qigong 1 — learn to sense qi
Qi rules. Well, at least for spiritual development, it’s a certainty that qi rules. Without having qi in your pocket—that is, you’re in that cozy place where you can sense qi clearly—all your efforts toward spiritual unfoldment will be half-baked and metaphysical success will remain elusive at best. Why? Good intentions just don’t cut it. They count for a lot but not towards stabilizing the mind. The only help is qi (or prana [in Hindu yoga] or lung [in Tibetan Buddhism]). Every genuine yogic tradition trumps up the importance of accessing the mind via work with its handmaiden, subtle energy. Guess what? They’re right. Sure you know that. But, guess again. Guess what? They are really, really right.
Why all the tooting about a seemingly obvious fact to anyone who’s spent even a short amount of time exploring alternative approaches to inner growth? Simply because just about everyone on the planet is in a cultural and psychic trance. You read the words, you understand the concepts, you register them as important and park them neatly in your memory bank along with other details about spiritual practice. And … then … you just go about your daily activities and chores as if you’re nobody’s fool. Nothing changes. Nothing much happens. No amazing turn for the better.
Lots and lots of folks. Everyone’s got a story. What’s yours?
There are good reasons why this happens: At a psychological level you can explain such behavior as an outfall of cognitive dissonance (the mind only tags some experiences as important). At a spiritual level, this ramifies from karma (deep energetic patterns) and the play of such karma can be clearly known through Jyotish (Vedic astrology of subtle energy archetypes). So, there ARE reasons.
Sweet, beautiful, innocent … plain and simple. just right … and yet, a little too sleepy for Light!
But, the bummer remains. Now, it’s not a crime to be in a consensual trance with everybody and everything else. For sure, dreamland is the norm. But simply going along for the ride with everyone else will NOT get you free or to a better place spiritually. You have to buck the system—not violently but with true grit and effort. In yoga, this process is called tapas (fire). Through struggle and determined practice you cultivate agni (a form of subtle energy related to heat and knowledge). And it is this agni—spiritual fire—which purchases you entry to real—that is, really effective—sādhana (spiritual practice).
The best way to start? Learn to sense qi. It’s that simple—and, that hard. In Daoism, and related practices from Chinese culture (such as qigong for health or martial arts), qi is generally felt with the hands to start with. Later, you can sense it anywhere in and about your body. And eventually, you can just access this energy via your mind which means gradually you can manipulate qi at a distance. The following video introduces some useful and accessible preliminary practices that can lead you to sense qi. This entire video is essential material but, for now, just check out the two practices explained starting at 11:34 into the video.
If you give these techniques even 10 minutes a day for a month or two you will be amazed—and, in a better place to pick up the chase as described in the next section on yoga. As a reminder, there are three qi meditation practices explained on this video but just do the first two for now. The third meditation is more advanced and will garner you more if you develop some other skills first (as detailed later on this, and the following, web page). Happy qi trails!
yoga 1 — practice, practice, practice the basics
Most folks who have heard about yoga and spent some time learning the ropes of the approach will have heard about the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, a classic text of Hindu yoga which delineates a graded path one follows on the journey to Light. Step by step, technique by technique, it all sounds a little like mountain climbing: first this step, then that one, then that one. The traditional order (refer to this page about Hindu Yoga for the details) scoots from moral discipline to physical practices (postures and breathing) and then on to more rarefied vistas of consciousness (ever-deepening levels of concentration and presence). You might think that just like a cross-country cruise in your favorite model motor car, once you zip through some early junction on the path—Flatbush, Galena, Bozeman or what have you—that’s that. No more going back. It’s a one-way ticket from beginning to intermediate to advanced practices.
The five koshas (energy bodies) roughly correspond to the chakra levels.
Well, this notion shimmers pleasantly in the mind—it fits expectations—but to no avail for the concept’s simply flat wrong. The single most important realization to gather and glean at the start of your spiritual practice says that the basics are essential at the beginning BUT they are also essential during mid-trek and even more essential as you scamper toward journey’s end and truly advanced awareness. To sum up: the basics are here to stay if you really want to succeed with your practice. How come?
The basics (hatha yoga and pranayama) provide grounding into the physical and astral worlds. What changes over time hinges upon your mind (more subtle energy) and its interaction with these more condensed (solidified) energy bodies. In Hindu yoga there are five energy bodies (koshas or sheaths) reaching from physical to very high mental energy. All forms of yoga (Hindu, Tibetan, Daoist and all others) seek to activate a self-sustaining energy body at—or near—the top of this heap.
The goal? Not just a holiday amidst the stars. Rather, the real deal: a self-sustained light body. It’s worth the effort!
The payoff? One can truck around the cosmos with a light body and the common physical form of body, mind and heart becomes optional. All the best of the physical form gets rolled into the light body so you don’t lose much in the transformation except the heartache of gridlock—finding yourself trapped in a spiritually insane world with its incredible tapestry of glorious beauty and vile horror ever tugging at your heart strings: all the while with the hyenas of hell waiting patiently for you to run smack into old age, pain, loss and deep betrayal. Fun, for sure, huh?
So, first things first: start where you are and develop a consistent and realistic practice of BOTH hatha yoga (postures) and pranayama (breathing). Roll in what you know about qi. Then shoot for the long haul: over the years, lengthen the amount of time you invest in these two key practices: start with an hour for both and aim for heaven.
Serious work—and results—only tend to show their faces after the time clock chimes three hours total for the day. More is even better. Serious adepts (the professionals) practice pranayama 2-4 hours a day and hatha yoga 1-2 (or more) hours a day. If you are younger you can do more hatha yoga and less pranayama but as you hit your forties (or sooner if you are overwhelmingly earnest) you should start to increase the pranayama (which activates the astral body). If you’re a real camper, there’s no harm in doing more hatha yoga the whole way through but for sure the essential advice here: do MORE pranayama as you get older. Hatha yoga itself will NOT get you to higher consciousness: you need pranayama (and qigong) to do that.
nei jia quan 1 — baguazhang and bajiquan
Nei (internal) jia (family) quan (fist) refers to a collection of Chinese internal martial arts that incorporate weigong (outer qigong) and neigong (inner qigong) into their practices. Baguazhang (eight trigram palm), Xingyiquan (form intention fist) and Taijiquan (grand ultimate fist) represent the main styles. Popular thinking and legend link them with Daoist monasteries of the Wudang Mountains in Hubei province. Another style, Bajiquan (eight extremities fist) sometimes gets included in this list since it originated from the same province and towers as the most powerful of all Chinese martial arts. Baji (for short) makes the most effective use of basic weigong and neigong techniques to add high octane energy to already powerful martial techniques.
And this is the reason someone intent on spiritual practice should take the time to learn about these martial arts. Quite simply, by leveraging whole-body movements with time-honored qigong practices and knowledge, they have developed the BEST ways to cultivate qi. Once you learn from these masters, truly effective and rapid ways to access qi, you are free to go as you please. There’s no requirement to become a fighter. You just need to learn how to become a qigong pro—relative to your current level of ability. Honestly, the following key methods will take your journey to Light up a notch or two.