Sometimes when teaching qigong workshops I get asked how many different forms or qigong there are, when I answer that there are thousands of different forms of qigong some people find that this makes perfect sense, others find it a bit overwhelming as perhaps they were hoping that there was some concise defined limit to the number of qigong forms. Perhaps so that they can learn them all? I don’t know.
The answer ‘thousands’ is probably not really correct either. A more accurate answer would be that there are an infinite number of forms, or at least the potential for an infinite number of forms, and the number of forms is constantly changing.
This answer comes from a more nuanced understanding of what qigong, and a belief that qigong is a living practice rather than a dead one. When something is alive it will inevitably continually change, adapt and grow, something that is dead on the other hand does not continue to grow and adapt and the changes it makes are inevitably to decay and breakdown.
Unfortunately many people see qigong (and other arts with ancient origins) as dead. They constantly look to the past trying to replicate what others have done previously. They often say that you CAN NOT, MUST NOT change the form, you can only do your best to replicate it. This idea that you cannot change the form comes from fear of the degradation and loss of knowledge if the form is gradually broken down, which is what would occur if the art was truly dead. Little by little the understanding and structure of the form would be broken down and lost if changes were made to it. Actually this is inevitably what does happen when this mind set of not changing is adopted, because no-one is able to fully replicate the movement, actions, energy and form of another. So by trying to keep it the same, little changes are still made and the original essence of the form is gradually eroded away.
But, what if the art is ALIVE?
When we view the art as alive we recognise that it will change little by little over time. Far from this being a bad thing that results in the ultimate demise of the form, this is a good thing that helps the art to adapt to the changing environment and to thrive and be vibrant. In other terms it keeps the art relevant and useful to those that practice it at it changes to meet their changing needs.
So what makes the difference between a living and a dead art?
I think the two main factors are UNDERSTANDING and RELEVANCE.
When an art is understood well it means that changes can be made for the purpose of adapting or even IMPROVING on the original according to needs or preferences.
Ok, this article has all been a bit serious so far, and in the title I promised you CHOCOLATE CAKE, so now we are going to switch gears and talk about chocolate cake for awhile. Don’t worry, this is all still relevant to qigong, just an analogy that will help to round out our understanding in this area.
How many ways are there to make a chocolate cake? Thousands, of course there are thousands as different people have changed and adapted the recipe according to what ingredients are available, according to specific needs, and simply according to preferences. Don’t have any baking powder? That’s ok there are ways to make chocolate cake that use bicarbonate soda instead. Gluten intolerant? Make it with rice flour, you will probably need to change a few other parts of the recipe as well to make it work, but you can still make a nice chocolate cake. Vegan? Paleo? Raw? Low Fat? Low Carb? There are ways you can change and adapt the recipes to make a chocolate cake that you can eat. You can also change the recipes just for your personal preferences. Do you want your cake moister, dryer, heavier, lighter, richer, plainer, sweeter etc… the recipe can be changed and adapted. Don’t like chocolate cake? Well I guess you can make a completely different type of cake then.
Far from being a bad thing, the many thousands of different types of chocolate cake are wonderful. It means that you are sure to be able to find a type that you like and works for you, unless you don’t like chocolate cake at all, and that’s ok. You may find that over time you settle on one recipe that is your favourite and just stick with that one all the time, or might find that while you have your favourite you still like to try out new and different recipes from time to time for variety.
At Long White Cloud Qigong we teach some pretty good qigong recipes, similar to teaching a good recipe for making chocolate cake. (We could expand this analogy further and show how we actually teach a range of recipes so you can learn to bake bread, stir fry vegetables, make soup and so on so that you can have a complete and balanced diet, but for simplicity let’s keep with just the chocolate cake for now). But we also do more than that. We teach students to understand the recipe, to understand why things are done in a certain way, so that if they want to, or need to change the recipe – they can. Many people will be happy to just follow the recipe as is, but there will be some that will want to make changes so that it will better meet their needs and preferences. This is particularly important for more advanced instructors so that they can help meet the different needs of their students who are not yet experienced enough to know how to change the recipe for themselves if they need to.
This is also the key to the second main factor in keeping the art alive and well – RELEVANCE.
If something is simply understood, but not relevant, it will still gradually die as there is no purpose in practicing it if it is not relevant. By creating enough understanding, changes can be made when necessary to make sure that the art is meeting the current needs of those who practice it, which change as the environment and lifestyles change. In this way the intended benefits, the ESSENCE of the art are maintained even as the world around us changes. The art thrives because it stays relevant in the lives of those who practice it.
When you think about qigong in terms of making a chocolate cake the reason for the thousands of different styles makes perfect sense. This process of change and adaptation to meet different needs and preferences has gone on for millennia leading to the wonderfully rich and diverse variety of qigong practices we find today. Unfortunately not everyone understands this. It is all too common for people to think that their way is the only correct way. They become like someone who thinks that there is only one way to make a chocolate cake, criticizing other’s ways of doing it because it is not ‘THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE WAY TO MAKE A CHOCOLATE CAKE’ that they have been taught. If they have their favourite recipe and like to stick to it, that is good. But if they fail to recognise the potential for change and adaptation, this inevitably leads to the gradual degradation of their form as it fails to adapt to the changing world. If not in the short term, then certainly in the long term. Sometimes this can even lead to the death of a form, but that’s ok, there are many others that will stay alive and well and grow up to take their places.
The world of chocolate cake making is alive and well and becoming more diverse all the time. The art of Qigong is alive and well at Long White Cloud Qigong too. From the past we learn from the wisdom and experience (and sometimes mistakes) of those who have gone before us. We apply this knowledge in our current lives, adapting and changing it as necessary to meet our present needs. And we look forward to a future where qigong becomes even more vibrant and diverse as people embrace it and discover its many benefits.
We hope that you will join us on this journey. That is if you like chocolate cake (qigong)!.