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!Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong (pronounced "chee gung") to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Today, I'm the director of Flowing Zen, an international organization with students in 48 counties. I've been teaching qigong since 2005, I've served on the board for the National Qigong Association, and I’ve helped thousands of people to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. If you're ready to get started with qigong, there's no better way than my best selling book, which comes with free videos and meditations. The sooner you read my book, the sooner you can start healing! Click here to see my book on Amazon.
I find this way of thinking, with the 12 phases, pretty helpful. I can definitely identify how many of these phases have been involved in my practice over the years. It also gives me a clue of where I would like to focus my practice for a little while. I have a feeling I’m drawn to certain phases right now because it’s exactly what I need at this time!
Jordan Siegel says
Thank you for this insightful article. It is my commitment to become a Master of Qi. I see being a Master of Qi as building the foundation to a life where I create my destiny in every aspect of my life.
One of my favorite quotes was authored by Tony Robbins, “Simply find someone who has already achieved what you want, and do exactly what they do.”
In that spirit Sifu, how can one who does not regularly attend your classes in Gainesville, but has access to you through your online academy, structure their practice in such a way that they spiral around these 12 phases and become a Master of Qi?
I will earn the honor through effort and persistence, I am simply looking for the map.
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Hi Jordan. The most important phases are 2 (circulating) and 3 (gathering). Honestly, these two form the basis for all other development. So get really good at those!
Some of the skills, like phase 4 (aligning) can be learned online. Others, like transforming (phase 10) need to be done face to face.
I’m trying to figure out the best way to help people gain these skills. It’s going to be some sort of combination of online learning, workshops, and retreats.
Costa Rica is a good place to teach these skills, and I may very well arrange this summer’s retreat according to the 12 Phases. If so, then we will be able to cover 5-6 of them during the retreat.
peter m levine (Ishandas) says
“I see being a Master of Qi as building the foundation to a life where I create my destiny in every aspect of my life.”
What you have stated is more of a western orientation, or, a misunderstanding of our constitutional interdependence with the cosmic matrix of life. To be a “master”of qi is not to become a controller; but rather to become an instrument of the cosmos in the service of all, in so many ways. It is this very quality of voluntary maleability, that enables us to be a channel for the beneficial harnessing and constructive use of qi in our own lives and in the lives of others. In truth there is no separation. The more we become servants of qi, instruments of qui, the more we come to understand that my well-being is inseparable from the well-being of all….. this is to be come a master of qi. The real master of qi is one who has become a master of reining in his self-centered orientation, and adept as a servant to all. Otherwise, the misappropriation of ki for self-centered ambitions will be the acceleration of our own undoing. This is a law of qi.
Del Rodriguez says
Awesome article, and a timely one for me as I have been contemplating the steps I need to take in order to advance in my practice. Thank you for organizing this in an accessible and understandable way.
I echo Jordan’s question. How can an Academy/Distance student organize and structure their practice so as to progress through these phases. Would you ever consider structuring the Online Academy so as to teach students the “12-Phase Process”?
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
Del, see my answer to Jordan above. But to answer your question, I don’t see a problem SUPPORTING some of the advanced phases through online learning, but I for now, I envision the actual learning process happening in person.
In other words, I can imagine teaching a workshop on the Small Universe, and then supporting those students with online learning afterward. Make sense?
Bob Carpenter says
I got into Qigong to help address some health issues. As a result, part of my personal focus has been identifying and looking for ways to clear blockages or stagnation. That way, balance is possible. Once you’ve started down the path to balance, your 12 steps make sense.
excellent article Sifu. I would agree circulating is very important and its the main one that all others mostly depend on. Its both fundamental and difficult given that others you have listed depend on circulation. But that does not mean circulation is not advanced just because it is before of those others’. It take a long while to get it going to everywhere in the body.
Bill Putman says
Betty Stonesifer says
I am a beginner, so having this information will keep me focused on learning the phases properly without leaving one out. I have a tendency to forget details after a workshop. Thank you .
Sifu Anthony Korahais says
I’m glad you find it helpful, Betty!
Hello Sifu Anthony! I have been practicing discovering, circulating, and gathering qi. Usually I feel something in my Dan Tian, sometimes it’s like a warm sphere or a cold sphere. After jogging today, I felt my Qi concentrated near the back of my right kidney rather than in my Dan Tian. I also can’t move the Qi back into my lower abdomen or circulate the Qi. Is that normal?
peter levine (Ishan das) says
Provides an excellent sense of direction; but at the same time it is somewhat intimidating because it indicates several years of consistent practice (at least) in order to get a good handle on the skills.
Looking over the list, I see that you have already brought some of the purifying aspects into focus. But regarding the protective aspects, from what I can see, one of the biggest problems is diet. I have been a vegetarian since my mid-twenties. Since that time, I have taken no recreational drugs, no caffeine, no alcohol. And I don’t eat meat, fish, fowel, or eggs. I don’t touch sugar. I have gone vegan in the last few years. Today I’m 74 and I don’t use any medications what-so-ever. I know that many or most people my age are on so many meds with so many side-effects. And as far as I can understand the average western diet is not only making people terribly ill, but killing them as well (tons of evidence). But so far I do not see that you are discussing these things with us. Is it because it is too sensitive an issue, or because from your experience, people don’t listen to this kind of talk, so you have decided not to bother about it?
I suspect that the later phases, like the microcosmic orbit are simply too advanced for a course like this. A person like myself is just beginning to sense the chi, sometimes localized, here and there, and sometimes just feeling really “high”, and not knowing how to store it, etc. But I would like to have some idea of where the course can take me (assuming I’m an average student)
I also suspect that if I ever get to the stage where I am concerned with consolidating, transforming, and unifying……it will be time for getting on a plane. Am I correct?
In any case, even the little I am learning and experiencing is very encouraging and very enjoyable. Thank you so much, Anthony (Anyone call you Tony?)
Devar Johnson says
Yes this article is very helpful! I’m a US Marine, and have been practicing Vipassana for 9 yrs now. I recognize all of these phases as natural proccesses that occur. It was great to see them categorized and especially the distinction between technique vs skill. Naturally I’ve come into great skill, without a definitive Qigong technique. As the Qi becomes more tangible, finding a system of techniques is like finding a boat finally, as I’ve been wading in the vast. Thank you greatly Sifu.
Thank you. Elegantly put!