Qi Gong / Nei Gong
While I was taking my first steps in my fitness journey, I had simultaneously discovered Qi Gong. My chosen disciplines of Aikido, CrossFit, Gymnastics and Argentine Tango are all enormously engaging for me but none so potent and formative as this internal art. As a consummate mover I found art in all of the disciplines I pursued, however none truly revealed the deeper connection I sensed existed between my physical body and what I now understand to be the energetic realm.
My first few seminars in Qi Gong quickly resulted in intensive study in a two and a half year teaching certification program under Damo Mitchell at Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts. The cultivation of "yi" or intent and "ting" or observation through this practice catalyzed immense change in not only my state of mind and spirit, but my physical body as well. Convinced in its power and utility, this study has led me to share this art as a modality for obtaining health and wellness.
The Threefold Path of Daoism
Classically, the martial, medical and alchemical paths were studied together; this is sometimes known as the "threefold path". Although students of the internal arts will often specialize in one of these paths after many years of diligent study, typically the "warrior" or martial path was studied first. Martial arts and Qi Gong develop the physical body providing a strong basis to move on to the more arcane aspects of Daoism. The healer path may come second since the alchemical path was considered most difficult, and so it was often studied last. Practically speaking, these three paths help us grasp key aspects of the human mind. The martial path allows us to override our insecurities and embrace the aggressive component that is intrinsic to human experience. The medical path helps us develop the compassionate side to our nature. Finally, the alchemical path gives us a more intuitive access to the core of inherent truth that lies behind the reality of the physical world.
Medical Qi Gong
From the Daoist point of view there are five elements that correspond to our physical and emotional make-up. Each element plays a key role in governing vital organs and emotions. All five elements are distinguishable from one another in colors of light, distinct movement qualities and posses corresponding "spirits". In medical or Wuxing Qi Gong we introduce a simple set of movements for beginners, however these simple exercises can elicit a profound change for the practitioner. With practice, these exercises stimulate the energy of the critical organs and balance the five spirits: Shen, Hun, Yi, Zhi and Po. Most people have a predominant elemental imbalance, but once we determine the type of imbalance we can turn to the the five element cycle of creation and the cycle of control.
From the energetic perspective, each exercise stimulates a particular element which in turn strengthens the health of a specific organ. The creation cycle indicates a pattern of nourishment, and if we follow the cycle it becomes clear that each element sustains the one directly following. The control cycle takes the shape of a pentagram and outlines the relationships as they occur in nature. Nothing else in life abides but change, and so we are forever working to achieve a state of equilibrium. Once we understand the cycles of creation and control or what comes before and what comes after a certain state, then we can start using them to guide our practice so as to achieve balance throughout our constant state of change.
Alchemical Qi Gong
Alchemical Qi Gong is the foundation upon which all of the Daoist arts are based and the link between martial arts, medicine and meditation within the Daoist tradition. Classes focus on building a foundation by means of a methodically aligning the three bodies of man: physical, energetic and consciousness in order to achieve good health, psychological wellness and at later stages, spiritual elevation.
In order to understand the aim of Alchemical Qi Gong it's crucial to understand that it's building a foundation for the Nei Gong process rather than simply introducing a set of exercises. Exercises including Wu Xing, Ji Ben, Hun Yuan and Dao Yin are taught but these are used simply to help guide students through the methodical release of physical and energetic adhesion (which are intertwined), and to help shed the acquired nature to achieve a refinement of the flow of qi. Once this stage is sustained then the student can move into stages of revealing the congenital self and then ultimately reaching Dao.
Alchemical Qi Gong students spend their time preparing their energetic system and consciousness for the more advanced practice of Nei Gong and at later stages, Nei Dan or "Internal Alchemy" as it's known in the west. Nei Gong is connected to the philosophical process of creation as outlined within thin the Daoist tradition and the study of these theories is part of student preparation.
First the physical body must be taken to as healthy a state as possible, then the energetic system must be awakened and cleared out, finally the mind must be centered.