“Seven Must-do Things” for Practicing Health Qigong Well
Different from other physical trainings, Health Qigong is an integrated exercise of body, qi and ideation. As of the method for better practicing Health Qigong, in my opinion, the “seven must-do things” shall be insisted on.
I. Managing to relax, get into quietness and maintain at ease
Managing to relax, get into quietness and maintain at ease is not only the important sign of practicing Health Qigong well but also the indispensable condition for achieving better exercise effect. “Relax” means the relaxation of muscles, sinews, viscera, spirit and ideation. “Getting into quietness” refers to that the whole organism, especially the cerebral cortex, is quiet.
Relaxation of postures: No matter it is sitting, lying, standing or walking, some muscle group must be tightened to maintain the required posture. The so-called “relaxation” refers to relaxing different muscles to the maximum under the precondition of maintaining correct posture, managing to make the body relaxed but never sluggish, tight but never stiff, and make exercisers experience a comfort and ease all over their bodies. Head requirements: Both eyes shall be closed slightly until the surrounding muscles of the eyeball are fully relaxed. The mouth shall be shut lightly, breathing with the nose and smiling brilliantly. The head shall be bent forwards slightly, with the neck relaxed, the mandible drawn in without leaning towards either side. In case of the postures of standing and sitting, the position of the neck shall be adjusted. It shall be bent forwards slightly and then backwards. Gradually the position at which the neck muscle behind and at both sides of the neck can be relaxed is found. Torso requirements: the chest shall be drawn in, with the back picked up, the abdomen pulled in, the buttocks kept in, the hip relaxed, the torso kept straight and the center of body weight transferred to lower abdomen. The movement of “Draw the chest in and pick up the back” acts in cooperation with the aforesaid “bend the head forwards slightly” and integrates with it. “Pull in the abdomen, keep the buttocks in, relax the hip, keep the torso straight” is conductive to free breathing and sinking qi to dantian (Qihai acupuncture point). “Transfer the center of body weight to lower abdomen” allows the exerciser to feel stable. Limbs requirements: The shoulder shall be relaxed, with the elbow kept sag, both wrists relaxed, both feet kept parallel to each other at the same width of shoulder. In case of the postures of sitting and standing, the aforesaid requirements shall also be followed. “Relax the shoulder” is also called “sink the shoulder”, referring to relaxing shoulder joint completely. “Keep the elbow sag” means relax elbow joint. In case of standing posture, the two feet shall be kept apart and the distance between outer sides of both feet shall be maintained at the same width of shoulder. If this distance is slightly small, the center of body weight seems unstable; if the distance is too large, the hip joint and knee joint will not be fully relaxed.
Relaxation of breathing: It is more difficult than relax breathing. The breathing is required to be long, even and slow, free and natural. To achieve this goal, one must go through a process. It is unadvisable to be too anxious about the results. In the exercise, exercisers shall breathe with force slightly and conduct qi downwards with ideation, so as to achieve the purpose gradually. Someone holds that, to do the exercise, one has to cultivate qi at first, i.e., inhaling deep and long until the lower abdomen bugle very high. As a matter of fact, such phenomenon is a manifestation of failure in relaxing. After exercising for some time, the breathing gradually becomes slow, long and deep. The abdomen rises and falls as exhaling and inhaling proceeds. Such rise and fall is completely developed due to the motion of exhaling and inhaling. Otherwise, the breathing can never be natural.
Relaxation of ideation: It refers to the relaxation of spirit, emotion and mind. Exercisers should experience as they are at ease. They should be optimistic and never be too anxious about success in exercises, because being too anxious about success in itself is a sign of being nervous. As for all sensations and responses during the exercise, exercisers shall never get deeply preoccupied with deliberate pursuit, so as to guarantee the relaxation of ideation.
“Getting into quietness” in exercise refers to both a quiet exercise environment and “getting into quietness” during the exercise. A quiet environment is conductive to reducing the stimulation from various new and different motivations for exercisers. Hence, it is favorable for helping them to get into quietness. However, “absolute quiet” environment does not exist at all. Exercisers are required to exercise actively and adapt to the environment under the premise of demanding a relatively quiet environment. After exercising to a certain level, exercisers can concentrate and get into quietness despite some interference from outside. Relaxation and quietness goes hand in hand with each other. Only by relaxing the body thoroughly, can exercisers get into quietness. Only by getting into quietness well, can exercisers really relax posture, breathing and ideation.
