The look of shock on my face must have been pretty obvious.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
“Sorry, I’m fine,” I said. “Do you by any chance know what I do for a living?”
“Didn’t you say you were a teacher?”
“Yes — a qigong teacher,” I said.
This conversation happened while I was waiting in the security line at the airport in Costa Rica. The woman was a complete stranger, and just happened to be standing in front of me.
She had no idea about me or my work.
Two minutes earlier, with no prompting from me, she had started talking about the philosophy of qi.
“I’m taking a class on something called qigong,” she said. “Have you heard of it?”
I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. That’s why I looked shocked, and why it took me a moment to respond.
All Roads Lead to Qigong
Back in the 1990s, when I first started practicing qigong, no one knew about it. My conversation in the airport would have been inconceivable back then.
Today, more and more people are interested in learning about the Chinese concept of qi.
The philosophy of qi is ancient, and it runs through many arts, including:
- Qigong (and Neigong)
- All Styles of Internal Kung Fu (Including Tai Chi)
- Feng Shui
- Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Taoist Bedroom Arts
- Zen Meditation
If you want to learn more about qi, then sooner or later, all roads eventually lead to qigong.
And this makes sense because qigong translates to “the art of cultivating qi”.
Whether you are an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, a reiki master, an energy healer, a psychic, a yoga practitioner, an interior designer (who uses feng shui), a spiritualist, or even a pianist — you can benefit from learning about qi.
The 12 Things You Can Do With Your Qi
If you study qigong long enough, you’ll learn to do different things with your qi.
For example, you’ll learn how to circulate it in your body, and also how to direct it to your hands.
In short, there are only 12 different ways that you can cultivate the qi, and I’ll explain each of them here.
My goal with this article is to give you a quick overview of the differences between each dimension. Later, I’ll go into more depth, if this topic is of interest. (Leave me a comment below if you want me write more!)
Remember that the dimensions are not linear, but rather circular.
A lifelong practice of qigong will involve many laps through the 12 Dimensions, going deeper and deeper with each successive lap.
Also, remember that the 12 Dimensions are universal, meaning that they will apply to all schools of qigong.
Different schools may use different techniques and different terms, but the dimensions are still the same in essence.
Dimension 1: Discovering the Qi
To go deeply into qigong, you need to become more sensitive to the qi in general. In other words, you must discover the qi that already exists in and around your body. Discovering the qi is a gradual process of quieting the mind, relaxing the body, and heightening the internal awareness. In my school, we have a series of techniques that we poetically call Entering Zen. We Enter Zen every time we practice our 5-Phase Practice Routine.
Dimension 2: Circulating the Qi
The smooth flow of qi is critical for health and happiness. Once you learn the skill of circulating the qi, you’ll want to continue practicing it for the rest of your life. Circulating the qi is what brings fast results, especially in terms of pain management, improved digestion, emotional healing, and immune response. It’s also what makes you feel energized. In my school of qigong, the primary way that we circulate the qi is with a beautiful and rare technique called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow (phase 3 of the 5-Phase Practice Routine).
Dimension 3: Aligning the Qi
If your physical structure is not aligned, if your muscles, tendons, fascia, and ligaments aren’t working optimally, if your spine is unhealthy — then you’ll never master your qi. You need to gradually build strength, flexibility, and balance in order to realign your structure and thus your qi. Luckily, qigong helps people to accomplish this regardless of their fitness level or age. In my school, we use a variety of qigong techniques to align the qi, mainly from the 18 Luohan Hands.
Dimension 4: Gathering the Qi
Now that your qi is flowing well, you can start to work on gathering more of it. Qi is the main ingredient in this art, so having more of it is definitely useful! This skill also unlocks greater possibilities with the later dimensions, especially consolidating, transforming, and transmitting the qi. In my school, we use the Warrior Stances (zhan zhuang) as our fundamental method for gathering qi.
Dimension 5: Protecting the Qi
External factors can have a negative influence on your qi — the food you eat (or don’t eat), your lifestyle habits, your environment, even your finances. No matter how good you are at the other dimensions, no matter how much you practice, you’ll plateau in your development if you don’t protect your qi. In my school, I help students to improve their sleep hygiene, their diet, and also to get rid of negative habits (like smoking).
Dimension 6: Purifying the Qi
Whereas Protecting the Qi is focused on external influences (like the junk that we eat), Purifying is focused on internal influences (like the junk that we think). To reach higher levels of qi mastery, you must purify your thoughts and emotions. In my school, we have a variety of techniques and meditations for purifying, including 1% Forgiveness Meditation, Loving Kindness Meditation, The Gratitude Spark, The Five Animal Play, and Dispelling 1000 Thoughts.
