Why do you practice Qigong?
Hopefully, you’ve got a bunch of goals, like getting rid of chronic pain, or increasing your energy levels.
That’s great. If you know me, then you know that I’m a big fan of setting specific goals.
However, your #1 Qigong goal should be something overarching, something grand and noble, something that inspires you not just for the short run but for the long haul.
In other words, your #1 goal should be to become a master of Qi.
Master Your Qi, Master Your Life
If we look back through history, we find that Qigong masters had certain skills — like being able to tap Qi from the Cosmos, direct the Qi to any part of their body, or even project Qi outside of the body.
I developed the 12 Phases of Qi Mastery to help students understand the skills they need in order to master Qigong (and also Tai Chi).
These 12 Phases are my own invention, but they are based on classical ideas and skills. I was also inspired by a modern Qigong master named Roger Jahnke, who created his own 10-phase version in his book The Healing Promise of Qi.
The 12 Phases are meant to help you gain perspective on your own Qigong practice.
Reading through the 12 Phases, you will probably notice that you need to work on certain phases more than others. Some of you will be completely unfamiliar with certain phases — a sure sign that you need to spend time with that particular skill.
Introducing the 12 Phases
The 12 Phases should NOT be viewed as linear. Instead, view them as a spiral. Imagine each phase is a position on a clock.
Now imagine making many laps through the 12 Phases, but in a spiraling motion, like this:
For example, I’ve circled through all 12 Phases several times. I continue to do laps around the spiral, and expect to do so for the rest of my life. Each lap brings me new insights into the art of Qigong.
You can even jump around a bit. Although I’ve arranged them in a meaningful order, they can absolutely be practiced out of order. These days, I jump around the phases quite often.
As a general rule, it’s safe to skip a few phases on your first lap through the cycle. Once you’ve completed a full lap, then you can jump around in any way that feels productive.
The 12 Phases of Qi Mastery are as follows:
- Phase 1: Discovering the Qi
The very first step is to become aware of Qi. If you’re a beginner, then you must discover the Qi that exists in your own body. To do that, you’ll need to learn to clear your mind, relax your body, and heighten your awareness. (Examples: Head-to-Toe Relaxation, Smiling from the Heart, Entering Zen.)
- Phase 2: Circulating the Qi
The smooth flow of Qi is critical for health and happiness. Once you learn how to do it, you’ll want to continue circulating the Qi through your body for the rest of your life, not only because it will keep you healthy, but also because it will make you feel great! (Examples: Lifting the Sky, Carrying the Moon, Heaven and Earth, Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow.)
- Phase 3: Gathering the Qi
Now that your Qi is flowing well, you can start to work on on gathering more of it. Qi is the main ingredient in Qigong, so having more of it is definitely useful! (Examples: Hugging the Tree, Pushing Mountains, Golden Bridge, Lifting Water Dantian Breathing.)
- Phase 4: Aligning the Qi
If your physical structure is not aligned, if your muscles, tendons, and ligaments aren’t working optimally, then you’ll never master your Qi. You need to build strength, flexibility, and balance in order to realign your structure and your Qi. (Examples: Three Levels to Earth, Dancing Crane, Dancing Fairies, Old Monk Removing Shoes)
- Phase 5: Protecting the Qi
No matter how good you are at the other phases, you’ll plateau in your development if you don’t also protect your Qi. External factors can have a major influence on your Qi — the food you eat (or don’t eat), your lifestyle habits, your environment, even your finances. (Examples: eliminating toxins, improving sleep, building good habits, Willpower Qigong, avoiding negative energy, etc.) Note: I’ll be writing about this topic a lot in 2015.
- Phase 6: Purifying the Qi
To reach higher levels of health and vitality, you must work to purify your thoughts, emotions, and your energy. Whereas “Protecting the Qi” is focused on external influences, this phase is focused on internal ones. (Examples: Five Animal Play, 1% Forgiveness, The Gratitude Spark, Focusing on One.)
- Phase 7: Mobilizing the Qi
Those who practice internal martial arts must learn how to summon up the Qi and mobilize it in an instant. If you don’t want to practice internal martial arts, you’ll still benefit from learning to mobilize your Qi. (Examples: Old Monk Grinding Rice, One Finger Zen.)
- Phase 8: Directing the Qi
You can’t call yourself a master of Qi unless you can easily direct the Qi to any part of the body, any organ, or any joint. (Example: Directing Qi to the Palms or Feet, Directing Qi to the Muscles, Massaging the Internal Organs, Bone Marrow Cleansing.)
- Phase 9: Consolidating the Qi
To reach higher levels of mastery, you need to consolidate the Qi in the major energy centers (especially the the lower dantian). This phase goes hand-in-hand with Gatering the Qi, but is more focused on storing the Qi rather than just gathering it. (Examples: Dantian Breathing, Holding the Full Belly, Three Centers Merge, Cosmos Palm.)
- Phase 10: Transforming the Qi
The Small Universe (or Microcosmic Orbit) is a famous Qigong technique for transforming Qi (Energy) into Jing (Essence) and Shen (Spirit). In many ways, all other forms of Qigong are child’s play compared to this phase. (Example: The Gentle Small Universe, The Forceful Small Universe.)
- Phase 11: Unifying the Qi
This is the wonderful, spiritual side of Qigong. The more you master your Qi, the more you’ll merge with the energy of the Cosmos. (Examples: Standing Zen, Sinew Metamorphosis, Sitting Meditation, Cosmos Breathing.)
- Phase 12: Transmitting the Qi: Qi can be transmitted from the hands for healing, and also from the heart during teaching. You can even transmit Qi through public speaking. During this phase, you will complete the cycle by giving energy back to your fellow humans. (Examples: Opening Vital Points, teaching Lifting The Sky, Transmitting Qi, Radiating Loving Kindness.)
Skill vs. Technique
In our modern world, we often confuse skill and technique. They are different.
The easiest way to understand the difference is like this: Techniques are visible but skills are invisible.
For example, Pushing Mountains is a wonderful Qigong technique. The technique itself is visible — the way you move the arms, the breathing, the stance.
But directing Qi to the energy field in the palm of the hand (called laogong) is a skill. You can develop this skill by practicing lots of Pushing Mountains. But if you’re skillful, you can direct the Qi to the palms without Pushing Mountains.
It is entirely possible to do all 12 Phases with less than 12 techniques. For example, we can use Pushing Mountains for Discovering (Phase 1), Gathering (Phase 3), Consolidating (Phase 9), and Transmitting (Phase 12).
This is why I love the classification of the 12 Phases — because it helps us to focus on what really counts, i.e. skill. In the 21st century, many people know a lot of different Qigong techniques. But how many different skills have they mastered?
The 12 Phases are a helpful way to conceptualize the fundamental skills that Qigong masters had in the past — and that we hope to attain in the 21st century. I sincerely hope that this classification will help Qigong practitioners of all styles to better master their energy.
In 2015, I’ve incorporated these 12 Phases into my classes in Gainesville. I plan to blog about the various phases as the year goes on.
For the time being, these 12 Phases will only be taught in the classes in Gainesville. In the future, I might consider doing workshops on each level.
What do you think? Do you find the organization of the 12 Phases useful? Let me know if the comments below!Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.