Choosing Your Path
© Roger Jahnke O.M.D
Self healing, self care, self initiated healing, energy balancing, performance enhancement and even reaching toward spiritual peace all are benefits that may be gained from the practice of all forms of Qigong including Taiji.
The variety of possibilities for what to study and from whom to learn are endless. China and the other Asian countries are immense and ancient. Estimates for the number of varieties of self improvement methods, which includes all forms of Qigong and Taiji, is between 3,000 and 5,000.
Clearly, after thousands of years of development and use each of the different approaches is valuable and valid.
You may be asking: How then shall I decide which type of practice to pursue? Would the practice be different if my goal is healing rather than performance enhancement? Is the simple path as useful as the esoteric path? Can I learn from video tapes, audio tapes or books ? Is it necessary to have a teacher? Is it better to practice with a group? I've heard of Qigong Masters, shall I seek a master? How much is it necessary to practice?
There are thousands of forms of Qigong (Ch'i Kung) and Taiji (T'ai Chi).
The forms that are the most simple and easy to access are Qigong methods that have only a few instructions. Spontaneous Qigong, for example, is simply a practice of allowing the body to move about in a random fashion according to one's inner guidance or wisdom. The cancer recovery Qigong method developed by Guo Lin in the 1970's is very simple as well. Both of these forms are profound in their benefits, with millions of people practicing them in China daily.
There are many forms of Qigong that are quite complex and esoteric. Wild Goose Qigong has two sections with 64 movements in each section. While it is complex and difficult to learn Wild Goose Qigong is exceptionally beautiful. In the West we think of geese as loud birds that try to nibble at your fingers. In contrast, in China, the goose is considered to be a marvelous creature who flies high into the clouds to gather cosmic energy and information and bring it to Earth.
There are a number of different styles of Taiji all of which are generally considered to be kinds of Qigong. Traditionally these forms consist of 108 movements. It will take a serious student from six months to over a year to learn the "long form". Most styles of Taiji have adapted shorter forms of 27 movements and 38 movements, etc. While a strong emphasis in Taiji is health, there is a widespread community of practitioners whose interest is the martial arts aspect, usually referred to as Taijiquan (quan translates as fist or boxing).
In the end the best guidance on how to choose a form to learn is relatively simple.
If you are healthy and wish to sustain your health and if you have the time to invest, learning Taiji or one of the complex systems of Qigong is highly recommended. Or you may want to begin with a more simple for of Qigong and graduate to more complex forms at a later time.
If you are unwell you may have the time to invest but not the energy. To build up your health and heal the disease that is your challenge you will want to begin with a practice that is easy to learn and simple to perform. Some of the most profoundly healing forms are quite simple. Intelligence (Zhineng) Qigong has several million practitioners in China and is growing radically because each student is encouraged to become a teacher. Many powerful stories of healing are associated with the Zhineng method because so many people are practicing it.
If you are healthy but also too busy to spare much time a simple form of Qigong will help you to build power, endurance and intuition while not asking too much of your time. Later, as you realize the immense blessing that Qigong provides, you may elect to deepen your practice with additional methods.
You will find Qigong (Ch'i Kung) and Taiji (T'ai Chi) appearing every where in the near future. Places where you might look or inquire include: YMCA s, university recreation programs, community recreation programs, adult education programs, hospitals, complementary medicine clinics, health maintenance programs (HMO), retreat centers, personal growth and health conferences and martial arts schools.
You will find, frequently, that Taiji may be adapted so that it is easier to learn and practice. In such cases it will be more like a simple Qigong method. This is good for people who are unwell and who are limited in time. So, it is wise to ask what form of Taiji or Qigong is being taught.
As Taiji and Qigong become more popular you will find people practicing in the park. In some cases such individuals will wish to have time alone in nature. Just as often, however, such individuals are happy to have some one follow along. In China huge groups practice together. Often there is a specific teacher, often their is not teacher and the group just begins and ends together. Always people hang around after the practice to talk about their practice or just socialize in general.
