The Simple Truth About Qigong Visualization

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yin-yang-cloudVisualization is a central teaching in many qigong schools, as well as some meditation schools.  Without visualization, the theory goes, you can’t get results. Even beginners are taught this philosophy.

I understand where these schools are coming from,  but based on my experience, I can confidently say that they are wrong.

I know, I know — blasphemy!  I’m sure to ruffle some feathers with this article.  But I always prefer to speak the truth as I see it, even if it gets me into trouble.  So what have I seen?  After observing thousands of students over a couple decades, I can easily concluded the following:  You can get truly amazing results without using any visualization whatsoever.

“Impossible!” some will say.  But it’s not.  The fact is that my students get better results without visualization than most do with.   So what’s going on here?  Before I answer that question, let’s deal with another question:  What is visualization?

What is Visualization?

Probably the easiest way to understand visualization is to try it. Close your eyes (not yet, silly!) and imagine entering your kitchen, walking to the refrigerator, and opening the door with your hand.  Can you feel the exact amount of pressure needed to open it?  What about closing the door?  What does that feel like?

Congratulations!  You just used visualization.  This exercise illustrates the first problem with visualization — the word itself.  Visualization isn’t really a visual thing.  It’s more of a visceral feeling, similar to the feeling of opening your fridge.  If you simply see yourself opening your refrigerator door in your mind’s eye, then you’re not using visualization.

When practicing visualization, many students — and also many teachers — make the mistake of trying to see something.  They try to see the energy coming in from the cosmos, or they try to see the energy flowing along a meridian. In the end, they’re not really doing visualization.  But it gets even worse.

Don’t Make This Mistake

This kind of incorrect visualization creates mental tension, which is completely counterproductive.  If you’ve read my free eBook, then you understand the difference between the Monkey Mind and the Zen Mind.  The Monkey mind is familiar to all of us — it’s the constant stream of thoughts that we can’t seem to shut off.  In order to get results from energy arts like Qigong, Tai Chi, Meditation, and even Yoga, you must learn to quiet the Monkey Mind.  That’s when the Zen Mind starts to blossom.

When you visualize incorrectly, you end up thinking — which is exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish.  In other words, you are feeding tasty fruit to your Monkey Mind rather than nurturing your Zen Mind.  And if you’re not nurturing your Zen Mind, then you’re not getting the results that you deserve.

(If you want to experience the Zen Mind for yourself, then try my free audio lesson here.)


If you’re a beginner, or even and intermediate student, then you will get much better results by leaving visualization aside, and simply nurturing your Zen Mind.  Later, once you’ve built up some skill, then you can add visualization if you like.

Or not.  You can go the rest of your life without ever using visualization and still get amazing results that will wow your friends and frustrate your enemies.  Don’t let anyone convince you that you need visualization.  You don’t.

Gently, Gently, Gently!

There’s another problem with visualization — it must be done gently.  Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.  Even talented, well-trained students make the mistake of visualizing too forcefully. And if you visualize too forcefully, you  actually create energy blockages in your body (yikes!).

The truth is that you’re going to make mistakes when first learning how to visualize.  No matter how many times I say “gently, gently, gently,” you’re going to force it anyway.  It’s part of the learning process.  Students desperately want to experience the technique, so they try too hard, even when they’re told not to.

Thankfully, we have a built-in safety net in my school.  It’s called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. If we accidentally create a blockage through forced visualization, this wonderful technique will automatically and quickly clear it.  But if you don’t know this technique, then you won’t clear the blockage.  If you do visualization daily, but you don’t know Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow, then you may be creating blockages faster than you’re eliminating them. In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a bad thing.

Is Visualization Useless?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the art of visualization, and I use it regularly.  But then again, I’ve been doing this stuff for decades, I’ve already gotten great results, and I’m fit as a fiddle.   I use visualization because it enhances my practice, not because I need it.  Meanwhile, most of my students do great without it.

If you’ve been practicing for a while and getting great results, then you may be ready to add visualization.  (Of course it goes without saying that you need to learn it from a master, not from the Internet.) Visualization is necessary for advanced techniques like Cosmic Shower, Bone Marrow Cleansing, and the Small Universe.  If you’re using visualization, just remember: keep it visceral, and keep it gentle.  If you’re not thoroughly enjoying the exercise, you’re doing something wrong.

If you have any questions about visualization in general, or specific visualizations that you’ve heard about, please feel free to post them 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 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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9 Responses to The Simple Truth About Qigong Visualization

  1. Fred Chu August 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Yikes, I’ve heard about the dangerous visualization you mentioned. In fact, that method appears in all manner of New Age books that were popular when I was in high school about turn years ago. A book belonging to a pal of mine, written by someone claiming to be a sorceress descended from European circles, and aimed at “New Age Wiccans,” advised sitting in the lotus position and visualizing earth energy entering from the ground, through the perineum, and up the spine through the Indian chakras. I was confused about the mish-mash, to say the least!

