An Introduction to General Qigong Theory

The following is a simplistic overview of a fascinating, complex and disputed subject. While you don't have to be an expert in qigong or Chinese medical theory to benefit from your bagua training, it can certainly help if you understand some of the key concepts.

One key concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (tcm) is your body, mind, and spirit are all interdependent. They affect one another at all levels. An ailment of the mind will be reflected in the body. Similarly, any physical ailment must affect the emotions and spirit. This attitude, called Holistic in the West, is also seen in the interpretation given to the functions of the organs.

When you are in good health, your Qi is strong and abundant and flows smoothly to all parts of the body, including skin surface. If your Qi is blocked, or deficient in certain parts of the body, disease can more easily occur. Our basic, Innate or Original, Qi is inherited from our parents, and its quality is fixed and dependent on their heredity, health, and age at your conception.

It is impossible to change the quantity or quality of this Qi through qigong. However, you can positively affect the quality of the Acquired Qi that you create within yourself to, at least partially, compensate for weak Innate Qi, or for Qi prematurely wasted through poor living habits.

Conversely, healthy living habits (clean environment; nourishing food and drink; good thoughts; avoiding or minimising excessive behaviour; maintaining supportive relationships) are essential for making real progress through your qigong training. Practising qigong of any kind should be seen as one of the mechanisms of living a healthy lifestyle.

According to tcm, Qi circulates through twelve main (ching) and eight extra meridians (mei) close to the surface of the skin. The former are each connected to major organs or regulate organic processes. The latter are storage reservoirs and major conduits for internal energy.

Three of the extra meridians are particularly important:

• The Governing Vessel (du mei) starts at the bottom of the torso, goes up the spine and over the top of the head to the upper palate.

• The Conceptor Vessel (ren mei) begins at the tip of the tongue and runs down the centre of the front of the body to the bottom of the torso.

• The Girdle Vessel (dai mei) runs around the waist from the area of the kidneys in the back to the navel. This is the only horizontal "power line" in the body, like a rope that ties together all the others that run vertically. This is why there are many qigong exercises designed to twist the waist. This is said to massage, open, stimulate, and strengthen this crucial vessel and all the organs in the middle of the torso.

In addition to the twelve meridians and the eight vessels, there are also numerous minor channels (lou) which, like capillaries in the circulatory system, carry Qi to the skin surface and to every cell of the body, especially to the bone marrow—which, modern medicine tells us, is a major player in the immune system. One of the main aspects of Qi—Weiqi/Protec-tive Qi—is to act like an invisible buffer against infection and "bad Qi" entering the body.

The twelve meridians are said to consist of six pairs, each component having a Yin and Yang relationships. In the upper (or Yang) part of the body the three Yin meridians run from the chest to the hand, and the three Yang meridians from the hand to the head. In the lower (or Yin) part of the body the three Yang meridians extend from the head to the foot, and the three Yin meridians from the foot to the abdomen and chest.

Internally, each is connected to and named after one of the main organs of the body. Externally, each channel connects with the skin at specific hollows or the acupuncture points. Imbalance in a channel can manifest itself in its related organ and vice versa. For example, pain along the heart channel, one of the shortest, from the tip of the inside edge of the little finger along the inside of the arm to the armpit, can indicate a heart problem.

Although new points are constantly being discovered, the main points on these "power lines" have been charted for thousands of years. Good health depends largely on a smooth flow of Qi along the channels. This, in turn, requires the body and mind to be in harmony.

Yin and Yang is a way of expressing this idea of balance and constantly changing state of equilibrium.

The written character for Yin originally represented the shady side of a slope, and the term is associated with such qualities as cold, quiet, responsiveness, passivity, darkness, down-wardness, decrease, and femininity. Yang originated as the character for the sunny side of the slope. It is associated with qualities such as heat, stimulation, movement, activity, excitement, vigour, light, upwardness, increase, and masculinity.

Tin, Yang (Traditional Chinese)

Everything has both Yin and Yang qualities. It is the interaction between these two forces that creates Qi. If your Qi is in harmony, both Yin and Yang are in balance. Like the blood circulatory system, the Qi circulatory system supplies energy to every cell of the body. Any physical or emotional injuries or muscular tension, can impede or block the smooth and balanced flow of Qi within the body and affect the health in various ways.

The classical analogy compares Qi to water which always seeks to flow into and fill the low from the high.

