Asking questions is an important part of learning. There’s a reason why I always take time for Q&As in my classes and workshops — because it’s important! I expect to be answering questions for decades to come. That’s part of my mission to bring Qigong, Tai Chi, and Meditation into the 21st century. You can do your part by asking questions!
Here’s how the “Ask Sifu Anthony” series works.
- If you have a question for me, then post it in the comments section below.
- I’ll answer your question in NEXT month’s “Ask Sifu Anthony”.
- Comment below if you have follow-up questions to one of my answers, even if the original question wasn’t your own.
- Comment, like, or share this blog post if you’d like to see more of the same in the future.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the May edition of Ask Sifu Anthony! Your questions are below, along with my answers.
Different Kinds of Energy
Question: Depending on whose material you read, there seem to be many different kinds of energy. Regular qi, two kinds of qi (yin and yang), kundalini, internal force, energy corresponding to each of the five elements, etc. If this topic is not overwhelmingly vast, can you shed any light on the what you think are legitimately different kinds of energy and the distinctions between them?
The simple answer is that there are many different manifestations of energy. There are also different words used by different cultures for the same manifestations.
For example, kundalini is an Indian term, where as qi is Chinese. I’m not an expert in the Indian tradition, but my understanding kundalini refers to a specific manifestation of energy that moves up the spine. To simplify, we might say that kundalini is a process that involves qi, (which the Indians would call prana).
The philosophies of Yin and Yang and The Five Elements comes from the Chinese tradition, and is used in acupuncture, herbalism, qigong, and many forms of kung fu (including tai chi). To simplify, we could say that both philosophies involve different manifestations of qi.
Internal force (neijin), or internal strength as I prefer to call it, is also a manifestation of qi. And it can manifest in different ways, like hard force, soft force, or protective force.
Whatever qi is, one thing seems to be clear: it seems to manifest in many different ways. In other words, it is not a fixed thing. It is fluid, and flexible. Indeed, it may not even be one thing, but a combination of different things.
Eating and Qigong
Question: While doing research, I have read one should not eat immediately before or after practicing qigong. Can you share any suggestions with us about this topic? How long do you personally wait to eat before and after practice?
The picture above shows an example of one of the delicious snacks that we enjoy at my retreat in Costa Rica. We typically enjoy this snack as a break from our morning qigong session.
In other words, we eat right in the middle of a 4-hour qigong session.
Meanwhile, many of the classical texts suggest that one should not practice qigong 2 hours before or after eating.
What gives? Aren’t we breaking some sort of sacred Qigong rule?
Yes and no.
Many of the classical rules regarding qigong have been taken out of their original (often monastic) context. To make matters worse, qigong is often intentionally mystified. If we remove the mysticism and ignore some of the irrelevant rules, things become much simpler.
In Costa Rica, when we eat in the middle of our qigong session, some of the energy will be diverted toward our digestion rather than other organs or meridians. Is that such a bad thing? Is it so terrible for Americans, who have the worst digestion in the history of digestion, to “spend” some of their energy on the guy?
No. It’s a good thing.
Monks, on the other hand, were more concerned with diverting the energy toward more spiritual pursuits. To them, digestion was mundane. But to be fair, they typically ate one simple meal per day at noon.
In the 21st century, the single most important thing is to practice. If you aren’t practicing, nothing else matters. Anything that interferes with practicing is the enemy. If you try to leave a 2 hour buffer before or after eating, you’ll never practice.
Just go by what feels right. For example, I prefer to practice first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. That feels right to me. But my wife wakes up hungry, so if she were to go practice, she would be distracted. So she eats first, and then practices.
Chinese Medicine and the Spirit
Question: My question is about Chinese medicine. If I’m not mistaking Chinese medicine helps to restore balance in 3 levels: body, energy and mind. I would like to understand how it can solve spiritual problems (which would be in the mind, thus reflecting in the energy level, thus reflecting in the physical body)?
As an example: Let’s say that a person has a certain illness because of some unsolved problem in a past life.
I believe that all our problems always happen for our own good, in order for us to evolve and to help us to stay in the right path. Everything that happens in life, good or bad, is because of our own deeds, good or bad.
Thus I think that the illness will just disappear when we have “learned” what we had to learn/ grown spiritually. If that doesn’t happen then Chinese medicine (or any other treatment), can’t help right?
The question you’re asking touches on some of the deepest metaphysical questions out there. All I can do is offer my opinion, which is based on my own experience as a healer.
I know from my personal experience that Chinese medicine, including qigong, can help to transform consciousness and the spirit. I am a living example of this.
For example, my depression was diagnosable in a clinical sense. But in my opinion, it was more than just a medical condition. It was a crisis of the spirit.
