In this edition of Ask Sifu Anthony, you’ll learn about: knee pain and qigong; the order of qigong sets; qigong and cancer support; neigong vs. qigong; lifting the tongue; post-pandemic depression and anxiety; and qigong for autoimmune conditions.
About this series: I believe that students should be able to get practical, no-nonsense answers as they learn the art of qigong. Q&As are critical when learning an esoteric, ancient art in the 21st century. Since 2005, I’ve been answering questions in my classes, in our Facebook group, inside my online programs, in our live webinars, and here on the blog. We have an amazing, global community and my goal is to continue supporting you so that you can get more and more out of this art!
Question 1: Knee Pain and Qigong
I’m wanting to learn qigong or tai chi but I can’t stand for long periods of time as my knees hurt. I have arthritis and they swell causing pain. I’m overweight and have lost some but a long way to go. Which would you recommend please? I’ve done Wing Chun many years ago.” – Lenny
Hi Lenny. One of the best things about qigong is that it is malleable. Like a fluid, it adjusts to the shape of its container. In your case, if you cannot stand, then qigong will adjust to a seated posture. This blog post will show you how to practice qigong in a chair:
Remember: The physical form is the least important aspect of qigong. This is why I encourage my students to “butcher the form” and make it comfortable. In that sense, practicing in a chair is just another way to butcher the form.
Obviously, you won’t be able to practice every qigong exercise, but there are plenty of exercises that you can do seated. Then, as you get your energy flowing and your body feels stronger, you can try to stand for portions of the practice session. Eventually, you’ll be doing the entire session standing.
If you haven’t learned my 5-Phase Routine yet, then I recommend that you start with my book. It is the cheapest and most efficient way to get started with qigong, and it comes with a free online course.
Question 2: The Order of Qigong Sets
Since finishing your 101 course (class of 2021), I’ve started incorporating some of the 18 Luohan Hands into my morning practice and different ones in my evening practice, as well as keeping some of my old favourites. I’m guessing that the 18 LH are presented in a certain order for a reason. My question is: Is there a benefit to practising the 18 LH in the order in which you’ve put them on the practice chart? Many thanks and warmest wishes.” – Karla
Hi Karla. I’m glad you enjoyed the 101 program. Congrats on developing such a solid qigong habit! Qigong is the perfect exercise for septuagenarians like yourself, and I’m confident that it will bring you many benefits.
Yes, the order of qigong sets is often meaningful. However, that doesn’t mean that we should practice them in order. This is especially true if you’re practicing the 5-Phase Routine, which you obviously are.
There is much more to qigong than just the exercises, and the 5-Phase Routine embodies this. For example, Phase 2, where we practice the various exercises like the 18 Luohans, is only 1/5th of the entire routine.
No matter what order we practice the exercises in Phase 2, the qi will still flow holistically in Phase 3 (Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow). In other words, even if we use an exercise in Phase 2 that is good for the Kidney Meridians (i.e. Luohan #8, Nourishing Kidneys), the qi will flow where it needs to go once we move into Phase 3. If it needs to flow to the Liver or Spleen Meridians, then it will flow there.
But even for people who aren’t using the 5-Phase Routine, the order is not terribly important. If they practice the 8 Brocades qigong set (which I teach in my 201 program), for example, their results won’t change much if they use a random order each day. On the other hand, it’s important for them to practice all 8 exercises because, without the 5-Phase Routine, they need the variety in order to move the qi holistically to all of the meridians.
There is, however, one very good reason to practice the 18 Luohans in order: Mastery. Whether you want to teach the exercises one day, or just master the set, it’s good to have it deeply ingrained in your memory. For example, I can mentally cycle through the 18 Luohan Hands in order as if flipping through a Rolodex (remember those?).
I accomplished this mainly by practicing them in sets of 6. The 18 Luohans happen to be nicely organized so that each set of 6 works nicely on its own. For a long time, I would practice exercises 1-6 on Monday, then 7-12 on Tuesday, then 13-18 on Wednesday, and so on. This method gave me plenty of time for other qigong and tai chi exercises, but also helped me to remember the order of the exercises.
You might prefer to do a set of 6 every day for a week, and then change. It depends on your skill level and your memory. You might also want to print out the 18 Luohan Wall Chart that is included in the 101 program!
Question 3: Qigong and Cancer Support
What type of qigong is good for breast cancer?” – Peggy
Hi Peggy. I believe that you’ve learned the 5-Phase Routine since you asked this question. In that case, the simple answer is this: Practice the 5-Phase Routine twice daily and follow the 3 Golden Rules.
