What is Qigong?

Since I began teaching qigong around 1990, I have learned, practiced, and taught countless styles.  I think we should change the naming conventions of qigong because they do not match my empirical experience. 

There is one book everyone who practices qigong should read, Qigong Fever, by David Palmer.  It is a history of the politics that created the name "qigong," and the communist political clique that created a vast quantity of junk science claiming qigong was good for everything from curing cancer to re-directing guided missiles (I'm not kidding).

The problem arose because the methods (styles) of practicing qigong were removed from the Golden Elixar (jindan) framework that originally grounded it.  That framework is jing-qi-shen; where jing is everything physical or structural, and shen is everything imaginary including the functional spatial imagination.  In this framework, Qi is the intermediary between these two conceptual-experiential categories.  

Qigong is simply moving with a felt sense of qi around ones body.  With regard to the internal martial arts, that feeling of qi acts as a buffer in between the physical body and the spatial imagination.  The quickest way to develop this feeling is through brush bathing.  

Brush bathing is very simple.  Sit on a bench and pour a bucket of hot water over your head.  Then scrub your whole body with a stiff brush; starting at the top and moving towards the feet, scrubbing the yang meridians before the yin meridians (back before front).  Then pour four buckets of hot water on your head and one cold bucket.  After each bucket visualize (see and feel) the steam as a color permeating your skin and out into space.  The colors should changed from dull to bright, and follow the five element color sequence: green, red, silver, violet, gold.  

Brush bathe everyday for a couple of months until this felt visuallization is easy to conjure.  Meanwhile, learn to dance while maintaining these felt visualizations.  That, in my experience, is the entirety of qigong, the rest is marketing and hand-holding.  

So what are all those other "qigong" type things that people do?  They all fall either into the category of jinggong or shengong.  (The word "gong" means work in modern Chinese, but in a non-communist milieu it means to accumulate merit.)

Jingggong is any specific pattern (or quality) of movement.  (Once you have the pattern, you can add your qigong felt visualizations to it.)  The purpose of jinggong is to change ones physical body through refining ones awareness of it.  That covers a wide range of experiences including: coordination, relaxation, imitation, rhythm, breathing patterns, and ways of connecting or integrating through the body.   

Shengong is the practice of moving the body exclusively with the imagination.  This is how all the internal martial arts work, but it also includes subtle or invisible movements that may happen while practicing visualizations in stillness.  

Jinggong works fine without qigong. And qigong is a wonderful practice on its own too.  They also work well together.  But shengong is not going to work unless one has mastered the qigong practice.  And shengong will not work for martial arts or dance unless the movement patterns (jinggong) are established first.  At the risk of stating the obvious, if one does not know how to kick someone in the head shengong will not help, learn the skill first.  

Colors are a useful way to trick ones mind into experiencing empty space as having substance, so that it becomes easier to manipulate.  There are countless other tricks.  I suspect it will be some time before my naming conventions become conventions.  But calling everything qigong, is not consistent with the basic cosmology of the body or the practice.  Let's change it.

Chi Kung for Making Babies

Year after year, day after day, I hear people expressing enthusiasm for qigong.  I suppose we could say I share their enthusiasm, after all, I've spent many, many years practicing qigong every single day.  The problem is that qigong is not an enthusiastic tradition.

After something on the order of 30,000 hours of practice  all I can say is, I don't know anything.  (According to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours theory, I have accumulated enough experience to have mastered qigong three times!)

To me, the practice of qigong is about becoming a baby.  It is about returning to innocence.  It is about discarding knowledge for the simple reason that babies have it all, already.

Healing?  No one knows what causes healing.  If your life is causing you stress or pain, return to simplicity.  Start from the beginning.  Qigong is a series of movement strategies to coax you back, back to the beginning of the process, or the project, or the job, back to the movement, back to the original inspiration which started to take shape in your body.  Qigong is a process of unraveling, it is a type of forgetting.  Is it medicine?  I dare say it is not.  Can it result in healing? I think it can.

Discovery?  Yes, you will make discoveries along the way, but then you must discard them.  If you build them up into a system of levels and achievements, treat those levels the way any 2 year old would treat a castle made of wood blocks.  Cast them asunder.  Because orthodoxy must have a way to renew itself or its qi will become stale.

Forms?  Forms take you back to before you were born.  They are a way to dance in your ancestor's body.  They collect the width, and breadth, the boundaries of movement knowledge.  They are empty.  Honor that emptiness.

If you write about your discoveries, have the child-like humility to memorize them, and then eat them.

