“Sifu, how many Qigong exercises do you know?” she asked. Whenever students ask me a question, I do my best to answer it. But this time, I honestly couldn’t.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I’ll get back to you soon.”
Later that evening, I sat down and wrote down all of the different exercises that I’ve learned from different teachers since I began this amazing journey 22 years ago. It turns out that I remember over 200 different Qigong patterns.
For fun, here’s a list of the Qigong sets I’ve learned (in no particular order):
- The 18 Luohan Hands
- The 8 Pieces of Brocade
- The 18 Qigong Jewels
- The 18 Arhat Arts
- The 18 Immortal Techniques
- The 12 Techniques of Sinew Metamorphosis
- The 12 Qigong Treasures
- The 12 Longevity Exercises
- Wild Goose Qigong Form #1 (64 Movements)
- The 10 Neigong Postures
- The 5 Levels of Bone Marrow Cleansing
- The 8 Warrior Postures
- The 18 Visualizations
- The 7 Stages of The Small Universe
- The Big Universe
- One Finger Zen (4 Sequences)
- Two Finger Zen (4 Sequences)
If we include Tai Chi Chuan and Shaolin Kung Fu patterns, then the number is closer to 500!
Wowzers. So many exercises!
Don’t worry. Even if you plan to be a teacher some day, you don’t need to learn 500 exercises, or even 200. But how many do you need to know? Now that is a question worth exploring!
Start With One
If you are a beginner, I don’t want to send the wrong message. Although there are hundreds of different Qigong exercises, you will get amazing benefits from learning and practicing just one exercise, like Lifting The Sky. (Click here to learn this wonderful exercise for free.)
You can do amazing things with just one Qigong exercise. Qigong itself, as a category of exercise, is simply awesome. So for those of you who like things simple, you can do exactly that with Lifting The Sky.
I had a student years ago who learned Lifting The Sky from me, and nothing else. She was (and still is) a professional dancer. A few years after learning from me, she told me that she was still faithfully practicing Lifting The Sky every day (in addition to hours of dance practice). She said that it kept her healthy and happy despite the rigors of life as a professional dancer.
Having one Qigong exercise has made all the difference for her, and has served her needs well.
Gradually Build Your Repertoire
Nevertheless, if you have the choice, then it’s better to have more than one exercise in your Qigong repertoire. But how many more?
It’s a good question, and one that I’ve thought about deeply. And I’ve changed my thinking over the years. My current advice is as follows:
Know at least 24 exercises.
There’s a catch, of course. Note that I wrote “know” 24 exercises. By this, I mean that you should know them well enough to do them right now, without any review. Having learned, and promptly forgotten, 24 exercises is not what I’m talking about.
And there’s another catch. Ideally, these 24 exercises should be favorites.
How do you know if they’re favorites? Because you’ve learned more than 24, and selected the ones that you like best. I’ll talk more about this later. First, let’s talk about the magic of the number 24.
Why did I choose the number 24? Well, for starters, it’s an auspicious number. It’s also the number of hours in a day. And most importantly, it’s the name of a popular American TV show!
But seriously, the number 24 is not writ in stone anywhere, but it does represent a sort of sweet spot for serious Qigong practitioners. Here’s why:
1. It’s a realistic goal.
Learning 24 exercises, and learning them well, is doable for anyone. It might take you a few years, but that’s a good thing. Qigong is an amazing art, and it’s worth spending a few years to gradually learn it well.
2. It’s a good challenge.
Imagine the sense of accomplishment that you’ll feel when you finally know 24 exercises. You’re going to feel proud of yourself, like you’ve really made some progress in the art of Qigong. And you have!
Some of you reading this probably know more than 24 exercises already, but haven’t taken the time to identify or organize them. I’m guessing that you’ll do exactly that after reading this article. Once you do, I’m sure you’ll feel an immediate sense of accomplishment. Good for you!
3. It’s enough for emergencies.
Let’s say that you are a long-distance student who doesn’t live near my studio in Gainesville. You’ve been learning Qigong from me for a few years. Then one day, you get in a car accident, and you’re left with terrible whiplash. So you email or call me, asking for help.
The first thing I’ll do is ask you to list all of the exercises that you know. This will help me to write a Qigong “prescription” to help solve your problem. If you have 24 exercises in your repertoire, then it will be much, much easier for me to write you a prescription, no matter which exercises they are.
4. It’s enough variety, but not too much.
It’s fun to learn new exercises for the same reason it’s fun to rotate through different exercises in your practice: because variety is the spice of life.
But too much variety can also cause problems (which I will talk about later). For example, I can’t possibly practice all of the Qigong exercises that I know, at least not regularly. That would be way too much. Instead, I just practice them periodically to maintain my skill. Most of the time, I focus on 1 or 2 dozen Qigong techniques, and go deeply into those.
