Moving the Qi

cultivate your chi energy words with lotus flower picture

Yes, I know I’m using the Chinese term for energy on a website directed to practitioners of the Okinawan and Japanese art of goju-ryu. Moving the qi is how I always referred to it. But then, I’ve spent just as many years training in Kung Fu as I have karate, so forgive me my traditionalist trespasses.

Both during my own studies in qigong (chi kung) and meditation, as well as my work with Dr. Whei Chue Shih of the Chinese Medicine Institute, it was always qi to me, and probably always will be.

But you may call it ki, or energy, or even just think of it as the breath. No matter. What does is the energy itself and how to move that energy around in your body.

Today let’s focus on the most rudimentary principle of working with qi — abdominal breathing. By this I mean allowing (and at first it may feel like you have to force it to break old habits) the lower abdomen (that part below your belly button) to expand on inhale and sink inwards on exhale.

For now, breathe only through your nose. A seated or supine (lying down) posture works best. Place your hands on your abdomen and watch them move rhythmically up and down as you breathe. Being totally relaxed is best, but I know that for me at first it was helpful to constrict the upper abdomen while the lower portion expanded on inhale until it became natural.

With that said, bring your attention to your tantien, approximately 1″ down and inward from your navel. This we’ll call the tantien, which some in Japanese karate circles refer to as the hara. I consider the hara the entire lower abdomen, though (like in hara kiri), and the tantien a point about the size of a dime or quarter. It is this point to which I want you to direct your focus.

As your abdomen expand, the muscles push upward away from your body, creating a “hollow” space in your abdomen. Think of this action like a bellows, where it sucks energy into the tantien down an invisible channel running from your nose, down your throat and along the front of your body.

This channel is known in Chinese medicine as the Ren channel, continuing all the way down to your perineum where it connects to the Du channel running up your spine. They again connect at the top of your head to form a complete circuit through which qi continuously circulates to nourish and enervate your entire body before being passed off to the meridians serving the various organ systems.

Qi generally circulates down the Ren or front channel and up the Du channel in the back.

So as you inhale and the abdomen expands outward or upward, imagine the tantien as a hollow space into which the qi is siphoned as it passes down the Ren. Now qi is always circulating, but putting your attention on the tantien with the intention of increasing that circulation will cause a greater amount of energy to be pulled into the tantien than by simply breathing normally.

As the abdomen contracts with the out-breath, the bellows close and envision that qi is now being forced downward along the Ren to the perineum, and then onward up the spine.

Keep your focus on the tantien. Imagine it glowing ever brighter, and perhaps even morphing into a glowing ball of energy that begins to rotate. With time and patient effort, you will eventually feel a warmth or tingling develop there, and ultimately feel like a liquid light will begin to circulate through the system.

Let the intensity of the qi grow in the tantien. We’ll work on the circulation later. But it you’re one who likes to jump the gun, I refer you to the work of Mantak Chia on the microcosmic orbit.

It is from the tantien that you will gather and circulate qi with your strikes. Ibuki breathing is one exercise to begin working with its compression, though on exhale you should try to feel like the navel is being forcefully pushed to your spine, not outward like many sensei’s teach. I’m not saying they’re wrong, only that I get better results for myself pushing inward on the exhale and this is how I learned it as well.

Anyway, the point is to begin gathering qi and learning to move it. But always return the attention and the qi to the tantien for a few minutes at the end of training to avoid it getting stuck elsewhere and doing you harm (which harms will usually be gradual and build up over time, often going unnoticed until they manifest in some organic condition that you may not even tie to your training).

The bottom line today is to breathe, and focus the attention with intention to gather and circulate the qi. Be patient with yourself and keep up your effort over time. As always, shorter frequent sessions are better than long, intermittent ones.

Happy kiais.


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