In two years of writing this blog I have not recommended a single book about how to do qigong.  This is not because I'm an asshole.  It's because by the time these books are printed the qi is already stale.  Babies like to chew on books.  I've yet to find one that tasted the way a book should taste.

What Are All the Different Styles of Chi Kung?

I'm working on a web page that will be a clear and thorough explanation of Qigong.  It will include links to articles which explore various details in greater depth.  The following is a short section I have been working on:

Below is a list of all the styles of qigong.  Nearly all qigong practices are named after a cosmological principle (like hunyuan, which means original chaos) or a metaphor which is specific to Chinese culture like Wild-goose, (which means lots of weird movements stuck together in one form).  I haven't included every single name because the same type of qigong sometimes goes by different names, this is a list of qigong by characteristics and type.

I first started studying qigong in 1977 when I was 10 years old because it was considered a basic requirement of Northern Shaolin training.  I first heard the term qigong when I was about 20 in the late 1980's as qigong fever was sweaping Mainland China.  By 1995 I had seen every type of qigong on this list.  Every year I hear someone claim to have discovered a new, yet ancient, type of qigong that is more special that all the rest.  Inevitably what they are practicing is just one the following repackaged.  While I find the claims a little pretentious, the trend itself is positive.  All forms of qigong become very personal over time because all dedicated practitioners will naturally combine and integrate the following types of qigong to suit their needs, values and in accordance with their temperament.  I myself have created two "new" types of qigong; Tiger Skin Qigong and Chicken Toe Qigong.  Here is the list:

Zhangzuan (Standing Meditation, done in various postures)

Wu Xing-Five Organs (While the movements themselves may differ from school to school, the basic idea that each organ generates, and is tonified or depleted by, a particular quality of movement is the same.)

3 Dantians (the use of swinging movement generated from, and integrated with, the three centers of the body, abdomen, chest and head) (Note: Swinging the arms from the lower dantian while shifting weight from foot to foot is the most widespread form of qigong.  Variations are used in almost all martial arts schools.)

Cloud Hands (a simple asymmetrical movement of the arms which can be use as a base for integrating other types of qigong)

Muscle Tendon Lengthening (The art of stretching)

Golden Ball (Moving qi around the dantian)

8 Extraordinary Meridians (Exploring how qi moves around the surface of the body at the moment of birth)

Heaven & Earth (Micro/macro cosmic orbit, three dimensional pulsing & elasticity, usually symmetrical movement)

Spine training (Bend the Bow and Shoot the Arrow; drawing qi into the spine for healing, power, and for connecting the movement of the limbs to the spine )

Chan Su Jing, (Silk Spinning --joint releasing & spiraling movements) go

Immortals Dancing in the Clouds (Bone Marrow Washing, Sinew integration, and development of spherical movement)

Daoyin (Orthodox Daoist Lineage Hermit Practice which uses extensive stretching, with rolling slapping jumping, pounding, scraping and self massage.  Sometimes broken into pieces, sometimes combined with circus training or monkey kungfu.)

Hunyuan (Prenatal movement rediscovered with an emphasis on the movement of fluids and the development of the qualities of empty and full.  Often asymmetrical.)

8 Silken Brocade (8 Sinew lengthening and integrating movements)

Wild Goose (A particular teacher's 'list of favorates' put together into a form linking them together.)  (Geese in the wild do lots of different types of movement.  They run, hop, swim, fly, flap, squawk, root, gargle, preen, stretch, stand on one leg, etc...)

Tai Chi--(Taijiquan, the martial art, can be practiced purely to get the benefits of improved balance, mobility, flexibility, and circulation.  In this case it is often simplified and/or made symmetrical. )

Conditioning Techniques  (Iron shirt, Gold Bell, iron palm--toughening exercise for forearms,shins, and torso)

Taoist (Daoist meditation is sometimes taught as stillness qigong.  Particularly jindan, the golden elixir, and various tension dissolving techniques).  (Sometimes the deity visualization intermediary practices are taught without explicit naming of the deities-- only their attributes as visualized.)

Now that I've released the comprehensive list I encourage people to challenge it!  Have you seen or practiced a type of qigong not on the list?  Can you describe it's attributes?

Note: Obviously I've discarded the standard Communist Government organization.  I've never seen Buddhist, Confucian, or Neo-Confucian qigong.

Update: We had a discussion on Facebook, where my blog now appears (search for Scott P Phillips if you want to be my friend).  I decided that the last category "Taoist" is an identity, and therefore not suitable as a category because it opens up the possibility of naming techniques after identity groups of regions.  Therefore, I am changing the "Taoist" Category to "Inner Alchemy."