Park Bok Nam's theory of energy development and cultivation includes three different "types" of qi in the body. The first is what Park calls "skin qi." This is the qi that moves through the body's energy meridians, channels, and associated collaterals. When the practitioner practices qi gong and feels warmth, tingling, heaviness, fullness, etc., they are experiencing awareness of the "skin qi." This kind of qi can be cultivated through both static and moving exercise.
The second kind of qi Park calls "nerve qi." This is the energy associated with the nervous system. This energy is best trained through articulation of the joints through their full range of motion while maintaining proper body alignments and mental intention. Without body movement, this kind of qi will not be developed fully. This qi is usually experienced as an electrical kind of tingling or shock and is usually first noticed in the area of the joints.
The third type of qi in Park's model is "bone qi." This is the energy which courses through the bones. This type of energy is usually the most difficult to cultivate because in order for it to develop their needs to be a good balance and cultivation of the other two types of qi (skin and nerve). Again, for the fullest development of this energy, movement it necessary, especially rotational movement and articulations of the joints. The practitioner will usually first experience awareness of this energy as a dull ache inside the bones as if something inside the center of the bones is trying to expand outward. The point here in referring to these three "types" of qi in the body is that in order to progress beyond the awareness and cultivation of "skin qi," the practitioner needs to move the body.
As discussed in the first installment of this article, some schools of Ba Gua will start beginning students practicing various components of qi gong separately and thus static posture holding, sitting or standing meditation, and sitting or standing breathing exercise may be included in the curriculum. However, later in the development process, all of these components are brought together and practiced in conjunction with progressively more difficult physical body movements and circle walking footwork.
When learning a set of physical movements, the first two points of focus are the correct, natural body alignments and the use of naturally efficient motion. In terms of energy conservation and movement, the body works best when all motion is natural and efficient, the body is relaxed, and the mind is connected with the motion. Body alignments which take advantage of the body's natural strengths will help to conserve energy and also serve to distribute energy throughout the
Park Bok Nam executes one of the Eight Mother Palms from his system of Ba Gua Zhang body in the most efficient, balanced, and wholistic manner.
When learning proper body alignments, the student should first be taught how to align his or her body with the force of gravity and then be taught how to take advantage of "ground strength" and naturally strong body positioning. By "naturally strong" I am referring to alignments which take advantage of the body's natural positions of power (those that don't rely on the use of muscle strength), such as the peng (ward-off) strength which is emphasized in Tai Ji Quan. These alignments work to teach the practitioner how to align the body structure such that the postures are strong and connected to the ground. Learning to utilize alignments and ground strength, the practitioner will not have to rely on muscle strength in executing the postures or movements of the practice and the body can remain relaxed, but strong at the same time. In Ba Gua Zhang, the positions of the eight mother palms are usually used to train the student's postural alignments. There are no "standard" eight mother palms. All systems of Ba Gua have slightly different versions of these body postures.
In the beginning levels of posture and alignment training, the students may spend time holding static postures in order to become familiar with the proper alignments. It is much easier to learn how to align the body correctly when standing still. However, if students do not eventually transition from static posture holding to moving exercise, it will be difficult for them to learn how to maintain the proper postural alignments in the context of martial arts movement.
Many students who have trained proper alignments in static posture holding have a difficult time maintaining those alignments once they start moving their body and/or their feet. In many schools of Ba Gua Zhang the typical sequence of training includes the student first learning eight static upper body positions (the eight mother palms), then learning how to maintain those postural alignments while walking the circle, executing a simple directional change between postures, and finally learning how to maintain efficient and effective postural alignments while executing progressively more difficult directional changes on the circle.
Learning how to habitually maintain proper structure and alignment while executing progressively more complex body motions helps the practitioner develop whole body strength, coordination, flexibility, balance, agility, mobility, internal connection and internal energy. If all of this can be executed with a relaxed body and body/mind harmony, the practitioner is well on his or her way to developing high level martial arts skill. If the practitioner does not learn how to properly align the body while executing martial arts or qi gong movement, the movement, and the distribution of energy in the body, will be inefficient and thus the practitioner will not gain the full benefits of the practice. Thus body alignment, efficient motion and correct use of strength should be addressed first in the learning process.
