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Beachside Qigong & Tai Chi

The Four Tools of Qigong & Tai Chi

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Since tai chi can be considered a complex form of qigong, the four tools that we use in qigong are also the tools utilized in tai chi. Many teachers and masters call these tools by various names: baskets, rivers, and other analogous terms but the tools themselves are all the same. Regardless of the style, tradition or lineage of a tai chi or qigong practice, they all share the same four tools: Breath work, Specific Positions, Visualization and Self-Massage. Some techniques utilize all four tools at once (like DaMo's 18 Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic). Other techniques utilize only one of the tools at a time (like Shi Shi Hu breathwork). Any combination of these four tools is possible within the various systems of chi arts.

Qi means energy gong means cultivate

1. Breathwork Since breathing is the most important bodily function we have it makes sense that breathwork is one of the primary tools utilized by the healing chi arts. Breath work can incorporate a huge array of breathing exercises or what yogis call Pranayama. These exercises are designed to detox, strengthen and support the respiratory system and can range from simple to quite complex. Regardless of what chi art we practice, we are always at the very least aware of our breathing. This awareness of breathing can be considered breath work because without any special exercise involved breath awareness deepens and slows our respiration. While the special exercises we practice in our classes foster better breathing, pausing throughout the day to simply notice breathing is more powerful over the long run than doing two or three special breathing exercises during the week when attending class.

Just sitting in the car we breathe. Waiting at the dentist's office, we're breathing. Standing in line at the store, we have the opportunity to become aware of our breath. When we utilize the powerful tool of mindful breathing throughout the day we slowly condition ourselves to take slower, deeper breaths and in so doing support better health throughout all systems of the mindbody. After all my years of training in various styles and systems, the most powerful qi moving exercise I do every day is simply to stand with good posture, relax my muscles and mind, and be aware that I am breathing. Stand, Relax, Breathe. Simple but very powerful when done mindfully throughout the day. This is taking our practice out of the classroom and into our daily lives.

2. Specific Positions While qigong utilizes static positions where we don't move and specific movements designed to affect our energy in different ways, when practicing tai chi we never stop moving. Tai chi utilizes flowing movements from one complex position to another with no stopping or pausing along the way. In this tai chi flow, we utilize specific movements that massage our organs, move our internal energy, stretch our soft tissues and align our bones in very detailed ways. These very specific movements are frequently challenging to remember and only become meditative with dedicated practice. Tai chi is one of the original flow arts. Just like the newly dubbed flow arts of extreme hula hooping, fire twirling and poi (swinging two heavy balls on strings around the body), tai chi puts us in touch with the natural flowing cycles of nature that are very different from the linear, manmade world. This is but one aspect of how the tai chi flow heals us from within.

In qigong we also utilize specific positions, some flowing and some static. The flowing, gentle, repetitive movements of qigong often put us in a meditative state quickly, unlike tai chi flow which takes more time to cultivate. But qigong also uses motionless postures that range from fairly simple and easy to incredibly challenging to maintain for any length of time. These static positions are held to strengthen various muscles and bones as well as activate speicific energy channels or meridians to affect bodymind health in one way or another, depending on the posture. For example, in the motionless qigong practice of Holding Post or Embracing Tree, our arms held our round in front of us significantly affect the energy field of the heart and the heart meridian as well as the liver. When we hold horse stand and super horse stance postures without moving the spleen, bladder and gall bladder meridians are all significantly strengthened when we are able to relax and hold the position without moving for a few minutes.

3. Visualization There's a saying in chi arts: the yi leads the chi. The same sentiment is expressed in our modern phrase: where your mind goes your energy flows. When we focus our thoughts on something, specifically when we hold a visual image of it in our minds, we are more likely to find it becoming a reality in our life. So in both qigong and tai chi visualization techniques are used to lead our own internal energy in ways that heal us from the inside out. We often visualize healing energy and drawing it into ourselves. In the Yi Jin Ching practice, we visualize ourselves centered, balanced and physically strong in various postures to create that reality in our bodies and minds. And those few who have had the discipline to learn this powerful technique from themselves, have related to me how it has reshaped their body and overall health in various ways.

In tai chi, the visualization tends to be one of the more advanced tools we employ once we're able to remember the basic movements. In our tai chi forms we use visualizations of moving through energy and how it touches and affects our body, "pressing on chi" with every outside surface of the body. Teachers who emphasize the martial arts fighting aspects of tai chi use visualizing actually fighting someone when going through the slow motion combat moves within the form. On occasion when I've been injured and not physically capable of practicing my tai chi forms, I sit and visualize doing the movements in real time, not sped up. I see myself moving with a precision of motion that my actual skills sometimes lacks and use this time to see myself moving in an ideal way. World class athletes ranging from marksmen to high jumpers to tennis players use this same technique to improve their skills when they reach physical peaks. They use it because it works.

4. Self Massage It's fairly well-known now that massage is a bona fide therapeutic tool when done the right way. If you've never had a professional, high quality massage, you're really missing out on powerful hands-on healing. Massage has few to no bad side effects when done properly and can eliminate pain, increase circulation, accelerate healing, restore a sense of calm and balance to both mind and body and has the ability to re-acquaint us with what's actually going on in our own bodies. Massage is the oldest known therapy on the planet with depictions of it in cave paintings, making it the original traditional medicine. Professional massage can be expensive because therapists must maintain licensure through their state, just like an MD, pay for on-going continuing education, carry professional liability insurance and all the other expenses associated with running a business, not to mention the extreme amount of laundry and the time that takes up.

Self massage, on the other hand, costs nothing and can be as beneficial as a professional massage when done mindfully. In qigong we use many different self massage techniques to enhance our health and well being. In the sessions I lead, we typically begin with some self massage incorporated into our Constant Bear warm up and end with a full body self massage tapping session. Many people have told me through the years that the full body tapping at the end is their favorite. (So there's a link to my YouTube video of it at the bottom of this post.) We also sometimes employ self massage in our Monday evening qigong sessions to restore our eyes and arms/hands after working on screens all day. One participant is still practicing some of these techniques after learning them two years ago and has been able to maintain a supposedly deteriorating cataract issue. Self massage does indeed work and when done regularly is actually preventative health care.

Each of these four tools on it's own has a long and medically proven history of being healing on multiple levels. When we combine these four tools in various ways we become our own health care provider by taking charge of the mindbody and producing our own internal medicine that no doctor can ever duplicate or improve upon. Within us lies the power to heal from injury, illness and many kinds of dis-ease. We are born with this Healer Within, as Dr. Roger Jahnke has named it. It is a biological fact that our cells heal themselves, not a doctor. The doctor simply provides tools that will hopefully produce some level of healing when used skillfully. The four tools of qigong provide us easy access to turning on our own internal healing mechanisms ranging from repairing cellular damage to growing new skin and organs to producing the world's most powerful chemicals that lie not in a lab, but in our own bodies. Qigong and tai chi are not a form of medicine rather they allow us to access our own internal medicine and heal from within at no cost with no bad side effects. These tools have worked for literally billions of people throughout centuries. They will work for you too if you simply practice. Looking forward too seeing you with us in the park soon.

Qigong Self Massage through Full Body Gratitude Tapping

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