– Fontane Ip
As I grow older and watch my contemporaries ageing, I appreciate even more so the wisdom of the qigong masters. Depletion of energy is a major contributor to the ageing process and disease. We are always expending energy. We replenish our energy through food and sleep. However, that does not appear to be enough to sustain our vitality. It is similar to constantly drawing money out of our bank account without depositing enough savings.
We all require a certain amount of energy, say 50%, to go through the day. If we have less than 50%, it is very easy to fall sick or become tired during the day. If we have just 50%, we feel overwhelmed when we need to carry an extra load, such as a big project, because we do not have any reserve. So, ideally, we would like to build up our total energy reserves to 80%. This will give us plenty of energy to deal with whatever life hands out.
Qigong is the art of cultivating internal energy. There are thousands of qigong forms. This is very confusing since most people have no standard of reference to evaluate them. The meaning of classical qigong literature is often obscure. It makes sense to those who have reached a certain level in their practice. However, for the novice, the meaning can easily be misinterpreted. A teacher is essential in qigong training. He can guide you through this energy landscape because he has traversed it himself.
To put it succinctly, these are the 2 important criteria we look for in qigong practices: to build up the energy reservoir as mentioned earlier and to improve the functioning of the energy. The latter is similar to an efficient pump. If the pump is not working well, energy stagnation (also referred to as blockages) will set in. This is a cause of illnesses. If we do not make an effort in our practice to build the energy and improve its functioning, we will be shocked when suddenly struck down by a serious illness.
Chronic fatigue sufferers naturally assume that they lack energy. I am sure we agree that this is a logical assumption. However, in the majority of cases, the problem lies in the functioning of the energy rather than the lack of energy. Once practices such as the Self Healing Qigong break up blockages and stimulate the energy function, chronic fatigue sufferers feel that they have energy again. They have often commented that they could not believe how well they feel from the Self Healing Qigong practice.
Ideally, you would like to be training in a system which can provide both of the above. Without a system that can take you to the high levels, you would feel as if you were wandering around the base of the mountain but never finding a way up the mountain to enjoy the magnificent view.
One of the qigong teachers to whom I am indebted to is Master Liu. As well as being gifted, he is versed in the five schools of qigong (Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian, Medical and Martial Arts). When he served on a national qigong committee in China, one of his roles was to visit different provinces to document their qigong practices. From his repertoire of knowledge, he has developed a most ingenious system.
In the Energy for Life system, the priority is to build a solid foundation with the balance of yin and yang energy. Without this foundation, it is impossible to reach the higher levels which enable practitioners to know their inner nature or Tao. There are 4 practices to establish this foundation: Self Healing Qigong, Qigong Dai, Microcosmic Orbit and the Taoist Five Elements Sitting Qigong.
Self Healing Qigong breaks up stagnation and improves the functioning of the energy. Qigong Dai enables you to gain and strengthen energy and develop power. The Microcosmic Orbit is regarded by all qigong masters as an indispensable practice. It nourishes and heals the body on a deep level and strengthens yin energy. Once the Orbit is open, tremendous health benefits can be gained. The Taoist Five Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) Sitting Qigong stimulates the five organs (liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidneys), and purifies the body and its energy field.
As a result of these 4 foundation practices, your energy will become strong, vibrant, balanced, smooth flowing and pure. You will feel as if you have a new lease on life. Energy being pure is not often talked about. However, it is very important in the higher levels of development, whether it is in qigong or sitting meditation.
Some people might like to take up just one or two of the above practices to improve their health, well-being and energy levels. Those who would like to carry their development as far as possible will find that all 4 practices support each other in the big picture. The foundation level can be strongly established within one to two years of the above practices which are quite fast in qigong terms.
During the foundation period, my teacher also suggests that we take up an internal martial art. This helps to bring greater benefits to the physical. At first, I did not fully understand the significance of this. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the advanced levels that I was very grateful that I have been doing Tai Chi. Some of the advanced training is physically challenging (opposite to what most people imagine). Having the freedom of movement in the joints and overall body strength helps tremendously with one’s progress.
Another point which came home to me was that the body is full of blockages, more than you realised. Many are caused by lifestyle. No matter how good your posture is, just sitting at the desk or in front of a computer so many hours a day will cause energy stagnation. This will only be evident when you embark on the higher training. As the advanced practices continue to build energy, they will also break blockages on finer energy layers and in regions that are not easy to access, such as the neck, the areas enclosed by the rib cage, pelvic area, ankles etc. When these blockages are clear, you will feel an increase in your energy levels and an amazing degree of mental clarity.
Once we begin some of the advanced training, most of the foundation practices can be replaced, except the Microcosmic Orbit which will evolve with the practitioner. However, some people might still like to continue with a foundation practice, simply because they enjoy it.
We have all heard of the meridians or energy pathways (Jing Luo). Acupuncture stimulates different points on a meridian to improve energy flow. This, in turn, strengthens the whole meridian and in turn the organ associated with it. There are 2 other networks of meridians (Luo Mai and Sun Mai) which are lesser-known and there are no acupuncture points on these meridians. Luo Mai is the tributaries which branch from Jing Luo. Traditional Chinese medicine can influence Luo Mai although it is more challenging. Then, Sun Mai are the tributaries which branch from Luo Mai. Sun means grandchild; the word illustrates its relationship to Jing Luo. Chinese medicine cannot influence the Sun Mai which is a more subtle level. However, with the practice of qigong, you can affect all 3 networks. Part of the advanced training is to stimulate Luo Mai and Sun Mai so that they all work optimally. This gives the body great flexibility in terms of qi functioning. This is similar to a situation where the main street is blocked; you can utilise the side streets to get to your destination. If the side streets are not open, then you have no way to go. As your practice matures, you will discover that the whole body is crisscrossed with energy pathways.
Another part of the advanced training is developing permeability so that energy can travel from one layer to another smoothly. This allows you to fully absorb the benefits of the practice. Also, gradually, while you are doing one practice, you will feel the effects of the other practices supporting this one practice, thereby enabling you to gain more benefits.
Qigong reveals a fascinating inner world of ourselves that is normally not accessible. Once we begin to explore this domain, there is so much to gain in terms of health benefits, higher levels of consciousness and overall enrichment of life. Some of our Tai Chi students have developed a good degree of calmness from their practice. They have commented on being in the flow or zone when they do their Tai Chi and it is a great feeling. There are even more wonderful feelings in store when your energy is stronger! When you feel your Microcosmic Orbit while doing your form, energy is flowing smoothly and the physical body is moving effortlessly, then you know that Tai Chi is a high level of dynamic qigong. When for no reason, you feel inner happiness that lasts no matter what you do or where you are, you are beginning to come face to face with your inner nature. At this stage, you will not want to stop your qigong practice. Enjoy the journey!