Qi (or “Chi” or “Ki”) is life force energy. The ancient chinese pictogram of Qi represented mist coming off water or steam coming off rice. The mist and steam signified that Qi was invisible. The rice meant that Qi nourished the body.
Qi is the animating power of the body. It’s the difference between a live body and a dead body. When someone dies, the Qi is gone or transforms. The body weighs the same, has the same organs and muscles, but is lifeless. Qi is the aliveness. It’s the power behind your heart, it’s the light in your mind, it’s the shine in your eyes, it’s the movement in your body.
In the Yellow Emperor’s classic on Chinese Medicine (I’m sure you’ve read it, it’s a classic), about 360 different kinds of Qi’s (not to be mistaken with cheese), you get Qi, your aliveness, from different sources. For example, you get Qi from food. When you don’t eat for a few hours or days, your energy changes. You get Qi from nature, from sunlight, from the wind, from the trees. You get Qi from water. But, the quickest source to Qi energy is your breath.
You can go without food for weeks, go without water for days, but only go without breath for minutes. If you don’t breathe, in less than 10 minutes, no more Qi! Breath is life force energy. Learn to breathe properly and you will cultivate more Qi.
So, Qi is Energy?
Energy is that elusive substance, that as soon as we try and pin it down and grasp it’s meaning, it slips through our fingers like water. To understand energy deeper, it must be experienced, sensed, and held with reverence.
Energy is life; your life and life all around you. When your life and life all around become harmonious, the energy you experience is joyful, exciting, and fulfilling. When internal energy and external energy combine in just the right way, we experience love; love for someone, love for each other, love of life, and love for ourselves.
Ask the mystic, the Qi Gong master, or the Quantum physicist and you get a similar answer to the nature of the body. The Qi Gong master describes the nature of the body as Qi, as life force energy. The mystic says that the physical body is an illusion, a constant process of change. The physicist describes the body as vibration and empty space.
Quantum physicists and mystics from all ages agree that we are literally made of and living within a limitless sea of energy. But how is it then, that we suffer chronic low energy, fatigue, or poor health? (Medical surveys show that “lack of energy” and high levels of stress are the biggest complaints in physicians’ offices today.)
The answer lies in the choices we make every day, from exercise to diet because they change the way we feel and work from the inside out. As we cultivate more energy within ourselves, life’s stresses that we normally face aren’t so overwhelming. As our energy increases, so does our ability to handle stress and create effective solutions. It’s when we are depleted that stress seeps into our body and mind.
In Eastern terms, the more energy circulating in the body, the healthier we are. Abundant energy manifests in the body as better functioning organs, more flexibility in the muscles, supple joints, and balanced emotions. Loss of internal energy creates fatigue, tension, low metabolism, inability to cope with stress, insomnia, depression, and turbulent thoughts.
Energy level is a great indicator of our general health. A Yale University study found that energy levels had the highest correlation with general-health status and were the best predictor of both physical and psychological health over time. Energetic people, the study showed, are generally healthy, whereas the enervated (those who feel weak or drained of energy) are often ill, becoming ill, fighting off illness, or struggling with their low-energy condition. Illness, apathy, fatigue, anxiety, chronic stress, depression and the like are all signs that we are becoming depleted and need to take time to replenish our internal energy and rebalance.
Qi Gong Mirrors the Movement of Nature
Nature pulses with energy. In the Eastern forms of exercise tapping into this abundant energy all around us and within us is one of the goals. Sometimes, cultivating more energy is as simple as getting out of our own way, of letting go of stress, tension, old emotions, and discordant thoughts. Abundant energy is not something that we have to create or make. It is always there, wanting to flow, wanting to express itself as creativity and balance.
Searching for energy in the material world, as we so often do, often leads to disappointment. It is important to remember that the path to more energy is not product related. What we want in the material world is a reflection of an inner feeling – security, fulfillment, health, power, excitement, youth, and vitality. These are all inner qualities. One of my teachers calls this incessant desire for material goods the search for “Dragon eggs.” In other words, it is a search for something that doesn’t exist.
To cultivate energy from the inside is something that lasts – a way to go to the source of energy and allow it to grow. Happiness and joy already exist inside you. The notion that acquiring something material to elicit this inner quality only leads to continual grasp of external things. If we are constantly pulled outside ourselves in our quest for happiness, it is like trying to capture waves by scooping up the ocean in a bucket. By cultivating energy from within, you can enjoy the material world without attachment. The material world is truly for our enjoyment and experience, but when we approach it from internal balance and strength, we can appreciate all our possessions without being controlled by them.
