The Way of Energy

Qigong is an ancient system of self-cultivation developed specifically as a means by which each individual may take full personal responsibility for protecting health, promoting vitality and prolonging life, while cultivating spiritual awareness and insight. Based on the primordial principles of classical Taoist philosophy, qigong is simple and practical – the practitioner learns how to harness the fundamental forces of the cosmos (Heaven), balance them with the elemental energies of nature (Earth) and harmonize them both with the essence, energy and spirit (the ‘Three Treasures’) of human life (Humanity). 

Qigong thus enables the individual to amplify his or her personal power with the infinite power of the universe. Known in traditional thought as the ‘Three Powers’, Heaven (tien), Earth (di), and Humanity (ren) represent the sum total of all the forces and factors at all levels of human existence within the universe as we know it. It is by virtue of the balance and harmony of these powers that we may enjoy health and vitality, attain power and longevity, enhance our mental awareness and spiritual insight, overcome our instinctive fear of death, and realize the primordial immortality of the human spirit. 

Though usually associated in popular Western imagination with medicine, monks and martial artists, qigong was also practised in traditional China by ministers of state and judicial magistrates, princes and prelates, poets and painters, each of whom utilized its power to cultivate their own particular talents, improve their professional performance, protect their health, enhance energy and prolong life. In today’s highly competitive, stressful world, qigong’s versatile utility as a personal tool – for promoting productivity, preventing disease, balancing emotions and calming the mind – has greater practical potential for the individual, and for society, than it ever has before. 

For busy people without the time or inclination for elaborate exercise programmes, expensive sports and difficult to learn manoeuvres, qigong provides a quick and easy system of self-healthcare that is both safe and simple to learn, and can be practised any time of the day or night, at home or at work, indoors or outdoors, without requiring any special equipment, expensive facilities or athletic skills, and only the most basic training. Yet simple as it seems, so potent are the healing powers and other benefits of qigong that some of the cures and other effects it achieves are discounted as ‘miracles’ even by eye-witness observers – despite the evidence – or scoffed at by incredulous sceptics as ‘anecdotal evidence’. 

That’s simply because there is a lot more to qigong than meets the eye. In fact, what meets the eye in qigong is merely a small tip of a massive iceberg floating serenely in the vast sea of universal energy. Qi means ‘breath’ and ‘air’, and by extension it also denotes ‘energy’ and ‘vitality’. Gong is a general term meaning ‘work’ and is used in reference to any technique or skill which requires time and effort, patience and practice, to perfect. Hence the term ‘qigong’ may be translated as ‘breathing exercise’ as well as ‘energy work’, and indeed the subtle skill of breath control is the key to cultivating control over the flow and balance of energy in the body and harmonizing human energy with the elementary energies of nature and the cosmos. 

Qi manifests itself in myriad ways throughout the realms of nature (Earth), the cosmos (Heaven), and the human system (Humanity). For the purposes of qigong, the three most important manifestations of qi are the following:

 • Qi is the fundamental ‘stuff’ of the entire manifest universe, the basic building block of all matter, the immaterial energy that constitutes all material form. Modern quantum physics has recently verified a fact that has long been apparent to ancient Taoist science: that the essential nature of even the most elemental atoms and molecules is nothing more or less than an array of various energies organized in particular patterns. Qi is therefore the basic energy that comprises all matter and animates all living things, and the fundamental functional force that drives all activities and transformations in nature and the universe, from the galactic to the microscopic, from the birth, growth, decay and death of stars to the formation and dissolution of atoms, molecules and cells in the human body.

 • Qi is the basic life force of all three levels of human existence – body, energy and mind. In constitutes the definitive factor in all facets and phases of human life, from the molecular level of metabolism and cellular division to the larger organic functions of digestion and excretion, respiration and circulation, all the way up to the highest faculties of feeling and thought, awareness and perception. Qi is the invisible master template behind all visible forms and vital functions of the human system, and therefore it is the primary factor responsible for human health and disease, the main gauge of vitality and longevity, the bridge that links body and mind, and the common denominator in all the complex equations of physical, emotional and spiritual life. Qigong provides an effective way to mediate and manipulate the vital energies of life, and to balance and harmonize them for optimum health and longevity, emotional equilibrium and spiritual awareness.

 • Qi also constitutes the dynamic polar field in which all energy moves and from which all power springs. Every type of energy functions within its own specific force field, from the lowest vibrations of matter to the highest frequencies of spirit, from the heaviest to the lightest, from the most polluted to the purest forms. Therefore the purity and potency of one’s own personal qi determines the type of universal energy with which one’s system resonates, and this in turn governs the nature of one’s relationship with the higher forces and spiritual realms of the universe.