As I discussed in my book, people like me are not allowed to talk about curing, reversing, or treating cancer, at least not in the United States. Even MDs are not allowed to talk about such things unless they specialize in oncology. With this in mind, let’s talk about ways that we can offer you healing support during your cancer battle.
By practicing the 5-Phase Routine twice daily and following the 3 Golden Rules, you’re already doing critically important work – work that most people skip. You’re working on your mind, your emotions, your energy, and also your body. How many people can say that they work on these things daily?
With something as serious as cancer, I’m sure that you want to do everything you possibly can to heal. So you’re probably wondering what else you can do. I think it’s worth looking at the 12 things that might be blocking you from healing. It may also be helpful to look at the 17 surprising things that may be screwing with your qi.
These articles will help you with what I call Protecting the Qi. In other words, you’re trying to protect yourself from outside influences that might mess with your energy. Protecting yourself by making lifestyle changes will increase the healing mileage you’re getting not just from qigong, but from all of your other therapies.
Question 4: Neigong vs Qigong
Which are the best 2 exercises to learn and practice neigong?” – Gustavo
Hi Gustavo. The word “neigong” can mean different things to different teachers. It was a popular term during the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644). Nei means “internal”, and gong still means “cultivation”. So a poetic translation would be “the art of internal cultivation”. It’s still an accurate description for what we do.
Some teachers insist that neigong is different from qigong, and they’re not entirely wrong, but it’s really just a matter of semantics. For example, The Small Universe (Xiao Zhou Tian, 小周天) is an advanced technique that involves directing the energy along two specific acupuncture meridians. If there’s anything that qualifies as neigong, it’s The Small Universe.
However, many teachers use the term qigong instead of neigong to describe The Small Universe, myself included. I like this approach because it simplifies things. I use qigong as the umbrella term for all of the techniques that I teach, including The Small Universe. To me, neigong is a sub-category of qigong. Other teachers may have different classifications. Just be wary of teachers who dismiss qigong as inferior to neigong. When you drill down, they may actually be talking about the same thing.
With all this in mind, I can’t really answer your question without knowing more about what you mean by neigong, and what your goals are. Feel free to leave a comment below and we can continue the discussion there.
Or if you want me to choose my own favorite, then I would say the Big Universe (Da Zhou Tian).
Question 5: Lifting the Tongue in Qigong
Is it necessary when doing qigong to have your tongue tip touching your pallet (not easy when breathing out of the mouth) and visualising the flow of chi through the meridians (if so how do you do that?). I keep hearing these two things but they aren’t mentioned in your book or bonus videos. (Unless I missed them!) Fantastic book by the way!” – John
Hi John. Glad you enjoyed the book! I have an entire article on this subject, which you can read here: Why Qigong Students Should Stop Lifting the Tongue.
From the title, you can probably guess my answer. In short, unless you are practicing the Small Universe, there’s no reason to lift the tongue. In fact, lifting the tongue often causes micro-tension in the mouth and jaw, which is not good.
If you already have the habit of lifting the tongue (from some other teacher or school), then check in and try to relax it as much as possible. Also, you’ll want to relax and lower the tongue for most exercises where the default mode is to exhale gently through the mouth.
If you don’t already have the habit, then don’t start until you learn the Small Universe. Instead, focus on relaxing the jaw and the mouth.
As for visualization, it’s a bad word and it’s also a red herring. Instead of chasing visuals, focus on the Zen state of mind. I have an entire article on this subject too: The Simple Truth about Qigong Visualization.
In short, don’t try to visualize anything. Techniques like Smiling From the Heart and Consolidating Qi at Dantian are a form of visualization, but I don’t use that word because it’s confusing. There’s nothing to visualize. Instead, you’re trying to feel something.
Question 6: Post-Pandemic Anxiety & Depression
I have been experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety over the last 4 years. Two years ago I went on an SSRI and started my daily Qi Gong practice. After 9 months I happily tapered off the med. I remained balanced for another 9 months. Recently, I crumbled into uncontrollable anxiety symptoms again and am titrating back onto the medication. Qi Gong and meditation are constants in my life and I can see no obvious triggers other than the stresses and traumas of a lifetime. At age 77 I am sad that I couldn’t remain centered using my practices and need pharmaceutical help at this time. I have been practicing your suggested anxiety/depression routine. Any thoughts for deepening the balance to be found in Qi Going?” – Gabriole
Hi Gabriole. It’s fascinating to me how many of my students trivialize the anxiety-producing effects of the pandemic. This kind of trivializing is probably a trauma response itself, but it’s something we need to look at.