The so-called “at ease” refers to that the exercise of postures, breathing and ideation of exercisers shall not be done forcibly. Neither can they pursue the goal deliberately. Instead, they are advised to be patient and exercise step by step, so as to satisfy the requirements.
II. Managing to exercise progressively
If one wants to practice it skillfully, he/she has to exercise carefully for a long period firstly, though the operation methods of Health Qigong are not complicated. One can never anticipate doing exercises masterfully within several days after grasping the methods. Instead, exercisers are required to gradually master all the methods progressively from simple one to complicated one. Only by following this procedure, can exercisers obtain a solid foundation.
At the very beginning, exercisers shall master the postures and cooperate it with breathing appropriately. When the mastering of postures becomes skillful and the breathing also basically satisfies the requirements, it is time to cooperate it with ideation. Thus, mastering one movement after another in a step-by-step manner, can exercisers avoid such phenomenon of focusing on one at the expense of losing another. Moreover, exercisers can manage it easily. After the method is mastered, the role of Qigong adjusting the function of organism can be brought into full play during the exercise, diseases can be cured and the constitution can be improved. Obviously, its treatment effect relies on the mastering of methods and it becomes greater after persistent exercises, from being slight to significant. The effect is obtained gradually and becomes more remarkable. Since the physical fitness and the speed in methods mastering for each exerciser is different, the time when they can experience the effect also varies. For those exercisers who experience the effect early, they shall be more confident and consolidate the achievements. While, for those exercisers who experience the effect late, they shall summarize the experience and lessons and exercise patiently. In this way, better effect is sure to occur. At the early period when Qigong begin to work, exercisers often cannot experience the effect. When they feel their health status becomes better, it suggests that the degree of the effect is considerably high. Therefore, no matter when exercisers will experience the effect, they all shall exercise patiently. In short, it is advised to practice step by step, never be too anxious about success or give up halfway, no matter in method mastering or effect realization.
III. Upper body vacuity and lower body repletion
According to TCM theory of syndrome differentiation of eight principles, deficiency refers to vital qi is deficient and pathogenic qi is excessive. The vacuity and repletion in exercise is completely different from that in syndrome differentiation of eight principles. Therefore, we are not allowed to confuse them. Upper body vacuity and lower body repletion is uniformly stressed in both internal course and external course. The so-called “upper body vacuity” refers to the deficiency in Shang Yuan (the part above the navel), the “lower body repletion” refers to excess in Xia Yuan (the part below the navel). It is required to transfer the center of body weight below the navel during the exercise. In this way, the whole body is maintained still. As for breathing, it requires concentration on dantian. This point has been deemed as the essence of Qigong exercise since the ancient times. Because sinking qi to dantian can conduct qi back to its origin (Qihai acupuncture point). Thus, genuine qi of the area below the navel is supplemented and the vitality and resistance of the body is comprehensively strengthened. The mental activities during the exercise shall supplement Xia Yuan. Different exercise methods are dominated by concentration on dantian (the place of Qihai acupuncture point). This is rightly the specific manifestation of supplementing Xia Yuan. Experiment suggests that when exercisers practices to a certain level, their blood circulation at the area on which the mind is concentrated can increase by about 30% and their skin temperature also rises. These all are the evidence of function of concentration of the mind. They are also the manifestation of excess in Xia Yuan.
IV. Manage to control the huo hou appropriately
“Huo hou” refers to the intensity and duration of ideation, qi and force during the exercise. As is stated in the True Explanation, “The fascinating effect of ‘huo hou’ depends on manual efforts. Concentrating on the mind too much, the fire will be dry; concentrating the mind unhurriedly, the fire will be cold.” In our opinion, the mastering of huo hou can never be too excessive, neither should it be insufficient. “Too excessive” means the intensity of ideation, qi and force is too high and the duration is too long. “Insufficient” means the intensity of ideation, qi and force is too low and the duration is too short. As for specific points for mastering, it is advised to see the following three aspects. The posture shall be relaxed until exercisers feel comfortable and at ease. The muscles shall never be too tense or sluggish. The breathing should gradually become even, slow, deep and long. Inhaling forcibly, deliberately pursuing the result of reducing the number of breathing or too long duration of breath holding, all are manifestations of “excessive huo hou”. Completely leave it alone without adjusting it in a planned manner is “insufficient huo hou”. Therefore, in specific application, it is advised to use force slightly and concentrate appropriately to gradually realize the required respiration form. The mastering of huo hou in the aspect of ideation is rather difficult. The so-called “art and skill” is also mainly reflected in here. In case the intensity of ideation is too high, exercisers will feel dizziness and fullness in the head, they even feel too nervous, though distracting thoughts are dismissed. In case the intensity is insufficient, there must be too much distracting thoughts. As a result, it will be quite difficult for exercisers to get into quietness. In short, exercisers are required to never concentrate too much or too less during the exercise, instead, they shall practice the exercise naturally, as if the ideation is both tangible and intangible, and last in a continuous stream.
