I think it’s time for your friendly local crackpot to say a word or two about my qi experiences. Actually, this a long and rambling post. I apologize in advance.
I will first agree with Jerry that Yang Jun does not talk about qi in any esoteric way—but of course he does talk about it. It’s part and parcel of the tai chi package.
Jerry you wrote: “Qi is not something they attempt to consciously manipulate. “ I agree that YJ advises against guiding the qi along specific meridians, and certainly advises against following your qi around (b/c then the qi is guiding the mind, not the mind guiding the qi). And I do think that guiding the qi is somewhat not-conscious in the sense not micro-managing every little current or connection. But here’s where I disagree: there is a lot of stuff about guiding the qi with the mind, the yi, the intention. I think that ideally, one comes to the stage of “regulating without regulating” where intention (yi) becomes habit and the qi is maintained naturally. Some of the corrections I receive are about how I run my energy (what I’m doing with my qi). They aren’t necessarily phrased as such, for example: “Extend more—no, not externally: inside.” But when I then (in my words) expand my qi from my center to fill the hollow space, my teacher will nod once and move on.
Thanks Bamboo Leaf, for saying, “no a better take is that some have felt things that can not be explained except but by what is said according to TCM or the classics there may come a time when our understanding of physics is able to include this, then people will believe something that has been said, felt and used by some, all along and it will still be outside of them. “
Qi isn’t something intangible or invisible to me. I feel it; I see it. Not with my skin, not with my eyes, but in ways that are most easily expressed in terms of the senses touch and sight. I feel my energy like a field that surrounds me—the standard aura description.
I think our understanding of physics is already including this (some physicists anyway, not all, but some highly regarded ones: see the book “Holographic Universe”, or Brennan’s intro. overview of physics paradigms in “Hands of Light”).
When I walk around, my energy field is quite large and diffuse. I often have trouble keeping my aura from getting too large and spreading too thin. I typically track everyone within a 50-100 foot radius by “feel” if they’re not in my immediate line of sight (and then it’s a combination of seeing them and feeling where they are).
It’s kind of neat, but the disadvantage is that I’m not always entirely inside my body. YJ said to me once during class, “Where are you? Is your mind wandering?” Then he mimicked my eyes being unfocused and “far away.” Actually, I was concentrating on doing the form and paying close attention to the movements (mind not wandering) but I realized later I wasn’t entirely inside my body. So I’m working on staying grounded and staying inside my body.
My sense of what goes on for many other people is that they hold their body’s energy field close to their body like a wall and thus have trouble perceiving the surface of it or what’s outside. This is, IMO a large part of what’s meant by “soften,” “loosen,” and “extend.”
As for DP’s take on walking around: I distinctly feel other people’s energetic “edges.” People have a series of boundaries that you can feel if you are paying attention. Generally I find them at about 25 ft, 12 ft, 4 ft, 2 ft, and of course, the surface of their skin. (This is just an estimate; everybody’s different.)
When I walk around, I generally feel where people are and flow around their edges, being a generally yielding sort of person. But since I’ve been working on holding my ground, when I set my boundary out a little bit and maintain it and my ground, people will naturally step aside.
However, some days I particularly have trouble grounding and not projecting my energy out there. At work, people at the far end of long hallways walking with their backs turned to me will feel me tracking them. They startle and look over their shoulder and around their immediate vicinity (in the standard 25-30 foot radius) to see who was looking at them. They generally don’t find me because I’m not trying to be so far out there, so I retract as soon as I feel them startle.
Bob, I’m quite certain that I am “receptive” (whatever that means) and could be knocked over by someone with the skill send out their qi. YJ did a demonstration last month where he demonstrated split energy. I was nearby--about 12 feet away with my back turned (not by choice!). He was talking about inch energy and how you can’t really show split in demonstration because it’s too dangerous, and then he demonstrated in the empty air and I got hit with the shockwave like an explosion and was reeling (root up, still standing, but not quite balanced). I said to my push hands partner “Did you feel that?” and she said yes.
