In this article, I discuss certain terminology related to qigong and the Taoist approach to health with some personal notes of mine. Here I introduce the main concepts around which I will be building the upcoming blog of mine. For now, I just want to give you an overview.
Qigong is probably still remote and foreign to many people in the world. In short, qigong means training the energy body, as opposed to the more common practice of training the physical body.
I would like to share with you my personal definition of qigong and expand on that a little bit. To me, being a ‘‘qigongist” means that I melt my current bodymind with the current spacetime. In my thinking, body and mind cannot, and more importantly, must not, be separated. This is why I do not like to say ‘‘body and mind”, so I say ‘‘bodymind” .
In a somewhat analogous way, in physics, space and time cannot be separated. Thus one might write ‘‘spacetime”. When I practice qigong, I become greatly more aware of everything, and my existence seems to have no limits. I go to a place where space and time do not exist. My body does not exist. I fuse with the energy around me. And even I do not exist.
As opposed to the more yang practice of training the physical body, Qigong is generally a very yin practice. Here we have one realization of the polarities of the universe. To be healthy, and for the universe to work, you need both of the polarities. Instead of ‘‘yin and yang”, the Chinese say ‘‘yinyang” to emphasize that you cannot separate yin from yang, nor the other way around. If yin did not exist, what would you call yang? If yang did not exist, what would you call yin?
I know what it is like when you stay yang for too long. To compensate for excessive yang, qigong is a great skill to possess.
Arguably, the greatest health challenge that people have is that of finding balance. You hear this all the time. You can be either too yin or too yang. It is alright to be hard, but being hard for too long breaks you down. It is okay to be soft, but being soft for too long is gonna get you run over. Here I must emphasize the dynamic nature of this process. It is not that you ought to find a static balance in your life — it is all about finding that oscillating, dynamic rhythm.
Dynamic balance is like riding a bike. The bike surely moves in one direction, forward. But it is the work-rest cycle of the pedals that makes it go. Similarly, your life moves forward when you find this cyclic flow. This is why it is important to teach and practice both work and rest. And they can both be taught. It might sound dumb to teach resting, but according to my experience, people mostly struggle with resting, not working.
Balance is personal. Thus, never blindly listen to anyone. Learn what works for you in your current situation. Know yourself! Keep investing in studying yourself. Just because you heard that some people live a healthy life in a certain manner does not mean that you will also be healthy living that way. This is one of the bigger problems in societies where people are taught certain lifestyles. Instead, more emphasis should be placed on teaching how people can get to know themselves. No one else can tell you who you are. Knowing yourself comes from within, and meditative practices bring out the answers that can be only heard by listening to yourself in deep silence. When you know yourself, balance is within your reach.
After several years of studying, I have gotten to know myself pretty well. I know what works for me. And one thing I know is that I need both yin and yang training, with a large spectrum of intensities. Furthermore, I need to train both the body and the mind, which I find extremely important, though this is again a question of personal preference.
I might even go as far as to say that I personally hate it when people are taught only to train either the body or the mind. Yet it seems like many people do so and they turn out just fine.
Some people just exercise and seem to have no spiritual components, yet they are just fine. Some people hardly ever exercise, yet they might enjoy solving brain-teasers or practice meditation, and they are fine. However, many people, including me, suffer greatly if training either the body or the mind stays neglected for a longer period of time. I am one of those who need both the external training and the internal training. Especially, I need long hikes and runs mixed with qigong. I need to work both with muscles and energy. And when I work with energy, I work with a mind that does not cling to thought. When I work with just muscles, I don’t mind thinking.
Training the physical body has a long history of research and the related concepts seem to be more tangible for people to understand. Training with the energy seems more obscure. This is because practically everyone can sense the physical body, but only specially gifted or trained people can clearly sense the energy body.
Note that you can train the mind and the energy body by seemingly training the physical body. To the untrained eye, qigong movements might seem extremely ineffective and all too simple and plain. This is true in the sense that qigong alone can never make you fast or strong. You still need regular exercise. But mere physical exercise can be extremely strenuous and catabolic over time, and it can exhaust you mentally, too. Qigong flips this all upside down: qigong puts your bodymind in a parasympathetic state. It is like putting your mind in a cradle while your body does the rocking so that your mind can rest. This is very important for people like me who think and think and think.
Lastly, I want to bring up another point on thinking. So often we hear that you should exercise something called ‘‘positive thinking”, implying that you should put positive thoughts in your head. Or that you should repeat positive mantras and affirmations. All this can really work wonders if done in moderation, but when practicing qigong, it is important not to process thoughts. You only shift your awareness to certain parts of your body depending on whether you are inhaling or exhaling. You do not think, in the typical meaning of the word.
To cope with everything in the long term, you must altogether stop thinking every once in a while. Do not actively put any thoughts in your head. No matter whether you label a thought ‘‘positive” or ‘‘negative”, a thought is still a thought.
Here note that surely you cannot stop getting thoughts in your head just like that. They pop up, who knows where they come from. But what you can do is to avoid processing thoughts as they arise. When a thought comes for a visit, you don’t need to get involved. Let the thought pass through. Processing every thought will surely wear you down.
As Alan Watts puts it so nicely, you must
Leave your mind alone
In qigong, we are friends of moderation. Enough is enough, and it is better to stop picking berries before your basket is filled up to the brim. Likewise, it is best to let your mind be free of excessive thought. In the purest form of qigong training, your mind is totally blank and clear.
Inspired by Zhuangzi, here I might say:
Still water reflects like a mirror
Let your mind be like still water
In my blog I will keep repeating that stillness is the main premise for health. From stillness good things sprout. This is not stillness as in stiff and hard. This is stillness within, yet pliability without.
We warmly welcome you to practice with us. Come in as you are. We will help you find stillness in your heart, however deep it might be hidden at the moment.
White Tiger Qigong
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