In the West, when we think of exercise, we usually think about working our muscles, increasing out heart rate, and challenging our lung capacity. However, in order to get the most out of a set of qi gong exercises, the set should consist of a series of exercises which have at its base the movement of all the joints of the body through their natural range of motion and the subtle movement of the body's internal organs. These components are far more important to the development of internal health than gaining muscle strength. The internal organs and the joints of the body are the two primary areas of concern when practicing body motion in qi gong training. If the joints are loose and supple and the internal organs are free to move inside the torso as they were designed to move, the internal energy development and distribution in the body can reach optimum levels.
While it is necessary to regularly move all areas of the body through a full range of motion to maintain optimum health, there are two areas of primary importance when practicing qi gong. These are, the joints of the body and the internal organs. The internal organs are responsible for the production, storage, and distribution of energy in the body. If the internal organs are not free to move as they are designed to move, they will not function properly. Each of the organs are designed to move inside the body cavity in a specific manner. If they do not move as they should, the ligamental attachments which hold the organs in place begin to tighten and the organ will either not be able to move freely or will become stuck in an awkward position. Many internal disorders such as kidney stones, bladder infections, poor digestion, shortness or breath, and high blood pressure can be caused by the internal organs not being able to move properly inside the body. Proper motion can be easily facilitated through a systematic program of exercise.
There are specific arm, leg, and body motions which facilitate the movement, massage, or "exercise" of the internal organs of the body. For example, when the arms spread out directly to the sides and the practitioner inhales deeply, the lungs are able to stretch and move properly and the heart has room to move. Similarly, when one hand is raised and the ribs on one side are opened, the lung on that side moves outward and the heart has room to swing slightly over to that side. Alternating left and right raising and lower of the arms enables the heart to move back and forth in a slight swinging type of movement and this helps the heart function. When one or both hands are raised above the head, the ligamental attachments of the liver and/or spleen are allowed to stretch and move. Twisting motions of the torso side to side also aids in exercising the liver and spleen. When the lower back is rounded and then straightened or bowed, the kidneys become mobile within their sphere of movement.
All qi gong exercise sets should be designed with exercises which facilitate a movement of the internal organs. The exercise show above helps open up the lungs, massage the heart, and stretch the ligamental attachment between the liver and the diaphragm.
All complete sets of qi gong moving exercise should address motions which allow all of the internal organs to move within their sphere of motion inside the torso. This way energy movement to and from the organs will be optimum and the organs and their ligamental attachments will be exercised so that they will remain flexible, supple, and able to continually operate to the extent of their full range of motion. If any part of the body, inside or out, ever gets stuck and cannot move as it is designed to move, problems will arise. This is why it is so important that a qi gong exercise program include body movements which work to move and manipulate all joints, ligaments, tendons, and internal organs.
Once the internal organs have produced and stored internal energy, in order for it to be distributed to the rest of the body, it must travel from the torso out to
Ba Gua contains many postures and movements which work to loosen the body's joints. Above Park Bok Nam executes the "Hiding Flower Under Leaf" posture, which works to loosen the neck, shoulders, hips and spine.
the extremities in a full, unrestricted, and balanced manner. Once energy leaves the torso, the most complex areas it must navigate in order for it to reach the distal points in the body are the joints of the body. The joints of the body are complex junctures of muscle, ligament, tendon, flesh, cartilage, nerves, and bone. If the movement of the joints are tight or restricted, it will be difficult for energy to pass through these areas in an efficient manner. If the movement of all the joints, which includes the spine, neck, shoulders, elbows, fingers, wrists, hips, knees, angles, and toes, are loose and supple, energy in the body will flow more efficiently. The characteristic turning, twisting, and rotating movements of Ba Gua Zhang are ideal for opening up and loosening the body's joints.
