by, Henry McCann, DAOM, LAc

Qigong 氣功 is a term that refers to a wide range of practices that regulate the internal vitality, or Qi mechanism.  Today in the west (as well as in Asia), the popularity of Qigong has engendered classes taught on every corner and even more books on the subject.  Like Taijiquan (Tai Chi), most Qigong is taught as nothing more than low impact exercise and stretching.  While low impact exercise and stretching are good and important for many people, strictly speaking, authentic Qigong and Taijiquan are much deeper and richer practices.  Taijiquan was originally a powerful martial art, and most of the true Taijiquan masters I have met and studied with were powerful fighters.  Qigong was originally exercises, either physical, mental or both, that circulate, refine and amplify the body’s vital force, or Qi.  If Taijiquan is taught as just an exercise it is not Taijiquan, and likewise, if Qigong is nothing more than deep breathing and stretching, it is not true Qigong.

Transmission and Learning Qigong

For the vast majority of beginner students, it is impossible to really learn Qigong from a book or video.  In Asia most classical sciences such as Qigong, medicine, and martial arts were taught in a master-disciple relationship.  Teaching is predicated on the fact that an experienced practitioner imparts his knowledge directly to the student.  However, teaching happens on many levels. This includes in non-verbal ways, something in Chinese called kou chuan xin shou – teaching through the mouth and giving with the heart.  In learning Qigong in particular, this teaching through the heart is essential and in many authentic systems of Qigong this specifically refers to direct qi transmission.

When teaching, many Qigong masters do three things.  They teach the student how do to the specific exercise.  Next, they discuss the theories or philosophies that underpin the Qigong system.  Third, and sometimes, most importantly, they actually transmit a higher frequency of qi to the student, possibly without the student knowing it, so that the form will actually work more effectively when the student practices.  This last piece can save students years of training.  As an analogy, we all already have the hardware to practice Qigong – our body and mind.  Knowing how to do the physical movements or meditation is the software.  When we put software into our computer (hardware) however, often times we need a special password or key code to get the software to start running.  This is the qi transmission, the transmission of lineage, that happens in Qigong.  Essentially, the Qigong teacher “downloads” the key code to the student so that the form (software) actually runs properly.

I feel lucky that many of my Qigong teachers have incorporated this multifold approach to teaching their systems.  When they do, the Qigong form is an authentic one that works far more effectively, with less effort and less wasted time on the part of the student.  Thus, as one can imagine, finding a true Qigong teacher is vital to a successful practice.