Practise the most active qigongs in the early morning and the less active and quiet ones in the evening. If doing several qigongs during the same practice session, do the less active first and progress through the more complex in the am and reverse that sequence in the pm. The idea is to be in accordance with the natural rhythm of the day.
Practise outside whenever possible, particularly in the Springtime, and try to do the quieter methods barefeet, if possible. If you must practise indoors, try to do it on a balcony or at least facing a large window, especially if you have a view of nature.
Don't try to adhere to a rigid schedule of progress—such concepts are ridiculous in terms of becoming healthier physically and emotionally. If you force the intensity of your training, progress will not happen naturally, and being natural is one of the cornerstones of internal training. Conversely, if you only practise when you feel like it, you are even less likely to get enough practice to see any real benefit. I have found that forcing myself to train when I least feel like it has been beneficial in fighting whatever stress was causing the reluctance to train in the first place (i.e., when in mourning for a loved one, when tired from the stress of daily life).
Don't confuse the forest with the trees—symptoms of Qi movement are transitory and should not be the object of obsessive fascination (e.g., "Yesterday I was 'one with the universe,' and it was marvellous. I want it to happen again today."). Many people practise for years without dramatic experiences or revelations, but that doesn't mean that they are not benefiting from their training.
Don't force the breathing in any way. That includes trying too hard to use abdominal or natural breathing patterns. The breathing should be encouraged to deepen and slow down, but don't try to force yourself to breathe correctly, as causing extra tension trying to force your breathing is hardly a worthwhile path.
Don't eat a big meal, drink alcohol, or engage in sexual activity for at least one hour before and after practising qigong. In regards to the latter, there tends to be a wide variety of opinions. For example, Dr. Yang Jwing Ming in one of his excellent texts on qigong recommends at least 24 hours of abstinence from sexual activity before and after qigong.
With particular regard to food, when your stomach is full, abdominal breathing and certain moving methods will affect your digestion, and you can experience cramps or bloating. Similarly, don't practise with a full bowel or bladder. "Holding it in" will impede your concentration on stance, breathing, and visualisation, and can result in a famous qigong condition called Wet Rug. Conversely, don't train if you haven't eaten in some time. It is hard to concentrate if your stomach growls constantly. Have a light nutritious meal before training.
If you think of your training as being partly to refine and produce a better quality of Qi, it is important to have a healthy diet that contains sufficient and balanced foods while avoiding greasy or sweet things. Nor is it necessary to abstain from meat or dairy products unless you do so on ethical grounds or have an allergy to the latter. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that no food or a severely restrictive diet will somehow purify you or make you a better practitioner.
Don't train in either an excessively cold or hot environment. In particular, avoid standing in the draft of an air conditioning unit when inside or facing the wind if practising outside. When doing qigong your pores will be open, and you will be more likely to catch a chill. Similarly, don't continue to train if you are wearing excessively sweaty clothing, as you want to avoid getting chilled from both a traditional Chinese and Western medical perspectives.
Some authorities emphasise the importance of wearing long-sleeved clothing made from natural materials, i.e., silk, cotton, linen, because synthetics can impede Qi flow. I have always preferred the feel of natural materials in my own training, but it is also interesting to note that many of those who advocate the importance of wearing silk or cotton nowadays are also selling qigong outfits made of these same materials! It is also important to acknowledge that some modern synthetics are excellent for resisting wind chill and wicking sweat away from the skin, which minimises chilling when training outside.
Traditional experts also feel that long sleeves and long pants help to keep the Weiqi (our innate protective energy) where it belongs, evenly distributed on the surface of the skin, instead of leaking away from the arms and legs when the limbs are uncovered. It is easy to get carried away with rules like this, though, and I think common sense and the weather should dictate your clothing when you train.
Don't wear tight clothing, belts, or brassiere, as they may restrict the easy expansion of the lower tan-tien or natural chest expansion. Traditionally, the lower and middle tan-tien areas are considered physical pumps for energy, this is why it is very important not to restrict the in-and-out expansion of these areas.
Don't practise standing qigong if you have a fever, or are in the acute phase of an illness, or are very angry. Moving qigong at a moderate pace is better for practising when angry or very depressed, which psychologically is often interpreted as repressed anger. Normally, you will feel more cheerful after having a more vigorous workout—thanks partly to the production of endorphins from the physical demands of the moving qigong.
Women should stop or moderate their training during menses and focus on the middle tan-tien while doing zhanzhong. This is a difficult subject to hand out advice on—partly because I am a man, partly because female students each tend to experience different effects of their training. Certainly, for those women who practise standing and moving qigong regularly, there can be an effect on the severity and duration of periods. This is beneficial for some, not others, e.g.,"My periods seem shorter and less painful, and I experience less pms than I used to." but "If I stand while menstruating I become very uncomfortable." or "My periods are longer and heavier than they used to be."
Make sure that you don't close your eyes completely when training, but don't get mesmerised by one point of reference in the scenery or your environment (i.e., fixating on a speck of dirt on the window or a particular branch on a tree) as this can also disturb proper at-tentiveness and make you feel dizzy.
Don't practise when there is a dramatic change in the weather. Your training can interfere with your body's natural readjustment to the new weather patterns. This doesn't apply if you happen to be doing one of the qigongs designed to aid in adapting to the changes of the five traditional Chinese seasons (Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Fall, and Winter).
Don't move your arms from the required position to scratch a sudden itch. Such sensations are a stage many practitioners go through. Doing so interrupts the postures you should be holding or doing at the time and means that the natural rebalancing of your body is impeded when your hands wander about consciously in this way.
Don't practise when angry. If you are interrupted by family, or friends, or the telephone, avoid losing your temper. This is particularly bad for the Qi and the liver. Don't resume practising immediately unless you have been able to restore your sense of calm.
Finally, if you are shopping around and learning methods elsewhere, don't do qigong exercises that you are not physically or emotionally prepared for. When in doubt, consult a recognised qigong doctor. It is human nature to feel that you don't have to do basic qigong exercises, as you have experience in other meditation methods. For most of us "pride goes before the fall," and it is easy to overestimate the value of your previous experiences.
Don't try to self-diagnose and heal serious and/or acute medical conditions exclusively through methods that you have learned from me or another bagua teacher-consult a reputable qigong or traditional chinese medicine doctor.
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