An introduction to qigong and spontaneous qi.
What the Qi!
In this series of articles, I will share some of my own brief experiences with qigong and the practice of spontaneous qigong.
Some of these accounts may seem unusual to most people. On the other hand, some may seem quite ordinary to people well versed in qigong or meditation practice. I know that there are people who have a much deeper experience of qigong and spontaneous qigong than I have. However, not everyone will write about their experiences with spontaneous qi.
My objective of sharing this is very simple. It is not about showing off – or trying to impress people with stories of supernatural or mysterious phenomenon. In fact, I don’t have any supernatural experiences to share. Many of my qi experiences are quite vanilla.
I want to show that experiences with qi are not so unusual and they can be accessed by most people after a period of qigong practice, and depending on how opened up the energy channels in your body are. Working with qi is an important aspect of all energy work such as acupuncture, healing or massage, whether a person is aware of the presence of qi or not.
I will also discuss another aspect of qigong known as ‘spontaneous qigong’, although it has other labels. Hence the title – ‘Experiences with Spontaneous Qi’ This is where you activate the body’s own qi flow and it guides the body into various ‘spontaneous’ movements to help clear its own Channels.
It seems that there is a self-healing aspect to spontaneous qigong, thought I have not practiced it enough to experience any healing from it personally. In fact, I know very little about the spontaneous qigong effect or what it can help with.
One thing I am certain of is that practicing spontaneous qigong is a way to enhance your connection with your own body’s qi. It is a direct way for your body to communicate with you how to unblock its own energy (qi) blockages. Also it can help improve your sensitivity to qi flow in your own and other people’s bodies. This is handy if you are involved in energy work like acupuncture or healing.
Moar information about spontaneous qigong
I feel there is not enough information out there on the subject of spontaneous qigong. I have collected a few articles here and there and been fortunate to have been shown some videos by others versed in it. Though it still seems to be a lesser-known practice compared to regular qigong or tai chi.
On my website, I have written about my own experiment of practicing spontaneous qigong in a 30 day trial. In that trial I practiced a minimum of 10 minutes spontaneous qigong every day for 30 days and logged my practice. I also wrote about other books and practitioners on the topic along the way. It is worth reading through those posts for a simple introduction to spontaneous qigong practice.
Going deeper underground
In this series of articles I hope to provide more background into the practice of spontaneous qigong. I hope that readers will find these articles useful and gain some insights. I will also provide some links and videos from other practitioners, references to studies, and PDFs.
I welcome any stories of reader’s own experiences of spontaneous qigong. If you give me permission, I may include your accounts on my website with attribution or links to websites as requested. If you refuse permission, I will respect that.
First some definitions:
What is Qigong
Qigong (pronounced ‘Ch’i Gong’), is a mind-body practice developed around 5000 years ago in China and is included as a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It utilises physical movements, breathing exercises and meditation to harmonize the mind, body and spirit.
Qigong usually consists of set exercises and movements carried out gently, involving fixed positions and moving the arms and legs in specific ways. It is similar to Tai Chi. With regular qigong, the mind and deliberate physical movements lead the qi flow in the body.
Qigong works on the principle of the Channel (Meridian) system of energy in the body. We have in our bodies, a network of energy channels which traverse our torso, organs, limbs and head like an interconnected road network. It is in these channels that our bodies energy or life force – Qi/Ki/Ch’i flows though. Qigong exercises are designed to clear the channels and help move stagnant energy.
Image of Channel (Meridian) system
It is considered that disease or pain is a result of blockages in the Channels. If these Channels can be cleared and the qi flow harmonised, then good health can entail.
Several scientific trials have been carried out on the health benefits of qigong including cancer. I will discuss some of these later.
Spontaneous qigong is another facet of qigong. It takes the notion of ‘qi work’ several steps further. The objective is to let the ‘qi work on us’ by tuning into our body’s qi. Instead of guiding the qi by performing set exercises, spontaneous qigong practice is about letting the qi flow naturally and leading the body.
This practice can manifest itself in different spontaneous movements – the arms or legs may move dramatically, the torso may swing. You may get an urge to laugh and cry or to let out other emotions. The movements can be erratic or they can be refined and dance-like. They can even manifest like yoga asanas.
Essentially, spontaneous qigong is primordial healing. It is the body acting to heal itself by allowing the qi to move through and clear its own blockages in the Channel system.
Are there any risks with Spontaneous Qigong?
