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the practice of internal alchemy: Qigong

Updated: May 13, 2020

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 AM EST I teach a virtual QiGong class. You're invited and can register here. Qi Gong is one of the most effective ways you can cultivate your energy and vitality. It's also one of the oldest forms of martial arts. It can be as gentle or as vigorous as you like. Join any day, families and friends and pets welcome. This class is by donation.

Below is a brief history on the form and practice I teach. It includes some background on the cosmovision and origin of QiGong and highlights the specific lineage, Jin Jing Gong, I've been trained in.

Qigong is a practice of internal alchemy and of connecting with the energy of the cosmos. Qigong consists of two Chinese words, Qi and Gong.

Qi is the most basic and important material in the universe. Qi gave life to all things in the universe. In human beings, Qi is the life force or spirit and also is the animating energy that connects us with the cosmos. Qi can be cultivated by anyone through the practice of specific methods of Qigong. But most people are unaware of the Qi flowing through and around their body.

Gong means work perfected through practice. It implies that the correct practice of Qigong requires concentrated effort and discipline. Qigong features many forms of practice, specifically sitting meditation, movement (including Taijiquan and other internal martial arts), breathing exercise, regulation of mental focus and emotions, visualizations, madras/mantras, and use of the proper herbal and food supplements. Artistic cultivation, including calligraphy and music, can also be considered Qigong when done mindfully.

However, the deeper meaning of Qigong goes beyond combining the regular definition of Qi and Gong. In Chinese philosophy, Qi is a random animating energy that can be transformed into Yin and Yang energy. Yin and Yang energy then becomes all things in the universe. (The one becomes the two, the two becomes the three and the three becomes the many). Qi originates from the beginning of time. Qi was the original spark of life that started the universe. Qi gave life and order to all things in the universe. Gong can actually be interpreted as a verb, indicating that which provides movement and animation for Qi. In this way, the two terms are inseparable. Any movements done in conscious relationship with Qi can be called Qigong.

In science, the theory of the “Big Bang” can be compared to the original Qi that created the universe. In the same manner that Qi gave rise to Yin and Yang, the Big Bang’s expansion outward is like yang energy, moving and expanding the universe, while the Yin is the energy that simultaneously puts order to the universe. In astronomy, Edwin Hubble discovered by analyzing light from other galaxies that the universe is constantly expanding outward and the galaxies are moving away from each other. The universe is ever-expanding, like the original yang energy that created the universe.

However, the orderliness of the universe can not be explained by this fact alone. Albert Einstein with his theory of relativity showed that there are certain laws and principles that the universe is governed by. This can be correlated to Yin energy which brings order to the universe. Steven Hawkins combined the theory of general relativity and random quantum theory to show that there was a beginning of time which correlates with the Big Bang theory.

In religion, all creation myths point to one origin, God, the Creator, Great Spirit, which created the universe. The saying that God is within all things can be correlated with saying that original Qi is within everything.

The principle of Qigong is the concept of Tian Ren He Yi. Tian means heaven, sky, or universe; Ren means human being; He means to merge or combine; and Yi means one and the same. Put together, Tian Ren He Yi describes the fact that a single living body, although a miniscule part of the cosmos, is as open, complicated, and large a system as the universe itself. This system is in constant energetic and intuitive communication with the environment surrounding it. Likewise, the universal energy continuously imprints the human being. Just like the hologram, which can recreate a three dimensional picture from any tiny fragment of the two dimensional picture of the holograph, the universe can be seen as a hologram where each individual piece contains the entire holographic image of the original hologram.

In other words, every thing in the universe contains the image and content of the original energy force that created the universe. As human beings, we carry within each one of us, the original image of the energy that created us. The secret to everything in the universe is within each one of us. All that is required is discover the truth within. Since we are thus patterned by the larger cycles of the macrocosm, the ancient medical classics conclude, all our actions need to be in accordance with the laws of nature.

One of the ways to do this is via the practice of Qigong. Qigong is a way to help promote and maintain one’s physical health as well as spiritual well being. Any deviation from this natural flow resulting from the hierarchical relationship of macrocosm and microcosm will result in blockages that lead to physical, emotional, or spiritual disease. Qigong facilitates the development of a deeper relationship with Qi and deeper understanding the nature law of the universe. Which, in turn helps the attuned student to understand the laws of the universe and how they influence his/her life.

Archaeological studies have determined that Qigong has a history of at least five thousand years. The ancient Chinese learned the principles of Qigong (Tian Ren He Yi) by observing their own body and its relationship to the environment and the rhythmic cycles of the cosmos. The development and fine tuning of their bodies allowed them to become highly sensitive “receptors”, thereby providing the “high tech” equipment necessary for the collection of data and information. The process of observing their bodies led them to a deeper understanding of the esoteric nature of life, including the essence of the human being, the earth, the celestial bodies, and the relationships between them. Application of the knowledge gained through their study led them to develop methods to enhance their health and lifestyle. These methods, which followed the natural rhythms of the universe, are now called Qigong.

Due to the long history of Qigong, there has been ample time for thousands of styles to develop. These styles can generally be divided into five categories: Ru (Confucian), Si (Buddhist), Dao (Taoist), Yi (Medical), and Wu (Martial Arts). Unfortunately, in part due to political and cultural changes, much of the essence of the original teachings was lost as time passed.

A resurgence of interest in QiGong is occurring both in mainland China and in the West. There are large numbers of patients with chronic, “incurable” diseases dying in western medical hospitals of mainland China. Many of these individuals do not accept this “death sentence,” but seek out alternatives and find their way to Qigong. In its function as a “last hope” modality, Qigong has proven to be powerful in its ability to restore health and harmony to the dedicated practitioner. Another large group of people who turn to Qigong are those unable to afford medical care. In the Chinese countryside, many peasants cannot pay for the costs of modern hospital treatment, and hence continue to rely on traditional methods that have been proven to work for thousands of years, including Qigong.

The current lineage holder of the Jin Jing Gong, the school and form I practice and teach, is Master Wang Qingyu. He was born in a martial arts family. He first studied Qi Gong with his father who was a general in the Republican Chiang Kai-shek army. Wang began to study with Li Jie at an early age. Li Jie is the man who was then the Jin Jing Gong lineage holder. Li Jie was known to the local people as Huan Xi Dao Ren, the Hermit With the Ubiquitous Smile, and he became Wang's life long teacher. Li Jie taught Wang the art of inner alchemy and Taoist herbology for many years, living to be 118 years old. After Li Jie's death, the lineage was passed on to Master Wang.

After the Communist Party came to power in 1949, Wang was banned to the "Chinese Siberia" in the Tibetan province of Kham. Twenty years passed as he lived and practiced there when his healing powers were discovered by officials who were attending a national Taoist healers' competition. They were so impressed with Wang's abilities that they commissioned him to be the onsite doctor for China's Olympic Diving team where he played a major role in securing gold metals for China by keeping the divers healthy and treating their injuries such that they recovered in record time. Wang has since retired and is a respected academician at the Academy of Cultural History in Cheng Du.

Of the lineages I have learned and trained in, the Jin Jing Gong school is certainly the more alchemical, physical, and martial of them all. All of the active forms strengthen the body, especially the muscles, tendons and joints. In comparison there are more rules regarding how the forms from this school are practiced, down to the details of each movement and the specific way to breathe during each exercise. Perhaps this trait is what allowed the lineage to survive those troubled times in the distant past, when many others were lost. In fact, Jin Jing Gong is now one of only eight major forms of Qi Gong officially recognized by the Chinese Government today, known as "the eight pillars of Qi Gong."

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