5. It’s enough to cover all your bases.
Different exercises help to move the energy in different ways. For example, certain exercises are better for clearing blockages in the Lung Meridian, while others are better for flexibility and strength. If you know 24 different exercises, then you are sure to have enough to move the energy through all of the 12 Primary Meridians as well as the 8 Secondary Meridians. There may be better exercises for certain meridians, but you’ll still have all of your bases covered.
How To Get To 24
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The same way that you get to 24 exercises.
Of course, you also need to spend time learning. This means attending live workshops or classes, or using my online academy. But learning is not enough. You also have to practice, otherwise you’ll forget them as quickly as you learned them.
So the first step is to learn 24, and practice them often enough that you can remember them. One way to do this is to learn a complete Qigong set. In my school, most of the sets contain either 18 or 12 exercises. So if you learn the 18 Luohan Hands, for example, then you’ve already got 18 under your belt! Over time, you can gradually pick up 6 more exercises.
Don’t practice the entire set of 24 daily. You can, and should, cycle through the exercises. Practice them as often as necessary to get them into your muscle memory.
It helps to write down the names of the exercises somewhere, like in a little Qigong journal. If you don’t know a name, just ask. Or, if that’s not possible, then make up a name of your own! The traditional, poetic names are how past masters remembered the exercises, including many masters who were illiterate. I’m guessing that all of you can write, so make sure to take advantage of that skill!
Once you’ve got a set of 24 exercises to work with, then you can gradually turn them into your 24. In other words, continue learning new exercises even after you’ve reach 24. As you do, you’ll discover new favorite Qigong patterns. Then simply add those to your set of 24 by letting go of your least favorite exercises.
For example, if Three Levels to Earth is one of your original 24, but then you learn Riding the Wild Horse and fall in love with that one, then you can swap. In other words, you can let go of Three Levels, and replace it with Riding the Wild Horse.
In other words, you’re gradually making the set of 24 patterns into your personal qigong set.
Can you hold on to all of the exercises and have more than 24? Yes, of course.
If you are a teacher, or plan to be, then you should definitely learn more than 24. But it’s still a good exercise to figure out which are your favorite 24. You can mix and match from different types of Qigong, or even from different teachers, but create your own set of 24.
For some of you, even if you don’t want to teach, the sweet spot might be 36, or even 72 total exercises. This depends on the person. But there is a potential pitfall with having too many techniques. Can you guess it?
A Big Mistake
In a recent article, I wrote about the biggest mistake made by people who practice Qigong, Tai Chi, and Meditation. In a nutshell, they focus too much attention on the physical aspect, and too little attention on the breathing and meditation aspects.
When learning new Qigong techniques, we have to be mindful of this mistake.
Luckily, we have the 3 Golden Rules to help us avoid this pitfall. So however many techniques you know, just follow the 3 Golden Rules. Really. It’s that simple. If you’re doing this, then you’ll naturally go deeply into the breathing and meditation aspects of whatever exercises you’re practicing.
If you find that you can’t follow the 3 Golden Rules, then you probably have too many techniques. So trim the number down a bit.
Punch, Kick, Throw, and Grab
There’s an exception that I feel I should mention. I wrote this article mainly about Qigong, but if we include Tai Chi, or other forms of Internal Kung Fu, then we’re probably going to need more than 24 exercises.
Why? Because Tai Chi is a martial art, and fighting is a complex art. There are dozens of different ways to attack a person. To sum these up, the past masters organized these attacks into 4 categories:
- Hitting (including the elbows)
- Kicking (including the knees)
- Throwing (including pushing)
- Gripping (including locking)
If you want to defend yourself in any situation, then you need to know a variety of techniques to cover all 4 categories. For example, Western Boxing only has a handful of techniques. But that’s because it’s a sport done in a controlled environment, with a referee. For example, a boxer doesn’t have a technique in his or her repertoire to defend against a kick, or a baseball bat, because those attacks are illegal in a boxing ring.
The traditional Tai Chi Short Form that I teach consists of 32 distinct moves (some of them repeated). I’m a big fan of this form, and it gives me most of what I need to defend myself. But if someone attacks me in an unusual way, like with a weird jumping kick for example, then I might need to use another technique. That’s why there are more advanced Tai Chi forms.
In addition to all of the techniques that we need for self defense, we also need techniques for building strength, flexibility, and internal power. So for martial artists, the number is probably going to be higher than 24.
How Many Do You Know?
Many of you reading this article probably know a bunch of Qigong exercises already, whether you learned them from me, or another teacher. I think it might be fun if you list them in the comments section below. It will be a good exercises for you, and it will be interesting for the rest of us as well!