Qi Gong - Refining your skill
Always strive to refine your standing posture during your personal practice sessions. Explore your whole body using your Yi and Ting (awareness & listening), seek out any tension and using gentle intention and your breath to try and release it down through your structure towards the earth. Also it is important to remember that standing is never completely still! Instead we should be constantly making very small micro adjustments, always looking to release more and more body mass and tensions out of the body. As you progress these movements should be made smaller and smaller until they are completely internal. (This takes many years and I am still working through this myself so don't panic!) It is through emptying the body that we attain fullness and buoyancy to our standing posture. This is because the release of tension in the body (which is always a manifestation of Qi stagnation) results in increased qi flow throughout the body. When this is achieved it is very apparent as the practitioner's qi gong postures have a very distinctive quality to them. The body becomes very relaxed while standing but not limp. There is more aliveness to the posture and the practitioner's limbs will have a buoyant feel to them. These qualities are obvious to see to an onlooker watching from outside especially when compared to a beginner who has just started learning. So remember the key to this is Yi & Ting! You must close your eyes and keep them closed as much as you can to keep the spirits inward. You can't Ting inside the body very well at all with your eyes open even if you think you can. The more we allow our mind to penetrate the soft tissues of the body, the better we get at it and the deeper it goes. It is possible, once a fairly high level of Gong (skill) is achieved with Ting & Yi to penetrate deep into the marrow of the bones and gain the ability to move and rotate the internal organs. However after just a couple of years of consistent practice it is possible to open and create space between the joints using only the mind (a requirement for certain practices), open individual vertebrae and to move while practicing qigong using only your (mind) Yi to direct the movements. Sometimes doubts can appear and the acquired mind (ego) will always try to distract you from your practice using boredom, pain, and negative thoughts but remember why we work with the body in these strange postures! :) It is because the physical body is the anchor of the mind. It is also the anchor of our energy body and spirit (Shen). When we refine and strengthen our Yi we do so by using the body as our learning tool. This in turn has a transformative effect on the body and the mind. When we empty out the body we empty out the mind and the blockages within our energy body simultaneously! We can't effect one aspect of our being without effecting all the other aspects. The Daoist approach is to change our health and consciousness through the vessel of the physical body because they believed that to try to change consciousness directly through the mind was possible but too open to self delusion due to the distortive nature of the acquired mind. Instead they approached spiritual enlightenment through the back door by accessing the physical and energetic aspects of our being and making changes at that level in order to effect the mind. Essentially the result is that the layers of acquired mind that distort our true nature and the way we view reality naturally start to drop away. This approach to spirituality is called Tantra and is not only found in Daoism but many other traditions. As well as this, often the consistent refining of a skill throughout one's life be it qigong, martial arts or any skill in fact is said to be a path to wisdom and enlightenment. So when in doubt just practice! You can't go far wrong, if you stop practicing, start again! Start again and again it doesn't matter how many times you fall behind or if life gets in the way as long as you keep starting again! I know I have had to do it many times, it's called being human. And it often inspires me to remember the great sages and masters from thousands of years ago practicing these same things up in the mountains with their long white beards harnessing skills that seem superhuman. With the abilities to heal the sick, to view their own internal organs or to create the internal elixir within the dantien. How do you think they managed to attain that skill and show amazing vitality and longevity? It's no secret really: they received the correct methods and tools from a teacher and then practice, practice, practice, fail, start again........ practice practice... keep going. So when you practice this ancient treasure that we are so lucky to have access to, remember that you are walking in the footsteps of the ancients. It is a path well tried and tested and mapped out for us by the old sages from the mountains. All we have to do to honour their gift is to practice sincerely, and do the best we can with the time we have. We should also not allow this amazing knowledge to get watered down, modernised or just thought of as something to do on a Tuesday night. This is in fact a technology that allows us to transform ourselves and evolve to our full potential as both the human and spiritual beings that we are. I see many practitioners of Qi Gong who are stuck! In other words they go through the motions of qigong practice but they are no longer progressing in the the way they should be. When we stop refining the different aspects of our practice and just keep doing the same thing we will get the same thing over and over! However when we instead work to constantly refine our structure, movement, breath and yi/ting etc, not allowing ourselves to get too comfortable we improve and grow as practitioners. I hope this article will gently nudge students into the right direction with their practice. Don't just go through the motions, refine more, release a little deeper, listen deeper, breath smoother, connect your movements a little more each day. This is the way of Qi Gong cultivation.