I am finding many people have huge misconceptions about what Qigong really is. I am not sure where the miseducation is exactly from, but I have a hunch. There are a ton of books on Qigong being put on the market in the west, that are not traditional in any sense, and are so generalized on the teaching, it gives you no insight into the depth to the actual practice. To make things worse, I have seen teachers who have no Qigong experience picking up those books, reading a few times, practice a few times and then begin to teach it as if they know it. To put the cherry on the topping, they are often times teaching some very advanced techniques of moving Qi through the brain to beginners, which is outright dangerous.
In order to understand what Qigong really is, we must first look at what the actual word in Chinese means. 气 Qi means air, gas, vital energy, breath, and or spirit. 功 Gong means achievement, result, effect, skill and or work. So the literal definition is air work, spirit work, breath work, and or energy work. This leaves a broad definition for interpretation. There are literally thousands of kinds and styles of Qigong, some with slow long breathing techniques, some with sharp fast breathing and even some holding breath Qigong styles. The movements can range from ultra fast, slow, to no movement at all.
I was in Beijing studying with a master of internal martial arts of Baguazhang, Xing Yi and Tai Chi. A young foreign student asked him, “when can we learn Qigong?” The master looked baffled for a moment before replying to him “Tai Chi is Qigong, Baguazhang is Qigong, Xing Yi is Qigong.” He went on to explain that the reason they are called the internal arts is because you are using Qi energy in all the strikes and movements. Martial arts such as Shaolin, which is a Buddhist martial art separate their practice into external and internal practices. The Taoists believe that separation is not natural and does not follow “the way”.
How Qigong Could Be Dangerous
Today after I taught one of my students circle walking Qigong here in Bali, he said in a low, serious voice, “some people would not consider this Qigong”. Circle walking is said to have been developed over 4000 years ago in China by the Taoists as an ancient form of Qigong. It involves walking around a central point such as a tree or pole in a circle holding various static and moving postures. The actual main objective of most circle walking is to build Qi throughout the body in this practice. First we teach the physical postures, and movements before we add the internal part of the practice. Why? It is simple, if you do not have proper structural alignment and cannot relax in the posture, trying to add the internal aspect is hopeless. I did not teach the student the internal aspect before he said that because his alignment was way off, he had very little balance and looked extremely uncomfortable. If you try to add the internal Qi aspect during this phase it would actually do you more harm than good.
In the Pa Kua Journal written by Dan Miller in the 1990’s there was an article stating that there were a high number of Qigong related illnesses in the US due to improper practice of Qigong. I have heard of one man practicing Microcosmic Orbit for several years until he got a brain tumor. He was still only in his 30’s. He immediately quit that Qigong. He was practicing a Microcosmic Orbit technique out of a book. I have seen that book and without giving names, they don’t even explain any of the inner steps of the practice, they just go right into the final stage of the practice, which makes no sense for any beginner or even intermediate student. My purpose is not to instill fear, but emphasize the importance of proper practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher
One of my masters always said,
“You cannot learn Qigong from a book or a video. You need personalized instruction by an experienced teacher.”
I had another student who told me they were learning Qigong from Youtube videos. I cannot convey here in words just how dangerous this could be. One master I very much respected told me “When you first begin Qigong and practice wrong it is like cutting with a butter knife because your Qi is weak. When you actually start developing Qi, ad practice wrong it is like cutting with a chainsaw.
I taught one student who refused to do the movements I was teaching them unless I told them which meridian the Qi was going in. This type of attitude would never be tolerated by any traditional master. The student rarely gets to question like this until they have been with the master for many years. Being that I understand the western mind since I am from the US and am American born and bred, I felt responsible to answer her and be polite at that. I told her, until she had been able to perform the physical part of the movement properly, including proper alignments I would not offer her the internal aspect. I also told her how dangerous it is to consciously try to move Qi through meridians with your mind unless you are advanced to a high level. At the beginning and intermediate stages it is best to focus only on the Dan Tian and the extremities when moving Qi. She seemed frustrated by my response, but kept on going with a smirk.
The way I was taught that very same form is to follow it for several years before I was given any details of it. I was taught the traditional way and I like teaching that way. Nowadays there are many people in western society who want to be fed with a silver spoon and they expect you to treat them like a customer-they pay, you teach them what they want. It is one of the biggest reasons actually finding a true master is not so easy. They simply don’t want anything to do with this type of student. Seeing this several times has already opened me to the wisdom of my masters being selective as to who they taught. I have changed to be more and more selective with you I choose to open my teachings on any deeper level to.
I now ask you, what is Qigong really?
-Tevia Feng 林峰
Martial Arts and Qigong in Bali, Indonesia