You’ve fallen in love with the art of qigong and you want to squeeze in some more practice. Good for you! I love it!
Maybe you’ve got some downtime at work (assuming you still commute to work). With the best of intentions you decide to practice in the one place where you have a modicum of privacy: the bathroom.
Is that okay?
I’ll give you my best answer in a moment, but first, let me show you how I typically arrive at answers for questions like this one.
My Process with Qigong
For decades, I’ve worked to demystify the art of qigong, both for my students and my own edification. I try to cut through all the BS so that we can find practical, 21st century solutions with qigong. This no-BS approach has been powerful for me, and it’s an approach that my students appreciate too. I assume that, if you’re reading this, you feel the same way.
I’m not stuck on tradition. When a particular qigong tradition no longer seems applicable to modern life, I abandon it or at least set it aside. I don’t do this lightly, and I take my sweet time before making a decision, but if something isn’t serving us, then I’m not afraid to encourage students to ignore one or more of the many qigong rules that are out there.
Barefoot or Blind
For example, I was taught not to practice qigong barefoot outdoors. For over a decade, I followed this advice blindly. I just didn’t do it. I was a good boy!
Later, after discovering the Minimalist Shoe Movement, I started to rethink the barefoot rule. Around this time, I also learned from a qigong master who told me that practicing barefoot was not only allowed, but desirable!
And so I started to experiment on my own. I began to practice qigong barefoot in the grass, on sand, on concrete, and indoors. By this time, I was pretty sensitive to energy, so I could feel what was happening.
After a few years of this, I decided that it no longer made sense to tell students not to practice qigong barefoot. I just couldn’t find a good reason. If practicing barefoot is somehow bad for my energy, then I couldn’t feel it in the short run nor did I see any negative effects in the long run either. If anything, it was the opposite. I noticed many benefits when I practice qigong barefoot.
That’s how I like to operate. As much as possible, I don’t like to take things on faith. Nor do I want my students to simply do as I say.
That said, my answer about practicing qigong in a bathroom might surprise some people. Here’s my current opinion: I think it’s a bad idea to practice qigong in a public bathroom.
I was taught not to practice qigong in bathrooms because the energy is “negative”. I remember this idea being strange to me at first. It all seemed so woo-woo to me. But then logic prevailed.
A bathroom, I realized after some thought, is a place specifically designed to deposit our “negative” energy. And we don’t ever deviate from this, except perhaps while camping. We don’t, for example, sometimes feel lazy and just go poop in the corner of the room the way a dog might. (I’m looking at you, Sgt. Pepper!!)
I used the term “negative energy” above. It’s a commonly used term. But what does it really mean?
Remember that the ancient Chinese didn’t view energy the way we see it today. We know about protons, neutrons, and electrons. They didn’t.
Negative energy has become a ubiquitous phrase in arts like qigong. And maybe the phrase is useful for modern practitioners. But we need to remember that past qigong masters had no words like this. Both words, “negative” and “energy”, come with so many subtle connotations that we hardly even notice them anymore.
Negative, for example, implies bad. It also implies a negative charge, like an ion.
Energy implies electricity, something qigong masters had zero experience with.
Yin and yang
What about yin and yang? Isn’t that the same as positive and negative? I’m glad you asked!
No. It’s not the same. The thing to understand is that yin and yang are relative, not absolute. For example, we might call a woman yin compared to her husband, but when compared to her daughter, she is yang.
Similarly, there’s no such thing as “negative energy” in an absolute sense. What‘s negative to humans is typically positive to other things. Manure is a good example. It’s toxic to horses and humans, but great for gardens! Similarly, CO2 is toxic to humans, but nourishing to plants.
What we should really be saying is that the energy in bathrooms is negative to us humans. In other words, that bathroom energy is not negatively charged like an electron; it’s just toxic to us.
And when we say “energy”, it’s a loose term for anything invisible in a bathroom. Remember that the ancient qigong masters didn’t have the benefit of knowing germ theory (although they got amazingly close!). Bathrooms are full of germs — bacteria, viruses, and even that pesky coronavirus.
Public bathrooms are even worse. At least your bathroom at home is filled with YOUR germs, right? But what about the bathroom at work?
Here’s what clinched it for me: If I dropped a piece of chocolate on the floor of a public bathroom, would I pick it up and pop it into my mouth saying, “5 second rule”? Hell no. I love chocolate but not that much! Even before the age of COVID, there is no way I would eat something off the floor of public bathroom.
In the age of COVID, I think the argument is even stronger. We know now that the coronavirus can linger in the air, especially indoors in places with poor ventilation. So practicing in a bathroom is definitely risky.
My 82 Square Foot Home
For those who don’t know me, I live in a fancy campervan. After my divorce, I sold everything, embraced minimalist living, and bought an RV. This setup works for me because it enables me to spend a lot of time in nature, like in the picture above, where I parked in Sedona for a week. (If you want to follow my adventures, I post them on my Instagram account.)
I mention this because my campervan is about 82 square feet total, including the bathroom. In other words, my “house” is smaller than many modern bathrooms. Hell, it’s smaller than many closets!
Does the negative energy of the bathroom seep into my living space?
I’ve thought about this a lot since I moved into my campervan. My conclusion is that if negative energy from the bathroom is affecting me, I can’t tell. But there are a few things to keep in mind:
- It’s not a public bathroom. I’m the only one who uses it.
- I can keep it as clean as I like.
- The ventilation in the van is amazingly good.
- I don’t practice qigong in the bathroom. Not that I could. It’s smaller than you can possibly imagine.
I do practice qigong inside the van when it’s raining, like it is right now this morning in Florida. But the energy in the campervan is so immersed in nature that it always feels good in here. I have windows on 4 sides, plus a ceiling fan with a skylight. It’s not camping by any means (I have a toilet, after all), but I really do feel like I am out in nature.
If I were living in an 82 sq/ft apartment with only a few windows and poor ventilation, then it might be a different story. In that case, if my practice space were right near the bathroom, I would work hard to improve the ventilation by adding fans and opening windows while practicing. Or, if that didn’t feel right, I would force myself to practice outside.
Better than Nothing?
A common argument is that it’s better to do qigong in a bathroom than to not do it at all. This is a logical fallacy called a false dilemma. It’s not an either/or situation. There are other options.
Since there are so many other options (see below), it seems clear to me that it is NOT better to do qigong in a bathroom. The risks outweigh the benefits, especially if COVID is here to stay for a while as it seems to be.
For example, if you catch even just the regular flu from practicing qigong in a bathroom, then it’s not worth it. We shouldn’t get sick from qigong. The opposite.
Other Ways to Practice at Work
Okay, so bathrooms are out. What other options are there?
- Practice One Finger Zen all day, preferably while walking outside.
- Gratitude is the ultimate “do it anywhere and invisibly” practice. Do it in the car on the way to work.
- Loving Kindness Meditation once you get the hang of it, can be practiced on coworkers, the barista at Starbucks, and even your boss. Especially your boss.
- The 2 Minute Drill is perfect. Go outside, even if it’s cold or hot. It’s only 2 minutes.
- Smile From the Heart is similar to gratitude, and also invisible.
If a coworker happens to see you practicing your 2 minutes of qigong, it’s easily explainable as a way to stretch after sitting. You can even offer for them to join you! You’ll be amazed at how many people will take you up on the offer.
Save the longer qigong routines for later, when you are in a more suitable environment.
Qigong is my life. I think deeply about this and experiment constantly. My opinion, after much consideration, is that practicing qigong in a public bathroom is simply not worth the risk.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What do you think? Have you ever practiced in a bathroom? Will you continue to do so? From the heart, Sifu Anthony