Ask Me Anything [March 2016 Edition]

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Time for another edition of Ask Me Anything! Here’s how it works:

  • Click here to submit a question for a future edition.
  • I’ll answer your question in an upcoming edition of Ask Me Anything.
  • Click here to read more about why asking questions (not just reading answers) is so crucial.
  • Comment below if you have follow-up questions, even if the original question wasn’t your own.
  • Comment, like, or share this blog post if you’d like to see more of the same in the future.

Let’s dive in!

 Why are there so many forms, each with their own names, if the form is the least important part of what we do? Was it to keep us busy while we figured out what is important?

– Wendy

If you’re asking why there are so many forms in my school, then the answer is simple: Because I am a freak. I remember every exercise I’ve ever learned from a dozen different masters over 25 years.

Or maybe you were asking why there are so many qigong exercises in general? There are literally thousands of different exercises from hundreds of different styles. Why so many?

Remember that there is a long tradition of secrecy in China. Qigong techniques were covertly passed down from master to student, with strict rules about who you could or couldn’t share techniques with.

I know of traditional masters today who are still sworn to an oath of secrecy.

Past masters might go their entire lives only seeing a handful of qigong exercises. Because of this, innovation also happened in secrecy, leading variations on basic themes.

Why do the exercises have such poetic names? Interestingly, many masters were illiterate. They couldn’t write them down the exercises they had learned even if they wanted to.

This is one reason why the exercises were given beautiful, poetic names. Often those names would give you a reminder of the technique. For example, Lifting The Sky gives you a clue about what the exercise is doing.


A classical drawing from the Qing Dynasty.

Look at this classical drawing from the Qing Dynasty. This exercise is called “Raise Head Wag Tail”. Drawings like this were often made by the rare, literate master who wanted to record exercises for memory and for posterity. An exercise like this had probably been practiced for generations without any written record whatsoever.

Or maybe you were asking why I teach so many different exercises?  Variety is the spice of life! Students seem to benefit from learning a variety of different forms, as long as they remember not to make this mistake

Mandy here, looking for some guidance in your experience with Anxiety and Depression. Faithfully practicing the 15 minute technique as taught. How long does it take to see some results in your students, and yourself when you were going through it? I recognize each case is different. Just looking for a general sense. Need some moral support right now, been experiencing panic attacks on a daily basis for 3 months now.

– Mandy 

I’m so sorry you’re having panic attacks. I know what that’s like, and I know it feels awful.

I’ve seen it take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for students to start seeing results with their anxiety. Here are some suggestions to help you tame the panic attacks sooner:

  1. Play. Preferably outdoors, and preferably with other people. I’ve heard of people healing decades-old anxiety by actually scheduling more play into their weekly routine.
  2. Sleep. This one is hard because anxiety typically makes it hard to sleep. But prioritize it as much as possible. There are lots of articles about sleep hacking out there. Try some of those tricks.
  3. Gratitude. Practice this whenever the anxiety is low. It can be done when anxiety is high, but it’s much harder. You’ve got some recordings in the Flowing Zen Online Academy, and there’s also this article here.
  4. Acupuncture. Find a good practitioner that you trust, and get on a plan of care. Practicing qigong basically doubles the effectiveness of acupuncture.
  5. Mindfulness. Another way to say this is — no multitasking. Pay complete attention to whatever you’re doing, whether it is typing on a computer or brushing your teeth. This is not even remotely easy, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.

Hang in there. It gets better. Perhaps the most important message for people suffering from depression and anxiety is that there’s hope.

Keep on trucking, and please keep me posted about your progress (which I know will come soon).

Thank you for this Q&A forum. I have been a student of Tai Chi for 3 years now. I live in a small apartment in NY and I do not have the space needed to practice my Tai Chi and weapons. Or… that is the excuse I use to NOT practice. I am always late in the morning getting out of bed and late coming home from work so I don’t feel like doing anything when I get home. Do you have any tips on how I might get into better habits in practicing my Tai Chi? Thank you.

– Diane

I’m a New Yorker, so I know ALL about these troubles. I’ve lived in apartments in NYC smaller than my SUV!

I struggled for years. But eventually, I created a steady practice regimen, including classical weaponry. Here are some things that worked for me:

  1. I abandoned all hope of fitting the forms into my apartment. I desperately wanted to run through traditional forms start to finish, but it just didn’t work. Instead, I just practiced a part of the form over and over.
  2. I practice the Shaolin Staff in my hallway. I just did 4-5 moves that would fit in the long hallway. But I practiced the hell out of them. My neighbors got used to it.
  3. I practiced the Shaolin Saber in my studio apartment. I was afraid to swing a sword in the hallway, so I picked out the moves that fit inside my tiny apartment, and I practiced the hell out of them.
  4. I practiced on the roof. It wasn’t always easy to get access, but this is why it always pays to befriend your superintendent!
  5. I practiced outside whenever the weather was good. All summer long, I would trek to the nearest park and practice at dawn.

The picture at the top of this post is an old one of me practicing in my apartment in NYC. Notice the weapons on the wall and on the floor!

Your 2nd question is actually another issue — the big subject of habit building. You’re struggling to build good practice habits. Welcome to the club!

Seriously, it happens to all of us. The trick is to gain momentum, bit by bit. It sounds to me like you’re trying to bite off more than you can chew. Just do 2 minutes in the morning. Start there.