There’s growing research that even mild cases of covid can increase the risk of mental health problems, including anxiety disorders. I myself experienced a huge spike in anxiety after a mild case of covid in January. I managed the spike without pharmaceuticals, but that was a personal choice and it certainly wasn’t easy. I had to do more qigong, cut down on caffeine, do more cardio, cut down on sugar, and get acupuncture.
Please don’t be ashamed of using pharmaceuticals. SSRIs are not for everyone, but they can be lifesavers for some. Be kind to yourself as you manage your anxiety.
My blog post about self-compassion might be helpful: Too Many Mind. In short, I have found that using a plural model of mind (explained in the article) can be incredibly helpful when it comes to self-compassion. I think it might be helpful for you as well.
For example, instead of feeling guilty for using SSRIs, you might find a way to acknowledge the part of your psyche that is struggling and needs help. You might give that part of you a mental hug. You might even give the self-critical part of you – the part that is blaming and shaming for using pharmaceuticals – some acknowledgment. This part of you may be misguided in its approach, but it is doing its best to protect all of your parts. Give it some compassion too.
Question 7: Qigong and Autoimmune Conditions
Why and how is Qigong good for autoimmune conditions?” – Teresa
Hi Teresa. Let me start by repeating something that I often say: Qigong is not a panacea. It will not magically cure everything that ails you.
That being said, qigong is one of the most holistic therapies on the planet, which means that it can help with SO many different things. A few years ago, I compiled a PDF with 13 proven benefits of qigong. That list is longer now, and the research continues to show that qigong and tai chi are powerful therapies.
I try to explain how this works in my book, but the shorter explanation is that qigong enhances all of the body’s natural healing capabilities. What that means for autoimmune conditions is that it helps the body to clear blockages of qi. When these blockages are cleared, your immune system will stop attacking your body.
In my experience, there is almost always an underlying mental-emotional component with autoimmune conditions. It’s wise to assume that you have some sort of energy blockage due to trapped emotions. This article may help:
Any technique that helps you to heal deep emotions will likely help with the autoimmune issues as well. Forgiveness Practice is a good example. In my school, we use a technique called 1% Forgiveness where we try to forgive people (and ourselves) just 1% per session. But there are many schools, both Eastern and Western, that have forgiveness techniques that would probably help.
Forgiveness is just one example. You might also need to work on, in no particular order, things like anger, grief, hopelessness, resentment, fear, or a lack of joy. The well of stuck emotions runs deep.
Sometimes, it’s not so simple. Because of childhood trauma, we might not be able to access stuck emotions directly. That’s when we might need some of the therapies mentioned in the article above, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, or IFS.
Find the right combination of therapies, and you may be amazed at how much your condition improves. For you, that might mean a combination of yogic breathing, the 5-Phase Routine, and EMDR. That’s just one example. Find your own prescription of 2-3 therapies, and then commit.
I know from our past conversations that you’re also working on diet. That’s great, and I’m sure it will help in a variety of ways. Just don’t use this as an excuse to skip the deep emotional work that is also needed. You’re going to have to dig that deep well sooner or later. It’s no fun, but it’s meaningful and healing work.
Question 8: Banzo’s Sword
I have lymphedema from lupus and it doesn’t go away. It is in the lower extremities and is painful and very tight . The qigong has been helping but it is so slow. Is there any way to speed up the benefits?” – Kevin
Hi Kevin. There’s an old Zen story called “Banzo’s Sword” that answers this question. Here’s my own version of that story.
A young man went to a sword master and asked earnestly: “If I practice diligently, how long will it take me to become a master?”
“Oh, maybe ten years,” Master Banzo said.
“I cannot wait that long,” explained the young man. “If I practice twice as hard, how long will it take?”
“Oh, maybe 30 years,” said Banzo.
“Why is that?” asked the young man. “First you say 10 and now 30 years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”
“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for 70 years. A man in such a hurry to get results seldom learns quickly.”
You’ll be glad to know that the young man in the story became a famous swordsman, and it didn’t take him 70 or even 10 years.
I don’t mean to get all Zen Master on you here, but the lesson of the story applies equally to qigong. When we try to rush results, we actually tense the nervous system, thereby blocking the flow of qi. The harder we push, the more we tense, and the more we block ourselves from healing.
If you are already doing the 5-Phase Routine twice daily for about 25 minutes per session, and if you are also following the 3 Golden Rules, then you’re getting about 80% of the benefits that qigong can offer you on its own. You could possibly practice longer and squeeze out the remaining 20%, but it may not be worth your effort.
Instead, look for complimentary therapies that work synergistically with qigong. I’m a fan of acupuncture.
You’ll also want to protect your qi. My answer to Peggy above may also be helpful for you. From the heart, Sifu Anthony