Another time, at a sword seminar, I was front and center when he demonstrated a typical thrusting movement where the qi is sent out the tip of the sword. He was about 20 feet away, but I felt a sudden sharp pain in my chest that I’ve never felt before nor since. I noticed him notice my difficulty, and he stepped to one side of me for the rest of the lesson and I don’t sit front and center anymore during weapons classes.
I don’t know what qi is. I do find that it has practical uses, whatever it is. The question for me isn’t “Does it exist?” because Qi is something that exists for me the way solid objects exist—because I can see it, because I can feel it. I can sometimes see qi in various ways: areas of shadow and light (stagnancy and flow), the bright paths of my meridians and shadowy areas where there are blockages, the microcosmic orbit, my spine in 3D: blue and composed of light. I can see the hemispheres of my brain like electromagnetic poles with current sparking like lightning back and forth (migraine, not good), or a diffuse glowing fog (better). I see the central core from Hui yin to Bai hui as a cylindrical core of light, extending above and below the body, more light woven about it in an overlapping double helical pattern like the weave on a fire-hose composed of glowing multicolored strands.
For me, qi IS something mysterious and magical. Older Cartesian views of Western science have trained us to want to break things down to understand them, line them up in ordered rows, and measure them. Systems theory, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, holographic universe theory—these new theories with their emphasis on interaction seem closer to approaching a way of understanding qi and closer to magic as well. All readily accepted scientific models were once “magic” before they became “theories” that were then tested made into more solidified “models.” (The evolution model has had many theories, some of which were thrown out because they didn’t match later evidence.) Magic is another name for something we don’t understand. There are many scientific theories about qi out there now. There are scientists who are diligently working on developing models for understanding how it works. But it’s a mistake to equate the model or the theory with the thing itself. Just because we can make a model or a theory doesn’t mean we understand the whole of it.
For example, what is energy? Everyone from physicists, to electricians, to biophysicists, to mothers of toddlers, to jet pilots, to tai chi practitioners has something to say about it and can say something of how it works. But what IS it? I don’t know. But I can use it.
My experience with qi is ever changing, the way the sky is ever changing and yet remains the same. There are always new and miraculous insights waiting for me if I can calm my mind enough to be still and centered. It’s always an exploration, an adventure. It may seem like magic to me because I cannot explain it scientifically but it’s a practical magic that can be practiced, honed, and explored.
I think that science is gradually coming to understand more and more about qi, but for now, I expect that the finest instruments for sensing the energies generated by organic systems are not inorganic machines made of metal and stone (silica, silicone) but our own bodies. Yang Jun responded to a question once by saying, “It’s not magic.” I’m sure he’s right. But it’s not science either—at our CURRENT understanding of science. Qi itself cannot be parsed or simplified—although one can measure correlative qi phenomena effects like conductivity and resistance, heat and light emitted, decibels emitted by qi gong practitioners, etc.—but the experience of the larger whole (or whatever portion we have access to in the moment) remains vast and ineffable, ever-changing, and beyond the limits of science and reason.
Qi’s not magic, it’s not supernatural—but I do think that the point is that the body can be trained to enormous sensitivity and at some point there is a perceptive shift that seems uncanny or supernatural. I didn’t used to be able to perceive or understand what I talked about above. And it feels like I’m only scraping the surface.
Before I improved my root, I would lose my balance if my teacher walked near me in class, even if I was in a bow stance and not moving. This is because the energy field he generates is so strong that it felt like standing at the edge of the ocean and being hit by a large wave. Other people don’t have this problem at all. I think it is the difference between being a large stone at the edge of the sea (solid, heavy, rooted) and being a piece of kelp tumbling this way and that in the water. I feel the currents all around me. I am studying tai chi to learn to keep my center and not get buffeted about. This is my world.