Some people go from group to group and run through 5 or 6 forms of Taiji or Qigong before they head off toward home or work.
You may have to try a number of learning opportunities before you hit the form or teacher that really meets your personal preferences. It would be foolish to limit yourself to eating from the first dish you taste at a banquet. Better to have a taste of several before you return for more of one that is special. At the beginning expose yourself to a number of methods and teachers. Later you may want to focus on a single discipline for an extended time.
If possible find a place to learn that is convenient. If it is to far to go for study it will become difficult to continue. An alternative is to find a form that is simple and can be tailored to your needs, interests and limitations. This way you can practice easily on your own without having to travel to class as often.
The first answer to this question is that one must have a teacher. In traditional terms, that is ancient Chinese tradition, the secrets of healing could only be gained through a teacher. The honor and reverence that is bestowed upon the teacher is a part of the "belief" system that empowers the student.
It is very difficult to learn from a book, an audio tape or a video. The exposure to constant input from a teacher is indispensable. In traditional terms it is believed that one should choose a teacher and stay with their lineage of teaching to gain access to deeper knowledge.
Most of the greatest teachers will tell you that "the practice is the teacher" and that "the Qi (Ch'i, human life force and self healing energy) is the teacher". If the practice and the Qi are considered to be teachers then it is logical to conclude that one could refine the practice of Qigong (Chi Kung) without a teacher. There are many stories of individuals who have generated remarkable self initiated healing without a teacher.
The second answer to this question is that it is not always necessary to have a teacher. Particularly in cases of severe illness where the individual can begin to practice a simple form of self healing Qigong, it would be unfortunate to insist that the individual have a teacher.
Perhaps it would be fair to say that it is useful, in most cases, to begin with a teacher. However, some of your greatest learning experiences will come from within your own personal practice. If you are in a situation where you cannot access a teacher, please feel free to learn and practice Qigong through your own enthusiasm. One blind man learned Qigong from one of the sets of exercises in the practice library just by listening to a voice translation of a text file and following along.
The more complex Taiji (Tai Chi) forms and Qigong forms would be impossible to learn without a teacher.
A teacher is, in some cases, simply someone who knows more than the student. One sincere and talented individual who learned some Qigong in Washington DC moved to New York City and began to teach Qigong to persons with HIV and AIDS. No, she was not what most would call a seasoned Qigong expert. Yes, however, she was a powerful teacher who helped many people to help themselves.
Thousands of people have used a video called "Awakening and Mastering the Medicine Within You". It is used by people with cancer, AIDS/HIV, Chronic Fatigue and other serious illnesses as well as people who are maintaining wellness. "Qigong for Health" is another video that many people have used, it was produced by the Immune Enhancement Project of San Francisco with a teacher who teaches classes to the AIDS/HIV community. Both of these videos are designed to be used in the absence of a teacher
As you can imagine this question has numerous responses. China and all the Asian cultures have ancient histories and Asia claims an immense portion of the human story. The birth Qigong (Ch'i Kung) is estimated to have been between over 5000 years ago. And Taiji (T'ai Chi), a modern development is just a baby, born in the 14th century, only 600 years ago. Such huge chunks of human history are the source for multitudes of philosophies, opinions and traditions.
It is a traditional guideline that one must choose and then remain devoted to a teacher. The teacher-disciple relationship has long been revered as the only path to advanced skill in both Qigong and Taiji.
It has been found, however, particularly related to health and self healing, that a motivated individual can grasp and utilize enough of certain Qigong practices to improve their health through personal practice alone.
When looking for a teacher there is a really practical set of steps that will help you to sustain a certain freedom for personal growth while leading to higher and higher levels of skill.
Ask around to find the teacher that people like the most. Study with that individual with the idea that you will learn some things, get your curiosity satisfied (or stimulated) and improve your skill. Try other teachers and compare. Practice, read, discuss, practice. Before very long you will become an expert on what feels right to you.