In Ba Gua Zhang combat application the loose, supple movement of the body's joints are relied upon to produce whole body power and to facilitate the use of the body's major joints as both attack and defense weapons. If the joints are not loose and supple, the practitioner will be stiff and slow and will not be able to use all of these weapons efficiently in fighting.
In the majority of qigong exercise, where the goal of the practice is to rebuild or cultivate energy in the body, the practitioner will want to make all movements slow, smooth, fluid, connected, balanced, and continuous. Ideally this will be accomplished both physically and mentally. In Chinese they refer to this idea as "silk pulling energy." The image here is of pulling silk out of a cocoon. If the pulling motion is not smooth and continuous, the silk strand will break. If the pulling motion is stopped or there is hesitation once the movement begins, restarting the motion will also break the silk thread. Therefore, once the motion starts, it needs to be smooth and continuous.
The silk pulling image can be easily related to the idea of energy flow in the body. Once energy starts moving in the body, smooth, continuous, connected motion will facilitate a continuous movement of the energy throughout the body. If there is a pause, an awkwardness, or a hesitation in the movement, the smooth energy flow will be disturbed. If we compared energy flow in the body to water running through a hose, such a disturbance could be seen as an air bubble getting into the line.
While it is true that the correct movement of the body facilitates a smooth, continuous, connected, and balanced flow of energy in the body, the mind also has an important role to play in maintaining optimal energy movement. As we discussed in the last segment of this article, the intention must be in all movement for the movement to be complete. If the mind does not lead the motion, the energy will not follow the motion. If the mind is distracted during practice, that "air bubble" in the hose will appear. Mind and body need to be integrated in all qi gong practice.
The slow, deliberate motions as described above are mainly used to cultivate and balance energy in the body. This practice is needed no matter how advanced the practitioner becomes. However, there are many "power" qi gong methods which serve to teach the practitioner how to move energy in the body rapidly and project that energy outside of the body for use in martial application. As Park Bok Nam states, "sometimes you need to keep the qi, other times you need to throw the qi." However, as we stated in the first segment of this article, learning how to build and cultivate qi is a necessary prelude to learning how to project the qi out of the body. If it is not cultivated first, there is nothing to project. If it is projected outside of the body too much, then the reserve will be depleted. So there always needs to be a balance in practice between energy usage and energy rebuilding.
In the first segment of this article we talked about the body's use of raw materials in the production of energy. One of those raw materials was air (life force energy). Air is probably the most important energy source the human body has at its disposal, but because the breathing process is "automatic," most people don't pay much attention to breathing. From the Chinese perspective, food and drink are the "energy of the Earth" and air is the "energy of Heaven." While it is important to balance the energy intake between that of Heaven and Earth, we also know that a body can live for weeks without food and days without water. However, the body can only go a few minutes without air. Thus the energy gathered into the lungs from the air is extremely important. The more efficient and effective that process is, the more energy the body will have.
In regards to breathing, there are two main goals in qi gong practice. The first is to gradually and gently increase the lung capacity and the efficiency of the lung's operation. The second is to retrain the body to harmonize the breath with the body's physical motion.
Breathing naturally and efficiently with the breath working in complete coordination with the body motion will greatly increase the body's endurance, strength, and vitality. If the breath is held, or the physical body motions are working against the natural expansion and contraction of the chest cavity, then the breathing will not be optimal. Also, if the practitioner does not execute daily exercises which are designed to gently stretch the lungs, the lung tissue and the intercostal muscles between the ribs can become tight and thus normal breathing will become restricted.
Considering the above mentioned goals, there are two rules of thumb. The first is that during practice the inhale should be executed in coordination with physical body motions which naturally facilitate an expansion in the chest cavity. For example, if the arms are moving up over the head, or are extended out to the sides of the body the physical movement is encouraging an expansion in the chest and thus this is when the inhale should be executed. If the arms are moving in towards the center of the body or down by the sides, this is encouraging a compression of the chest cavity and thus the exhale should be executed.
