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What is Qigong and How Should I Practice?

After spending the last decade of my life in pursuit of this ancient art I find myself asking this question more and more. Sometimes the answer is very simple. Sometimes less so.

The simple answer is that Qigong is soft movement that should blend the mind, body and breath to work harmoniously together. This describes both what it is and how you should practice it. But the problem is we are none the wiser for knowing any of this.

The term ‘Qigong’ is a blanket term to describe many different practices, similar to how we use the word ‘sports’. It is thought to have originated from Shamanistic practices thousands of years ago. Taoists have long been cultivating these practices using movement, breath and meditation to help extend their lives and to work on their internal alchemy. Shaolin have used Qigong to improve their fighting abilities. Traditional Chinese Medicine has developed Qigong to help with specific medical problems. It is also impossible not to mention the Buddhist movement practices that heavily influence the art.

So Qigong is not one thing. It is practiced for different reasons and it is practiced in different ways. Let me give you an example which highlights the problem of asking ‘What is Qigong’. One of the first sets of Qigong I practiced was the popular modern set known as the Shi Ba Shi. We spent time every week in class going through this set and I eventually became accustomed to the moves and when we moved on to other things I was happy to think I ‘knew’ the Shi Ba Shi.

Roll on about 8 years and I’ve learned many different exercises many of which are a lot more complex and a lot more difficult physically and mentally. I’ve explored movement and meditation in ways I never conceived. The body, mind and the breath feel like very different things to me than they did even 3 or 4 years ago.

Coming back to the Shi Ba Shi is a revelation to me – the movement is the same but the experience is so very different. Like going back to your childhood home it seems so familiar yet….

The best advice I think I can give is to simply try to move a little bit better than you did before. Be softer. Use the mind, the body and the breath together.

Nobody knows how many actual exercises there are. Thousands is a good guess. How you practice these exercises will vary depending on your teacher and your experience and your ability. I may have come back to the Shi Ba Shi with new insight, better movement and greater connection than I had all those years ago but how I moved and felt back then is just as important as it is today and as it will be tomorrow.

Qigong is not a goal. It is not a completion it is not a level to reach nor is it permanent.

The best advice I think I can give is to simply try to move a little bit better than you did before. Be softer. Use the mind, the body and the breath together.

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