The Inner Game of Chi Kung
What are the classes like?
Books and videos
Chi Kung (or qigong) translates as “energy exercise”. As such, there are chi kungs from many cultures such as yoga or Bioenergetics. In China, Chi Kungs are generally organized by outcome sought – Health, Healing Others, Spiritual Development and Martial Abilities. Different Chi Kungs can include holding postures, moving in specific patterns, breathing exercises, mudras (hand postures), making sounds, sexual exercises, and meditation techniques. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of types of Chi Kung.
In my classes I present the Chi Kung exercises that I’ve found most useful over my years of practice. We also do stretching, range of motion, balance, breath and coordination drills. My goals for the class are that my students gain both an improvement in balance and range of motion, and improved energy and overall health. Look also for a reduction of stress and increased ability to be in the present.
In terms of Western medicine, the movements will strengthen your legs, lubricate your joints, increase your flexibility and the strength of your sinews, slow and deepen your breathing, improve circulation and stimulate the immune system. Many of the movements are also designed to stimulate your body’s acupuncture meridians and massage your internal organs thereby improving your overall health.
Chi Kung is an excellent method for reducing stress, and since many diseases originally arise due to stress, practice improves our health in this way as well. Through the practice of Chi Kung, one develops greater sensitivity to oneself which naturally leads to making healthier choices that keep one in harmony.
Tuning into our subtle sensations requires a stilling of the mind. This concentration begins in the mundane focus required to master a new series of movements and develops into a finer kind of awareness including all aspects of our experience. This form of moving meditation is very beneficial because it is not very different from our every day life – the gap between being able to keep a still mind in sitting meditation and being able to focus at work or driving in traffic can be difficult to bridge, whereas the calmness of concentration which comes from Chi Kung practice naturally flows into all aspects of life.
The empty discipline of practice itself is also a wonderful tool for self observation and learning. What kinds of barriers come up to regular practice? Do you overcome these barriers or give up? How often do you need to be reminded of the benefits of practice in order to persist? When you practice, can you concentrate and experience the movements, or is your mind busy with the day’s concerns?
As we in the West learn from the traditions of the East, our first step should be to remove the hype. There is a lot of hype in Chi Kung, as there is in Yoga, Martial Arts and Eastern spiritual traditions. In order to stay grounded in our practice, I recommend that you follow the advice of the Chinese saying, ” Don’t seek to walk in the footsteps of the masters, seek what they sought.” To unpack that, if you imagine yourself as the originator of a Chi Kung system, what kind of evidence of benefit would you need to know that you were on the right track? On what level would the evidence show up – physical, emotional, mental or spiritual? How soon would you need this evidence – after an hour of practice, three weeks, a year?
The movements and exercises I present reflect my answers to these questions. They produce an almost instantaneous change in my experience physically, emotionally and mentally. They create a state of consciousness that for me is conducive to living a spiritually connected life. But be aware that there are many other styles of Chi Kung, and many claim to produce extraordinary results. This class represents my best research to date.
1) Relax the whole body
2) Breathe deeply into the lower abdomen
3) Sense the whole body
4) Keep the spine straight and the head erect
5) Move evenly and slowly
Important Points of Posture
* Joints open
* Tongue touching the roof of mouth
* Head suspended from the heavens
* Eyes in soft focus
* Heart open
Inner Chi Kung
Here’s a synthesis of the ideas presented by Tim Gallwey in his Inner Game books as applied to Chi Kung. Integrating these ideas will greatly facilitate the process of learning Chi Kung.
Gallwey makes the distinction between two selves which he calls Self 1 and 2. Self 1 is basically the analytic mind, while Self 2 is the body mind. His distinction is quite similar to the kinds of distinctions folks make between the two sides of the brain. In any case, the utility of this distinction is that it points out that we have two parts to our minds and leads to the recognition that each part has its area of expertise. Self 1 or the left brain, analytical self is primarily concerned with keeping us safe and does so by learning and trying to follow procedures and prescriptions. Self 2 or the right brain, holistic, exploratory self is more concerned with the big picture and learns in a holistic fashion. It is much better at mimicry than at following directions.
The practice of Chi Kung (or any other sport) involves a complex integration of the body’s systems at a pace that is impossible for the left brain, Self 1, to really analyze. However, because most of us have not clearly sorted out the differences and areas of expertise of these two parts, we will often try to learn complex physical tasks from a analytic, Self 1 perspective. This is usually frustrating and always less effective than allowing Self 2 to be primarily in charge of learning. The ideal situation is where we have clearly distinguished job descriptions for each part.
In Chi Kung we have a big chunk of physical learning to do and a small bit of analytic work. First we learn the overall feel of relaxed movement within the principles and then apply that to the specific postures and movements with their coordination and balance issues. A primary issue is simply learning to pay attention to our sensations in a precise manner. On the analytic side, we can learn the names and locations of meridians and points and study the theory of Chinese Medicine.