Also, learn more about willpower. This article may change your life: Tips from a Kung Fu Master: Willpower Isn’t What You Think

Let me just add that when I finally moved into an apartment with 2 rooms, I dedicated 1 room to practicing qigong and tai chi. This made a huge difference, and really helped with habit building.

Could you tell us about your history or progress of sensitivity to feel chi? I practice for almost two years now and I don’t really feel chi, but I know that there has to be something because of chi flow. Sometimes I think I can feel Dantien or my finger when I do One Finger Zen. I’m especially interested in the history of you feeling dantien (that article is actually how I found your blog.)

– Tim (question #1)

My own progress with feeling energy (or qi) was pretty slow — much slower than most of my students today.

I didn’t feel much at first, or at least I didn’t think I did. I kept second-guessing myself. I was definitely overthinking it.

But I kept at it, and I’m glad I did. I honestly believe that anyone who keeps practicing will start to feel energy eventually.

The progression is usually as follows: first you feel it in hands, then in other parts of the body, and eventually you start to feel it in dantian.

These days, my students usually feel qi within 1 year at the most. There’s something about my particular approach to teaching that seems to help students feel qi faster. I recommend that you take my next online workshop if you want to speed up your sensitivity to qi.

The next question is about the Chi Kung State of Mind. For me, it is really hard to have no active thoughts. Do you have any tips?

– Tim (2nd question)

First, let me fix some terminology. I don’t use the term “chi kung (qigong) state of mind”. I prefer the term “Zen mind”.

You’re finding it really hard to have “no active thoughts” because it’s impossible. Stop trying to have no thoughts. Even masters can’t do that.

Once you stop shooting for “no active thoughts”, things will get much easier. Think of the monkey mind like the volume knob on a car radio. If you can turn the volume down a few notches, then you’re doing fine. A master might turn it down a few more notches. But no one can turn it off completely.

Furthermore, I’d also like to know how hard it was for you. I don’t know much about depression, but I assume that Smiling From Your Heart was hard for you because of that? Am I right that if you can do both Chi Kung State of Mind and Smiling From Your Heart during your practice you are a master and that it is normal not to be able to do it during my whole routine?

– Tim (3rd question)

Learning Smiling from the Heart (a qigong technique, for those who don’t know it) was extra hard for me as a depressive. But I did it, which means anyone can do it too.

It’s normal for people to struggle with this technique, whether they are depressive or not. Your experience sounds perfectly normal, and I wouldn’t worry about it.

However, I think your ideas about “mastery” could use some tweaking.

There is no clear dividing line when it comes to mastery. I would suggest that you avoid black and white thinking like “if ___ then you are a master.”

If you’d like to read more about the concept of mastery, then this article may be of interest. 

I would like to know: how do you know what to train? You probably know more than one Qi Gong set and a lot of Taijiquan moves. Then there is meditation and standing like a tree. How do you decide what to practice?

– Angelika

Hi Angelika.

You’re not the only one struggling to figure out what to practice.

I know about a dozen different qigong sets, totaling over 200 exercises. I also know about dozen more tai chi and Shaolin kung fu sets. Plus weapons forms. (You might want to read my article: How Many Qigong Exercises Do You Know?)

Yikes! Now I’m stressed out too!

IMG_3282 (1)

A recent image of me practicing the Shaolin Spear.

But seriously, lots of students struggle with this, even if they only know a few forms. It’s such a common problem that I wrote an entire article on the subject: Help! I Can’t Decide What to Practice!

Here’s the summary:

  1. There’s no escaping this problem, so you might as well embrace the process.
  2. Picking what you enjoy is always a good idea.
  3. Sometimes, it’s also good to practice the stuff you dislike because you probably need it.
  4. Set goals. If your goal is to develop flexibility, then you’ll need to practice flexibility exercises!
  5. Learn to trust your intuition.
  6. Ask your Sifu.
  7. Be grateful to have so many choices!
  8. Practice more.
  9. When in doubt, just Lift The Sky.

The most important thing is to practice something, even if it’s just one or two exercises. Don’t let indecision stop you from enjoying these arts! 

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 to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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3 Responses to Ask Me Anything [March 2016 Edition]

  1. Jim Carpenter March 9, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Seeing that Mandy has been having panic attacks every day for 3 months, one might also suggest that she seek professional counseling. There are professional therapists out there – specializing in behavior modification, *not* medication – who can help Mandy by giving her specific techniques and working with her on a weekly basis. I know someone who was practicing qigong with a leading master for years and who started having panic attacks. It was a local psychologist who gave him the techniques he needed to put the attacks to rest.

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais March 9, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

      Thanks for that addition, Jim. CBT and behavior modification can certainly be helpful for anxiety. I didn’t mean to leave them off my list.

      I need to remember that a lot of these AMA conversations happen behind the scenes, and that advice for one person (in this case, Mandy) isn’t alwasy applicable to every person. Of course, I always encourage people to use a team of health professionals.

      Glad that your friend found relief!

  2. fthong March 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm #

    Mandy – try meditation/relaxation response/self hypnosis. I believe it is the quickest way to solve your problem without spending too much dosh.
    Tim – you should be able feel “chi” in your first lesson. It should not take years. However to be able to use “it” will take time and effort!

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