Had I simply left the disease alone, and not used the tools available to me (acupuncture and qigong), then I would literally be dead. I was suicidal during my depression, and I believe that I would have followed through and killed myself had I not found relief.
So Chinese medicine helped me to “grow spiritually” as you put it. As I healed by body, as I corrected the chemical imbalances in my body, my spirit also started to heal.
On the other hand, there are many things that even the best healer cannot heal. This is something that all good healers know. Not all patients will get well.
I have definitely experienced students who were not ready to heal. Even though they suffered from conditions that other students were able to overcome, these particular students were not ready. I like to say that their spirit is not ready to heal, for whatever reason.
Question: Can you recommend a good feng shui book? Also, what are your thoughts on the practice?
I like Eva Wong’s Book:
I’m fascinated by Feng Shui, but I’m not an expert. Not yet, at least. Some day, I would like to study it in more depth. I think it fits in perfectly with qigong and acupuncture. It deals with the same substance (qi), the same philosophies (yin and yang, Five Elements, etc.), and it comes from the same culture. I think it’s a wonderful art, and quite frankly, I think that the world could use more of it.
However, I’ve seen a lot of bad Feng Shui. I suppose it’s a lot like the qigong that’s out there. A lot of it is misunderstood, misguided, or mistranslated. Real Feng Shui should be as simple and effective as our qigong.
Question: Dear Sifu, thank you again for this great q&a session! I had another question about hitting things, if you don’t mind. For a guy like me who has virtually no chance to practice with other people (they keep refusing or canceling on me), would it be a good idea to follow Sigung’s Iron Palm program in The Complete Book of Shaolin to get that sort of contact practice? If so, is it advisable to do the full program of two rounds of hitting the sandbag, twice a day, or would that be mainly for someone planning on specializing in Iron Palm?
First of all, there’s always a chance to practice with other people. You just have to find the right people! With martial arts, one can only practice by oneself for so long. At some point, you absolutely must practice with other people — and regularly!
Secondly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to practice Iron Palm out of a book, no matter how good the book. It’s just too easy to make mistakes. At your level of development, I think your time would be better spent doing drills with a partner, especially since you already have plenty of internal force methods to focus on for the time being.
If you want to learn Iron Palm, I can teach it to you, but it will have to be done face-to-face.
Question: On an unrelated question, could Sifu maybe talk about Dragon Strength/Force? I admit that my curiosity about it was piqued since Sigung mentioned that certain patterns in Baguazhang are meant to use it. Did such force appear when you trained the Shaolin Pakua set?
I honestly don’t know much about Dragon Strength, so I can’t say whether or not I’ve experienced it. But here’s my take on the various types of internal strength: they’re all variations on a theme.
If you don’t have a good amount of internal strength, then the variations are all meaningless. And when you’ve got a lot of internal strength, the variations are easy to play with.
For example, the softer power of Tai Chi Chuan was easy for me to grasp because I already had a lot of harder power from Shaolin Chuan. Some people will say that Shaolin is too hard, and will interfere with Tai Chi. That may be true, but I think it’s easier to learn softness than to develop internal strength. In other words, the years I had previously spent cultivating internal strength in the Shaolin way were not wasted. All I had to do was take that cultivation, and soften it up a bit!
Resistance to Practicing
Question: Thank you so much for offering a Q&A session and for being available to your long-distance students! I would like to know if you felt resistance to practicing QiGong when you first began or during the first years. If I remember correctly, I think you said that you were very disciplined and practiced every day even if you couldn’t feel the benefits. The reason I ask is because I’m going through an emotionally difficult time and finding that, when I need most to practice, my mind puts up the most resistance to doing it. Sometimes I break through the resistance and, naturally, feel better afterwards, other times the resistance wins.
You’ve only got half of the story! It’s true that I was disciplined and practiced every day, no matter what. But that was only AFTER being incredibly undisciplined for over 2 years!
What you’re experiencing is very common among my students. It’s almost as if we sometimes have an aversion to being happy and healthy! We know we should practice, we know that it will help, we know that we’ll feel better immediately afterward — and yet we still don’t do it!
This is basically a form of victim identification. Under the surface, we are getting something from that identity as a sick, depressed, or emotionally unstable person. We might be getting sympathy or attention from a loved one, or we might just need an excuse for the suffering that comes hand-in-hand with being alive. It’s a complex issue, and I can’t cover it in detail here.
What I will say is that letting go of an identity like this is always a struggle. Any time you’re moving forward, any time you’re growing spiritually or emotional, any time you’re about to level up — you must also let go of one or more of your identities.
Sometimes, just being aware of the fact that you are clinging to an identity is enough to motivate you to start letting go.From the heart, Sifu Anthony