There are some risks related to spontaneous qigong and also standard qigong practice. I will discuss some of these risks later on in this series.
Title: Qigong and Encounters with Spontaneous Qi
The title of this article is paraphrased from the title of an old book: ‘Encounters with Qi: Exploring Chinese Medicine’, written by Davis Eisenberg and Thomas Lee Wright. The book is a very simple and interesting read and can serve as a useful introduction into Traditional Eastern Medicine.
Dr Eisenberg was a Harvard trained doctor who did a placement in a Chinese hospital in the 1970s after US-China relationships improved under the Nixon administration. During this trip he wrote about some of his unusual experiences as he encountered Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and qigong for the first time.
Curiouser and curiouser
As an acupuncture student, I remember finding an old copy of this book in my university library. It is possible to still buy copies of it though it has been over 10 years since I read that book. It may be that I won’t find the accounts in that books so unusual now. However at the time, I was intrigued by the accounts in it.
Before I discuss my personal experiences of first discovering spontaneous qi, I will talk about some of the unusual aspects of qigong and energy work that I encountered in my first few years of practicing qigong. I think it helps put my experience into a kind of perspective. Essentially these articles will provide a personal account of exploring qi-work, spontaneous qigong and other aspects of qi. My accounts will go up to 2018. Who knows what more is to come after then?
Introduction to qigong – 5 animal exercises
Probably, my first introduction to qigong came in my teenage years. My mother had bought a copy of a book which showed the ‘5 animal frolics’ – an ancient set of exercises sometimes attributed to the Chinese monk Hua Tao. This book contains a series of health exercises modelled on the movements of the Tiger, Dear, Bear, Monkey and Crane.
I think she ordered it through Readers Digest, as she was interested in improving her health and fitness. Though I doubt she even looked at it more than once. The book was called ‘The Complete System of Self-Healing Internal exercises‘ by Stephen T. Chang.
That book sat on our bookshelf unused. And when I opened it, I could see why.
It made no sense.
Chinese traditional arts – a million miles away
At least back then to Western minds with zero exposure to traditional Oriental medicine or practices. If I was to open that book today, I would probably understand it better. But back then, I grew up in a small town in a council house in the West Midlands of England. We had no knowledge of the Orient, other than what tasted good at the local Chinese takeout – Fried rice, chow mein and spare ribs.
Talking of Chinese spare ribs… This video depicts a typical weekday night in my home town.
Looking for health solutions
However, I had health problems. I suffered from acne throughout my teenage year, which continued into my twenties and thirties. Then in my early twenties I became very sick with cramping bowel pain, non-stop diarrhoea 20-40 times a day and night and severe blood loss.
I eventually succumbed to going to the doctor and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I took steroids. I had no choice, but the effects were short-term. My disease returned. I needed to find another solution. Afterwards I embarked on a quest to fix my own body naturally. I never liked taking drugs.
So one of the things I did was open up that book and read it.
It is full of lots of exercises that mimic the movements of animals. Somehow that is supposed to be able to heal diseases of the body. I didn’t really get the logic behind it. But I was willing to give it a go.
Right hand Clyde
And it still made no sense. This is the problem when you have no teacher and this was pre-internet days. These days you only need to open YouTube, and you can get your own personal teacher. Back then, nada.
I can recall practicing the bear and a monkey exercise. And I took it literally. I thought the monkey exercise meant you had to pretend to be a monkey. So I did. I modelled myself on Clyde in the Clint East wood movie – ‘Any which way but lose’ with a little bit of Planet of the Apes thrown in for good measure. I made some impressive monkey noises and monkey movements. I stopped short at throwing my own excrement on the wall.
I didn’t bother with the crane or deer. I just couldn’t get my motivation. I probably needed more acting lessons.
And I didn’t heal my colitis by doing this. In fact, I felt quite silly. So I put that book back on the shelf. And it’s still there to this day. The things we do to get healthy.
As I mentioned before, I would probably be able to do the exercises better now as my understanding of qigong is far better than back then. For example, I would probably model myself more on a chimp than an orangutang.
On reflection, it seems to me that the 5 animal exercises are tied into spontaneous qigong. It is likely that the creator of these exercises developed these exercises through spontaneous qigong-meditative practice. Kind of how like a Shaman goes into a kind of trance-like dance. But the creator formulated the movements into a set routine. It is these movements that enhances the flow of qi in the body.
