Before talking about the details of what happens in a Qi Gong class, practice session, or Healing session, it is interesting to learn about how these ancient practices came into being, and how they are understood today. Context and meaning are important.
It is commonly understood and accepted that the exercises and practices that are now called Qi Gong originated as Shamanic Healing and prayer practices of the Indigenous people of Asia. Most of my teachers believe that this powerful and transformative practice goes back at least 10,000 years.
10,000 Years Ago – Northern tribes in Asia, who still remembered the last ice age, practiced a form of hibernation Breathwork, and restorative stretching. They helped people survive extended times of hunger, waiting, and stillness. The ancient myths tell us that these ‘efficiency practices’ improved Healing, fertility, and longevity. It is whispered that, with devoted practice, certain forms of meditation, Breathwork, fasting, and extended times in darkness, can become gateways to the ‘Sky World’ and communing with your Ancestors.
5,000 Years Ago – Human society was focused on hunting, farming, and herding. There was a well-established Herbal Medicine tradition and a basic understanding of human physiology, health, and disease. Most of the movement and Breathwork practices of the time involved imitating animals and a combination of extended stretching and Breathwork called Dao Yin. The term Dao Yin 導 引 is most often translated as “Guiding and Stretching.’ Dao 導, in this context, means Leading or Luring – in this case – your Jing Shen and Qi. Yin 引 suggests an accuracy and sensitivity while exploring your elasticity.
Dao Yin is an umbrella term for everything from basic stretching and calisthenics, to practices for an ecstatic reunion with the Universe. Dao Yin also includes a comprehensive approach to Somatic awareness and Trauma Release. Although it was expressed in the Shamanic context, the understanding, approach, and progression of this part of Dao Yin is surprisingly (or not) similar to modern Somatic Trauma Release Therapies.
2500 Years Ago – In Asia, there was an abundance of wealth and war. Fortunately, the intellectuals and philosophers of the time were encouraged to imagine any possible solutions to a large, wealthy, and harmonious society. They generated the Philosophies of Confucianism, and Daoism as we understand them today.
These paths of Self Cultivation and Truth inspired those who felt called to build monasteries and intentional villages to practice the Way – the Dao. Long ago, these places were referred to as Guan 觀, or Observatories of the Nature of Nature and the Universe. These Guan were places of peace, harmony, and Spiritual contemplation. Philosophers, farmers, Nature lovers, Mystics, retired soldiers and generals, all gathered to live as simple a life as possible – joyously grateful for such a Way to exist.
Ancient documents and pottery from this time described and demonstrated postures, stretches, and routines for health, longevity, resolving certain illnesses.
1500 years Ago – Buddhism became very popular in the Land we now call China. At the time, Daoism and Chinese Buddhism became ‘formal’ religious traditions – yes, they just invented themselves. Formal religions require priests and a ‘flock’, which means monasteries to train the priests and nuns. Land for churches, land for food, tithes, and taxes…
One of the benefits of organized religious expression and practice was the committed exploration and refinement of Dao Yin practices and principles, like the famous Yi Jin Jin (Muscle Tendon Change). Meditation practice (Chan/Zen), Inner restoration and renewal (Nei Gong) practices, and Inner Alchemy (Nei Dan) all became clearly laid out. All that is left is the Gong 功 – the moments you work towards that experience and capacity.
Another benefit of these communities, especially Daoist and Shaolin Buddhist (Chan/Zen) Monasteries was the development of Medicine and Martial Arts.
75 Years Ago – Specifically, in 1947, a soldier named Liu, Gui Zhen (1920-1983) was suffering from a severe Gastric Ulcer. After running out of treatment options, he was eventually sent home to recover or die. At 27 years of age, he refused to die and was referred to a Daoist ‘Healer’ and Martial Arts Teacher who taught him Dao Yin, a lot of Breathwork, and a form of Self-Healing called Yang Sheng Gong. This practice involves specifically holding your hands on an area and practicing guided visualization interspersed with different kinds of Breathwork.
After a few months of practice, he was completely well.
Mr. Liu returned to his job and described his healing success. He was suddenly appointed as a medical research leader. It was 1940’s communist China after all. His research on the effects of Dao Yin, Breathwork, and Intentional Self-Healing (Nei Yang Gong), was so promising that he began to gain a lot of attention.
In 1948, he coined the term Qi Gong and specified its use to indicate the methods which focused largely on simplified Breathwork and visualization practices. At this time, he also began to teach party officials his ‘modernized’ Dao Yin and Nei Yang Gong and repeated his success by helping people resolve chronic conditions.
