Yi Leading the Qi
In order to brush up on my limited knowledge of qigong yesterday so I could show this series of moves I learned in school to a client, I was referring to the book "Eight SimpleQigong Exercises for Health: The Eight Pieces of Brocade" by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.
In addition to the forms, the bulk of the book is theory, philosophy and a brief, but required tutorial in the many facets and manifestations of qi, (chi, ki), which Dr Yang says one must THOROUGHLY understand before embarking on a qigong practice. (My client was immensely relieved to hear that I would not subject her to all that before showing her the movements, though I think having some understanding of these concepts might answer some of her many questions she asks me about qi.)
Anyway, back to brushing up... in which I realized that it would serve me as well to keep studying this stuff on a regular basis.
I've read this book before, but as I re-read over the explanation of the foundations of qigong practice: regulating the body, regulating the breath, regulating the mind, regulating the qi, and regulating the shen, I picked up on an idea about qi that seemed to resonate with my current understanding about mind/body awareness, as well as conscious and deliberate creation.
To briefly explain:
Without going too much into a diatribe about what qi is, as, for one, it would take too long, and two, as a westerner, I'm sure I would miss the mark completely -- but, okay, let's simplify it as we typically do here and envision it as 'life force' or 'energy', for lack of better words.
Qi just is. In regards to our bodies, we can learn to consciously circulate it in order to promote health and vitality. The practices of tai chi and qigong do just that. Circulating the qi, however, depends on relaxation of the body, gentle, smooth breathing, and most importantly, a disciplined mind, clear of unnecessary thoughts. Because, as it is said, "Yi (mind) leads the Qi".
Yi can also be interpreted as 'intention'. Where your intention goes, your energy follows. Sound familiar?
In qigong, we are told we must regulate our breathing so it becomes "deep, slender, long and soft", and yet, (after getting that part down as second-nature) you then must learn not to focus your thoughts on your breath. Whatever your yi becomes attached to stagnates the energy. Stuck thinking produces stuck energy.
So, the foundational practice is to keep the yi flowing and moving, and it will lead the qi.
While we strengthen our ability to regulate the mind and flow our intention, we also work to develop our yi's ability to 'listen' the qi in our bodies. Getting a sense of where the qi is deficient or excessive, we can direct the qi to flow effectively from one area to another. But this strategizing depends solely on the strength of our yi, our intention, and our ability to stay present rather than allow our thoughts to mull over the past or worry about the future.
To me, this describes the process of consciously tuning in to our bodies, the reality of where our qi is right now (the 'unarguable truth', as I've heard it referred to) ... understanding the physical sensations of emotions, knowing what our bodies need to function, and how to choose the best course of action for our highest sense of well-being.
Qigong, like joyful conscious living, necessitates rooting the body (and mind) in a place of non-reactionary presence: with a relaxed body, even breathing, clear thinking, and total calm awareness of where our energy is being directed.
Sounds like those old Chinese dudes knew what they were talking about.