Because in this culture we are so accustomed to dwelling in the analytic Self 1, most people try to learn Self 2’s material with Self 1. This leads to the familiar difficulty where Self 1 watches over Self 2’s shoulder and comments (often critically) on everything. As we all know, learning any complex physical coordination pattern (like walking, writing or driving) takes a lot of repetition. But that is really all it takes. All we need is a model of the target behavior (walking) and the will to repeat our efforts to duplicate the model. As infants we learned to walk and run and climb with parental modeling and encouragement, but usually with no verbal pointers and with no Self 1 looking over our shoulders and analyzing our progress. Learning Chi Kung is easiest and most effective the more we recreate this sort of internal learning environment.
We do this by having a clear idea of which part of us is responsible for learning what and how each can best contribute to the project. Self 1 is good at memorizing names of movements and can serve as a good tape recorder for playing back this material in a supportive fashion. Self 2 will be memorizing the physical postures and movements as well as the overall feel of practicing Chi Kung. In this, Self 1 can contribute the most by allowing Self 2 the time and space to simply repeat the exercises with overall confidence that this will lead to mastery.
In a way, we can imagine Self 1 being the parent and Self 2 the child learning to walk. As the parent, we know that through trial and error our child will learn to walk – we want to cultivate that same absolute confidence that Self 2 will master the Chi Kung movements. And again as the parent, the only ways to really speed up a child learning to walk is to provide lots of time for the child to practice attentively and to encourage and praise the child when he needs support. As Self 1, we can do those things for ourselves too.
The key to practice is the attention. Five minutes of focused and interested practice brings more learning than an hour of bored and dreary repetition. Self 1 can be very useful here in brainstorming aspects of the movements to become curious about (“what exactly is my left leg doing as I come forward there?”) in order to keep the attention alert and in the present. Similarly, Self 1 can be very useful in reminding us of how well we are doing and why we are excited about learning this stuff in the first place. By helping us to remain in an optimistic and playful kind of frame of mind, Self 1 really helps Self 2 to concentrate on the learning at hand.
Ultimately we can see our study of Chi Kung as a vehicle to study the far more important issues of the internal relationship between Self 1 & 2 and the internal dynamics which effect our ability to concentrate voluntarily in the present moment. Improving your skills of fostering a positive internal relationship with appropriate tasks delegated to appropriate parts and of voluntary concentration is ultimately more important to me as your instructor (and I assume to you) than whether you become proficient in any Chi Kung form. Becoming skillful in these areas leads to pervasive life improvement and will serve you in any learning endeavor that you undertake in the future.
In summary then, Self 1 is responsible for:
1) memorizing the Chi Kung principles and the names of the movements
2) helping create the space for attentive practice and experimentation
3) maintaining and conveying faith in Self 2’s abilities.
Self 2 is responsible for memorizing the physical postures, movements and overall feel. And this whole process is really to help you learn more about this fundamental internal relationship, how to operate your organism more skillfully and how to concentrate and be in the present.
The class has an informal, comfortable atmosphere, and participants wear whatever clothing they are comfortable in. We meet outdoors when possible.
The purpose of this series of movements is to help you be at your best, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually as rapidly and efficiently as possible. I’ve developed this series in the process of refining my own morning warmup process over the last twenty years. It integrates a wide variety of material including Yoga, T’ai Chi, Chi Kung, Meditation, Prayer, and Toning, as well as a broad selection of the energy psychologies.
The sequence goes: meditation, warm ups and range of motion drills, stretches, chi kungs and energy integrations, emotional clearing and setting intentions, meditation.
We start with a moment of meditation to become more deeply aware of our experience on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level. This is our “before” picture.
Then we do some physical warm ups and range of motion drills. These are designed to bring motion into the body and to increase the heart rate and fullness of the breath. Some of these are also brain balancing movements borrowed from Educational Kinesiology and Steven Rochlitz.
Then we stretch. I use a modified Sun Salutation from Yoga and others to methodically stretch the whole body.
Then we do some Chi stimulating exercises including some self massage and whole body breathing. These are designed to increase the sense of Chi flow through the body and to integrate that flow with movement and the breath. I incorporate toning into these movements to further increase their power and to connect with the chakra system.
We then do a variety of techniques from energy psychology, including EFT, TAT and some of Donna Eden’s patterns. This is a time for us to center further, connect to our central life goals and our intentions for that day, and to further let go of any blocks to being at our best.
We finish with a moment of meditation to more deeply integrate all the energies we have worked with. This also gives us time to notice our “after” picture.
Now we’re stretched out, invigorated, reconnected to our central intentions and ready to embrace the joys and challenges of the day!