Yang Yang will be at the Open Center on Friday, Oct. 17th, 6pm- Qigong for Back, Shoulder & Neck Pain
By Yang Yang, PhD
Qigong literally means to exercise, or nurture, qi, which is the energetic intermediary between physical essence (jing, 精) and spirit (shen, 神). But a simple literal interpretation of the word qigong is insufficient to convey the full meaning. Qigong is mind/body/spirit integrative exercise—any mind/body/spirit integrative exercise is qigong. Taiji form (if practiced correctly) is one type of qigong, but other basic qigong exercises are also essential components of traditional taiji training. Yoga is qigong; simple exercises such as walking or riding a bicycle, or even many daily life activities, if done in awareness and understanding of qigong principles, can be qigong.
Literally, wu (无) means “no” and ji (极) means “extreme.” In contrast with taiji, which means “grand extreme,” in wuji there is no differentiation of yin and yang: no good/bad, happy/sad, attraction/aversion. Wuji is a subtle void, but it is not empty—it is full of undifferentiated energy from which arise yin and yang and the “10,000 things.”
“Wuji is the mother of taiji” (or “taiji comes from wuji”) is a very famous saying in taiji practice. But few people understand how to translate this saying into practice. As a result, some, if not most, practitioners spend their time practicing taiji forms but never experiencing wuji, the foundation of taiji practice.
Here are five ways to integrate Qigong into daily practice:
1. Wuji meditation (static sitting, standing, and lying-down) – the “mother of taiji,” this is the deepest level of energy cultivation, and of mental/spiritual awareness. Wuji is a profound state of mental and physical relaxation, of mind/body/spirit integration. To experience wuji is to know the bliss of a mind undisturbed by ego, by thoughts of judgments of good/bad or attraction/aversion. To realize wuji is to feel the energy of the universe in you.
2. Intention meditation (static standing, lying-down) – transition to taiji movement which uses intention to focus energy and train mind/body connection (nervous system function), and practice of relaxing the mind and body while the mind is engaged with intention. (Please note that there is a difference between “relaxed intention” and “mental force.” Do not use mental force to “guide” qi – this is against taiji principles, is not the correct path, and can even cause problems in some cases. As the Dao De Jing says, “For the mind to dictate to one’s qi is called violent.” Learn to relax in intention and you will progress naturally and correctly.)
For taiji practice in particular, the static meditations have the following purposes.
Sitting meditation is the best modality to train your mind: awareness of reality and mental principles. In addition, it increases awareness of your physical body. It also enhances your nervous system, which increases your reaction time. All contribute to the ling (agility) quality of your practice. The ability to move with lighting quickness, and to perceive a situation or even to foretell an occurrence, is an aspect of ling. In the taiji classics, the saying “the opponent moves, I move first” is a description of ling. The often held secret in taiji tradition is that this skill comes from sitting meditation. (The problem with secrets is that, if they are not made common knowledge, they are eventually lost.)
Standing practice primarily develops your strength, alignment, posture, economy of movement, and sleep quality.
Lying-down practice will help with your sleep, relax your mind and body, and, importantly, prevent overuse of the body and injury. Actually, the more adept you become at taiji movement, the more you need to incorporate lying-down to prevent over-use of core musculature.
With this foundation, you can start to incorporate the “gong” derived from meditation into movement.
3. Simple, repetitive movement (e.g. dynamic qigong exercises such as Grand Open & Close, Circulating Qi, etc.). Here we begin to incorporate fundamentals of, stance, posture, and weight shifting/waist turning/chest opening and closing with yin/yang taiji movement and reverse breathing.
4. Complex taiji movement. There is nothing new in the taiji form in terms of stance, alignment, coordination, silk reeling energy, application, etc. except the choreography. Taiji form is complex movement and must be learned. The “eight forces” (peng/lu/ji/an/zi/lie/zhou/kao) and “five cardinal directions” of taiji movement, in combination, ultimately contain all possible lengths and directions of human movement and force generation, and so contain virtually all possible (standing) martial applications of the feet, knees, hips, body, shoulder, elbows, and hands. I have never seen a (standing) martial application that is not contained within the 48 and pao cui forms.
5. Integration into daily life. Finally, you can apply physical quality cultivated in the form practice to daily activities: your jogging, dish washing, vacuuming your house, holding a baby in your arms, gardening, even waiting in the grocery line. It is a higher level of practice as the application is random. And it is the ultimate goal of practice: to improve the quality of daily life. Mentally and spiritually, you are applying the awareness and mental principles to your daily life while you interact with family members, colleagues at work, and strangers on the street.
Yang Yang, PhD, is the author of the bestselling book Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power. He is one of the few persons who is recognized within the traditional Taiji/Qigong community as a master practitioner and teacher and is also an active researcher interested in applying the highest standards of the Western scientific process to explore and promote evidence-based Eastern philosophy and wellness programs. Through his research Dr. Yang has created an evidence-based taiji and qigong program suitable for persona of all ages and physical abilities. In 2006 Yang was honored as “Qigong Master of the Year” at the 9th World Congress on Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine. He is currently the Director of the Center for Taiji and Qigong Studies in New York City, and a master instructor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he offers taiji and qigong to patients and staff.