Liu’s Qi Gong was modernized and needed a new name for two reasons. First, it focused on science, well, maybe ‘do this and that gets better,’ kind of science, and had no need to rely on the past or ancient traditions. Second In Communist China, at the time, all of the ‘old superstitions’, were treated with hostility. That combination, and Modern Qi Gong, focus more on problem-solving, medical goals, and the primary relationship with Qi, or ‘your sensations of aliveness’ is as a substance that needs direction.
That relationship has always been one quality of Dao Yin, but ‘in the old days’, Dao Yin focused (and still focuses) on a much more thorough, whole Body and Being, preventative, Shamanic, and felt-sense experience quality of practice. One could say that modern Qi Gong tends towards doing things with Qi, and traditional Dao Yin tends towards feeling into all of the possible ways to relate to the many aspects of your Qi sensations and experience.
35 years ago – I found a legitimate Qi Gong teacher. This ‘brief history’ is now my experience of the evolution of Qi Gong and how things have changed since then. At the time, Qi Gong and Chinese Martial Arts were exploding worldwide. In China, this time has been referred to as the Qi Gong Fever (Qì Gōng Rè –气功热).
Suddenly, going to the park and doing what your grandparents did was not only fashionable, but a government-sanctioned approach to healthy living. There was a necessary proliferation of ‘Masters’ and styles. I have seen video of people in Spandex, practicing Western Ball Room Dancing as their form of Qi Gong. With, or without music. And, why not?
I have had the good fortune of studying with lineage-holding Masters, and International level coaches for the last 35 years. A lineage, in the Qi Gong and Martial Arts sense, usually means that what you are learning is sourced from a Monastic tradition (like Shaolin), a Spiritual Lineage (mine is the Yi Dao Huan Yuan Pai, which is a Daoist village tradition), or a famous family (Chen family – Tai Chi).
There are a lot of details and distinctions when it comes to the cultural aspects of carrying a formal lineage connection. Because my focus has shifted to the integration of Qi Gong and all of its predecessors with modern clinical Trauma therapy, my relationship with lineages has changed. I still believe that any serious Qi Gong student, or professional, should learn at least one specific skill or form from a lineage-trained teacher. The depth, subtle qualities, and very precise and sequential process, focusing on multiple dimensions of practice, will give a sense of how Qi Gong was taught before the world suddenly needed enough teachers for 100 million curious students.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Qi Gong’s popularity continued to soar, in China, and around the world. Unfortunately, in 1999, the Chinese government instituted a systematic crackdown on qigong organizations, specifically the Fa Lun Gong (A very modern (1992) Spiritual Qi Gong system) to avoid religious conflict.
In the rest of the world, Modern Qi Gong, Monastic and Shamanic Qi Gong,Dao Yin, Nei Yang Gong, Martial Arts Qi Gong, as well as Nei Gong and Nei Dan (Daoist Inner Cultivation), were being studied and practiced and passed on. Many through traditional lineages and occasionally by those on their own path.
I have also trained with several modern teachers who were clearly ‘on their own path’, and intuitively creating their own practices and often mixing them with other embodied consciousness traditions. Like anything creative and new, some people’s inspiration changed many aspects of my practice, and others were just too disconnected from any tradition to be grounded in the tangible world to keep my interest. To each their own.
An aspect of lineage traditions that I choose to avoid, and have chosen to disconnect from in the cultural sense, is that most modern lineages and the traditions around them are essentially a family business, and come from a cultural bias to focus on having strong Ancestors. Which I respect; but I am aware that in the modern Western world, people tend to use their lineages as a false sense of competency and relevance.
As a clinician who trains clinicians, I choose to focus on the most effective and relevant skills and practices that can be effectively and efficiently learned and taught.
I have also met a lot of superficial opportunists who probably learned from a book. They are often doing a great disservice to the Qi Gong world.
Today, in 2021 – Qi Gong is practiced in every country and large city on Earth. There have been countless books on modern Qi Gong, traditional Dao Yin, Nei Yang Gong, Medical Qi Gong, Nei Gong, and many other unique approaches to conscious embodiment and meditation.
Today you can Learn Qi Gong in a park on Sundays – unless you have to adapt to the Global Pandemic in another way.
Fortunately, today you can Learn Qi Gong Online.
If you have some Qi Gong, Martial Arts, Yoga, or Dance experience, and are looking for a career change, you can also Become Certified as a Traditional Qi Gong Instructor.