Dimension 7: Mobilizing the Qi
Masters of the internal martial arts (like tai chi chuan) know how to mobilize or summon the qi in an instant. But it’s helpful to learn how to mobilize the qi even if you have no interest in martial arts. Mobilizing the qi is a more forceful expression of energy. This skill helps you to get in touch with the spirit of the peaceful warrior, which will make you more courageous, more decisive, and help you to draw better personal boundaries. In my school, we usually mobilize using techniques from The 18 Arhat Arts, and also One Finger Shooting Zen.
Dimension 8: Directing the Qi
You can’t call yourself a master of qi unless you can easily direct the qi to any part of your body, including any organ. Although this may sound fantastic to beginners and skeptics, it’s actually a natural progression. Most students can do this easily after 6-9 months of dedicated practice. In my school, we use different techniques to direct the qi to different areas. For example, we use Nourishing Kidneys to direct qi to the kidneys, Pushing Mountains to direct qi to the hands, and Separating Water to direct qi to the lungs.
Dimension 9: Consolidating the Qi
Gathering the qi isn’t enough; you also need to consolidate the qi in the major energy centers, or dantians. This dimension goes hand-in-hand with Gathering the Qi, but is more focused on storing the qi rather than just gathering it. If you’ve been practicing qigong or tai chi for years but still can’t feel the golden sphere of energy at dantian, then you need to spend more time consolidating. In my school, we do this in phase 4 of the 5-Phase Practice Routine. We also use other techniques, including Three Centers Merge, Dantian Breathing, and various visualization techniques.
Dimension 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 dimension. Some schools differentiate between qigong (energy cultivation) and neigong (internal cultivation), but that’s just semantical. The two best techniques for this are the Small Universe and the Big Universe.
Dimension 11: Unifying the Qi
The longer you cultivate your qi, the more often you’ll merge with the cosmos, often without even trying. Most meditative traditions aim for a blissful state of union with the infinite, the Tao, Shiva, the cosmos, or God. Sitting meditation is a great way to access this state. If you already have a sitting meditation practice, practicing the previous 10 Dimensions will take it to a whole new level. In my school, we also use Sinew Metamorphosis techniques and the Small Universe to unify the qi.
Dimension 12: Transmitting the Qi
In the 12th dimension, we complete the cycle by giving energy back to your fellow humans. Qi can be transmitted from the hands, and also from the heart. When I teach, when I share these beautiful arts with others, I’m transmitting qi from my heart. I also do hands-on healing, but to this always compliments my teaching. To me, teaching a d healing are yin and yang, and they should always go together. In my school, techniques for transmitting the qi for the purposes of healing include: The Sword Finger, Cosmos Palm, and One Finger Zen.
Understanding Skill vs. Technique
As you learn about the 12 Dimensions, make sure that you understand the difference between skill and technique.
Here’s the simplest way to understand the difference:
Techniques are visible; skills are not.
When we’re talking about the 12 Dimensions, we’re talking about skills. Like most skills, they are largely invisible.
For example, if I direct the qi to my index finger, you probably won’t notice. (Some students seem to be able to “see” the qi, but let’s leave this aside for the moment.)
On the other hand, if I use a qigong technique called Shooting Arrows, the physical form is pretty obvious. My body is moving in a particular way (see below), and it’s visible.
In other words, Shooting Arrows is a great technique for the skill of directing the qi to the index finger. But the skill and the technique are separate.
Let’s look at 3 simple examples to drive this point home:
Example #1: Mary is performing the qigong technique called Shooting Arrows, but she is unable to direct the qi to her index finger even though the physical form of the exercise is correct.
Example #2: Laura is performing the qigong technique called Shooting Arrows, and she is able to direct the qi to her index finger.
Example #3: Jane is standing upright and motionless with her eyes closed. She is not performing the technique Shooting Arrows, but she is nonetheless able to direct the qi to her index finger.
Can you see how the technique and the skill are different? Can you see how one can happen (or not happen) with the other?
One final example: I can use the qigong technique called Pushing Mountains for Dimensions 1 (Discovering), 2 (Circulating), 4 (Gathering), 8 (Directing), and 12 (Transmitting).
To you, it would all look the same. It would just look like Pushing Mountains.
To me, Pushing Mountains would feel totally different depending on what I’m doing with the qi.
The 12 Dimensions are a useful way to understand the various classical skills of qigong.
Regardless of the style of qigong that you practice, you can conceptualize the skills using the 12 Dimensions of Qi Mastery.
This will help you to master the qi. And when you master the qi, you master not only your health and vitality, but your entire life.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Did you find this helpful? Do you have any questions? Go ahead and leave a comment below! Best regards, 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.