The key to happiness and vitality is balance: a harmony with life in every area, both internal and external – diet, exercise, work, relationships, sleep, play, and contemplation.
Story: Looking for Energy
There was a man looking for the mystery of life. He studied with meditation teachers, mystics, yogis, Qi Gong masters, and philosophers. He learned technique after technique. At times he would feel amazing, bliss, elevated, connected to the universe. At times, he felt at one with life. He had experiences of unconditional love and present moment awareness…but it would fade and dissipate. He would then be back to the stresses of life and the frustrations of living.
He pursued his quest for finding deeper meaning and everlasting happiness. He studied in India, Tibet, and China. He learned about breath, stretching, secret postures, being in the present moment, moving energy through his body. His wonderful experiences continued and faded. The man was saddened by the fleeting nature of these experiences. He finally climbed the highest peak in the Himalayas and called up to the heavens, “God, why am I still miserable?” God replied, “I am constantly giving you the most precious energy of life, but you are leaking!”
This story illustrates that it’s not how much Qi energy we tap into, it’s how much Qi energy we retain and contain. In psychology, this would be the difference between a state and a trait. We can drop into certain states – happiness, presence, peace, and be pulled out of those states by the next phone call, thought, or traffic jam. Traits are more permanent. They are longer lasting and resilient. States, through repetition, lead to traits.
My First Experience With Qi
I was ten years old, lying in my bed. My dad was standing in the doorway speaking in a low deep voice, “10 feel your body relaxing, 9, going deeper now, 8 very relaxed, 7, your body is so relaxed that it feels like you’re floating on a cloud…” He was guiding me through a visualization. Every night before bed, either my mom or dad would guide us kids through a deep relaxation technique. By the time I was 15, I was proficient in self-relaxation and visualization techniques. I would use the technique to help with school and sports.
Each night, my practice would get more and more intense. I started feeling a tingling and a buzzing coursing through my body. I was both excited and a little scared. This new sensation was mysterious. Intrigued by the new discovery, I would practice diligently each and every night. The electricity in my body was palpable. My hands were lit up, my spine felt like a superconductor, my head was light as helium, and my feet buzzed like a street corner light. What was happening? What was this strange and amazing sensation?
Since these early-day discoveries of this electricity, I have been fascinated with internal energy. It wasn’t till I was browsing a spiritual bookstore in downtown Berkeley that I discovered more about the experience. I bought a book on Qi Gong that showed the pathways of energy in the body. The descriptions of Qi and how energy moved were exactly what I experienced in my body.
I was intrigued and fascinated by the experience and by this invisible force that existed inside of me.
Invisible Forces Rule Our Lives
Life is ruled by invisible forces. Like the wind. This force can’t be seen, only experienced. When the wind blows, we don’t witness it directly but we can feel it across our skin, we can see it moving the branches of the tree. Energy is the same, we don’t see it directly but we experience it as it animates everything in our bodies from the heartbeat to the thoughts in the mind.
Gravity is another invisible force that rules life. We are all bound by the laws of this force, this magnetic energy. What is gravity? Again, we experience it, science can describe it, but no one knows how to define it. Your heartbeat, gravity, thoughts, and emotions are all invisible. We can describe each of these yet we don’t know where these forces come from, how to define them, or even where they originated. Invisible forces like love and gravity have big impact on our lives.
We don’t need to know exactly what these forces are. Just in the same way, you don’t have to be a cardiologist and know all the intricacies of the heart organ to get the benefits of exercise. You do it and whether or not you know how many chambers the heart has or not, you get the benefit.
Qi, or energy, is the invisible, immaterial substance that propagates life and animates our bodies with movement. Within, it gives birth to our thoughts, emotions, and consciousness. Externally, Qi energy is infused in both the infinite space of the Universe and the infinitesimal space of the smallest particles. It is the spiral dance of the planets, the magnetism between the electron and proton, and the attraction between male and female. Qi energy is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the emotions we feel. It is the force that allows the planets, stars, and galaxies to work in perfect harmony. Mountains arising, forests growing, rivers flowing, and all life proliferating are expressions of this life-force energy.
“I still don’t believe in this, but it’s the only thing that’s working.” (How Qi Heals)
A doctor came into my office for a treatment on a rainy day with his wife. “My husband needs an acupuncture appointment,” she said. I brought him into the treatment room and the first thing he said was, “You know, I don’t believe this is going to work, but I’d rather come in for a treatment than listen to my wife nag at me all day.” I laughed and said that it couldn’t hurt, that at least he’d get a good rest. “What do you mean ‘It couldn’t hurt, you sticking me with needles?’” I explained that acupuncture is for the most part very relaxing, that it comes from a medicine that sees the body in a completely different paradigm than Western medicine.
