[Edit] June 2019: I’ve added 1 more crazy rule and 1 more good rule to my original post.
“Well, I guess qigong isn’t for me then,” I said out loud.
A woman standing across the aisle looked up at me for a moment, and then looked back at her book.
The year was 1996. I was in a bookstore in New York City, and I was thumbing through my first qigong book.
The crazy sentence that prompted me to make my comment went something like this:
Don’t practice qigong for 24-48 hours before or after having sex.
I was in my 20s, I had a serious girlfriend, and there was no way in hell that qigong was going to work for me if I had to follow that crazy sex rule.
“Sorry honey, but we can’t make love tonight because I did qigong yesterday,” I said quietly to myself.
Thankfully, the book didn’t completely turn me off of qigong. But it was a close call.
Crazy Qigong Rules
Identifying which rules are crazy is important.
Qigong saves lives. It saved mine. But in order to save lives, it must be practiced.
The #1 problem I see with qigong is that students struggle to practice. Rules that make this struggle worse are crazy and can be ignored.
It’s not that the rules have no merit. It’s risk vs. reward. When the risk of not-practicing outweighs the risk of breaking a rule, then we can ignore it.
Here are 5 rules that make it harder for beginners to practice, and can be safely ignored:
5 6 Crazy Rules That You Can Ignore
1. The no sex rule. The rule usually says not to practice qigong 24-48 hours before or after having sex. But it’s not even about sex; it’s about the ejaculation of semen and the subsequent loss of “essence”. If your body does not have the ability to ejaculate semen — well then you can basically ignore the rule. Even if it does, you can ignore this rule unless you are doing advanced martial or spiritual qigong.
2. The barefoot rule. One of my masters was adamant about not practicing barefoot outdoors. Another master encouraged it. My advice is to experiment with barefoot practice to see if it works for you. I wrote an entire article about my own experiences with this rule.
3. The noontime rule. Some masters say you should never practice at noon, but others say noon is one of the 4 best times to practice (dawn, noon, sunset, and midnight). Traditional Chinese Medicine agrees that noon is a bad time for vigorous exercise. This is because the heart meridian is active around noon. But practicing qigong at noon is fine as long as it’s gentle. Leave your vigorous internal kung fu practices for another time.
4. The not-while-angry rule. Several masters say you shouldn’t practice while angry. This makes me angry. I can safely say that this is bullshit. Qigong is excellent for anger management. For depressives, anger management is especially important, and they should absolutely ignore this rule. If you feel less angry after practicing qigong, then that’s a good thing.
5. The in-person rule. There’s no doubt that qigong is better in person. But some masters go so far as to say it can’t be learned online. This is untrue. It totally can. Yes, it would be better if a student could come to my retreat in Costa Rica and learn in a tropical paradise, but that’s not always possible. For someone struggling with serious health concerns (like major depression), it’s always better to start sooner than later. Learning online allows people to get started without leaving their home, and that’s a beautiful thing.
6. The no-peeing rule. In 2019, I learned about a rule I had never heard of before: Don’t pee for 30 minutes after qigong because qi is stored in the bladder and then circulates. I don’t know where this comes from, but I can’t think of anything in Chinese Medicine that talks about qi being stored in the bladder. In any case, we shouldn’t worry about losing qi — especially negative qi that needs to be excreted! Practicing qigong often gets things flowing. If you need to pee, go pee!
21 22 Non-Crazy Rules You Should Try to Follow
1. Enjoy yourself! If you follow one rule, follow this one. When in doubt, come back to this rule. The process of enjoying your qigong practice smooths out more kinks and solves more problems than any other rule I’ve ever found. You don’t even need to read the other rules because this is the one that really matters.
2. Fall down seven times, get up eight. This is actually a Japanese proverb, but it applies so often in qigong that I added it here. And I added it near the top because it’s so important. Everyone struggles with willpower. You’ll fall down. Get back up as many times as it takes. Eventually, the habit will stick. Trust me.
3. Get results. This should be obvious, but a lot of people forget this rule. You should be getting measurable results with your practice. For example, your blood pressure might go down, or your pain levels might drop by 50%. If you’re not getting results, then try another qigong method. Get the results that you deserve.
4. Make mistakes. The physical, visible form is the least important thing when it comes to healing with qigong. Worrying about something that doesn’t matter is silly. What makes this even more important is that worry blocks the flow of qi (or energy). Stop it. You’re human. Make mistakes, and don’t try to do the form perfectly. See rule #1.
5. Don’t overthink. This often overlaps with rule #4. If you are constantly thinking things like, “Do I breathe in 50%, or 65%?” then you are overthinking. Stop it. See Rule #1 for a solution.
6. Don’t breathe hard. Breathe gently. Although there are some forceful breathing methods in qigong, start with gentle breathing. How gentle? If you have to ask that question, then breathe gentler.
