Qi Gong is the practice of improving the body’s ability to acquire and circulate energy, or “Qi”, throughout the body. Qi is actually a much broader concept than the term “energy” conveys. Traditionally the Chinese did not assign the term “Qi” an absolute definition to encourage an open-minded approach to the concept. Its Chinese character actually depicts steam rising off rice as it cooks. More recently, it has been defined as “life force” or “vital-energy.” For our intents and purposes here, there are a few concepts that are important to understand. First, although Qi may not be absolutely definable, it is tangible. That is, an experienced Qi Gong practitioner can feel energy and its movement. Second, blood and lymph follow Qi. So, if we improve circulation of Qi to a particular point in the body, that means we are going to have increased circulation of blood and lymph to the affected area as well.
Our system of Ba Gua Zhang Qi Gong focuses primarily on improving the health of the organs. The idea is, if the organs are healthy, then the rest of the body is automatically healthier as well. It is important to understand when we refer to focusing on the organs, we are not just talking about the physical organs themselves. We are also referring to their energetic counterparts, which relate to the body’s ability to perform a particular function. While possibly related to the function of the physical organ of which it shares a name, the energetic organ usually covers a larger scope of function within the body.
Where Does Qi Come From?
Yuan Qi, or “Original Qi”, is the first source we’ll discuss. The amount and quality of Yuan Qi a person has is heavily dependent on the health of their parents at the time of conception. Yuan Qi is continuously developed by the body until puberty ends. After that, it is used slowly by the body for the rest of the person’s life as a catalyst for the mixing of energies from food and air. It is said that once a person’s Yuan Qi runs out, so does their life.
Da Qi comes from the air we breathe. It’s not oxygen, but many believe the Qi transference comes from the body’s absorption of negative ions in the air. In our system, the manner in which we breathe not only improves our body’s ability to acquire Da Qi, but causes physiological responses allowing the body to return to homeostasis. An accomplished practitioner naturally takes in more air, can more easily manage stress, and is in better overall health.
Gu Qi comes from the food we eat. When we eat, energy from the food is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine, refined in the spleen, and sent upwards to the Lungs. There it is combined with Da Qi to create Zong Qi. Using Yuan Qi as a catalyst, Zong Qi is transformed into Zhen Qi, which is then circulated throughout the body. It is this circulated energy that we work with through Qi Gong exercises, working to improve delivery to the various parts of the body.
Circulation of Qi
For optimal circulation of Qi, we must discuss the Qi Gong Trinity of Movement, Focus, and Breath. Building on the principle of San Bao, or Jing, Qi, and Shen, incorporating these three aspects of practice makes for a complete Qi Gong system. In the beginning, the student trains these separately so as to not be overwhelmed. As the student progresses, these practices are combined, one at a time. Once they all function together, the student can achieve optimal Qi circulation.
The first member of the Trinity, Continuous Movement, involves the posture of the body and continuous changes between tension and relaxation (Yang and Yin) in various parts of the body. This focus on the physical body, or Jing part of San Bao, allows us to create natural tension in the areas of which that we want Qi to flow. Posture is important, as we want proper body alignment to prevent excess tension, or tension in unintended areas. This excess tension would cause unnecessary usage of Qi, or send it to a location we are not currently focusing on. The movement is continuous, creating a non-stop power circulation of Qi through the body to the intended destination.
This continuous movement is generated by focus on the joints. Focus on joint strength and movement, instead of a muscle-focused approach, allows us to create natural tension within the body causing Qi to automatically flow to that point of tension. In addition, a controlled, multidirectional joint-first approach automatically works the affected muscle, ligaments, tendons, and fascia in a way single plane exercises simply cannot.
Joint focused movement allows us to prevent tension in unwanted areas, which would hamper the Qi flow. We couple this with low posture, and a slightly raised Hui Yin. The lower posture automatically engages the Lower Tan Tien, which creates a pumping action (more tension and relaxation) to move the Qi. Lastly, the raised Hui Yin prevents leakage of energy through the perennial area, allowing for more energy to be circulated through the body.
As the body becomes more reflexed with these ideas of proper posture without tension, and proper movement without waste of Qi, the overall circulation of the qi, blood, and lymph improve. With this comes a stronger immune system, and resistance to disease, stress, and other negative outside factors. This also helps prevent injury throughout the day as the body is more prepared to deal with unexpected movement or outside forces.
The second member of the Qi Gong Trinity is Focus, which ties back to the Shen aspect of San Bao. For this purpose, think of Shen not just as spirit, but as your will and drive to achieve, or having a clarity of mind. One of the biggest users of Qi in our body is our brain, and frequent excess of stress can cause us to use more than our daily acquired Qi, and dip into our Yuan Qi. We juggle too much, too often, and it takes a toll on our Shen, our will. Our body uses excess Qi to keep up with our will, and we are stretched too thin as we try to accomplish more and more in today’s society. If the Shen is taxed, and the Qi is drained, then the body will suffer. It is at these times that we tend to fall ill, sometimes just with a simple cold or flu. But given enough time of poor habits, sometimes something more serious can take hold.
It is said that Qi follows mind. So, if we are practicing Qi Gong and our mind, our intent, is not clear, how can we expect the Qi to flow where we desire? How could you maintain proper posture, breath, and intent while thinking about your unpaid bills or the grocery list? The circulation will be fragmented, and the practitioner will not develop the deep power circulation of the qi they are trying to achieve. Through separate training, we train the mind to focus on one thing through meditation. Then we roll that back in with the movement and breath.
Through this singular-focused approach, the mind gets a break from the rigorous tasks it must face every day in today’s society. Qi usage drops, allowing for us to build and restore our internal energy. Long-term, this allows for a calmer mind, and the ability to see clearly in overwhelming situations. Like stated before, blood follows Qi. So, with a clear mind will come better circulation of blood and lymph.
The last member of the trinity, breath, directly involves the Qi aspect of San Bao. First, we are acquiring Da Qi, or Qi of the Air, from the air which we breathe. Proper, calm breathing in and out of the nose allows for the most Qi absorption in the sinus cavity and lungs. Breath also causes other physiological responses. Proper natural breathing, or Tan Tien breathing, directly affects the parasympathetic nervous system due to the abdominal cavity swelling and relaxing as a result of diaphragm movement, and the its proximity to the nerves on the spine which tie into that system. This allows for the body to return to homeostasis, resulting in a drop in blood pressure, easing of stress, and better circulation through the body. Breath also effects the previous member of our trinity, Focus. As breath is trained separately in the beginning of our system, it creates a trigger for calming the mind and allowing a singular focus to rise.
As the practitioner’s breathing improves, their ability to recuperate from stress and other ordeals improve. As the body’s Qi reserve grows, it helps us to prevent dipping into our Yuan Qi if pushed beyond our normal limits. Also, because of the diaphragm’s movement, increased circulation occurs into the abdominal cavity, improving health and efficiency of the physical organs themselves. The body’s normal oxygen supply improves as well, as the lungs can take in a larger quantity of air during normal breathing.
We refer to Ba Gua Zhang as “a complete system.” This not only refers to its martial capability, but its ability to improve all manners of health in ourselves. As you can see from above, the health aspect takes into account the whole body including the physical, energetic, and mental/spiritual aspects. These systems are not separate, and must be addressed for a form of exercise to be considered “complete.” The great amount of detail our system includes when focusing on martial and health benefits, interweaving these concepts within our exercises so all aspects of our body are affected, are what truly makes this “a complete system.”
By Eric Lawman