Remember that it is typical for the great teachers to say "the Qi is the teacher" and "the practice is the teacher". You will likely want to find a teacher who reflects these ideas.
For some people a certified teacher who has been qualified to teach by a master teacher within a recognized lineage is necessary. We are fortunate to have many Taiji and Qigong teachers who have such credentials available. Some are of Asian descent others are vigilant and serious non-Asians.
If your goal is to penetrate to the deepest most authentic lineage teaching, finding a teacher will be more complex. However, your devotion and perseverance in the process will eventually carry you into the presence of the perfect teaching. If your goal is to learn some health sustaining practices you will find teachers easily at the YMCA, local hospital or community education program. This may be the best place to start. Eventually you will be exposed to master teachers
There is vigorous debate on whether one can learn Taiji (T'ai Chi) and other forms of Qigong (Ch'i Kung) from books, audio tapes and videos. Hundreds of experts have insisted that it is impossible. Yet in China there are thousands of books on Taiji and Qigong. In the West there are hundreds of books. There are several excellent videos that are not overly complex.
Numerous people who could not find a teacher brought focus and enthusiasm to the use of books, audios and videos and were able to learn quite a bit. Of course such learning is best as an addition to study with a teacher or a group practice.
Simple forms of Qigong are the most accessible through books and tapes. Longer and more complex Qigong forms and most forms of Taiji are impossible to learn without a teacher. The benefit of books, audios and videos is also in exposure to stories, the history, the science and the testimonials that can enrich your practice.
The primary short coming of books is that the postures are usually depicted with poor illustrations or very un-dynamic, posed pictures. It is nearly impossible to "guess" what movement connects the postures in the pictures. There are some excellent books available and it is to your benefit to read about Taiji and Qigong.
The primary shortcoming of audio tapes is that you can't see what is being described. With meditation forms of Qigong this is OK, however, the moving forms really require visual the support not available in an audio. There are number of excellent audio resources for Qigong and Taiji particularly on the theoretical and philosophical aspects.
The primary shortcoming of videos on Taiji and Qigong is that the production costs are very high, to get excellent quality. So, some of the videos are low quality. Others are not very well thought out so that the visual material is poor. Some videos are excellent and very useful.
Books, audios and videos are best as follow-up to workshops and trainings or to modify and enhance one's practice. There are many cases, however, of people who have developed their own practice using these resources.
Traveling to China to study Taiji (T'ai Chi) and other forms of Qigong (Ch'i Kung) is a transformative experience. Some who have done so will tell you about the bliss of studying with authentic teachers in authentic surroundings. Others, will tell you how hard it is to travel in China. China is changing and travel there is improving all the time. There are some excellent institutes for study in China.
If you study in China go with someone who has been there several times before. You do not want to be on a trial run in China. The only other positive situation is that you personally have friends in China who will take care of everything.
It is absolutely not necessary to go to China to learn Taiji or Qigong. Excellent resources are available in most countries in the world.
Study in China will, however, transform you belief systems. In the Western world it is very much a question, "What is this Qigong?" Westerners, generally, are very new to this immense and fascinating subject. In China you are exposed to a culture that has been seriously refining Qigong for a long, long time, some experts argue up to 10,000 years. The Shanghai Cancer Recovery Society has over 5.000 members who have recovered from cancer. They enthusiastically announce "Cancer Does Not Equal Death!"
Meeting people who were diagnosed with cancer 5, 10, 30 years ago builds powerful belief. Powerful belief strengthens Qi (Chi). Strong Qi heals disease. The healing power of meeting people who have healed themselves is profound. In China there are millions of these stories, here in the West such stories are less common. Experiencing Qigong and Taiji in their natural habitat is a fantastic experience. But it is not necessary
"Master" is the word that all cultures use to describe someone who has attained high levels of skill. A Taiji (T'ai Chi ) master is generally one who has exceptional skill in doing the form or in using the Taiji principles in boxing (kung fu, martial arts) and in life. A Qigong (Ch'i Kung) master is generally someone who has exceptional skill in teaching the arts of self healing and performance enhancement.
