I’m getting tons of qigong questions directly related to the pandemic. I haven’t done an “Ask Sifu Anthony” post in a while, so I gathered 7 of these questions and compiled them here.
I mention the 5-Phase Routine a lot in this Q&A. A lot a lot.
Normally, I would reserve this kind of post for one of my paid programs. After all, if you don’t know the 5-Phase Routine then the answers won’t make much sense.
But that was in The Before Times. The pandemic changed everything…
A few weeks ago, I released an entire program that teaches the 5-Phase Routine. If you haven’t yet learned the 5-Phase Routine, you can do so using the link above.
Oh, did I mention that it’s free?
Don’t snooze on this free offer. It’s my way of helping people through this crisis. People have been paying $79 for this course for years, and I’m actually giving you MORE than they got — at no charge.
The 5-Phase Routine is the core of my teaching and the single-best tool I have for dealing with the pandemic. Go learn it now. You’ll be glad you did.
For those who are new to me and Flowing Zen, the 5-Phase Routine is the reason why my students and I get such remarkable results with our qigong.
It looks like this:
- Phase 1: The Opening Sequence.
This phase involves a series of internal techniques, like Entering Zen and Smiling from the Heart. These techniques bring us into a meditative state and engage the Parasympathetic Nervous System so that we can successfully cultivate energy in Phase 2.
- Phase 2: Dynamic or Static Qigong Exercises
This phase involves what most people call qigong, i.e. dynamic exercises and/or static postures (zhan zhuang). We can insert virtually any qigong technique into this phase. The purpose here is to cultivate the energy in a particular way. For example, we can choose exercises for self-healing or exercises for internal power.
- Phase 3: Energy Flow
After cultivating the qi in Phase 2, we let it circulate using a rare qigong technique called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. This is where the rubber meets the road and where deep healing occurs. Unfortunately, the vast majority of qigong students don’t know this technique.
- Phase 4: Consolidation
After letting the energy circulate in Phase 3, we bring it back to the lower dantian (energy center) in order to consolidate the benefits gained in Phases 1-3. It’s a bit like saving your work before closing your laptop.
- Phase 5: The Closing Sequence
This phase involves a gentle facial massage that helps us transition from a deep meditative state back to the regular world. It also to brings energy to the face and eyes.
Now, let’s dive into the questions.
Question #1: Assuming one practices qigong a little on most days, how long before one would see improvement in their immune system?
It depends on what you mean by “practices qigong.”
If someone simply does a bunch of dynamic qigong exercises without using the 5-Phase Routine, then the answer is: Months, maybe years.
But if someone practices the 5-Phase Routine, with an emphasis on Phases 1 and 3, the the answer is: Minutes.
There are 2 reasons why you’ll get an immediate boost to your immune system within minutes of practicing the 5-Phase Routine:
- Because in Phase 1 you engage the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), which in turn improves immune function.
- Because in Phase 3 you circulate the qi and thereby activate the “Wei Qi” (pronounced “way chee”).
Actually, both of these are related.
In qigong theory, Wei Qi is your “guardian energy”. It protects you from outside “evils”, i.e. pathogens (like the coronavirus, bacteria, or the flu). In other words, Wei Qi is your immune system.
The secret sauce of the 5-Phase Routine is that we not only activate the immune system in Phase 1, but we let the qi circulate in Phase 3 — and this includes the Wei Qi. This gives us not only an immediate immune response, but a strong one.
Compare this to many qigong practitioners who focus mainly on Phase 2, i.e. dynamic qigong exercises. They’re not engaging the PSNS nor are they circulating their qi after doing the exercises, so it should be no surprise that they don’t engage their immune system very strongly.
Question #2: How does my body structure affect my immune system and how do I continue to get results with a crooked body? My qigong has been a struggle. A BioSynchronistics practitioner says no wonder I am not getting results fast from qigong because my body is so crooked and blocked. That is my spine, kyphosis, how do it fix that?
It’s true that the overall structure of the body affects the energy flow. If you are kyphotic (slightly hunched in the thoracic spine) then the energy can’t flow as well through that area.
But to suggest that kyphosis blocks all the benefits of qigong is simply untrue. Many people have gotten remarkable results despite having a problematic structure, myself included. I would estimate that over 1000 of my students have dealt with kyphosis or lordosis (an unhealthy curve in the lower spine). These are common issues as you age, and most of my students are over 50.
