Week One: The Nature of Qi
What Exactly Is Qi?
This question has puzzled many over the years, and the answer is both simple and complex at the same time. The simple answer is that qi is living energy. It becomes more complex when we try to describe this energy in measurable terms. You see when we talk about qi we are not talking about any one type of energy, but about pure living energy itself, which is all types of energy combined. Qi includes every sub type of energy that you can think of. It includes heat, light, electricity, magnetism, inertia, vibration and so on. All of these types of energy combine together into something which is more than the sum of its parts – living energy.
You can think of it this way. What types of energy do you need to have present in your body for it to be healthy and vital? There will need to be heat to keep the tissues warm and healthy. There will need to be electrical impulses moving around your body sending messages and triggering actions. There will need to be movement internally as organs and tissues function, and as blood and other fluids are circulated around the body to carry nutrients to cells and remove wastes. Qi is not any one of these energies, but the combination of all of them and the other subtle types of energy necessary for health and vitality.
Because qi is a combination of all types of energy, it is very hard to describe and even more difficult to measure. Many efforts have been made to do this, sometimes by measuring electrical conductivity of parts of the body, other times by measuring specific wavelengths of heat or sound vibration. These measurements are useful and provide insights into the functioning of qi in the body, but the do not capture ‘qi’ in full – but only one aspect at a time. So the best way we are left with to measure and understand qi at present is the same way that it has been measured and understood for millennia, through our own subjective perception.
In qigong we tune our awareness to this energy inside our body and we focus on improving its balance, quality and circulation. To begin with this is quite challenging, but with practice it becomes easier and easier for us to sense the energy in and around our bodies. In addition to this we have the benefit of being guided by the insights of previous generations of qigong practitioners who through their own experiences have created models of how living energy functions within our bodies.
We can think of these models a bit like road maps. By using symbols and abstract representations they make it easier for us to find what we are looking for and get to where we want to go. In this Qigong Theory and Practice course we will be looking at some of the main features of these maps and what they represent, but before we do that, in this week’s homework we are going to see if we can draw our own map of the qi within our body.
Week One Homework:
- Relax and pay attention to your body (you may want to sit or lie quietly to do this).
- What energy can you feel in your body? Can you feel warmth? Are some areas warmer than others? Does the warmth move around or circulate at all? What other kinds of energy can you feel? Can you feel any movement? What about tension, weight or vibration? Do these move within your body? Can you feel any other types of energy? Can you feel tingling electrical or magnetic sensations? Are these stronger in some parts of your body than others?
- Take a piece of paper and draw what you can feel of your energy as a map on the outline of a body. Don’t worry if you find this difficult, give it a try anyway, it is a useful learning exercise that will help you to tune in to your own energy and to understand the ‘maps’ that others have drawn.
- You may want to repeat this exercise several times and see what additional insights you gain each time. You may also want to repeat this exercise by having this same awareness while you practice some qigong and see if you can draw a map of what happens to you energy when you do the qigong exercises.