What is Qigong (Part 1)?

What is Qigong (Part 1)?


What is Qi Gong?  “Qi Gong is what we do all day long.”

This definition addresses two dimensions:

  • Qi Gong is how we deal with our body, mind and life energy.
  • Qi Gong is how we connect to our surroundings (nature as community) and with ourselves.
In both dimensions, we can go along with what we are used to (and what we have been conditioned to) – or establish conscious practice.When we get irritated at a driver in a traffic jam, we do the Qi Gong of getting angry at other people, when we do our Qi Gong exercises with frustration about our progress, we do the Qi Gong of impatience with ourselves, when we bring our baby to bed with care and softness, we do the Qi Gong of loving attention for someone else.
What we do again and again, will affect our souls and impact our bodies.I can discern in this definition two implications – an encouraging and a discomforting one:
  • Conscious Qi Gong practice is the cultivation of a natural, everyday process. This means it is accessible to everyone.
  • Conscious Qi Gong practice is not limited to a set of exercises, nor does the performance of exercises guarantee beneficial results. We can practice healing Qi Gong without doing exercises, just by being fully present in what we do. And we might mobilise little or unfavourable Qi, when we do the elaborated Qi Gong movements. Therefore, what really matters, is not so much what we do, but how we practice.


Qi Gong is a natural process

The process of Qi Gong mobilises and directs energy by spirit and subsequently shapes bodies by this energy flow. This is a process we can observe both in our everyday lives as well as in nature.

The process in everyday life: Imagine someone approaches you to give you a gift. The first thing that moves is your attention. It has immediately arrived at the gift – and subsequently brings about a flow of energy that ultimately moves and carries our arm and body towards what is presented to us.
Now imagine first that this gift is presented to you by someone you deeply love. Different expectation and emotion, different quality and intensity of energy, different form, tempo, charge of our body movement.

Then picture second that when approaching the gift you all of a sudden discover something scary in it. Your mind will move immediately, long before your body can: you leap backward and push forward in order to defend yourself – thus generating two waves of energy: they let you jump backwards as well as scream ‘forward’, your heart pounding.
Our bodies follow spontaneously our mind – in movement and in physiological processes. I can witness my mind preceding and shaping my body movements.

The process in nature: Look at how nature has shaped its creatures. Their bodies tell the story of an evolutionary process. Life began in water. When it strived onto land, it developed limbs: amphibians moved out of water. When exploring land further, life developed a dry skin: reptiles. When it longed to populate the air, reptiles grew feathers. And birds shaped their bodies to perfection: their bones incorporated more and more air to be lighter, every bird adapted its bill to its specific food. What a clear wonder!
In nature, intention shapes bodies and organs – and it does so by repetitive practice of embodiment. This is not an exotic concept. It is what also European thought has been knowing, before the triumph of technology shifted the perspectives. Friedrich Schiller summarised at the end of the 18th century: “It is the spirit that shapes the body (for its own sake).”


Nature’s evolution makes clear how powerful conscious Qi Gong practice can be: by intensifying the natural life process, it can transform our bodies.

Yet, I see in our civilisation everyday lives being more or less a space of scattered attention, undigested feelings, blurred intentions and automatic acts.
In contrast, conscious Qi Gong practice aims at collecting and composing ourselves – to shape and experience a wholeness of body and ‘mind’ as well as a connection between our inside and the outside world.
We set out to drop into our true human nature.


Qi Gong is a meditation practice

As spirit is leading, the crucial point is our mindset: the inner ‘Qi Gong state’. The impact of our practice depends not so much on what we do, but finally on how we do it.
Doing our exercises without dedicated and openminded attention may have as little impact as the routine of doing the dishes. Squeezing our practice into our busy schedule may keep us locked into our usual stress of body and mind and just change nothing. In this case, just taking a moment off, making a walk and contacting nature with wonder might have more beneficial impact.

But if we do mobilise Qi, all will depend on our motivation where it goes. Qi in itself – energy – has no direction nor intention. Qi is like the rain, as master Bartel Ning puts it: it feeds everything without making a difference. Life loves to expand in all directions – and it loves direction.
Be aware, though, that clarity of intention is not enough; the intention should be embedded in a harmonious mindset. Imagine for instance that you were driven by competitive ambition: as Qi follows the mind, you would mobilise another kind of energy. This may yield results, even impressing ones, but it might be dangerous for your body: Dr. Pang Ming warns us by reporting the example of a practitioner of high Kung Fu level who suffered a heart attack during his advanced practice.
In contrast, feel now into what would happen, if you were joyfully inspired by dedication, wonder, and surrender, when seeing your own benefit integrated into the well-being of community and nature?

A harmonious attitude has always been integral part of traditional Qi Gong: it is referred to as Dao De – an inner world that Western thought finds difficult to grasp. It mostly circumscribes Dao De as a moral add-on: the demand or invitation to cherish integrity and modesty. This kind of duty ethics, though, does not get the point, as far as I can see. I see a natural correlation.

Qi Gong practice leads us to connect to nature and community, and out of this felt connection a natural inclination to integrity arises. It is not a noble intention, but an intrinsic want. For instance, when I really feel Heaven above and Earth beneath me, in all their mightiness, richness, and mercy, I naturally and joyfully sink into a state of modesty, stillness, and humility. Nothing I need to affirm. Qi Gong and Dao De feed each other and cannot be separated.
This brings us to what I esteem a basic flaw of Western Qi Gong reception. In most (not all) workshops I have attended, including those of Chinese masters, two teachings are offered:

  • the body movements, taught by collective practice
  • general theoretical teachings and anecdotic narratives

This implies two crucial missing links:

  • guidance for our personal inner processes
  • feedback on our individual performance.

In contrast, throughout the thousands years of Chinese tradition, personal guidance in attitude, spirit, and energetic and physical movement has ever been a main concern – and there was lot of space for it, as master and disciple lived together in full dedication.
Unfortunately or not, this is not viable in our world. Transfer by the field of the teacher though, which is claimed as a compensation, is in my view by far insufficient in the face of the radical mental and energetic shift that is at stake – the need to challenge deeply embedded patterns and beliefs. I personally have always been searching my personal guides and I am grateful to them.

Intuitive learning through the field might work if we brought in the dedication and openness that young children have, including their lack of cultural imprint and if we were exposed to the field for much longer periods than just a couple of hours during a retreat. This, however, is not the case. Therefore we urgently need to find our own ways to develop into this dimension. In the next parts, I will map the landscape where I have been moving through. Perhaps this can inspire you.

Hao La,
Thomas de Neve