I have been teaching Qi Gong and other Daoist practices for several years now and have been a practitioner for over 20 years. During this time I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from many teachers of varying levels of attainment and have probably read every classical Daoist text that has been translated into English. Through reading and studying the Daoist classics, studying the history of the people of ancient China who created these practices and learning traditional Chinese medicine as well as spending time traveling and studying with masters in China I have been able to penetrate the mind-set of these ancient practitioners of the Dao giving a solid context in which to apply the various practices that I have learnt into my daily life.
As a full time teacher of these arts it has occurred to me that most people coming to learn Qi Gong for the first time lack the context that I have been lucky enough to access which means that people really have little idea of what it really means to "practice Qi Gong" or what it can do to enrich their lives. Unless you dig a little into the history and stories of the people who practiced and created these arts it is very easy to miss the point to them all together. Also since I now teach mainly in Lithuania I see that there is very little if anything at all of value written in the Lithuanian language to provide the correct understanding and context of what it's all about. It is for this reason that I will attempt to shed some light on this issue and try to give new comers to Qi Gong and other internal arts some much needed context. Through this and following articles to come I will attempt to start to offer such students a clearer glimpse into the world of Daoist cultivation Qi Gong.
I have been asked the following question many times: "How long will it take for me to learn Qi Gong?" My answer: "How long is a piece of string?" (my grans favorite proverb). The question itself makes it very clear that there is a major misunderstanding of what Qi Gong is. If you add this to the way it is often misrepresented in modern times in order to make it into a business for financial gain it is no surprise that much confusion can arise for those starting to learn. The truth is that you will never learn Qi Gong! Let me explain: Qi Gong is not an exercise that you learn and tick off in your list of "things learnt" in fact it is not an exercise at all! It is a lifestyle, a skill that is refined and nurtured for your entire life.
Yes there are movements to learn which mechanically can be learnt in one day or one week but the mistake is thinking that by learning and memorising them you have learnt Qi Gong.
Qi in this context means vital life energy/information and vibration and Gong means skill or attainment so Qi Gong is the attainment of the skill of mastering one's Qi to various degrees over the course of your lifetime through consistent practice and exploration. As Qi can not be separated from its physical root which in our case is the human body as well as its spiritual root which is consciousness itself we can say that it is also the mastering of our physical body and mind too.
So the problem is the lack of context and mistaking the tools (which are the movements and forms) for the method! Ok so what is the method? The method is what is most important, the method is the underlining principles and various processes that the movements aim to take us through. The movements which we call Qi Gong Fa (Qi practice) when done properly, create the correct environment and circumstances that allow the practitioner to attain the skill, the Gong. They allow us to "Cultivate ourselves", to learn about all the different facets of our being. They allow us to make these aspects of ourselves more efficient, to rebuild and restructure the tissues increasing the conductivity of the channels and to improve our health and gain the understanding and the ability to evolve and better ourselves. They create the conditions where by we are able to shed the many layers of tension that we have stored inside our bodies as well as the layers of distortion in our minds that cause us suffering, doubt and confusion by increasing our inner awareness and our ability to "let go of what we are unnecessarily holding onto". Just recently I was teaching a beginners class where we were starting to look at the very early stages of the principle of "connecting the body into one unit". This process starts through correct structure, the mechanical movement of the the Kua ( the area around the hip, pelvis and it's connective tissues ) and correct timing coupled with the use of Ting which means to "Listen" to the body with one's awareness while this is taking place. As I was attempting to explain the goal that we are aiming to achieve it was obvious by the worried and confused look on the students' faces that they knew they were a long way from achieving and understanding this principle and skill! The thing to realise is that it is the PROCESS OF LEARNING to connect the body together that makes us grow, NOT the achievement of finally getting there. For once you do get there, there will be a new process and principle to work through. It never ends! It is supposed to be like that, that is the genius of Daoist self cultivation, it keeps you progressing and evolving until either death or enlightenment or both! And if nothing else along the way as a by-product of this path we can enjoy increased vitality, longevity and a more peaceful mind and insight into who we really are. So this is why I say "Qi Gong is not an exercise", it is a way to cultivate and improve your self. It offers you a theoretical framework and a step by step method in which to achieve this. Through the movements and postures and moving through the various stages we can increase our awareness to the point where we can tune into and release blockages and tensions on a physical, energetic and spiritual level so that we can gain fluidity in the way that our Qi moves around the meridians and the way that our body moves and the way that our mind moves. We can learn the nature of our minds as boredom confronts us while holding the postures. What is boredom? What are thoughts? Where do they arise from and where to they return to? How are they connected to the tensions and those nagging shoulder pains that torment us while standing in Wuji or holding strange postures? Who am I beyond these thoughts? What is the human body and mind capable of? These are the questions that we can answer through these practices... through holding a simple posture or performing what to an onlooker seems like an easy or even pointless movement! This is the genius of Daoist self cultivation and this is the answer to the question "How long will it take me to learn Qi Gong?". So to end this article I ask that new practitioners look beyond the exercises and perhaps do some digging yourself into the history and mindset of the ancient sages that created the ways of self cultivation to gain insight and context into your chosen practice and to approach the learning of Qi Gong and other internal practices as a life long pursuit rather than just another thing to learn and tick off the things to do list. The benefits of perusing this path are infinite and often leaves me in awe. It is a shame that very few people penetrate deep enough into these practices to gain the real fruits that these practices have to offer beyond tingly hands and a bit of relaxation, those things are great but are just the beginning. Keep going and you will see what I mean!