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So, it seems like a good week to talk about Qi deviations.
I am asked fairly often if there is ever a time when practicing Qigong is not safe. The overall answer is that Qigong is a very safe method of exercise and meditation, but there are times when a person can conceivably over do it or may be performing the form incorrectly and these conditions can lead to what we call "qi deviations". Qigong practice should feel comfortable, not strained, and especially not painful. If you are having pain, stop and reflect- are you trying too hard mentally? Is your breathing shallow? Are you able at the time you are practicing to filter out distractions? If the answer is no on any of these questions, stop your practice for the day or, focus on deepening the breath and correcting the posture- normally, when the breathing technique and the posture alignment are in sync, the mind naturally settles and you can resume your session.
The signs of Qi deviation happen when something causes a practitioner to have uncomfortable or bizarre feelings or sensations during or after a practice. This could range from feeling unsettled, racing thoughts or strong emotions, having sensations of energies that swirl around or move the body in abnormal ways, like feeling shaky or over-strong vibrations. All of the deviations I have dealt with personally or with students stem from incorrect technique of at least one of the three key elements of Qigong. For example, not focusing - someone is not able to fully bring their mind/spirit into the practice-can’t get his/her mind off of a problem or can’t cut away from work; incorrect breathing technique- the person is not bringing Qi and breath fully through the lungs and into the pelvic bowl, or lower dantian; or improper posture alignment- the person is coming off center, or is straining in movement. Of course, all three of these factors affect each other, so if one is off, the others can be off, too. These can result in having an experience of qigong that is not ideal.
Also, I warn against over training, because this can cause problems, especially with mental confusion or exhaustion. Generally, if I have a student who is experiencing this discomfort, the important thing is to help them not panic, re-root their energy, and breathe; that usually helps. If it’s a matter of over training I always advise that the person stop completely for a few days or weeks, depending on severity, so they can calm the chaotic Qi and rest. There is a technique that I can use if the person cannot do it through those measures. I’ve only had to use it one time and although it didn’t seem to work at first, the woman did settle in after about 10 minutes. I gave her a medical qigong treatment after the class that rebalanced her energy and she left feeling fine- reported no other discomfort. People wonder about how much practice is enough and how much is too much. That is a hard question to answer specifically, because everyone has individual reactions to the practice. Everyday practice is ideal; anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. But some practitioners are training to achieve deeper skills and may spend a little more time than that. Some practitioners may practice only 5-10 minutes a day, sporadically through the week, or, only once a week with a class. This is a normal range of practice and wouldn't be overworking it. A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself to notice if your practice is feeding calm vitality or if it is draining your energy or making your mental process race or scatter. If either is the case, you might ease off for a little while.
The next question I get often is which practice is the "best" to do. Over the last few years, I have come to teach and prefer Hun Yuan qigong, because it’s powerful and very general- you can practice it for energy cultivation and you can tailor the moves to focus on individual organs or issues and it helps beginners learn to feel and understand how to move Qi. But it doesn’t have to be the Hun Yuan all the time. I have also practiced and taught 8 Brocades, Daoist 5, I Chuan and several seasonal forms. Each have their benefits and I like adding some variety, especially to synchronize with seasonal and celestial cycles.
As I said before, Hun Yuan is a tremendously powerful set to learn for beginners, because most people can feel Qi movement within the first hour- from there, the idea of being able to set a personal healing intention and move energy to achieve that becomes almost obvious. Originally, I learned it as part of my Medical Qigong certification process. It can open the doorways to higher order training to access the deeper levels of Qigong, especially in important for healers, for the same reason as beginners. You begin to learn how to feel the Qi AND how to intend to move it and all the various types of movements that you can control to influence health and wellbeing. You learn how to become rooted, grounded and to do it while you are moving- to stay in the zone. Just like with yoga- you can focus on one set for the rest of your life and never exhaust the levels of practice. And this brings me to the idea of guided training- having someone to coach and teach you.
I started informally, like many people do, having curiosity about Qigong and reading books and following Masters who had produced DVDs. Now that is even more convenient with Google, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. So, I have no problem with someone beginning there, as long as the person understands that sooner or later, live instruction is an even better experience. A video or a book, no matter how complete or brilliantly its done, can’t coach you, can’t monitor your posture or interact with you when you have issues or problems. It is best to find a live teacher, even if the class is conducted on Zoom, like it must be at this time. The entire experience of energy moving is enhanced when you practice with a group- not that individual practice isn’t important or necessary, its just that we learn from others and having a qualified teacher to guide your practice is crucial to advancing and receiving the higher order benefits that Qigong practice has to offer. The experience in a group is to magnify the amount of healing energy for each person in the room. You can plateau if you only practice from books and then, you won’t grow and develop, plus you miss out on the shared healing energy that a group can generate and that is so, so lovely to experience.
That's it for this week!
If you are following our Yijing 2021 project, navigate over to the Yijing section to view the hexagram for the week (Yijing). Sorry- no pdf this week- too much going on and I don't want to encourage qi deviations, haha!