Basically to learn the Oriental arts like qigong acupuncture or massage, it really helps to have a teacher. It saves you looking like a fool acting like a monkey in your living room.
My first real introduction to qigong
Years later, I was moving firmly onto the path of becoming a traditional healing practitioner. After learning reflexology, I applied to University to do a degree in TCM Acupuncture at Westminster in London.
When I started acupuncture school, I was first introduced to the practice of Qigong. Our teachers would start the class with 5-10 minutes with one standing qigong exercise – the ‘Holding the Balloon’ pose. There were also other class members who had a background in Qigong or Tai Chi who would talk enthusiastically about these practices.
Can you see the Qi?
At acupuncture school, one of the teachers was a practitioner of tui na (Chinese massage) called Rosie. She had done training in China and she also regularly practiced qigong. This is not the kind of standard Chinese massage you may get in a High Street Chinese Medicine shop. In these shops, you will get a typical massage – pushing, pulling and threading usually on the back and shoulders. It feels good, but is not necessarily suited for deeper health problems.
Rosie’s tui na was practiced with more intent on assessing disharmonies of the body and attempting to move stuck qi or gather qi where it is weak. In short, it was about working with the qi of the body.
Qi coming out of the feet
One time, she demonstrated on a model and right at the end of the treatment, she told us I am clearing the bad qi out of the feet of the body; Can you see the qi coming out? I looked and indeed I could see it. And so did another classmate say outrightly that he saw it. It was quite unusual for me at the time.
It looked like a wave in the air – kind of like on a summer’s day when you look out over a grassy field and you can see the warm air shimmering. But in this case, it was like a shimmer of air coming out of the feet as she massaged and brushed the legs in a downward direction.
Perhaps this kind of visual observation is nothing special to those more familiar with qi work, but to people with no understanding of qi before, it was surprising. A similar effect can be observed (albeit to a far lesser degree) when you do the ‘holding the balloon’ between your hands.
Holding the balloon exercise
In this exercise you may notice that the space between your hands has a slightly different appearance to the space around. It can be construed as a trick of the eyes. On the other hand, the Laogong acupuncture point which emanates from the centre of the hands, is a key acupuncture point where energy can be emanated from.
More early encounters: Irish Glen
Another experience of encountering Qi, came from a classmate called Glen. He was a largely built Irish man, who was experienced in Chinese Kung Fu and Qigong. He was apparently studying with a Chinese master and seemed very knowledgeable. He occasionally asked mildly challenging questions to the teachers regarding qigong.
One thing he mentioned stuck with me. One of our teachers advised us that it is better to practice qigong barefoot on grass, so we can connect more with the earth. Something that can be difficult to do, when you live in a built up city like London.
Glen mentioned how this doesn’t matter. the concrete below us is only a few feet but under that the earth is far deeper.
When I reflected on this, I concluded that if we look beyond our eyes, there are miles of ground below us. Our connection to the earth and to this planet must be so strong. A few feet of concrete or rubber soles cannot stop us from connecting with this great powerful force which is our own planet. I suppose it is the same feeling as looking up at the night sky into the great expanse – insignificant.
He sometimes gave lessons to the other students and was very passionate about his subject. He also enjoyed a drink, but that is not so unusual for someone from Ireland. He said that his qigong practice enabled him to eat and drink almost anything without any harm and I believe him. He had cured himself of a spinal scoliosis problem with his qigong practice.
Qigong breathing exercise
I was not particularly close to him in my acupuncture class. But for reasons unknown he kindly took the time to teach me his Chi gung breathing exercises for health. Perhaps he felt I needed it. Or perhaps it was the compassionate healer in him that just wanted to help in any way he could. Whatever the reason, I am grateful.
On one occasion, he told me that he used to be stick-thin and showed me a picture of himself a few years earlier, which showed him a lot thinner than he was that day.
He said that after practicing qigong breathing exercises for years, it had strengthened his digestion and had enabled him to put on weight. His body shape was more fuller and healthy. More like Buddha’s shape. Not at all like pie and chips.
And this was something interesting to me, because as I mentioned I suffered from colitis. This has led me to be chronically underweight. Although, I have always been very thin. Even at school, I had been referred to as a ‘rake’ one time.
Whereas most people want to lose fat. With me, I fit into one of those ‘hard-gainers’ categories. I want to put on weight, but find it difficult to do so. A bit of weight would make me look better. As I get older, I am filling out more – (too much pie and chips). But back in my twenties, I would have liked to put on more pounds.
