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Time for another edition of Ask Me Anything! Here’s how it works:
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Let’s dive in!
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Acupuncture. Find a good practitioner that you trust, and get on a plan of care. Practicing qigong basically doubles the effectiveness of acupuncture.
- 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).
I struggled for years. But eventually, I created a steady practice regimen, including classical weaponry. Here are some things that worked for me:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I practiced on the roof. It wasn’t always easy to get access, but this is why it always pays to befriend your superintendent!
- 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.
– Tim (question #1)
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.
– Tim (2nd question)
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.
– Tim (3rd question)
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.
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!
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:
- There’s no escaping this problem, so you might as well embrace the process.
- Picking what you enjoy is always a good idea.
- Sometimes, it’s also good to practice the stuff you dislike because you probably need it.
- Set goals. If your goal is to develop flexibility, then you’ll need to practice flexibility exercises!
- Learn to trust your intuition.
- Ask your Sifu.
- Be grateful to have so many choices!
- Practice more.
- 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.