If the practitioner learns how to completely coordinate the breath with the movements of the body, the breathing will naturally become more efficient. With a focus on this principle during the execution slow movements in qi gong practice, the practitioner will be able to train the body to breathe properly at all times. If the practitioner can learn how to breathe naturally in this manner in everyday life, he or she will notice that they have more endurance and energy. If the training is correct, this extra endurance and energy will naturally carry over in to the combat environment. However, this principle must first be trained during qi gong exercise. If the practitioner cannot properly coordinate the mind, body movement, and breath during the calm and quiet of qi gong exercise, they can not hope to have it happen during the stress of a fight.
The second rule of thumb in regards to breathing and qi gong exercise is the execution of a full inhale and complete exhale. The inhale should be full enough to challenge the breathing capacity of the lungs and stretch the lung tissues and supporting muscles in the area of the rib cage. However, the inhale should not be strained or forced. If the practitioner begins to run out of breath, feel dizzy, turn red, feel strained, or feel pains in the chest, the inhale was too big. The stretching of the lungs should be very gentle, not forced. The increase of lung capacity should be gradually improved over a period of time. Unfortunately, many practitioners, especially those engaged in potentially dangerous exercises such as "iron shirt" training, overdue this aspect of qi gong breathing and cause themselves problems. Dizziness, headaches, and high blood pressure are minimal side effects from forceful breathing practice. In extreme cases practitioners have been known to severely damage the lungs, heart, and diaphragm by being too forceful in executing their inhale. In qi gong, all results are obtained gently and gradually.
Another breathing related problem arises in individuals who focus too much on dan tian breathing without learning how to also properly exercise the upper torso during the inhale and exhale. Those practitioners who only focus on breathing into the lower abdomen typically have restricted movement in their lungs and rib cage due to not sufficiently exercising this area. While learning abdominal breathing is definitely a part of qi gong practice, the student should not focus solely on that aspect of breathing. All energy which comes into the body from the air and must first pass through the lungs. If the lungs and upper chest are restricted in motion, the energy that reaches the lower abdomen and dan tian will not be optimal. One need only watch a baby breathe to see how to breathe most efficiently. A baby's entire torso will expand during the inhale, not the chest alone, nor the abdomen alone.
While it is important to train the lungs to gradually learn how to accept more air during the execution of the natural inhale, a fully executed exhalation is equally as important. The inhale can be seen as the vehicle for gathering the energy of Heaven into the body and the exhale as serving to rid the body of toxins. If the exhale is not complete, this process will not be efficient and these toxins can collect in the lungs and be stored in the body. If the exhalation is shallow, then some of the toxins which the body needed to rid itself of will stay in the body. As with the inhale, the exhale should be full, but not forced. The body should always remain natural and comfortable during both inhalation and exhalation.
In order to increase the amount of air the lungs can take in with any natural breath, it is important that the practitioner of qi gong execute daily exercises which serve to stretch the lungs and diaphragm, and open up the rib cage. Not all exercises need to be focused on this, however, while executing a set of qi m x
gong exercises, there should be some exercises in the set which serve this purpose. The practitioner is teaching the body how to use the lungs to their full capacity and thus breathing becomes more efficient.
body if the student has no experience with qi or if the body is tight. We show these exercises here so that the reader can get a feel for the characteristic Ba Gua flavor in qi gong exercise.
