Most pursuits in life have a pretty gentle learning curve in the beginning. You can take a weekend cooking workshop and come away with enough skills and ideas to enhance how you eat. You can take an “Intro to Piano” intensive and come out with some semblance of a song and an understanding of how much time you would have to put in to get to where you would want to be.
Not so with Learning Qi Gong.
A weekend workshop could teach you a set of movements with no real understanding or sensation of “chi.” Benefits might not be initially gained and I am not sure that we often experience the glee and enjoyment from partaking in something new because there is no feedback or the benefits are not obvious.
Learning Qi Gong is Difficult due to the Nature of the Teaching, Not the Task at Hand.
Yes Qi Gong and Chi manipulation is something that might be entirely outside of our wheelhouse but I believe that it remains inaccessible because of how we are taught, not because it is inherently difficult. In this essay I have pulled together the reasons why I feel that so many fail to make tangible progress with Qi Gong and thereby don’t enjoy the benefits.
Readers note: There is no difference between the words “Qi” and “Chi” and I use them interchangeably here. Qi Gong is typically written with “Qi.” The energy is typically written as “Chi.”
5 Reasons Why Learning Qi Gong is Difficult
You cannot “learn” a set all at once
A Qi Gong set can typically last 3-15 minutes. When taught correctly, each section is focused on for a large amount of time until the energy is felt and developed successfully. As you progress, the set actually gets SHORTER because each move can be performed with a correct level of intensity and accuracy.
An example: Mantak Chia teaches a sitting meditation that takes 30-45 minutes to perform when you are learning. When you have ample knowledge and sensitivity, the same set can be performed in under 8 minutes.
Workshops tend to deliver on their promise of teaching a full qi gong set. It has been my experience that there is great attrition in practice after learning because the attendee isn’t realizing the benefits of the set.
Qi Gong builds over time
Through Qi Gong (Energy-Set) we are building energy in the body. When Qi Gong is taught correctly you often spend more time working on the individual components to really sense what is going on and then glue them together into a Qi Gong form at the end. This means that a full month of diligent practice could pass before the set is completed. Focus often remains on the movements. “I learned the movements therefor I know the set, right?” No. Sets are often pretty simple, some having a single posture. What is complex is our waking up to and feeling the energy that is emanating from our body and then knowledge that we can manipulate it. This is powerful but cannot happen all at once.
Qi Gong is often considered ancillary or secondary
Rarely do we find a Qi Gong school or a specified Qi Gong teacher. Typically, it is taught as part of another martial arts class or as secondary to some other importance. For example, tai chi classes may do 5 minutes of qi gong before getting to “the real stuff.” Also, some healthcare practitioners such as massage therapists and acupuncturists have begun learning and teaching qi gong. This is a good start and I applaud their efforts. However, the bulk of their learning goes into their primary occupation for obvious reasons. I am not being negative here, just pointing out a current limitation. I believe that these professionals may carry qi qong into the next level of acceptance and development in our western countries.
There is little opportunity to ask questions during development
As one starts to feel chi it is so so subtle and the mind easily ignores it or makes up an explanation for the new sensation. The diligent practitioner starts to feel more and more but who do they bounce their experiences off of without sounding like a lunatic? What do they do with those sensations and what is the next step?
As an example from my early development, I was blown away when I started sensing chi in my hands. I worked for months trying to improve this sensation and make it stronger. However, the harder I tried, the weaker it became. Flash forward one year to a Tai Chi workshop where I got to share my experience during a private lesson and seek advice. It was translated to me that the sensation in the hands was like a car’s exhaust. That heat in my hands was the natural overflow of abundant energy in my center. By increasing my body’s chi, the chi in my hands would increase as a beneficial side effect. That simple conversation changed the course of my development and moved me on to the next stage but I had not progressed for a year. I had been focusing on the hands to no avail.
Chi development is extremely subtle and unrecognizable at first
If you are out of shape and you go to the gym what happens? Fat and eat well for a week? Drunk and sober up? Most things in life give us immediate feedback and the initial efforts have the greatest positive impact. Chi development through Qi Gong is the exact opposite. Little to nothing can happen for 20-30 days. Without knowing this and practicing with active faith you are likely to quit. After diligent practice, you begin to sense qi, begin to manipulate it, have enough to share, and then see positive changes within your life.
Good Qi Gong instruction requires a heavy dose of intellectual instruction so that a person sees the entire arc of development. It also contains as much scientific, physical, or historical information to give us the needed buy-in to continue. If we begin learning a set without understanding what to expect it will seem like hocus pokus and again, we may quit.
I am really stricken by what I have written here because it is true and yet I can’t but hope that more people get over the initial hurdle and truly benefit from Qi Gong.
So in my dream world (and hopefully really world for some of you out there) what criteria can you use to find Qi Gong that you will be successful with?
- Instruction should build over a period of time so that you can increase your sensitivity to chi and so your body can adjust to the increase in energy.
- You should have the opportunity to ask questions as you develop to keep you on the correct course.
- You should have knowledgeable explanations for what you are doing and why you are doing it to gain the needed buy-in until you can sense how you are manipulating chi.
- Qi Gong should be a main focus of the instructor or school, not just a minor aside.
Many readers have shared a real interest in Qi Gong and I will be on the lookout for programs that meet this criteria. I will share what I come across but please add to the comments if you find something valuable.