Qigong permits the practitioner to purify and potentiate his or her own personal energy field so that it resonates in harmony with the purest energies and most powerful spiritual forces in the universe, thereby empowering humanity with the infinite energy, wisdom and other primordial virtues of Heaven and Earth. Most forms for qigong involve various degrees of gentle movement or stillness of the body, balanced with rhythmically regulated breathing, all quietly harmonized by a calm, unhurried and clearly focused mind. Soft, slow movement of the body prevents the stiffness and stagnation that lead to degeneration and death. As Lao Tse states in the classic verse of the Tao Teh Ching:

Truly, to be stiff and hard is the way of death; To be soft and supple is the way of life. 

The importance of soft flowing movement was also noted by Confucius. In the classical text called Spring and Autumn Annals, the sage says,

 Flowing water never stagnates, and the hinges of an active door never rust. This is due to movement. The same principle applies to essence and energy. If the body does not move, essence does not flow. When essence does not flow, energy stagnates. 

However, to understand fully the role of movement in qigong, one must also comprehend the central significance of stillness, as well as the complementary connection between the two. In the sitting meditation, for example, there is also movement, but it is all internal – in the flow of energy through the channels and the circulation of blood in the vessels and the cyclic waves of breath – while externally the physical body rests in motionless serenity. In moving forms of qigong, the rhythmic external motions of the body can only be maintained and kept in harmony with the cyclic rise and fall of breath by a mind that rests serenely in an undistracted state of internal stillness. 

Thus, like the eternal ebb and flow of the waves on the sea and the cyclic turns of day and night in the firmament, movement and stillness constitute the essential Yin and Yang poles of qigong and comprise the complementary cornerstones in all forms of practice. The term ‘Tao’ transcends precise definition in words and is better understood through the archetypal symbols traditionally used to represent it – the sexual act between male and female, the constant interplay of the elementary energies of nature, the rhythmic dance of macrocosmic forces in the external universe and their microcosmic reflections in the internal world of the human body. In the classic canons of Taoist literature, the mysteries of Tao are elucidated through the symbolic formulations of trigrams and hexagrams in the ancient book of divination known as the I-Ching (Book of Change) and the arresting allusions and crystal-clear metaphors of the Tao Teh Ching, the intriguing 5000-character treatise on Tao attributed to the sage Lao Tze.

The terse verse of this ancient text is a source of such universal insight and incisive truth that it ranks among the most popular, appealing and widely translated books in the world today. The original Chinese ideogram for ‘Tao’ consists of the symbols for ‘head’ and ‘walk’. As a noun, it generally means ‘way’ or ‘path’, while as a verb it means ‘to say’ or ‘to know’. This implies that the Tao is a path through life that one takes by following the mind rather than the body; it also indicates that the Tao is the original source of all real knowledge and true words. ‘There was something formless yet complete that existed before Heaven and Earth,’ states Lao Tze in the Tao Teh Ching. ‘It’s true name I do not know. “Tao” is the nickname I give it.’ 

Of all the myriad elements of nature from which Taoist terminology is drawn, water comes closest to expressing the fundamental essence and full potential of Tao, and thus it has become the quintessential symbol of the Tao in philosophy, art and science. The initially yielding yet ultimately omnipotent nature of water permeates every aspect of qigong and provides a convenient metaphor through which the theory of qigong may be understood and the practice readily learned. Blood and energy move through their respective channels in the body like water flowing through rivers – free, full, unimpeded – and any obstruction to their free flow and natural equilibrium causes deviations that give rise to energy imbalance and has serious repercussions throughout the entire system. 

The way the body moves and feels during qigong practice is like swimming through water – soft and smooth, slow and rhythmic. The long, deep, diaphragmic breathing employed in qigong rises and falls with the same rhythmic regularity as waves on the ocean, while the human mind resting in the unruffled stillness of meditation is often compared to the surface of a lake on a windless day, calmly reflecting the silent clarity of Heaven above. Water also symbolizes the mutable relationship between matter and energy, stillness and motion, and the transformations activated in the human system by the ‘internal alchemy’ of qigong practice. 

The fluid Yin essence in the ‘cauldron’ of the sacrum is transformed and sublimated by the ‘wind’ of breath acting as a ‘bellows’ to ‘steam’ and purify it, and refine it into Yang energy. This energy rises up the spine under the guidance of mind and enters the head, where it is further refined to nurture spirit. The spirit condenses and cools it again, inducing it to flow down the front channel as Water energy and store itself in the ‘lower elixir field’ (dantien) below the navel. Traditional Taoist terminology is rooted in the universal symbols of nature and the cosmos, which is why Taoist philosophy has endured through the ages and produced ideas with significance that transcends cultural boundaries.