What Is Qigong?
Along my journey to healing chronic pain and inflammation in my ankle and knee I discovered some incredible things. Life-changing practices. One of them was called the Feldenkrais method. It miraculously and permanently removed the pain I was feeling. And it continues to help me improve the way I experience this world.
Another practice which I am so lucky to have found is called Qigong. Because, while Qigong didn't remove the pain from my leg, it gave me something else which is profoundly valuable. Something that changed me on a deep level.
Since my first class in October 2011 I have been practicing Qigong steadily. I have fallen deeply in love with it because it has moulded my life in the most exquisite way. I'll talk more about that soon, but let me share with you about my initial experience with it.
My first experience with Qigong
My uncle introduced me to Qigong after hearing about the pain I was in. He had endured a lot of chronic pain in his life so he could relate to what I was going through. My uncle explained that he had cleared a decade's-long arthritis problem within 2 sessions of qigong. He spoke softly and looked around almost as though he was under surveillance. It was like he was passing on top-secret information that could cost him his life if it got into the wrong hands.
When I first arrived at the class I was given a brief introduction. It was explained to me that Qigong translated means "energy work". It is a practice of working with universal life-force to find balance and health. This life-force or energy is known by the Chinese as the Da Qi. According to them, the whole universe is pervaded by this intelligent force. It guides all of life. It's what makes the tree's grow, your heart beat, and the birds all fly in unison.
I also learned that this is not a typical qigong class. This is shuichuan qigong. There were no forms to learn and nothing to do. Even though it is a form of movement meditation, the movements are not prescribed. They arise from within and are perfectly catered to my needs in any moment.
The only instruction was to close my eyes, wait and feel for any impulse to move.
I didn't quite know what to make of all that, but I just followed along anyway. I stood there silently waiting for something to happen.
Nothing happened for a while, but eventually I began to feel my body sway gently from side to side. I also felt a strong burning sensation going down my left leg (the leg which I had been struggling with). It felt like heat was pouring down my leg and into the floor.
It was a peculiar first experience. I felt remarkably different after the practice. I didn't feel much difference in the level of pain in my leg, but my state of being had shifted A LOT. My normal levels of mental chatter begin to fade away into stillness. Profound joy and bliss seem to emerge from that space of emptiness.
Over the next few weeks I practiced qigong daily and the movements began to develop and strengthen. I could start to feel a clear impulse to move. It felt (and still does to this day) like an external magnetic force was moving my body. Kinda like how a puppet is moved by the puppetmaster.
I could also start to feel sensations of the air around my hands being thick and tingly. As though it's charged with electricity.
Here is a sample of what my typical Qigong practice might look like
So what the heck is going on here?
I grew up in a fairly typical NZ community. The western worldview (or the story of separation) is what I was presented with as the one and only truth about how the world functions.
In essence it says that we humans are separate from each other and we are separate from the environment around us. Our universe functions based on cause and effect. It's basically just a big lifeless machine operating on the same physics principles I learned in my engineering degree. Humans, animals and plants are all alive (with questionable levels of intelligence), but everything else like rocks, planets and stars... are basically just stuff. Unconscious matter. Objects to be manipulated or harnessed to our advantage.
So I approached this idea of energy with skepticism of course. But here I was with an experience that didn't quite fit into that paradigm...
- A seemingly intelligent force that was moving my body for me.
- The sense of energetic fields around my body.
- Profound states of bliss and love for no particular reason.
Of course, this story of separation is just that, a story. There are different stories presented by other, more ancient cultures. Cultures which recognize the aliveness, sacredness and interconnectedness of everything in this universe. Cultures where the unseen worlds are just as real as the physical world.
I can see value and truth in both of those stories.
So for me, the exploration continues. My practice is about direct experience of this "energy" and finding out for myself what it is and what it does.
So how has qigong changed me?
Qigong has taught me how to surrender. How to let go and allow life to flow without me having to "do" anything. Now that doesn't mean I just sit on my ass all day while everyone else does the work. No, I'm still in action. Still moving. Still flowing. It just means that my actions don't come from "Tom's idea" about what should happen. It comes from an intelligence with a broader perspective. This free's me up to feel and listen to what's arising in the present moment.
For example, in the food forest I'm creating on my land, I often have this dilemma of where to place a certain plant. It's an important decision because the plant is going to live there for the rest of it's life (and possibly mine too). So I want to get it right...
Now I can approach this from a really intellectual space. I can consider things like...
- The plant's requirements
- Local wind, water and shade conditions.
- Proximity to the house
- Soil suitability
- The final size of the plant
- Proximity to other plants
- Slope and waterways
But it can become overwhelming when deciding from this space. There are so many variables to consider and this takes a lot of effort.
However, the moment I drop into a Qigong state, I become more able to feel what is right. I can start to listen to life instead of think my way through. It becomes clear that the sugarcane would be perfect for that steep "unusable" bank over there.
And reflecting on my Qigong decision later from an intellectual space again, it appears that all of those variables which I struggled to consider seem to be met beautifully.
And this is just one example, I experience this in many different