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This article was originally featured at Into Mountains Over Streams.
It is possible that each of these subtle energies are quite similar but some practitioners disagree. Qi, Chi, or Prana are not the only names of the fine, rather than gross, life force energies, however. It is also called kundalini energy, as well as Wilheim Reich’s orgone energy, the Egyptian’s cobra, as a symbol of awakened kundalini as an energizing atomic structure, the !Kung bushmen of Africa’s sun energy, and so forth.
The etymology of qi (氣) and gōng (功) in the Chinese tradition essentially means cultivation of life force. This is done with breathwork, mindful movement, and meditation. Qi is considered intrinsic to every living thing. Without it, a sentient creature would die. This is true in many other cultures as well, including the yogic one. Indian yogis always believed that without sufficient prana, one would suffer physically, mentally and spiritually. The Chinese understanding of qi generation is not unlike in the yogic conceptualization of pranic cultivation: one cannot ascend into higher states of consciousness without sufficient pranic energy. It is also key for healing human beings from very earthly diseases.
In yogic traditions, kundalini energy is engaged through shaktipat, pranayama, hatha yoga postures, and the healing of a master. This is not unlike the movements of Tai Qi or the breathing exercises practiced in Qi Gong. In Buddhist traditions a practice called Tummo is taught, wherein, the ‘inner fire’ is ignited so that our latent primordial energy can rise up the spine (just as in a kiundalini awakening up the Sushumna chancel in the yogic understanding of cultivating prana). Tummo is actually one of the six yogas of Naropa, taught in the Tibetan Vajrayana. Whether you refer to this latent energy as a coiled snake, an inner fire, or the qi of the lower dantiens, it seems to cultivate the same actions – of joining the animal-energies to the upper energies of the higher chakras.
In meditative practices of yoga, the practitioner is advised to place the tongue to the roof of the mouth, just as they are in the embryonic breath taught to those who study Qi Gong. In yoga, you breath from the belly and diaphragm in a relaxed yogic breath, and in QiGong you breathe focusing a few finger widths below the navel, or at the lower dantien. Both acts tend to cleanse the mind, as well as oxygenate the internal organs so that body can be purified of material toxins and also of emotional dross.
The internal alchemy of both traditions is similar, as are their aims. Utilizing some of the same methods, they help to purify the physical body and clear the channels for higher mental and spiritual awareness in the practitioner.
Hatha yoga postures are one of the primary tools used by yogis to cleanse the physical body. Many westerners practicing yoga today don’t realize that every yoga asana has a particular affect on the internal organs along with the stretch of a particular set of muscles, connective tissues and conditioning of joints. Great importance is given to correct digestive functioning, and some of the greatest teachers of yoga have said that all disease starts in the bowels, and spreads from to the rest of the body form there.
Asana (yogic postures) like Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist or Half Lord of the Fishes pose) or Balasana (Child’s Pose) help to increase blood flow to the digestive organs to help expel toxins and defend against disease.
There are numerous other postures that affect the heart (like Ustrasana, or Camel Pose), the reproductive organs (like Sputa Baddha Konasana or Supine Bound Angle) and all the other organs of the body.
Still other postures are concerned with positively affecting the endocrine system, and lymph flow (like Sirsasana, or Headstand) and also encouraging prana to flow towards the crown or upper chakras to instigate a pineal opening, which then allows for higher level of spiritual understanding.
Pranayama or literally, the cultivation of life force, is a series of breath work which allows not only the cleansing of the 72000 nadis or minor energy centers which are akin to the acupuncture meridians in Chinese medicine, but also helps to dislodge emotional tendencies or stick places which tend to hide out in the body, in muscles, connective tissue and even internal organs, in the form of samskaras, which translates form the Sanskrit language to mean ‘mental habits or habitual tendency’. Samskaras can be both good and bad, but obviously the negative impressions need to be broken up for a practitioner to advance emotionally and spiritually.
Using slow stretches and breathing exercises, Qi Gong is often used to break up stagnancy of energy in the body and cure a host of ailments. Visualization of qi flowing through the body is also used, as are healing methods of advanced Qi Gong masters. Sound familiar? There are a number of Qi Gong cleansing techniques practiced by different traditions throughout China and Japan, which are taught by masters who pass down the teachings orally to their students, and through practical application. Due to the complex nature of cultivating an energy that cannot be seen or touched, it can take years, and even generations for a true Qi Gong master to emerge who can cure someone with their use of Qi alone.
The body is seen as a field of both yin and yang energies, or masculine and feminine polar energies which must be balanced and integrated. This is similar to the yogic conception of the moon and sun energies, and is literally how Hatha yoga translates. The Ha stands for the sun or the positive polarity and Tha stands of the moon, the ‘negative’ polarity, although utilizing that word, the meaning is often misconstrued, because it doesn’t mean negative as in bad, but as the polar opposite of a complimentary energy. Ha energies are assertive and active, Tha energies are receptive and contemplative. The Chinese understood the importance of both energies as did the ancient yogis of Tibet, India and Nepal. When these energies become imbalanced, so does our physical body. Cleansing of our organs is, in essence, necessary to allow a balance of active and reception energies.
The use of Chinese medicinal herbs is akin to the practice of Ayurveda, with each tradition offering its own geographical botanical aids in the form of roots, leaves, flowers, oils, poultices and sap, as well as teas and tinctures derived from ancient knowledge. As in Ayurveda, Chinese herbs play a key role in augmenting the practices of Qi Gong to help cleanse the physical body.
It is in comparing the teachings of Shaolin masters Mei Hua and grand Master Tsai from 17th century China to modern Qi Gong masters and the teachings of multiple yogis from around 3000 B.C. to the present that we can understand their aim to cleanse the body not just physically, but from an energetic standpoint.
Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.
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