The next best option is to learn from an instructional video which shows the exercises demonstrated by masters ( or senior practitioners ). However, this is still far inferior to having the teacher right there to fine-tune your moves, answer your questions, and offer additional advice, which would be impossible through books or videos ( though these may include FAQs ).
It is therefore more important here for me to explain the principles behind these exercises rather than the exercises themselves, even though I will describe the basic ones to give some idea to those who do not have access to any teacher or any instructional video.
BODY, MIND, BREATH, TOTAL RELAXATION AND JOYFUL PARTICIPATION
The exercises are based on three important components – the mind ( awareness or concentration ); the body ( conscious and co-ordinated movements or postures ); and breath ( conscious and co-ordinated breathing ). These are the same components of TaiChi, Wai Tang Kung, Yoga, and other mind-body exercises.
I have added another two pre-requisites – total relaxation, and joyful participation.
When performing the exercises, we are required to be totally relaxed. Many people are not able to relax certain muscles, and most are not able to relax their facial muscles completely. The proof is that most do not smile when they are supposed to be totally relaxed. Our face actually has a pleasant predisposition – a hint of a smile is natural when our facial muscles are all relaxed.
It is also very important to enjoy what ever we are doing, so that we are more likely to do it regularly. Otherwise, if we have to force ourselves to do it, we are unlikely to get the benefit from the infrequent practices. For many of us, to exercise is difficult unless we have friends to accompany us, or unless there is appropriate music (or video ), or we have to go to a gym. Many have bought all sorts of home exercise equipments but hardly use them. We need motivation.
AWARENESS AND CONCENTRATION
Everything in Qigong starts with the mind. The importance of being aware of what you are doing can be seen from these examples:
Many car accidents now happen because drivers concentrate on their handphone conversations and not on their driving. Even though their eyes are looking ahead, their minds do not register the goings-on since they are busy with the handphone.
Often while watching TV or reading books, our minds wander and we cannot recall what we were watching or reading because of the loss of concentration.
These examples illustrate the fact that for the senses to be fully effective, the mind must also be attentive. All cells in the body have some communication with the mind, either directly through nerves, indirectly through hormones and other chemicals, or via other yet- to-be-understood channels ( the qi meridians being one of these ). When the cells receive instructions, they perform their function optimally. Thus your brain will register and compute the images well if you are aware of what you are looking at. Conversely, you will fail to recall images that your eyes look at if you look without awareness.
We believe that the same is true for other cells in the body. They work better if we are aware of their actions. Studies in China have shown that when cancer patients practised Qigong ( which includes conscious-breathing ), their cellular oxygen-uptake improved tremendously. This may explain their recovery, since it is widely accepted that one major contributing factor for cancer is chronic oxygen deprivation at the cellular level.
Qi flow is also dependant on the mind. Thought-commands can direct qi internally ( to organs, meridians and energy-centres ) and externally ( to another person or object ). In fact, the master can perform most exercises ( or stunts ) automatically by his thought-command and his qi will do the rest.
Most Qigong exercises demand absolute concentration – on the posture, movements, breath, qi flow and any target areas to be healed. Even though qi will automatically flow to where it is needed, focussing its flow to the unhealthy organ will quicken the healing. In Guolin Qigong, the novice is advised to close his eyes while doing the stationary exercise to aid concentration.
CONSCIOUS AND CO-ORDINATED MOVEMENTS AND POSTURES
Slight modifications are made to our usual postures and movements in order to make the mind fully aware them. We all have fallen asleep while standing, and some have even experienced sleepwalking! These prove that you don’t have to be aware to stand or walk.
Sometimes spontaneous movements occur due to qi flow. This usually happens to those who have not yet learned to regulate the qi. The senior practitioner will be aware of the qi flowing through the different body parts during each Qigong exercise and can stop the spontaneous movements.
The master can regulate his qi from one energy-centre to another along the meridians during the exercises.
CONSCIOUS AND CO-ORDINATED BREATHING
The breathing is made conscious by co-ordinating it with the movements, and in certain exercises, even modifying the inhalation and/or exhalation. Whenever possible, the tip of the tongue is placed touching the upper palate behind the upper front teeth to complete the main meridian channel ( called the microcosmic orbit ).
When there are no movements ( posture exercises ), breathing is made conscious by concentrating on the inhalation and exhalation, as well as imagining the qi coming in with each breath and going to the main energy-centre ( Dan Tien ). In fact, qi is also called breath-energy. Breathing should be relaxed abdominal breathing, as opposed to chest breathing which is the method most people are used to.
With the above principles understood, then it is easy to understand and practise the Qigong standing:
Stand with your feet about a shoulder-width apart, with the outer borders of your feet being parallel. Imagine you are a puppet being held by a string tied to the top of your head. You will be just lightly grounded and likely to be swayed by any spontaneous movements ( or by a strong wind ).
Breathe naturally through your nose by expanding your abdomen on inhalation, filling only about two-thirds of your lungs. Pause, then exhale effortlessly. Your abdomen should recede on exhaling. Keep the tongue touching the upper palate.
Keep your eyes looking at the distant horizon, and then close them gently. It is better to close your eyes in the beginning to help you concentrate, and avoid distractions. However, when you are used to it, you can choose to open your eyes.
Relax your whole body, starting from the scalp and facial muscles down to the feet. Most people are so tensed-up, they need to consciously relax their muscles, especially the shoulders. Remember to smile to yourself, and keep smiling.
Next, slowly move your arms away sideways from the body such that your fist ( or an apple ) could fit under each armpit. Apart from keeping the arms in this position, the shoulders and the arms must remain as relaxed as possible. The hands should be half-closed with the palms facing the body. In Guolin Qigong, there are slight variations for those with certain diseases.
The upper body is kept relaxed with the shoulders slightly rounded, described as “ the bear stance “. The upper spine is not fully straightened.
The pelvis is gently moved forward, straightening the lower spine to correct the bad posture here which occurs in most of us causing backache and blocking the smooth flow of qi.
Finally, the knees are bent slightly, not exceeding the angle that would make the tip of the feet ( or shoes ) not visible.
You will realise that this stance is possible only if the mind is fully aware of all the different parts of the body, and combined with the conscious breathing, becomes the most basic Qigong exercise.
You should try this exercise for at least one minute. Some Qigong masters stand for hours, often just adding simple arm and hand movements for variation.
You should wear loose clothing and comfortable canvass shoes, preferably with thin soles. Or you can practise bare-footed.
In the next article, I will describe the amazing Qigong Walk which has helped thousands of people fight cancer and other diseases.