Fortunately, blockages and imbalances will often clear up on their own as Qi always seeks to balance itself. When they don't, you go to a qigong doctor for advice or treatment. For example, a Chinese doctor will try to discover whether or not your kidneys are processing liquid wastes as they should, and if their vitality, or lack thereof, has caused the pain or weakness you are experiencing in your legs. If the pain is accompanied by related symptoms such as a lack of willpower and mental acuity this points to an imbalance of energy in the kidney and/or its meridian.

Modern experts tend to compare Qi to electricity in terms of its quality and function. This is as good an analogy as any for modern students, but Qi is no more definable in objective terms than any other subjective aspect of life.

Humans seem very fond of analysis and categorisation and, as a result, there are several major categories of Traditional Chinese Qigong: self-healing, martial, medical and spiritual. These broad categories can be approached from a Taoist or Buddhist, Tibetan, or even Muslim perspective. There has been much blending over the centuries, and many methods cannot be neatly pegged into only one category.

Any of these categories can be approached through passive or active methods. But, there is some crossover. Some methods of passive qigong do involve slow movements of parts of the body, and some forms of moving qigong involve moving the legs but limit movement in the arms and torso.

In recent years in China there has been a tendency to make qigong medicine, theory, research, and practice more scientific from a Western perspective and to divorce it completely from any association with the religious roots of the art. There has also been a concurrent boom in the amount of qigong practices available to the Chinese community and, through the immigration of many qualified qigong teachers and video/dvd sales, to the Western public.

In addition, a wealth of traditional and modern documentation has been translated and released on this subject. Sorting through such a mass of information in English, let alone in Chinese, is difficult enough. It is even harder to experience and absorb it. Qigong and the internal martial arts seem to attract more than their fair share of students who would rather discuss and theorise over a cup of tea than practise with any intensity.

Qigong is a complex subject. Unfortunately for those seeking enlightenment on what Qi is and how to cultivate it, as one can see from the following comments of different experts, they are hardly unanimous in their opinions: "Do any method correctly and Qi will be manifested without effort." "You must follow 'the true path' to develop Qi." "Qi is not a mysterious force, you can practise safely on your own." "Qi must be cultivated with great attention to detail and under constant supervision, or you will harm yourself."

Such statements often tend to obscure, rather than assist, the process of investigation. In pragmatic terms, the therapeutic uses of acupuncture and acupressure on humans is well established in the Orient. Its successful use on a variety of domestic animals also indicates that Qi manipulation has a real effect.

However, scientific studies in the West and in China are inconclusive in regards to what is really going on in terms of healing. I remember watching a television documentary a few years ago in which two groups of volunteers were given acupuncture treatment, on the back, for the same chronic medical conditions. One group was treated with needles inserted into the requisite points according to the principles of tcm; the other group was told that they were also being treated with the same appropriate points, but the needles were actually inserted randomly on their backs. Both groups reported roughly the same amount of improvement in their respective conditions.

Despite studies of this nature, it is important to keep an open mind. It would seem to me that analysing the form and function of Qi is of less value than knowing if specific standing qigong practices will, in the long run, make you a healthier person on many levels. Do you have to be an expert on electricity and the inner workings of your electrical can opener to use one?

Many of the best instructors are fervent believers in the traditional approach to Qi and its cultivation. Others, equally respected and skilled, believe that the traditional approach has little relevance to modern students and that the benefits gained come largely through the physical benefits of the exercises. At some point, it is essential for the serious bagua student to research this subject and decide what he or she feels and what to incorporate in his or her training.

In the end, it would seem to me that cultivating internal energy, no matter how you approach it, is largely a question of having faith, good intentions, and of letting go of your doubts and preconceptions. Qigong is not a question of trying to master or control yourself, or your energy, or that of others. It is sad that you frequently come across such approaches. Many beginners are desperately seeking the ultimate truth, the ultimate master. They roam restlessly from teacher to teacher, from style to style, looking for someone they can obey and idealise rather than learn from.

Those looking for medical cures or emotional security are especially prone to being exploited on many levels. The last twenty years have been a fruitful period in both China and North America for the proliferation of qigong "masters," and the Chinese government, in my opinion, is not altogether at fault for cracking down on certain qigong cults it views as dangerous. The history of China is rife with groups that started off relatively innocently and then became full-blown cults or agents of social revolution.

Leaving extremism of any kind aside, qigong experts rarely completely agree on details of their methods. However, the competent ones usually agree on common principles and are good examples of whatever they practise—emotionally and physically sound human beings with lives and/or families outside of what they teach.

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