Question: I have a chi reaction after practising Qigong, and now I am worried; what should I do?
It's natural to receive a physical and emotional response to your Qigong that may seem negative. It's how we respond to these that can help us.
The secondary reaction is the issue here, not the primary body response. The primary body response through practising Qigong is releasing and clearing things naturally. It happens all the time when you practise Qigong at different levels.
If a clearing is powerful, it can be more uncomfortable, so regulating the amount or volume of energy flow is a good idea. It was described to me that if you imagine treading on a hose with a lot of force pushing through, it will build up. And as soon as you release this, it rushes through with a tremendous force - This is what happens to the body; the sudden release of energy can be quite shocking.
So gentle progressive energy work or chi flow can help with this primary part of the clearing, which is less shocking for the body. The secondary component, the mind, the fears, and the emotional responses, becomes more complicated.
At a simple level, as my sifu (teacher) would say all the time- as aggravating as it was true- don't worry. Enjoy your practice. And people would get frustrated and say, you don't understand!
But he would smile and say yes. I understand perfectly.
The practice is not to worry; enjoy the practice. The secondary mind part, which may have a lot of cognitive things underlying it, may seem alarming, or our association with it catastrophises at some level. We can intensify the thought or worry and give it more energy, or we shift our focus back to what is actually going on: Not what we think is going on, but what is it that I'm noticing?
It is helpful to describe what you're feeling. You're noticing heat; you're noticing coolness. Perhaps you're feeling a vibration or like water flowing; sometimes, people describe an itching, tingling, or something like that. Bringing back your attention to what you are experiencing, naming it and not what we think, is a helpful way of de-catastrophising.
But this emotional noise is quite common as well, part of the mental aspect of Qigong. A lot will happen, a lot will shift, and many old physical, emotional, and energetic things will come up. And then the mind will do what it has learned to do around that, which we may think is helpful but is unhelpful.
So what can we do?
Can we unhook those things temporarily, even if they're chatting in the background?
Ajahn Chah writes:
The sound is just the sound. It's me who's going out to annoy it. If I leave the sound alone, it won't annoy me. If I don't go out and bother the sound, it's not going to bother me.
This is what he learned when trying to meditate while a festival was going on.
We can see the similarities if we relate that to what we're talking about. What do we do with the noise?
Grandmaster Wong Kiew-Kit and my Zen teacher Daizan Skinner say the same thing: You don't need to do anything with the noise, be with it and notice it's there. You don't even have to try to get rid of it but shift the focus again.
These sensations will inevitably come up, so regulating the amount and volume of chi flow is a good idea. Managing energy flow is often missed in Qigong practices, where there are no dials of regulation, causing cleansing to happen too quickly or too much energy pushing through. When we cleanse too fast, it can be uncomfortable, so we dial down the chi flow.
Three things constitute the Qigong 'dials'.
- There's the rate at which energy flows,
- The volume of the chi flow
- And the amount in which your body moves.
Each of these dials can be adjusted: If you move vigorously, you're more likely to clear things in the body, but it can be more comfortable than standing still when there's a massive volume of energy trying to push through a blockage. It can be more challenging to deal with the clearing standing still, so we allow the body to move, as in gentle breeze, swaying willow.
Movement moves chi and blood and releases the physical structure, where many tensions can be bound up: at the mind level, at the emotional level, the physical level, or all of these things.
So there are two factors to take care of:
1. How can you practise Qigong in a way that feels more comfortable for you while still cleansing, building, and nourishing, and
2. How do you shift your awareness back?
It is simple but not necessarily easy. The simple thing is to move your awareness back to breathing or movement. And every time it goes, accept it and gently come back. Movement and breath. Simple.
And then you can let the energy flow take care of itself, but if it gets too uncomfortable, the best thing to do is give a gentle thought of energy slowing down, and where the mind goes, energy flows or follows. There's a lower rate of energy and a lower level of cleansing.
Level One of fully alive Qigong is about generating energy flow for health and happiness.
Level Two is conscious flow, which is about regulating the dials.
Level Three is building energy, so it assumes that the channels are clearer now to handle an increased volume of energy.
Level Four nourishes and refines that energy and life has a sweeter and softer experience. We can move more easily through the challenges and become more responsive than reactionary.
And this is how it goes for whoever's practising Qigong, whether or not you're a week into Qigong, a year into Qigong, ten years or twenty years: it's not a linear process of the cleansing, building, nourishing. It's a cyclic process.
As you go through the stages of your Qigong, where everything feels perfect, another layer will emerge. And then again, you're in bliss. You feel energised; you feel strong; you feel calm. And another layer comes out, and we get deeper from the physical to the emotional, the mind, and the spiritual - this is how the energy flows.
Clearing blockages or stuckness isn't harmful; how we handle and relate to these changes is meaningful. If we recognise our reactions as helpful and constructive, we change the relationship with what we're noticing and come to accept it.
When we change our relationship with ourselves, we change our relationship with the world around us. In essence, Qigong helps us improve our understanding, connection and experience.
When we experience pain, a common reaction is to wince or flinch. Flinching is the nervous system's way of moving away from the pain to protect the part of your body at risk. But does it help?
In a recent session with a client, it was noticeable that when they flinched in response to shoulder pain, other body parts, including their breath, tightened. In tightening up, their pain did not lessen but increased.
We explored what it would be like to breathe out and relax when they noticed a pain signal instead of holding their breath and tensing.
The results were instant. The pain reduced, and they felt at more ease.
It may sound obvious to breathe out and relax when we are in pain, but we don't. The automatic reaction is to tighten up rather than relax, unless you train the opposite.
In Kungfu training and other fighting systems, we learn to relax and release held tensions, especially when receiving a blow. Admittedly, it takes time and training.
Qigong breathing is much easier, and you don't need to be hit to test it out it's effectiveness.
The breathing method to release tension and pain is simple; gently open your mouth and exhale with a quiet 'haa' sound. Similar to the sound you make when you sigh.
Sighing is a learned behaviour that helps regulate breathing and homestasis under psychological and pathological conditions.
Practice exhaling with a quiet and gentle 'haa' as you count to six, then slowly inhale through the nose to the count of four. Once you become more relaxed you may find your exhale is naturally longer. Don't force the breath, just gently focus on the breath, and imagine the place of pain, and surrounding area relax.
If the six/four count is too long for you, at the moment, simply breathe out for as long is comfortable for you and then build up to a longer, natural exhale. You don't really need to count, but it may help you focus more on the breath.
Shifting your focus is a helpful way to relieve pain and stress.
- Is this breathing simple? Yes.
- Is it easy? not always. It may take some regular practice. So be patient and keep practicing.
- Is it effective? Definately.
This type of breathing is common in Cosmos Qigong and helps relax the nervous system, your mind, and helps release tension, stress and pain.
The best thing to do is give it a try.
Hi, I am Tim Franklin, a Shaolin Arts teacher, mind/body/energy therapist and Qigong Healer, with over 20 years experience in helping people reduce pain, stress, anxiety and tension.