Have you ever wondered how Qigong “works”? Well…if you ever wondered, here is the post for you. Recently I have been contemplating how to improve my own forms, technique and results. In my contemplation’s I’ve found some interesting things out such as: The changes that can happen from Qigong physically How long the “practice” can last outside the “session”
Having reflected, I could see the effects of both bullets above, more and more readily. For me- having done it so long, it is second-nature. In doing that, I forget the new person’s perspective on HOW and WHY it works the way it does. So here I’ll explain the mechanics of it from an energetic, physical and mental perspective. Here we go.
Can You Feel the Energy?
Qigong is generally translated as “energy cultivation”. In a traditional context, the whole focus is to work with qi. With that context in mind, one needs to view the system’s filter of understanding which is the meridians or channels. There are 12 meridians, 8 extraordinary meridians and three levels (san jiao) in China’s understanding of energy work.
Upper, Middle, Lower
- Large intestine
- Small intestine
- Triple Heater
8 Extra-Ordinary Meridians
- Dai Mai
- Yang Qiao
- Yin Qiao
- Yang Heel
- Yin Heel
That said, don’t worry too much about the technicalities of what each meridian does etc. That’s too complicated and further; it won’t help your understanding for our purposes. All you have to know is for Qigong we work with meridians and the jiaos, predominantly the lower jiao also known as the dantien or hara.
With building block theory aside now…let’s get to why it works. Generally in Qigong practices we are opening the meridians via stretching them out so “qi” can flow through them better. By increasing the flow of “qi” your body will then regulate itself with a smoother flow. With a smoother flow of the qi will affect your blood circulation- since in Chinese medicine we say “Qi is the commander of blood; blood is the mother of qi”. With blood circulation increased you can nourish the tendons, muscles and organs. By nourishing the tendons, muscles and organs, you affect your mental state and emotions. This then finally primes your body to regulate itself better for health purposes. So there is a constant interplay between Qi and Blood in Qigong.
Speaking all that, how does it affect your mind? Well, the body is circulating blood and qi, which improves the mental functionality since the “Shen (spirit) lives in the blood”. However to backtrack, we need more theory to understand that quote. In Chinese medicine our view is each of the 5 “full” organs being the zang organs- each house a spirit or psycho-emotional archetype. Shen in particular relates to your heart, which in turn is your consciousness. So if your Shen is rooted in your blood and you’re increasing the circulation/flow via qi, you can start to understand why you start to calm down and feel relaxed during a Qigong form.
Taking this further, by increasing the blood flow, contracting and stretching the muscles/tendons you’re giving your body an internal massage. Although the “Shen” is getting a nice massage, your other organs are getting a massage – meaning your liver, kidneys, spleen and lungs are getting one also. You can guess then…yes all those organs listed have their own “spirit” also the heart is just deemed the “emperor”.
5 Zang Organs
- Heart & mind (Shen)/ Emperor- Fire
- Liver & ethereal soul (Hun)/ General- Wood
- Lungs & corporeal soul (Po)/ Prime Minister-Metal
- Spleen & thought (Yi)/ Official of Granary- Earth
- Kidneys & will power (Zhi)/ Official of Waterworks- Water
Again, not to get too technical- you don’t need to know the specifics of what they do, however from a Traditional Chinese perspective- this is how we’re affecting things when we practice.
So going back to how this increases your focus, well…if your mind being the Shen is being circulated throughout the body via the blood- it can interact with the other spirits better. In particular the Yi and Zhi, Yi refers to your thoughts, Zhi your willpower. In 5 phase theory; Fire produces Earth (via ashes) – so if your Shen is communicating with your Yi, your thoughts “settle” and the monkey mind quiets. When the Shen communicates with the Zhi, it increases your willpower; it further stabilizes the water-fire mundi axis. In the Chinese system, Fire and Water are what produce life, further when they separate it equals death- this is analogous to Yang/Yin. So the Mind fire warms the primordial waters, and the primordial waters cool the fiery mind. Combining both the Shen- Yi- Zhi, we can stabilize the mentality of a person, and produce a tranquil effect.
Now…combine the above theory with rhythmic physical postures which then make you sweat because you’re physically moving (detoxing the body) and we have what describes Qigong in a nutshell.
Well…that was a very long explanation of what Qigong is from a Chinese perspective and how and why it has a calming effect and can help focus the mind. Going strictly from a body perspective now, it’ll be short. Qigong can induce a calmer state of mind since as I stated before it detoxes your body, via movements. Much like other types of exercises, it stretches the fascia, muscles, and ligament and circulates your blood which then produces an internal combustion effect which you feel as heat. From this feeling of heat, your skin pores start opening and you sweat. Simple right? Well…past the “technical” explanation, you probably knew that already though.
Here’s the kicker with Qigong though, at some stage you will start using the neural pathways more efficiently since you’re going be visualizing the qi- as well as combining that in unison with body movements and breathing, which means that the neural synapses communicating between your physical body and your brain get faster and faster as you practice. This in turn reinforces “change” from a physical perspective- based on “muscle memory”. It is from the combination of muscle memory and increased communication via neural-synapses which opens parts of your brain and body, you maybe desensitised to. So you naturally start oxygenating those areas and releasing hormones such as serotonin (which calms you) which in turn can help you increase your focus. That said there is the other component which is mental, so let’s get to that…
It’s all in your head
Well I hinted what the mental aspects were above in the physical explanation of Qigong. Going more in-depth, your mind essentially does not know the difference between a vivid imagination and reality. This is a concept talked about in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). With that understood if you are visualizing, feeling and using all your senses (as you would be in Qigong) – you start making a “conceptual” map of understanding yourself via a provided roadmap. With consistent practice, your subconscious mind starts understanding this and goes “Hey! Here’s a way I can help” and depending on your “purpose”, it matches that. Hence the saying “Yi leads the Qi” or the intention leads the energy. If you are consciously focusing on something- it distracts the conscience mind enough so that the subconscious can start making the changes in the background.
Well…understanding that the brain can rewire itself via imagination, one can easily make the jump saying, you can access relaxation or being calm anytime if you think and focus on it enough. This then releases chemicals in your brain to “switch” into that pattern of thinking. So, via focusing with the mind on the state of being calm, you ARE calm.
Combining it all
So we’ve gone through the energetic, physical, and psychological reasons how Qigong works to calm and focus oneself. No matter what perspective you’d like to take it from, you’ll notice there is an overlap between the 3 areas. Ultimately, they are the same thing: the division is only meant to help further one’s understanding of the whole. If you can take the above to heart and apply it, your life and practice are sure to be unified.