If you’re not getting results from your qigong, then it’s not because your body is crooked. That’s a factor, but it’s not a deal breaker that prevents all other progress.
This article will help you to troubleshoot your practice so that you start getting the results that you deserve.
As you try to figure out what’s blocking you from healing, remember that worrying DEFINITELY blocks the flow of qi. Since worrying about your structure will in no way improve your structure, you are literally suppressing your immune system for no reason.
Follow The 3 Golden Rules as best as you can. Let go of your worries and do your best to enjoy your qigong practice.
Question #3: I am generally very fit, healthy, and active, but my immune system is overactive and is fighting off threats that are not real threats, causing mild autoimmune problems. How can I use qigong to calm down my immune system and stop it from reacting when there is no need?
One of the most amazing things about qigong, especially the 5-Phase Routine, is that it is truly holistic.
In your case, “holistic” means that your immune system will be brought back into homeostasis. Since it’s overactive, qigong will help to calm it. In qigong theory we call this harmonizing yin and yang.
In another person with a suppressed immune system, qigong will help to activate it. Again, this is simply a matter of harmonizing yin and yang.
Okay, but what does that mean exactly? If autoimmune issues are an imbalance of yin and yang, then why is the immune response overactive? Why is the body attacking itself?
Often, it’s just a matter of bad information. It’s as if the front line soldiers are getting the wrong information from recon. As a result, they keep attacking friendly units. Not good.
When we practice Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow in Phase 3, the qi is able to circulate freely through the meridians — perhaps for the first time in years. If you think of qi as information (which it is), then this will make more sense for your situation. When the information is able to flow freely through your system, there will be less friendly fire.
For serious autoimmune conditions, I’m also a fan of combining qigong with other therapies. Pick whatever complementary therapy resonates with you — acupuncture, fasting, the Auto-Immune Protocol, or something I haven’t even heard of.
What I know from experience is that the holistic effect of qigong (especially the 5-Phase Routine) doesn’t just compliment other therapies — it magnifies them.
Or maybe the other therapies magnify the effect of qigong. Either way, the resulting effect is stronger than the sum of its parts.
Here’s a good article by Dr. Mark Hyman on reversing autoimmune conditions. Since we’re in quarantine, your options will be limited. But combining even a few of his tips with qigong can be a powerful combo.
Question 4: What qigong moves assist the immune system?
This is one of the most damaging myths in the qigong world — the idea that it’s the qigong move itself that does the healing.
Even if I gave you the world’s best qigong exercise for boosting the immune system (which doesn’t exist, by the way) — if you ONLY practiced the physical form but ignored the internal aspects of practicing qigong, then it won’t work.
Here’s an analogy. A person sitting in a perfect, full-lotus meditation posture is not necessarily meditating. They might just be thinking about lunch.
Similarly, a person performing a qigong move is not necessarily doing qigong. They might just be waving their arms in the air.
With qigong, what happens on the inside is FAR more important than what happens on the outside. This is why the 5-Phase Routine is the heart of my entire teaching method — because it forces you to focus on the internal aspects of qigong.
So I suppose a simple answer to your question would be this: If you want to boost your immune system, then practice the 5-Phase Routine daily and don’t worry which exercises you choose for Phase 2.
Question 5: You mentioned the 2-Minute Drill as a means of increasing Guardian Qi. Does this feel any different to the qi normally gathered in qigong practice, or is it the same thing? Do we need to do the 2-Minute Drill several times a day if we already have a regular practice?
According to the classics, Guardian Qi (or Wei Qi) is different than other types of qi. The classics were right about a lot of things, and I suspect that this is true, too. But even after 2 decades of practice, I can’t verify this theory with anything more than my own subjective experience.
Practically speaking, I don’t think it really matters. If you’re practicing the 5-Phase Routine, then you’re activating all different kinds of energies through the body. For example, you might be activating several meridians, stimulating a healthy balance of hormones, pumping cerebrospinal fluid, and circulating the blood — all at once. All of that can (and should) be considered as “qi”.
