Qigong practice is on the rise here in the U.S. and has the potential to soon be as popular as yoga. Qigong literally means "energy practice." The theory behind qigong is that the imbalance of mind, body and spirit is behind all physical and emotional disease. The practice of medical qigong also is on the rise and might soon be as popular as massage therapy. Along with herbs, medical qigong is the most ancient form of Chinese medicine and is the forefather of acupuncture. Many acupuncture students are required to take qigong and/or tai chi classes, and some are delving into the practice of medical qigong.
It's a wonderful thing to see these practices entering our fields of consciousness. The question is how does the average practitioner understand and apply the incredible power of something so subtle and so intangible? How do we go from intellectually understanding qi to actually making this universal life force tangible to us?
Practitioners of TCM, as well as practitioners of the Five-Element Theory here in the U.S., spend a lot of time in the classroom learning about qi theory. That is most appropriate. You'll find the practice as part of the curriculum at the Hai Dian University in China, for example, or in less formal settings such as with a master teacher high in the mountains of Tibet. American students may need a greater emphasis on practicing the actual cultivation of qi itself.
Here in the U.S., there is not as much of an emphasis on "training the qi," to coin an old Taoist saying. Some forms of qigong have roots that can be traced back to early Buddhism. There was an idea held at that time that enlightenment would happen without having to reach for it. One didn't really have to train for it or go out and achieve anything. The idea simply was to give up everything and that which was hiding there all along (an enlightened state) would be revealed. However, many students of these disciplines were dying at a young age and not becoming enlightened as planned. Training the qi is very important. In fact, one may ponder where the most masterful balance between qi theory and qi practice lies. Is it in the direction of theory or of actual practice? Should the division between theory and practice be 50/50, 60/40 or something else? This is a good question.
There are accounts of masters and teachers who have no understanding of the TCM theory seemingly able to heal people so significantly that many have called their work miraculous. There also are many students and doctors of Oriental medicine that know how to insert needles but do not know how to manipulate qi beyond that.
In order to be a profound practitioner of acupuncture, qigong or medical qigong, one has to be highly skilled in training the qi. Training the qi means practicing qigong in order to learn to make the intangible tangible. A beginning practitioner of qigong essentially moves their hands around or holds static positions and listens to a teacher tell them about this invisible life force. As time goes on, conversations about qi and intellectual thought processes about qi become a tangible experience - one of emotion, feeling and electromagnetism. This does not happen overnight. It happens only after devout practice for most practitioners. When one becomes very proficient in some form of qigong practice, be it tai chi, static qigong, qigong meditation or through martial qigong, one becomes a conduit for high levels of energy. Devout practitioners of the above-mentioned disciplines have different means to the same end. They also might have different plans for using all of that generated energy.
Healers who use the abundant energy generated during their chosen practice can assist others in their temporary lack of energy. In order to do this, one must practice qigong to the point of having energy overflow. Without energy overflow, a healer cannot last very long. Acupuncture is a great technique designed by ancient masters to reserve their energy (qi). It's the use of a needle to penetrate a somewhat solidified qi blockage in the energy pathways of a body. It often takes a practitioner less qi to needle someone than it does to use only their own qi to remove the same blockage.
Acupuncture alone, when practiced by a novice, might not be able to come close to achieving the same results as a skilled practitioner of medical qigong. A highly skilled acupuncturist in the author's opinion is one who "throws" his or her qi into every needle, a little blast at a time.
Whether you are an acupuncturist or a medical qigong practitioner, your key ingredient for assisting others in their healing process is qi. In order to truly be effective in Eastern medicine, one must have a working understanding of qi. In time, one can begin to sense, feel, push, purge, tonify, quantify, manipulate, condense and expand qi for healing purposes. This cannot happen through intellectual understanding only. In ancient times, these practices were passed only from master to student. Now you can study these concepts at established learning institutions.
There is a lot that can be lost along the way in our search for Western acceptance of this profound medical technique. We must stay focused on the most central point of qi theory, which is an intangible force. We must then train to make this qi tangible in every way. That only comes from the practice of personal qi transformation.
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created and it cannot be destroyed. It can only be changed from one form to
another. We, as qigong practitioners and professional healers, are looking to transform the energy (qi) in the form of disease into energy that takes the form of physical health and vitality. The second law of thermodynamics states that everything in the universe is headed toward entropy, chaos and disorder. That means that everything in the universe is headed toward the subtle, the invisible. In other words, the universe is not working as hard to make things physical and solid as it is to make them dissolve and transform.
As practitioners of qigong, whether we are acupuncturists, medical qigong practitioners, massage therapists or master herbalists, we are attempting to act as catalysts. A catalyst does not interfere with a chemical reaction; it simply speeds up the overall process. Clients coming to see us are typically in a phase where all things are headed toward disorder and entropy in their bodies and their lives. Attempting to hold on in this process can cause disease in both their mind and body. Practitioners who have learned to manipulate energy and become conduits for various frequencies of energy actually introduce a chaotic frequency into the electromagnetic field of their client. According to recent research, this frequency is the catalyst that appears to be the cause of healing. Learning to be a conduit and learning to allow universal life force by literally allowing entropy to enter your own bioelectric field, is a practice of surrendering and opening to a great and magnificent energetic force.
Acupuncture school and its associated books and theories about qi give us methods for communication in a world that communicates through reading, writing and speaking. But theory alone does not make us complete practitioners of acupuncture or medical qigong. Embrace the theory for what it is, but do not forget that it is the practice of cultivating qi that allows healing to happen in these profound practices.
David J. Coon has been a practitioner of medical qigong and martial arts for more than 20 years. For more information, visit www.davidjcoon.com.