Visualization is a central teaching in many qigong 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 amazing results without visualization.
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. They’re just thinking with their eyes closed.
Don’t Make This Mistake
This kind of incorrect visualization creates mental tension, which is completely counterproductive.
You need to 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.
Look at the 12 Skills of Qi Cultivation. If you’ve practice the first 4 skills well enough, then you’re probably ready.
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 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.