The two Ba Gua qi gong exercises we will show in this issue are two of a set of eight exercises taught by Ba Gua Zhang instructor Park Bok Nam. The entire set of eight exercises will appear in Park Bok Nam's next book The Fundamentals of Pa Kua Chang, Volume II. These two exercises are very typical of Ba Gua style qi gong in that they utilize the characteristic twisting and turning body motions for which Ba Gua has become known. These exercises, and similar variations, are sometimes referred to as "serving tea cups exercises" in the Ba Gua parlance. This name has its origins in an old story which is frequently told about Ba Gua Zhang's founder, Dong Hai Chuan. The story says that Dong was working as a servant in the Emperor's palace and on one occasion the Emperor was hosting a great party on the palatial grounds. The grounds were so crowded with people that moving around in the crowd was a difficult task. However, while Dong was serving tea to the guest he moved himself in and out of the crowd of people with relative ease and served the tea cups to guests without spilling a drop. It is said that the Emperor was surprised at Dong's agility and questioned him about it. The story says that it was then that Dong first revealed his art of Ba Gua Zhang.
Aside from the above mentioned story, these exercises are also referred to as "serving tea cups" exercises because the practitioners intention while executing the exercises is one of holding tea cups in the hands and concentrating on not "spilling the tea." Although the arms and body are continually twisting throughout the execution of these exercises, the palms will always face upward. The image of holding tea cups and not spilling the tea helps the practitioner retain an intense focus (intention) on the hands and thus "keep the qi' in the hands throughout the exercise.
Typically, Ba Gua Qi Gong exercises which are separate from the circle walking forms are going to involved motions which enable the entire body to twist and turn through a full range of motion. This twisting and turning motion is characteristic of the both the health and martial arts movements of Ba Gua Zhang. However, the beginning student will not start out his or her qi gong practice by learning the difficult twisting motions of Ba Gua. The beginner needs to obtain experience with qi gong exercise and awareness of the movement of energy in the body by beginning their practice with much simpler movements and exercises. The exercises shown here will not be practiced by beginners simply because it is difficult to obtain a feeling for the movement of energy while executing these complex turning and twisting motions of the
The first exercise shown here called "Unicorn Turns its Body." This exercise is designed to stretch and loosen the hips, spine and neck joints and allow movement in the areas of the liver and spleen. The exercise is performed as follows:
Photo 1-1: This exercise begins with the feet parallel in a "horse riding stance." The arms are rounded and the hands are held such that the fingers are facing in towards the hips. The palms are facing upwards as if the practitioner is holding something in his or her hands. Park Bok Nam likes to tell students that throughout this exercise one can imagine that one hand is the sun, the other hand is the moon, and the body is the earth. While executing the movements of this exercise the sun and the moon will always stay on opposite sides of the earth as they revolve around the earth.
Photo 1-2: From the beginning posture, the practitioner will toe in with the left foot and shift the weight back on the left leg. The left hand begins to move away from the body towards the front with the fingers facing forward as the right hand begins to move behind the body with the fingers facing rearward. Both palms remain facing upward. The intention is focused on both palms (keeping the tea from spilling out of the cups). The eyes are watching the forward moving hand. The inhale begins as the practitioner starts to execute this first movement.
Photo 1-3: The left hand continues moving forward, the right hand continues moving rearward. The eyes continue to follow the forward moving hand. Both palms are still facing upward and the intention is focused on the palms. The practitioner is continuing to inhale.
Photo 1-4: The left hand continues moving forward, the right hand continues moving rearward. The head turns so that the eyes look at the back palm. This facilitates a maximum twisting of the spine and neck. The hips are twisted as far as possible to the right. All of the weight is on the left leg. Both palms are still facing upward. The right arm is stretched to the rear and the left hand is stretched forward. This facilitates a shearing action in the middle torso which helps stretch the ligamental attachments in the area of the liver and spleen. The inhale is completed as the maximum stretch and twist is executed.
Photo 1-5: The practitioner now starts to exhale and unwind the body. The right hand moves forward with the fingers facing the hip. The left hand starts to move 15 rearward with the fingers beginning to curl in towards i ^
the right leg. The eyes watch the left palm. The palms are still facing upward with the intention focused on the palms.
being stretched through their full range of movement. Continue inhaling. Postures 2-4 and 2-5 also help to open up the lungs to facilitate the full inhale.
