While there are many different ways that we can work with our living energy, the key methods which are used most commonly can be divided into three main categories; mind, body and breath. This week we will look at each of these in turn before briefly considering some of the other less common methods.
Essentially, where the mind goes the energy follows. We do this in several different ways during qigong practice. One of the main ways is simply by paying attention to the energy within our bodies, as we did in the homework last week. There is always energy present in our bodies. The cells of our bodies produce large amounts of heat, in fact at rest an average persons heat output is between 80 and 100 watts. That is enough heat to boil a litre of water every hour, and our heat generation goes up massively when we are physically active. In addition to this we have electrical activity and mechanical forces moving through our bodies all the time, we are simply unaware of them. When we become aware of them we can begin to actually guide and change what happens to that energy production and circulation. We can begin to increase or decrease the production, change the qualities of the energy, and cause it to move into different areas.
Guiding this energy is often as simple as just thinking about where you would like it to go. Think about your hand and the activity and energy is likely to move to your hand. Think about your foot and the activity and energy is likely to move towards your foot. We can also use symbolism and imagery in our minds to help shape and change the qualities of the energy. For example, if we want our energy to be warmer we might use the imagery of a flame and work with that. If we want our energy to be cooler we might use imagery of water. This sort of imagery helps tell your body what you want it to do. We will look more at this aspect of qigong practice in week eight when we look at energy character.
Another way we work with our living energy is by positioning and moving the body. A lot of the energy we work with in qigong is generated by the body’s natural functioning, so of course position and movement of the body is going to have an effect on this energy. It does so in multiple ways. For a start of course energy will be generated by the activity of the cells required to facilitate the position or movement. As well as this, position and movement will affect the specific location of energy generation and circulation or radiation. When we position and move our bodies in different ways it puts pressure on different parts of our body, including our internal organs. We also stretch, compress and stimulate nerves, blood vessels, muscles, connective tissue and even bones. This stimulation has a significant effect of these tissues and can also be used to channel and move the energy from place to place within your body.
We can compare the effects achieved through movement to a physical massage – much as if we put our hands on and rubbed, compressed and stretched an area (of course, sometimes we also do just that in qigong practice). The effect is sometimes subtle, but combined with the other key practice methods of using the mind and breath, it can be very powerful.
The final key practice method is to utilize the breath. Breathing is particularly useful in regulating and directing our energy because it bridges the gap between our conscious and unconscious mind, our skeletal muscles and the function of our internal organs.
Most people have reasonable conscious control of their skeletal muscles, the muscles that attach to our bones and allow us to move around. If you want to move your leg, you think about it and do it. If you want to contract or relax your bicep muscle, with a little thought and practice it is easy to do. The functioning of our internal organs is quite a different matter for most people. Very few people can cause their heart to contract or relax by just thinking about it, or their gallbladder to release bile or so on. These functions of our internal organs just go on, regulated unconsciously. But our breathing is different. Because there is so much involvement of the skeletal musculature in the function of breathing, most people have good conscious control of it. If they want to breath faster or slower, deeper or shallower, it is quite easy to do as this can be accomplished through control of skeletal muscles. And when we begin to control our breathing in this way, little by little we gain greater control over the functioning of our other internal organs as well and we gain greater control over the production of energy in our body.
The role of breathing in qigong is covered in much greater detail in the course ‘Release The Power Of Your Breath’, but even if you haven’t done this course yet you will have experienced the effects of breathing in the qigong practices you have done so far.
Other Practice Methods
There are many other methods that are sometimes used in the practice of qigong. Some of the most prevalent ones are nutrition, sound and environmental energy.
Nutrition of course has a major effect on the functioning and so also the quality of our energy. Sometimes specific dietary guidelines are followed alongside qigong practices to achieve the desired results.
One way sound is used is with the voice. We sometimes think of voice as coming simply from the throat or the mouth, but in fact the whole body is involved in producing voice. With practice and awareness we learn that different parts of the body contract and vibrate in different ways in order to make different tones and sounds. This can be used to stimulate the body and energy in different ways. Similarly sound produced externally can be used to achieve effects within the body as the body responds to the vibration.
Other external energies that are often used are light from the sun, moon and stars, the energy from proximity to lakes, streams, forests and mountains. These types of external energies will be looked at in more detail in week seven of this course.
Week Two Homework:
- Consider and analyse the qigong practices you have experienced so far.
- What methods are used in these practices to work with your energy?
- What role does mind and awareness play?
- What role does movement, posture and touch play?
- What role does the breath play?
- Are any other methods used within the practice to work with the energy?
- How specifically do each of these methods influence the energy?
- Are there any parts of the practice that you do not know how they are used to work with the energy?
- Is there research you can do, or someone you can ask questions of to understand better the role of each factor in the qigong practice you are analysing?
- Could it possibly be helpful to incorporate additional methods into the practice?