V. Managing to combine ideation and qi
Ideation and qi are the center of Health Qigong exercise. The two go hand in hand with each other and benefit from each other. To better adjust breathing, dismiss distracting thoughts and get into quietness, ideation and qi must be combined closely. People in ancient times called it the “coordination of mental activities and breathing”.
“Leading qi with ideation” refers to guiding qi with ideation. For example: During the exercise, in “sinking qi to dantian”, it is required to guide qi with ideation, so as to conduct qi to run downward. This is “leading qi with ideation”, i.e., ideation goes before qi. “Leading qi with ideation” is often applied to the early stage of exercise. The so-called “leading ideation with qi” means qi goes before ideation. Ideation enters and exits as qi enters and exits and it runs as the genuine qi runs. “Leading ideation with qi” is often applied to those exercisers that have acquired some skills. The so-called “combination of ideation and qi” refers to that “leading qi with ideation” or “leading ideation with qi” is relatively skillful and ideation and qi are combined into one unity. The constituent of “combination of ideation and qi” exists at the very beginning of “leading qi with ideation” and “leading ideation with qi”. As Qigong exercise progresses, the state of combination of the two is gradually obtained. The realization of “combination of ideation and qi” suggests that the exercise level advances further. Exercisers can often experience the fascinating state of Qigong. In external course, more stress is laid on “appropriate qi” and “appropriate ideation”. “Appropriate qi” will result in “appropriate ideation”. As a result, the purpose of practicing body, qi and mind is achieved.
VI. Managing to combine exercise with recreation
Apart from doing exercise, it is also required to pay more attention to recreation during the exercise. Combination of the two will result in desirable effect. The content of recreation includes: alternation between work and rest, leading a regular life, rising and retiring regularly, being abstemious in eating and drinking, maintaining reasonable nutrition, being broad-mined, being optimistic, practicing appropriate exercise, having adequate sleep, etc.
Another content of combination of exercise and recreation is the combination of exercise and rest cure every time exercisers practice exercise, especially for those beginners. For example, after exercising for 20 minutes, exercisers feel a little bit tired or their breathing is no longer smooth. At this spot, they can take a pause, adjust their breathing and concentrate on dantian (i.e., sitting quietly or lying quietly), and then they continue to exercise after the sensation of fatigue and discomfort is relieved. In this way, alternating exercise with rest, better effect will be achieved compared with that of exercising ceaselessly despite difficulty. It is far beyond doubt that exercisers will be able to continue exercising comfortably and naturally each time after exercising for a long period. In that case, they will never stop in the midway until the exercise is closed.
VII. Managing to combine motion and stillness
The combination of motion and stillness in practicing Health Qigng assures the dual function of Qigong in internally cultivating the spirit, qi and mind and externally practicing the sinews, bones and skins. “Motion” requires exercisers to engage in soft body movements in regular rhythm under the precondition of concentrating the mind and regulating the breathing. It requires “appropriate ideation” and “appropriate qi”. “Appropriate qi” will result in “appropriate force”. In this way, ideation, qi and force are integrated. “Stillness” is an exercise that regulates breathing and mind via such forms as sitting, lying and standing quietly. Therefore, it is dominated by cultivation of spirit, qi and mind. The purpose of stillness lies in dismissing distracting thoughts through concentrating the mind and get into quietness. Thus, higher nervous activities of human beings are adjusted and coordinated, and the body is strengthened. Only by combining motion and stillness, can the two complement with each other, overcome one’s own weakness by learning from the strong points of each other, go hand in hand with each and benefit each other.