I still remember clearly Glen’s specific breathing exercises. I have practiced different types of breathing- especially from yoga, but I have not yet found any exercise that is the same as what he taught me.
Projection of qi into my belly
On another occasion, Glen surprised me by personally demonstrating his ability to project qi. I think at the time, we had been doing a clinical practice as pairs. We had been taking it in turns to lie on a treatment table and practice either acupuncture needling or point location.
He said he wanted to show me something. Glen stood by the table and took a series of deep qigong breaths. Then he held his hands above my belly and suddenly I felt a flood of warm air pressure come out of his hands and into my belly. It was a very strong and palpable feeling – kind of like a shot of warm air pressure, which lasted a few seconds.
It was quite an unusual sensation and at the time I was surprised by the experience of it. I did not really know how to respond. It is a difficult thing to make sense of if you have not experienced such qi manifestations before. I wondered if it used up his own qi and if it would need to be replenished.
Other miscellaneous experiences:
Projecting Qi from my hands
My third experience of encountering qi at university was during a qigong practice. Some of our teachers would have us practice qigong for 5 or 10 minutes usually at the beginning of a class. The type of practice we did was usually the standing and ‘holding the balloon’ pose.
At the time I was becoming very interested in qigong and was doing my own practice in my own time. On one occasion in the daily class practice, I could feel a strong qi sensation flowing through my hands. The feeling was stronger than usual and so I concentrated more on the sensation. As I focused more on my hands, they felt more alive with an intense flowing feeling in them.
Strong qi feeling in my hands
This sensation continued for the duration of the practice. At the end of the sensation we went into our normal clinical practice. And then one of the instructors came up to me and told me that she could really see the qi flowing strongly out of my hands like a flood of air pressure. She had been standing in front of the class. I have to say it was a curious thing to be told – that such things can be seen by the eye. I suppose it must have looked like the qi flowing out of the person’s feet when Rosie was doing her tuina massage demonstation.
This is not to say that I was doing anything special or that this was like some kind of powerful ‘feel the force’ type energy. I suspect it may have been ‘bad’ or pathogenic qi being released out of my body. For example, in my guts, I would have inflammation. This stuck heat, is a form of pathogenic qi. ‘Better out than in’, as Shrek would say. Although, he was referring to breaking wind.
Throwing myself into qigong
At some point, it must have crossed my mind, that there may be something to this qigong thing.
At the time, one of my major preoccupations was in trying to heal myself fully from an inflammatory bowel disease, which I had been suffering from for a few years – Ulcerative Colitis. This disease had had a major impact on the quality of my life and also my life direction. Whilst the disease had been positively affected by lifestyle changes, diet and especially acupuncture, it was still not fully healed and I was affected by minor inflammation in my bowel.
As I started learning more about qigong, I wondered if perhaps qigong could be used to heal my disease fully?
Generally, I am lazy and pleasure-seeking, but I do have something of an intense personality. When I get serious about something, I can throw myself into it intensely and am able to demonstrate discipline and some obsessiveness. For example, years earlier, I had become obsessive when I followed an alkaline diet and experimented with fasting, after reading a book written by an American who had cured himself of colitis with a 40-day fast.
My problem is that I go too far, I take things to the extreme.
Thankfully, I don’t do that as much as I used to. I’ve become a bit more balanced. But in my twenties, when I thought that qigong may be able to bring me the healing I required, I decided to throw myself into it completely.
Cue rocky training montage
I looked for different types of qigong books and read them. Also, I also started seeking out different teachers and classes and attended their classes.
Along with this, I started doing a daily practice in my room, which consisted of the holding the balloon pose for about 20 minutes a day. I remember well, the first time I did this exercise for 20 consecutive minutes. My legs ached and trembled and sweat was poured down my brow. Who’d have thought that standing can be so hard?
Thankfully, the more often I practiced, the more accustomed my body became to this exercise and I was able to hold the pose for far longer without getting tired. The main challenge is in not listening to the mind when it would tell me to stop.
I hope you enjoyed Part One. Click here for the next article – Encounters with Spontaneous Qi: Hiroki Kurihara & GENKIKO.
Me, qigong pose – ‘Holding the invisible balloon’, taken with my iphone.
Channel diagram – Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_peterhermesfurian’>peterhermesfurian / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
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