A master may also have the skills of special insight, spiritual transcendence or projecting healing energy to others. Mastery is the presence within the individual of qualities that are generally considered unattainable or supernatural.
Rarely, if ever, will a true master call himself or herself a master. So, one quick test for mastery is whether the individual self describes their self using the word master. True mastery is recognizable, there the true master will be acknowledge as such without having to declare it.
Mastery is frequently associated with non touch healing (Qi emission), psychic knowing or walking on sharp swords. Mastery is as often expressed as warm, supportive, loving energy as it is expressed as Qi "phenomena" like moving objects without touching them, shrinking tumors or conducting high voltage electricity.
The beauty of mastery is that it shows where we can go, mastery inspires by demonstrating the possibilities.
The downside of the "master" allure is that it can put those of lesser skill into a vulnerable position. Believing that they have to get the benefits from a master they live in the illusion that they can't get the benefits themselves. Because so many people have lost access to self reliance the excitement of finding a master replaces the profound power of personal practice.
In China it is typical for people to practice Qigong (Ch'i Kung) or Taiji (T'ai Chi) for about an hour between 5:30 am and 6:30 or from 6 am to 7 am.
Frequently they practice in large groups. It is not unusual to see a group of people doing Taiji with swords with over 100 or a group doing Taiji with fans with 70 to 80 people. Qigong groups may number from 20 to 200 to thousands.
Equally as often people practice alone. it is not unusual to see solo practitioners of Taiji. Frequently, single Qigong practitioners cultivate the Qi quietly among the trees.
For people who are well who want to increase their energy, vitality, endurance and health it is advised that they spend at least 20 and up to 40 or 60 minutes in practice daily or almost daily. This will result, in most cases, in healthy longevity and enduring vitality.
For those who are unwell but not severely unwell the same schedule will help to enhance health. If you want to improve quickly practice more frequently.
To increase health in severe disease it is important to neither practice too little or too much. Stay in the safety zone as suggested in the section on "Guidelines for the Practice of Qigong and Taiji". These self healing practices are powerful and highly refined. With them you can create a genuine miracle. Build up the practice as you build up your strength. More can be better, but only when you are ready for it. Start slow and simple, as your vitality builds increase the practice. It is important to follow the guidelines for practice.
When the Shanghai Cancer Recovery Society is introduced to a patient who is near death the only method that they teach is a simple breath practice. In addition the individual is introduced to person after person, day after day, who have healed themselves. The combination of the simple breathing Qigong practice plus dozens of self-recovery testimonials has tremendous healing power.
When the individual can manage it they add, to the breathing, simple hand gestures. Next, they sit in the chair and do the hand motions. Then they stand and do the movement. Finally, they do the Cancer Recovery Walking Form. At this point they go and visit with new patients and tell their story.
In Intelligence Qigong (Zhineng qigong) all of the teachers are former patients. Practice at the hospital happens throughout the day. In some cases an individual may practice for 6 hours. Patients, called students, who arrive at the Zhineng Hospital in severe condition lie in their hospital bed or sit in their wheel chair, which has been moved right in among the practice group. They focus on absorbing the healing Qi from the field of healing energy produced by the healthier practitioners. It is estimated that over 90% of the students (patients) experience health improvement.
As you can see their are many approaches to the practice of Qigong and Taiji. While there are some guidelines, it is obvious that each person is in a unique situation. Each unique situation modified by each individual's unique desires and limitations requires a unique, personal approach to Qigong. The longer forms of Taiji can be modified for severe illness or seniors. When the vitality is increased then the person can learn the long form.
It is likely that over the years you will try numerous methods. To begin you may practice at home for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Later you may add a one hour weekly class. At some point you may practice Qigong or Taiji for 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday and only do the 15 minute short form during the week. Then on a trip to China you will practice Qigong for 3- 6 hours each day. You are free, and encouraged, to allow your interest in Taiji and other forms of Qigong to grow, change and evolve.