7. Relax your jaw. Your jaw should be so relaxed that the mouth hangs gently open (like you were taught NOT to do in school). Relaxing the jaw relaxes the entire nervous system (via the vagus nerve, for those who are curious). This rule is more important than it might seem.
8. Less is more. Some beginners are so enthusiastic that they practice for 2 hours a day. Of course, they burn out within a few weeks. With my qigong method, we focus on high-quality sessions that last about 10-15 minutes. This is totally doable, and gets great results.
9. Practice somewhere safe. We typically close our eyes during practice, so make sure the space around you is safe. Don’t practice on a cliff, for example. This rule is especially important for those who’ve learned Flowing Breeze Swaying Willows (a skill that I teach in my 101 program).
10. Avoid unclean spaces. The energy in bathrooms, cemeteries, and near garbage bins is unclean or negative for humans. This isn’t woo woo. It’s common sense. Going to these places is fine, but going into a meditative state to cultivate energy in these places — not good. Since it’s easy enough to find another space to practice, I’ve kept this rule. I understand that it’s sometimes convenient to sneak into the bathroom for quick stress relief, but just sneak outside instead.
11. Avoid thunderstorms. Not because you’ll get struck by lightning, but because the energy is too charged. I learned the importance of this rule the hard way when I moved to the lightning capital of the United States. Thunderstorms are so common in Florida that this really interfered with my practice. What I found was that I could count between the flash and the thunder. If I could count more than 30 seconds between them, then it was okay to practice. Otherwise, it was better to wait. (If I didn’t wait, then I would feel wired and might have trouble sleeping that night.)
12. Avoid strong winds. A gentle breeze is fine, but if the wind is too strong, it may disturb your energy. This follows the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s easy enough to avoid strong wind, so this rule is okay.
13. Air circulation matters. Practicing outdoors is better, but indoors is fine if you have good air circulation. When I lived in NYC, I opened the windows up wide, and turned on a fan, even in winter. Not great for the environment, perhaps, but better for my qi.
14. Practice in the morning. Ideally, we would all do a nice practice session at dawn. But it ain’t easy. A compromise for those who struggling in the morning is to do 2 minutes of Lifting The Sky. Start there. The thing about morning practice is that you set the tone for the entire day. And if you practice in the morning, you have the choice to practice again in the evening!
15. Be patient. Traditionally, many qigong masters would tell you to wait 3 years before getting results. My method is much faster, and I tell students to expect to start seeing results after 30 days of daily practice. But patience is still a virtue. Don’t expect to heal a 10-year-old chronic illness in 10 days.
16. Keep the eyes mostly closed. Look, we’re all easily distracted by shiny objects. Even beautiful scenery can distract us from our meditation. Try to keep your eyes gently closed, or at least mostly closed.
17. Be comfortable. Don’t become Goldilocks, but the temperature should be comfortable for you. Your clothing should also be comfortable. And your shoes. Everything should be as comfortable as possible.
18. Eat if you need to. The general rule is to leave 2 hours before or after eating. This will make morning practice impossible for some people. If you can’t relax with an empty stomach, then go eat! Most people find that they can practice comfortably 20-30 minutes after eating.
19. Aim for twice daily. The dosage is important in qigong. And for some reason, twice a day is more than twice as powerful. Practicing twice a day seems to create a momentum that you can’t get with once a day. Also, if you shoot for twice a day, you’ll still do once a day on bad days. If you shoot for once a day, you’ll skip practice entirely on bad days.
20. Don’t shower or bathe. Two of my teachers warned against showering or bathing right before or right after qigong. I’ve experimented with this for years, and I admit that there’s some truth to it. The water seems to affect the energy somehow. Don’t let this rule interfere with making qigong a habit, but once the daily habit is solid, experiment with creating more space between your shower and your practice. Or if you practice twice a day, then don’t worry since you’ll have at least one session that is shower free. I mention it here simply because I can’t dismiss this rule entirely, but please don’t worry about this. It’s a minor issue.
21. Experiment with when. Students often ask if they should do qigong before or after yoga/meditation/running. I’ve found that some students prefer to do qigong first, and then go for a run. Others prefer the exact opposite. Experiment, and find what works for you. If it’s a mind-body practice (like yoga), then you can count it as one of your daily practice sessions. For example, if you do yoga in the morning, and qigong in the evening — then it counts as a twice daily qigong practice.
22. Be skeptical. But stay open. Be skeptical of what qigong masters say (including me). But stay open. Stay open enough that you are willing to experiment. I was skeptical of qigong in the beginning, but I stayed open. And I’m so grateful that I did.
There you go. The modern rules of Qigong. Did I miss any? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. From the heart, Sifu Anthony