The doctor came back a week later, his wife had a smile on her face as they came into the office. When I brought him back to the treatment room I asked how he was. He said, “I still don’t believe in this, but it’s the only thing that’s working.” We had a good laugh. Qi is beyond concepts and ideas. Qi isn’t something to be understood or even believed in. It’s to be experienced.
In Western medicine they look at the different systems of the body. For example, if you have issues with the lungs or sinuses, you go to a respiratory specialist. If you catch frequent colds, you might talk to a doctor who specializes in the immune system. We have a specialist for all the different systems of the body – the nervous system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, the respiratory system, the immune system, and so on.
In Chinese medicine, they focus on something completely different – the electrical system. The electrical system is the energy of the body. Each of the systems within the body needs power. The heart needs energy or electricity to beat, the nervous system needs electricity to communicate, the digestive system needs energy to pull out the nutrients from the food and get rid of the waste, the brain needs energy to create images or light in the mind. Everything in the body needs energy to function.
Think about it this way: If the power lines go down or flicker on and off during a storm, everything in the house stops working or only works sporadically. Without electricity, we have no heat, we can’t cook our food, watch TV, or use the computer. If we apply the same principles to our minds and bodies, we see that low energy causes shortages in our overall vitality, the way we metabolize food, our stress levels, our libido, our creativity, and our enjoyment of life.
You live in two bodies simultaneously – the bio-mechanical body and the bio-electrical body. Chinese medicine is based on the bio-electrical body, the energy system. Western medicine is based on the bio-mechanical body. Both systems work. Both systems are correct. But to feel like a well integrated, healthy, whole person, we need to understand that we are more than just a sack of bones and muscles with a pump, with a tube on one end and a hole on the other, with a thinking mechanism that is just about survival. We have energy, feelings, thoughts, a personality, a soul. These are all invisible. See if you can put your personality in a test tube or do surgery on an emotion. These invisible energies give life texture, context, and sensation. Yes the heart is a pump, but love makes life worth living. Yes, sound creates vibration on your eardrums, but music turns it into bliss. Yes, light enters into the eyes, but the smile from a baby lights you up in unexplainable ways.
“You are not just this body,” a teacher told me. “You only think you are. You are something much more mysterious. You are Qi.”
A Brief History of Qi Gong
Qi Gong has a rich and deep history in ancient Chinese culture. As part of the Five Branches of Chinese medicine, Qi Gong was the branch of self-care. Qi Gong is something that practitioners do for themselves to keep their internal energy levels strong, healthy, and balanced.
Energy was seen as the fundamental substance of the body. By focusing first and foremost on energy, practitioners could ensure that all the other systems in the body were irrigated with energy.
Qi, as we’ve been describing, means energy. Gong translates as “work” or “skill” Qi Gong means a “skill at working with energy.”
Qi Gong originated by watching the way nature moved. Clouds floating in the sky, a river flowing down the mountain, the way an animal moves, all demonstrated how to move the body gracefully with effortless power.
There are over 3,500 styles of Qi Gong. Some styles focus on stretching, some on activation of the energy, some focus on flow, others focus on posture. Whatever the style, the emphasis is on Qi. If Qi is balanced, the body, mind, and spirit are elevated.
The Holden QiGong Method
The Holden Qi Gong method focuses on 6 main principles of energy practice:
By working with these principles, practitioners sense, feel, and enliven the entire system with high quality energy. This is an integrative style of Qi Gong, distilling ancient practices for modern life.
When you follow this general pattern of practice your body naturally relaxes and your energy enlivens, your body opens and begins to move with effortless flow, you build inner strength and power, and your thoughts drift away like clouds in a soft wind.
This is what actually happens when you practice QiGong:
As your body relaxes, it enters into a state of tranquility and flow. The repetitive nature of the mind releases, and awareness becomes more present. In essence, your mind and body harmonize with each other – this awakens your dormant energy and activates your body’s inner healing power.
…As you do this your Qi starts to flow easily through your whole body…
As the sensations of Qi in your body grow stronger and stronger, it naturally draws your attention inwards… relaxing your mind into a peaceful meditative state.
…As your mind relaxes your Qi gets stronger…
Because your mind is relaxed the body can now experience it’s true freedom and releases tension into flow. Your mind begins to transform stress into power, and your spirit elevates in the direction of your Qi.
…As your spirit elevates your Qi becomes even stronger…
In this way, Qi Gong is a great workout, clears mental and emotional stress, and elevates consciousness. And Qi Gong can help alleviate our most common alignments by balancing the energy system within.
Have you felt your Qi before? Leave a comment below and share a bit of your story with us!