To address not just the
symptoms but the causes of physical problems, we need to work at the
energy level rather than the physical level.
According to Eastern
thought, breathing is the primary way we bring energy into the body. We
extract energy from the breath and store it in the lower abdomen, and the
more we can extract and store, the better our physical condition. But
mostly, due to ignorance and poor habits, we do everything possible to
defeat both the flow of energy into the lower abdomen and our ability to
store it there.
As a result of physical
trauma, stress, and sedentary living, we develop blockages — areas of
tension, often unconscious and long-standing, primarily in the abdominal
area. Energy can’t flow through tension and thus is prevented from
reaching the reservoir in the lower abdomen. Ultimately, these blockages
in the energy pathways lead to organ dysfunction. Illness and decrepitude,
wrongly considered an inevitable result of aging, are often the result of
blocked energy intake, dissipation of our reserves, or accumulated
toxicity. Conserving our internal energy, developing it, and bringing it
under voluntary control allows healing to take place.
The two techniques below
are among a group of practices known as chi kung (chi gong, qigong;
"energy practice"). Technique 1 uses the breath to expand and
develop internal energy and eliminate blockages in its path to the lower
abdomen. Technique 2 uses the mind to build on the achievements of
Technique 1 in concentrating and directing energy. The two techniques
overlap, and eventually they merge.
There are many types of chi
kung — particular sets of movements and associated mental practices
("forms") to generate, consolidate, augment, and control energy.
The two given below are basic forms, but this does not limit their
down on your back and relax.
slowly through your nose.
you exhale, imagine pushing the energy from your lungs into the
lower abdomen or tan tien (dan tien, tanden), about
four fingers below the navel.
If you’re in good
condition, you may feel something right away. If not, with practice you
soon will. You may feel a tingling sensation in your abdomen or lower
back, or heat, or a pleasantly springy feeling in the abdomen, as though
pushing on a shock absorber, and also that you could continue inhaling
You may also feel the spine
relaxing and small movements taking place in the bones and muscles. The
physical body is releasing tension and bringing itself into conformity
with the energy pattern on which it was created, including optimal weight,
health, and position of body structures relative to each other. This is a
gradual process, but each time you’ll be able to do more with less
You may notice a tendency
at first to bulge out your stomach upon inhaling, since most of us are
accustomed to breathing into the stomach area — if that far — rather than
into the tan tien. Try to avoid this, although not to the extent of
rigidly tensing the abdominal muscles, since tension blocks the flow of
In the beginning, you can
hold in the abdominal muscles somewhat if necessary, until they become
coordinated with the breathing process. Inhale slowly enough to avoid
having to tense them excessively, and continually direct the energy down
through the middle of the body to the lower abdomen with the mind, as
though both compressing it into a cylinder perhaps 3 inches in diameter
running the length of the trunk and simultaneously pushing it down the
It may also help at first
to put your hands over the abdomen and press in lightly while breathing.
The important thing is to keep pushing the energy down with the
breath and the mind — into the lower abdomen and eventually into the
pelvis, legs, and feet — since its tendency is to rise and disperse.
When you’re doing the
technique correctly it feels very pleasant, and you won’t want to stop.
Eventually, however, you’ll know you’ve had enough — you'll be unable
to continue, because the muscles controlling the process will be tired and
you’ll feel you've absorbed as much energy as you can. Attempting to
continue may result in a headache.
The path of the energy at
first will be unpredictable. If you have a current health problem in the
abdominal area, or an old injury or scar, you may feel heat, tingling, or
a slight ache or pressure around it as the energy flow is reestablished.
Energy goes where it’s most needed — to your weakest point. As that
improves, it still goes to your weakest point, which may be somewhere
else. Therefore, it may not always go where you expect it.
With practice, you’ll
perceive that the energy resolves itself into two paths — one down the
spine into the coccyx and one down the centerline of the abdomen into the
groin. You can develop both of these, trying to take each one down as far
as it will go at each session. You’ll know you’re done when you feel a
sudden sense of release — usually accompanied by a sudden muscular release
as well — and, again, the perception that you’ve had enough, the
inability to direct any more energy into that particular area.
Depending on your
condition, you may feel very tired after these sessions, which indicates
that your energy is being diverted into healing, leaving little for
anything else. If you’re very weak or sick, this fatigue may last for
several days; its duration will decrease as your condition improves. You
won’t feel like practicing during such times and should not force
While practicing, you may
at times feel energy flowing upward into the chest, arms, neck, and head,
particularly if you have a health problem there. Energy can flow into the
head but shouldn’t be pushed in vigorously, or a headache may result.
One of the first things
likely to occur as a result of chi kung practice is a temporary change in
bowel habits. You may experience diarrhea for several days — the system
cleaning itself out as a result of unprecedented amounts of energy being
brought into the lower abdomen — followed by constipation. Hunger or loss
of appetite may also occur, as well as cravings for particular foods, and
continued practice may produce other physical symptoms, such as weight
loss or gain, unusual odors, or discharges. (For a comprehensive listing,
see pp. 187–90 of Michio Kushi's Book of Macrobiotics (rev. ed.,
1987.)) These symptoms indicate that your system is beginning to right
itself; they should disappear within a short time, causing no concern.
is an extension of Technique 1 and can be started within a few weeks of
beginning the latter. It involves taking the energy you’ve begun to move
with Technique 1 using chiefly physical means and moving it using only the
mind. Eventually the two techniques merge, until the process becomes
exclusively mental and intuitive. As with Technique 1, the procedure is
down. In cool weather, you may want to cover yourself with a
your eyes and concentrate on a particular part of your body. If you
have a localized illness or injury you’re trying to heal, you can
concentrate there — wherever the pain is. If you have a generalized
problem or no health problem, concentrate in the tan tien.
You’re directing energy
to the area in which you’re concentrating, and it will go there, but at
first, as with any new skill, some effort is required. You can visualize
the area as being warm or hot — a blazing sun or a fire — or you can
imagine words such as "energy," "strength," and
"power" flowing into the area — whatever holds your attention.
After a while — perhaps as
long as half or three-quarters of an hour at first — you’ll notice the
area becoming slightly warm. You’ve used your mind to bring energy
there, and each time you practice, it will happen faster and get warmer.
You’ll know you’re done when you begin to feel tired. As with
Technique 1, it will be an exertion at first, and you may want to sleep
You may be inclined to
neglect Technique 2, because it requires more work at first, but resist
this inclination and alternate the two techniques. Sometimes you’ll feel
like the physical activity of Technique 1, and other times, when your body
needs rest but your mind is active, you can do Technique 2. (Women should
use caution in beginning these practices during pregnancy.)
After working with these
energies for a while, you’ll find that merely placing the palms flat on
the tan tien is sufficient to direct heat and energy there. Eventually
there will be no need for Technique 1, or even for consciously practicing
Technique 2 — energy will flow where you direct it.
Chia has written a number of books on various aspects of internal energy
practice. Perhaps of most general interest is Awaken Healing Energy of
the Tao or the revised, expanded, and somewhat more ponderous version,
Awaken Healing Light through the Tao. Available from bookstores or
by mail from (800) 497-1017. A catalog is also available.