Was That Qi?
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
First and foremost, a hearty welcome to my new readers and visitors! It is my fondest wish that whether you come to me for a session or just want to peruse this website and blog for information, Washtenaw Clinical Qigong serves as a source of inspiration and learning.
Now, getting down to the nitty gritty, I would like my very first blog post to revolve around the topic of distinguishing Stillness-Movement Clinical Qigong and my Tui Na practice from other things that may look outwardly similar. If you look up a video of Qigong exercises on the web, one of the easiest exercises to find and perform yourself is Lifting the Sky, from Ba Duan Jin, the Eight Pieces of Brocade. If you go through the movement quickly based on a picture diagram or video, it might feel like just a normal shoulder/arm stretch. This is part of why Qigong has at times been compared to calisthenics, stretching/body weight exercises. Generally a key aspect is pushing oneself to strengthen the body's limits, increasing muscular strength, endurance and quickening the heart rate. Going by that description, Qigong can seem like a lesser form of calisthenics, as it is often done slowly, leading to the occasional assumption that popular Qigong forms are just for the elderly or sick.
Compounding this further, some forms of “hard” Qigong practiced in Chinese martial arts can indeed be quite vigorous, with heavy emphasis on body alignment and breath coordination derived from the importance of force vectors in martial arts. And certainly, things like alignment and breath do play a role in the Qigong I practice. Where I differ from practitioners of more Westernized Qigong or massage techniques would be my experience that while body alignment and deep breathing can be an aspect and facilitator of Qi, it is far, far more than that! Indeed, I would say that Qi really defies any description that is palatable to sequential analytical thinking or materialist narratives. For that reason, I don’t hold back in terms of trying to fit my experiences into a materialist, reductionist approach. Now, there are certainly scientific studies that vouch for the amazing depths of Qigong, particularly those from before the Chinese government crackdown on the Falun Gong sect. Qi itself, however, defies any easy categorization.
An analogy I sometimes use is that of a fishing bobber creating waves in the water. An analytical approach would say that there are two distinct entities in this scenario. One is the bobber attached to the fishing line, the other is the water. The action of the bobber moving up and down, and the waves in the water, is an epiphenomenon created by one object acting on another. Shifting now to my experience of Qi, I would say that another way of looking at it is to state that the in the water is an energetic event, one that can’t be reduced to separate physical objects.
So too, while body alignment and breath during Qigong practice can be used to help initiate and facilitate movement and awareness of Qi, the reality of Qi cannot be reduced to these things. In the Stillness Movement Clinical Qigong I learned from my teacher Michael Lomax, my experience of Qi is that it is non-linear, non-sequential and not bound by time and space! In that sense (and I intend to elaborate on this more in a future post) I also differ from those who focus on using mental intention and visualization to lead Qi.
When approached from this angle, taping into Qi is what creates things like smooth movements, body alignment and natural deep breathing, rather than the opposite! You are allowing the higher aspects of your soul to emerge from sleep, and allow the overstressed and overworked linear mind to take a backseat role. Qi is the lifeforce. It is energetic patterns and events that create the body and the mind, the raw creative fabric of the Universe. Qigong is the practice of working Qi, building it and refining it!
“But wait,” one might say, “Chris, you just said earlier that Qi can’t be described with ordinary language.” That is true. The reason why I use these phrasings, like lifeforce, or raw creative fabric, is that they are symbols which speak to that direct experience which precedes regular thought. Moments where one meet their first love, achieved a personal milestone in life or saw a sweeping mountain vista open before them, these are energetic events that one can attempt to describe afterwards, but can leave us speechless and still the analytica
Moving on from this to the Chinese Taoist Neuro-Energetic Therapeutics and Tui Na I employ, people who come in for a massage appointment for help with musculoskeletal pain, will observe that I often use acupressure along the spine. At first glance, these techniques can appear similar to other massage techniques focused on the soft tissues and blood flow. And indeed, good Qi flow can include these aspects. However, as with my description of Qi and Qigong, there is much more that I seek to be aware of during an appointment with someone. In regards to physical pressure, when you are taping into a client’s Qi and nervous system, sometimes less is better!
If I was only focusing on a reductionist muscle treatment, I feel that I would be doing my client a disservice! For me, techniques done in the physical locale of the para-spinal erectors would also include awareness of Qi flow along the Bladder, Governing and Gall Bladder meridians from Traditional Chinese Medicine, along with the energetic organ systems they relate to. I aim to help people on the level of the full totality of their existence.
It is that awareness of Qi during my Clinical work, and when practicing and teaching Qigong, that is my focus. In future posts, I plan to further elaborate of some of the things I’ve discussed today. Stay tuned!