I have recently returned from another trip to China and feel that it is time for me to share this important information with you. You might need to sit down for this.
Qigong is not Chinese.
What’s that you say? How can qigong not be Chinese? Even the name is Chinese.
Well let me explain.
Sometimes when people begin to learn and practice qigong it all seems very foreign and exotic to them. They look at the Chinese names of the things they are learning and history of people who have practiced qigong and where they are from and get an idea that qigong is somehow inherently Chinese.
Cultural Inferiority Complex
This can lead to a kind of cultural inferiority complex, because as a westerner, no matter how much you learn and practice Qigong, you’ll never be as Chinese as a Chinese person. And if qigong is inherently Chinese, it stands to reason that you will never be as good at qigong or able to understand it as well as a Chinese person can. This makes the idea of qigong mastery a kind of unattainable dream, something you may continue to strive for, but will never be able to obtain because you’re not Chinese.
This is not a useful belief to hold whether consciously or unconsciously. This idea of inferiority or unattainability becomes a block to learning and development. Our minds are powerful and will create the experiences we need to fulfil our expectations. If you think that there is something that is mystical about qigong that you cannot comprehend due to your cultural background then it will remain a mystery to you.
So to dispel this belief, lets examine whether qigong really is something that is inherently Chinese.
I have practiced qigong for many years in a western country (New Zealand) and have associated with many other qigong teachers and practitioners here. I have also been to China several times and visited many private schools there as well as meeting with and observing practitioners going about their daily practice in public parks. I have met highly skilled practitioners and teachers in New Zealand, and some pretty dreadful ones as well. I have also met highly skilled teachers and practitioners in China… and many dreadful ones there too. The common factor in determining whether a practitioner was skilled or awful does not seem to have anything to do with their country of origin, rather it seems to be more a result of whether they have a practical understanding and approach to what they are doing – or some kind of quasi-mystical cultural based oned (as well as years of practice and experience of course).
The best practitioners I have met have always been the ones who take a practical approach to qigong. They do qigong because it works, not because of cultural beliefs, and they understand the principles they use in their practice.
The idea of a life force or energy and use of mind, body and breath to work with this life force is a powerful and ancient concept that is common to most if not all cultures (if you dig deep enough). The Chinese call this energy ‘Qi’ and the practices that work with it qigong. In India this energy is referred to as ‘Prana’ and the practices that work with it are collectively called yoga. The Hawaiian’s used the term ‘Ha’, the druids ‘Nwyfre’ and so on.
These principles are universal and they apply to every one of us regardless of our culture. When we think of these principles as being from one culture or another it obscures our understanding of the deeper truth. We can compare this to the Greeks and Mathematics. The Greeks were instrumental in developing some of our understanding of important mathematical concepts, yet when we do maths we don’t think of ourselves as participating in some kind of Greek cultural practice. If we did it would suggest some kind of disbelief in the reality of what we are doing. We do maths because it works and it helps us to understand things and get the results that we want. If it didn’t work we wouldn’t keep on doing it.
But then why is it called qigong? And why do you keep going to China?
Well, the Chinese have made a huge contribution to our understanding of how to work with our living energy or ‘qi’, much as the Greeks made big contributions in the area of mathematics. As such a lot of the terminology we use carries Chinese names (lots of things still use greek names in maths too), and there is a lot that can be learned by delving into the history and culture where these developments took place.
But true qigong is a living thing. It is what we do now. We learn from the past, from history, but we apply that knowledge today in our own environment in our own ways that suit our current lifestyle and culture. True qigong is not about culture, it is about understanding your own living energy and developing skill with how you interact with the living energy around you.
That living energy is always present and in the end your own direct experience with this energy will be your greatest teacher. As such, you are every bit as qualified to learn and to master qigong as anyone else, regardless of your ethnicity culture, or where you live. While we learn from the past and respect the history and cultures that gave rise to our current level of understanding, the principles on which working with our life energy rests are not specific to any one culture, they are universal.