Photo 1-6: The practitioner returns to the beginning posture with the arms rounded, palms facing upwards and the fingers pointing at the hips. The exhale is completed and the practitioner is ready to repeat the exercise on the other side as shown in photos 1-7 through 1-11.
The next exercise is one of many variations of the "Serving Tea Cups" exercise. This exercise serves to loosen the spine, neck, hips, shoulders, wrists, and elbows and gently moves the liver, spleen, heart and lungs. Energetically this exercise helps to give the practitioner an awareness of spiraling energy in the body and, due to the movement of the joints, will facilitate development of the "nerve qi.." The exercise is executed as follows:
Photo 2-1: This exercise begins with the feet parallel in a "horse riding stance." The arms are rounded and the hands are held such that the fingers are facing in towards the hips. The palms are facing upwards as if the practitioner is holding something in his or her hands.
Photo 2-2: The left hand turns so that the fingers are facing away from the front of the body and the hand moves forward so that the fingers are eye height and the palm is facing upward. The right hand stays by the hip, but turns so that the fingers are facing forward. The left elbow is pointed down, the right elbow pointed straight back. The eyes watch the left hand and the intention is focused on the left palm. The practitioner begins to inhale.
Photo 2-3: The left palm rotates, fingers turning towards the left, the palm remains facing upwards. The eyes continue to watch the left hand, the intention focused on the left palm as if holding something in the hand.
Photo 2-4: Continue to rotate the fingers as above. As the palm rotates, toe-in with the right foot and begin to shift the body weight to the right. The body begins twisting to the left. The palm comes up over the head, palm always facing upward. The eyes continue to watch the palm. This not only helps focus the intention on the palm, but works to stretch the neck. Continue inhaling.
Photo 2-5: Continue to rotate the palm in the same direction as above. The body continues twisting to the left. The palm has now rotated through 450 degrees (360 + 90). The palm has continually remained facing upwards. The eyes have continually watched the left hand and thus the neck is rotating through its range of motion. The elbow, shoulder, and wrist are now
Photo 2-6: The left hand continues turning until the fingers are facing to the rear. The left hand moves down under the left armpit as it begins to move backward. The eyes continue to watch the left hand. Continue inhaling.
Photo 2-7: The left hand continues to move towards the rear and the right hand begins to move forward. The eyes continue to watch the left hand. Both palms continually face upwards as if holding tea cups.
Photo 2-8: The left hand continues moving towards the rear while the right hand moves forwards The left arm stretches back and the right arm stretches forward as in the "Unicorn Turns its Body" exercise shown previously. All of the weight is on the right leg and the body is twisted to the maximum. The eyes still look at the left hand to facilitate the maximum twist of the neck and spine. The twisting of the body helps to loosen the ligamental attachments in the liver and spleen region and thus energy naturally flows to these organs. The practitioner reaches the full extent of the inhale when executing this posture.
Photo 2-9: The practitioner now starts to exhale and unwind the body. The right hand moves rearward with the fingers facing the hip. The left hand starts to move forward with the fingers beginning to curl in towards the hip. The weight begins to gradually shift to the left leg. The eyes watch the left palm. The palms are still facing upward with the intention focused on the palms.
Photo 2-10: The practitioner returns to the beginning posture with the arms rounded, palms facing upwards and the fingers pointing at the hips. The exhale is completed.
Photo 2-11: The left hand turns so that the fingers are facing away from the front of the body and the hand moves forward so that the fingers are eye height and the palm is facing upward. The right hand stays by the hip, but turns so that the fingers are facing forward. The left elbow is pointed down, the right elbow pointed straight back. The eyes watch the left hand and the intention is focused on the left palm. The practitioner begins to inhale.
Photo 2-12: The practitioner brings the right hand forward and executes a changing palm maneuver. The right hand comes up along the forward of the left hand with the palm facing upward.
Photo 2-13: The right palm extends upwards to eye height. The eyes begin to watch the right palm and the practitioner begins to execute the same movements on the right side. See photos 2-14 through 2-23.
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