With the 2-Minute Drill, you’re basically activating the energy that’s already flowing in your system. Another way to look at it is that you’re extending the effect of your most recent 5-Phase Routine. Think of it like a range extender for a WiFi router, or an auxiliary gas tank on a vehicle.
The main advantage of doing the 2-Minute Drill throughout the day is that you are stimulating your immune system more frequently. When you are dealing with something like a novel coronavirus that humans have no prior immunity to — this frequency is a good thing. It’s an additional layer of protection.
Question 6: I am concerned about my depression. I am going through ups and downs. Today I can barely function, can’t stop the negative thoughts, can barely stay present with my qigong practice. I did sleep better last night than I have in weeks, but feel kind of dead today. I’ve had days of feeling better, times when I can connect very strongly with flow of energy in my practice and feel good results, times I can function and feel better. Today I feel concerned that it’s too much and I can’t do it.
But you know from experience that this episode will pass. You already have signs that things are getting better, even if it’s just 10% or 20% better.
These are hard times for all of us. Even non-depressives are feeling it, which means that depressives like you and me are feeling it even worse.
Be kind to yourself. If you can’t function today, then rest. If you need permission to rest, then you have it. I’m officially giving you a few days off! Sifu’s orders!
Once you emerge from this episode, it’s important to recommit to your qigong practice. That might mean committing to 2 sessions per day, or to learning some new skills, or perhaps creating a sacred practice space where you can focus even when things are hard.
The Latin phrase “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum” comes to mind here. “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
In other words, once the “war” of this depressive episode is over and the “peace” has begun — that is the time to prepare for the next war.
In other words, the time to prepare for a depressive episode is not when you’re depressed, but rather when things are calmer.
Question 7: I’m a new practitioner of qigong and currently trying to get through Anthony’s course on dealing with anxiety and depression. Anxiety has been a longterm friend of mine, and it has become particularly worse over the last 6 months. This also creates a challenge for the 5-Phase Routine because I struggle with just getting through the first phase. Sitting or lying down, I can relax fairly well, but it’s almost as if I’m unable to do so while standing. I get chest aches, overwhelming emotions, and in general just a lot of bad feelings and a panicky sense of needing to move. I’ve experienced similar things before in my meditation practice, when I did a more rigid zen practice. Nevertheless, it makes it hard to go through with the practice. I wonder if anyone have any advice on how to go about this, and what this could be. I am guessing it is emotions and possible trauma that has manifested in my body and that needs release, but going through that process feels almost impossible to do.
The word that popped out when I read your question was “rigid”.
You may not know this about me, but I began with sitting Zen meditation practice (called “zazen” in Japanese or “zuo chan” in Chinese). I was already battling anxiety and depression, but I didn’t realize it yet.
Zazen was torture for me. It felt rigid. I almost felt claustrophobic practicing it. This was a blessing in disguise because it eventually led me to qigong and tai chi.
For those of us with anxiety, rigidity is the enemy. In my classes, I often repeat the litany: “never be rigid in qigong”.
Phase 1 involves learning to relax while standing. This is something that few of us have ever learned to do, let alone practiced. Even people with years of yoga training struggle with this.
The difference here is that, unlike with Zazen, you are allowed to move and adjust. You’re free to stretch, yawn, adjust your feet, or scratch an itch. In other words — never be rigid in qigong.
Yes, I’m sure there are emotions stuck in your body. That’s true for everyone, even if they don’t battle anxiety. If you’re human, then you’ve got emotional blockages.
But I think you gave up too soon. Here’s a quote that I love: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”
You’re just getting started with qigong. As with all things, it will get easier with practice. I’m not advocating a “no pain, no gain” approach. That’s the opposite of how I teach.
But I am advocating a little perseverance.
With the 5-Phase Routine, we’re not asking for a lot of stillness — just a few minutes in the beginning. And it’s not even pure stillness because you’re allowed to move and adjust.
You don’t need to do Phase 1 perfectly to have a good practice. Just do your best, and move to the next phase.
Make your way through the entire course and then try the Gratitude Meditation. That one should be especially helpful for you.
Once you learn the entire 5-Phase Routine and do it a handful of times, I promise that you will feel MUCH better. Qigong is the antidote you’ve been seeking!
Got questions for me? Or a follow-up question to one of my answers above? Either way — go ahead and post them in the comments below. From the heart, Sifu Anthony