Building Qi


Exercises which build up Qi in the limbs called Wei Dan and are usually very simple. They are almost like any of the exercises which are common in the Western world. The only two differences are that when you practice you must concentrate your mind at the area being trained, and the movements are designed for special purposes such as regulating specific organs. You should understand that it is your mind which leads the Qi to the area being trained. When you concentrate, you can build up and circulate the Qi more efficiently than when you don't concentrate. This is especially true right after exercising, when you are relaxed. When your muscles are relaxed and loose, the Qi channels are wide open. If you concentrate and use your Ye (i.e. wisdom mind) to lead the Qi you have built up to your body, in coordination with your inhalations, you will be able to reduce the amount of Qi dissipated into the air, and the Qi can more efficiently nourish your body.

Try the following experiment. It will help you to understand the key to building up and circulating Qi. It is a very simple Wai Dan exercise called "Gong Shou", which means "Arcing the Arms". This exercise originated in Tajiquan, where it is very widely practiced. It provides the Qigong beginner with a simple way to experience Qi Flow. 

For this exercise, stand with one leg rooted on the ground and the other in front of it, with only the toes touching the ground. Both arms are held in front of the chest, forming a horizontal circle, with the fingertips almost touching (Figure 1). The tongue should touch the roof of the mouth to connect the Yin and Yang Qi vessels (Conception and Governing Vessels respectively). The mind should be calm and relaxed and concentrated on the shoulders; breathing should be deep and regular.

When you stand in the posture for about three minutes, your arms and one side of your back should feel sore and warm. Because the arms are held extended, the muscles and nerves are stressed. Qi will build up in this are and heat will be generated. Also, because one leg carries all the weight, the muscles and nerves in that leg and in one side of the back will be tense and will thereby build up Qi. Because this Qi is built up in the shoulders and legs rather than in the Dan Tian, it is considered "local Qi" or "Wai Dan Qi". In order to keep the Qi build-up and the flow in the back balanced, after three minutes change you legs without moving the arms and stand this way for another three minutes. After the six minutes, put both feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart, and slowly lower your arms. This accumulated Qi will then flow into our arms naturally and strongly. It is just like a dam which, after accumulating a large amount of water, releases it and lets it flow out. At this time, concentrate and calm the mind and look for the feeling of Qi flowing from the shoulders to the palms and fingertips. Beginners can usually sense this Qi flow, which is typically felt as warmth or slight numbness.

Naturally, when you hold your arms out, you are also slowing the blood circulation, and when you lower your hands the blood will rush down into them. This may confuse you as to whether what you feel is due to Qi or blood. You need to understand several things. First, wherever there is a living blood cell, there has to be Qi to keep it alive. Thus, when you relax after the arcing hands practice, both blood and Qi will come down to the hands. Second, since blood is material and Qi is energy, Qi can flow beyond your body but your blood cannot. Therefore, it is possible for you to test whether this exercise has brought extra Qi to your hands. Place your hands right in front of your face. You should be able to feel a slight sensation, which has to come from the Qi. You can also hold your palms close to each other, or move one hand near the other arm. In addition to a slight feeling of warmth, you may also sense a kind of electric charge which may make the hairs on your arm move. Blood cannot cause these feeling, so they have to be symptoms of Qi.

Sometimes Qi is felt on the upper lip. This is because there is a channel (Hand Yangming Large Intestine) which runs over the top of the shoulder to the upper lip (Figure 2). However, the feeling is usually stronger in the palms and fingers than in the lip, because there are six Qi channels which pass through the shoulder to end in the hand, but there is only one channel connecting the lip and shoulder. Once you experience Qi flowing in your arms and shoulders during this exercise, you may also find that you can sense it in your back.

This exercise is one of the most common practices for leading the beginner to experience the flow of Qi, and some Taiji styles place great emphasis on it. A similar type of Qigong exercise is also practiced by other styles, such as Emei Da Peng Gong.

Dr. Yang has been involved in Chinese Gongfu since 1961 and has more than thirty years of instructional experience. Dr. Yang has published twenty-four books and twenty-eight videotapes on the martial arts and Qigong. Currently he is president of Yang's Oriental Arts Association, Boston, MA.