, organ function may be affected. For example, lung chi and kidney chi are connected under normal circumstances. With illness this connection is blocked. Similarly heart and kidney chi is connected. Insomnia results if the connection is blocked. A person can easily sleep when the connection is maintained. Deep breathing exercises in the practice of chi kung free blockages in chi flow, allowing normal function to return. These are only a few examples of how breathing can affect health.
Breathing and Longevity
Breathing also holds considerable potential for impacting longevity. A lifetime of proper breathing is an important component in preparing for advanced age. The ability, willingness, and knowledge to properly deal with the various factors that overstress the body through proper nutrition, good attitude, and attention to spiritual issues represent other components that will assist in preparing a person for advanced age. Those who practice chi kung believe life should be simple and quiet and the diet should shift with age to consuming less meat and more vegetables and fruit. Under optimal circumstances life expectancy should minimally reach 120 years. However, the lack of attention to the details of proper breathing, diet, and exercise become evident once people reach approximately fifty years of age. At this age considerable change occurs in the body. To mention a few obvious changes, strength in the legs can diminish considerably; the hair begins to gray; wrinkles on the skin become apparent; blue veins may become noticeable under the surface of the skin; and the skin loses thickness. It is understood among chi kung practitioners that the root cause of such age related changes involves a decrease in chi affecting blood elements and its circulation to various tissues. The breathing methods employed in chi kung exercises increase and circulate chi in the body. Chi is understood to also carry or foster the flow of blood supply to various tissues and organs. With proper attention to breathing, a delay in the onset and potential reversal of age related changes could be achieved. Without intervention, the body begins to degenerate as chi decreases. At this point the body can no longer compensate for the effects of overstress without implementing chi kung breathing practices and attention to proper diet and physical exercise.
An easily recognized sign, indicating the body is in poor health, is the lack of saliva production when practicing deep breathing exercises. Correction of this process involves increasing blood elements by stimulating the bone marrow through breathing exercises and proper nutrition. Appropriate care of the body is similar to the recommendation of changing automobile engine oil every three thousand miles. If adhered to, vehicle engines will generally show good performance with little need for mechanical repair. Such engines will outlast those, which have not been attended to in this fashion, by thousands of miles. Ideally, if attention is given to proper care of the mind, body, and soul prior to fifty years of age, the breakdown of the body and many of the health problems that emerge may be significantly delayed, allowing for considerable longevity. Much of this proper care begins with and continues to involve deep breathing exercises.
Breathing and Air Quality
Air quality is important to consider when practicing deep breathing exercises. Air within a tightly sealed home contains many particles, such as dust, and may be lower in oxygen content compared to exterior air. Exterior air can also be of poor quality, especially if it is polluted. For example, air near a busy highway may contain a significant concentration of automobile exhaust. In either case, poor air quality can negatively affect health over time. Deep inhalation of this type of air is akin to the lungs functioning as a vacuum cleaner. On the other hand, breathing fresh air deeply is analogous to receiving a transfusion of blood when anemic. Therefore, breathing air that is clean and rich in oxygen can have immediate effects if a person is used to breathing poor quality air. Over the long-term breathing clean air that is rich in oxygen provides considerable benefit to health, longevity, and quality of life.
In addition to the practice of deep breathing exercises, after fifty years of age several bad habits should be abandoned including smoking and drinking, since these exacerbate weaknesses in the body. Ideally these bad habits would have been dealt with well before this time, however, fifty years of age is the point after which little can be done to reverse the resultant internal damage. Additionally, for maximal benefit, after this age meats in the diet should be avoided, since the body cannot afford to expend the extra energy required in digesting and metabolically processing this type of food. Between the ages of thirty-five to fifty years, a shift in proportion away from meats to fruits, whole grains, and vegetables should take place in the diet. When younger than thirty-five years of age, eating meat will have little negative effect on the body.
Obtaining the proper rest is another important aspect of health and longevity. Taking appropriate rests, when needed, becomes an important health and longevity issue after fifty years of age. A person should be sensitive to the body’s need for rest. When the body requires rest, rest should, at that point, be taken. It is of no benefit to delay obtaining rest breaks to a different time that fits another schedule. When the body requires the rest, every reasonable effort should be made to comply.
In summary, the practice of proper breathing, transformation of the diet to one that is healthy, obtaining the necessary exercise and rest, and turning away from habits that are well known to negatively affect the body, all serve to promote health and longevity. In many cases illnesses are manifest after fifty years of age because the reserves of the physical body become diminished through lack of attention to these issues. Avoidance of health problems or potential reversal of such problems may occur through proper practice and attention to these factors.
With these observations and concepts in mind much can be gained through the practice of chi kung. An understanding of the impact of chi kung practice on exercise potential, health, and longevity underlies the value of this art. The benefits of deep breathing have only recently drawn attention and interest in Western culture. Beginning several thousand years ago in Asia, in particular among Doaist practitioners of China, and continuing generation after generation even to the present day, the empirical (trial and error) study of breathing, in general, and the practice of chi kung, in particular, has evolved into a sophisticated art. This art has been referred to by several names including Tu Na (breathing), Dao Yin (directing the chi), Shing Chi (moving the chi), Fu Chi (feeding the chi), Shao Shi (adjusting the breathing), Jing Kung (quiet work out), Tsan Sho (Buddhist exercise), Zr Guan (stop thinking), Lien Dan (produce the ball), Shuen Kung (misery work out), Shing Kung (sexual work out), Sho Lien (creative exercise), Juao Tsan (sitting meditation), Ne Yang Kung (internal nurturing exercise), and Yang Shan Kung (nurturing or long life exercise). Chi kung practice, inclusive of deep breathing methods, is also considered the oldest and original method of self-healing in China. It’s origins in Chinese history share a heritage akin to acupuncture, tui na (massage of pressure points), and herbal medicine. As the several synonyms listed above indicate chi kung has many applications, in addition to the healing arts. The applications are interrelated and include, but are not limited to, health and longevity, self-healing, medical healing, martial arts, and religious pursuits.