    There is an instructor here in the area who claims descent from the Cheng Man Ching lineage of Taijiquan. I chatted with an acquaintance of mine just yesterday and noticed that her “lazy eye,” which was quite severe about three years ago, is almost completely resolved now, and I know for a fact that the instructor does not tell his students to visualize (they don’t formally go into chi flow after their hour-long qigong sessions, but I guess some benefits did accumulate over three years). Rather interesting!

  2. Megan August 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    I have only rarely forced myself to visualize, however in some of my meditations visualizations just come to me. I have found that during these times if I start to focus on the visualizations or get distracted by them I am almost forced out of them feels kind of like a rubber band being released. When meditating I find myself getting caught up in the visualizations wanting them to be there and thus not allowing myself to fully enter what you would call the zen mind, but as soon as I realize that I am doing this I retreat and try again to relax and center.

  3. Quinn C. MacKenzie Hale August 22, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    Great article. I enjoyed it very much.

  4. Xavier Espinosa student of shaolin wahnam ecuador August 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Dear Sifu Anthony,
    Your post is very enlightning and the points you make are clear and simple like feel it, don’t think you feel it and do it gently. It would be a perfect illustration of “simple but not easy” 🙂
    I’m grateful of this incredible post because as a shaolin whanam student, this topic comes naturally along at some point.

    Would i be correct if a resume your post in an analogy : before running, learn walking, enjoy it, enjoy the countryside and if you want it, run time to time as to enjoy a diferent and stronger way of walking (or maybe go quicker? ) But if you didn’t learn how to walk, the running will be too strong for your body and you will have a health problem due to your runnning.
    It seems a bit easy but if we are talking of pure energy, it would be working i believe.

    I’m just a simple student 🙂

    Just many thanks for your great post!

  5. Mary Bast August 23, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    This blog post is so true for me, that I have to embody “visualization” and not just “see” it. While I’ve many times, with many qigong practices, experienced viscerally the beautiful presence of chi, for more than 2-1/2 years I had been dutifully practicing but not enjoying Plucking Stars — staying in my head with it (“Yeah, yeah, this is supposed to cure my digestive problems”). Then one night last week, You said, “FEEL the ball of chi” and I FELT so much energy between my hands it nearly knocked me over. That has continued for a week. Thank you, Sifu.

  6. George April 20, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    Great Post Sifu Anthony

    I agree with you on the idea of visualizations, at least for a beginner and while visualizations may be true, the visualzation itself is what the meditation masters of chikung have found through hardwork and in order for us newcomers to profoundly appreciate these visualizations in our chikung routines we really aught to work hard for it and not through meditation otherwise, as you say, it will end up exacerbating our monkey minds even further.

    However having said that I read in one of Sifu Wong’s books, the art of chikung, one of his very first chi-kung routines but more of a breathing exercise. He says to place palms on tantien area and breath in chi to a golden chi ball, at our lower tantien, and exhale anything bad (grey, cloudy) in abdominal breathing. Sifu ANthony I believe you also refer to this ‘dantien’ Breathing’ as one of the first exercises to start with before progressing to more advanced chi-kung’s.

    I’m just wondering how you would reconcile the visualizations mentioned above, mentioned in Sifu Wong’s books, with this article especially considering this is what a beginner would be starting of with.

    I’m not trying to be picky here but rather looking for clarification and rather can and should this fundamental beginner exercise in ‘dantien breathing’ be performed without the visualizations so that eventually the student should be able to see the golden ball at dantien and breathing out negative emotions and toxins in the form of grey/cloudy colours, once they have sufficiently learned to let go?

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais April 24, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      Hi George. My Sifu’s books were written almost 2 decades ago. The teaching methodology has changed considerably since that time. The technique called “Abdominal Breathing” is no longer taught to beginners — neither by him, nor by me. The new teaching methodology, which doesn’t involve visualization, gets better results in less time.

      • stephen potter October 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

        good to know, i had just got the book and was confused by the instruction on the abdominal breathing, now i think i can leave it out

        however been doing lifitng the sky and carry the moon for a few weeks now and am amazed at how good they make my Qi feel

        thank you so much

  7. Nick July 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    This is actually fairly motivating to me as I have never been able to visualize anything. Not a single image can be produced in my mind, not my parents nor something that I’ve stared for an hour before closing my eyes and concentrating on it. I’ve been working around visualizing, but have been worried that it may be to important to possibly ignore.

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