How long does it take to feel, move or master qi? What does that mean? What does it involve? What are signs of progress?

These are important questions if you are interested in qigong.

Before we can even begin to answer these questions we need to examine the concept of qi.

At its most basic level, qi means breath. As a Chinese character it is combined with other characters in many ways, to produce words such as weather, petrol, angry, friendly, polite, effort, reputation and many other meanings.

What this means is that as a native Chinese speaker there is an appreciation of qi that is richer, subtler and more full of distinctions than we find in the West. In the West qi is often described simply as life force, and seems to be imagined in a monolithic sense like some kind of ‘magic fluid’.

To a Chinese person qi has a varied meaning that depends on the context, the meanings are distinct and overlapping.

So let’s define our context and look at the qi of qigong.

In this context Qi really refers to the act of breathing, the subtle sensations related to the breath and the function of the breath in stabilizing awareness, emotion and state of mind. The result of this is a positive emotional state, ease of movement, greater energy and better health.

Depending on the kind of Qigong practiced – and again Qigong itself is not monolithic, but includes many varied exercises and systems – a different sense of qi can be emphasized, though each one is not exclusive of the others.

What does it mean to move or master qi?

If you are interested in qigong you probably are interested in the results. While mastery is hard to define we can talk about improvements to health and well being, greater energy, calmness, positivity, ease and elegance of movement, strength and focus.

If you want to feel, move and master Qi here are five key steps

1. Start with your body. Your posture and how you hold your body are vital. Ideally you will be upright and comfortable. It is important to start with your body to stay grounded.

2. Attend to your breath. There are many different ways you can breath, there are different muscles to engage, to relax, different rhythms to follow. Different exercises may require a different kind of breathing.

3. Settle your attention. The first two steps will help you do this. An important part of qiqong is to have a settled mind and attention, otherwise you will not be able to observe or direct what happens in your body.

4. Familiarize yourself with the process. This means you should know the key steps to a process or exercise so that you can run through them easily before you can expect to develop the skill of the exercise. It requires patience and it is not instant.

5. Practice, deepen and refine. Once you have the first four steps in place the real work begins. You need to keep attention to the process of the exercise, observe what happens in your body, and correct it.

Over time your body will change. In Western terms your nervous system will have learned to hold certain coordinations automatically, certain muscles will have become stronger or learned to relax (or both), and parts of your connective tissue will be reinforced and rejuvenated.

Some signs of progress

1. Confusion. Confusion just means you are working it out, which means you are learning. If there is no confusion, and that can include not knowing how to hold your body in a certain way, then you are just repeating what you are already familiar with.

2. Aches and soreness. If you ask your body to do something new it will probably get tired fast and ache. Don’t torture yourself or treat pain as a goal. Just notice and if it gets too much, take a break.

You may find some emotional resistance to the first two signs. This resistance can come in the form of an extra noisy mind, being annoyed with the teacher, being annoyed with yourself, talking yourself out of practice, drifting off and cheating – deliberately not following the instructions.

3. Balanced evenness. Much of the time you want to spread load and work evenly through your body. Once the individual parts learn to cooperate with each other connections through the body can begin to develop. This can feel very comfortable and pleasant.

4. Stillness. Your body may begin to feel relaxed to the point of ‘disappearing’ and your mind is not disturbed by thoughts. You can focus your attention precisely and easily.

5. Everyday access. At first these sensations and experiences will only be accessible through practice, possibly prolonged practice. Over time you will need less and less practice to achieve this until one day you realize that your everyday state, way of being and moving has integrated these qualities. How long does it take? Most practitioners learn new ways to observe and feel their breath in the first sessions. It usually takes at least four to five sessions before the process becomes automatic. Aches come and go as your practice progresses. It takes months to integrate new movement skills into daily life, though the ease and pleasure of movement, the calmness and focus begin to build from the first few weeks. Unusual strength requires dedicated practice over months and years. Really you will do best if you engage in qigong as a process to be enjoyed and explored without end. In an article like this I can give you broad ideas. If you want precise instructions it is best to come to class or arrange private tuition. Check out the class time table or contact me edward@i-bagua.com +33 680 28 86 39

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