If you can’t sense your qi, then you’re just spinning your tires in the mud.
The qi (氣, or energy) is everything in qigong and tai chi. It’s the main ingredient.
If you want to go somewhere with your qigong and tai chi, if you want to stop spinning your tires, then you absolutely need to learn how to sense your qi.
It’s not your fault. You probably weren’t taught the big secret to sensing qi.
That will change by the end of this article. I’ll teach you the secret, which means no more excuses for you!
Even beginners can learn to sense their qi. It doesn’t take years of practice. It just takes correct instruction, and correct practice.
Qi and Traditional Chinese Medicine
The concept of qi comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is the oldest continuous medical system in the history of humanity.
Acupuncture, Chinese herbalism, Chinese massage (tui na), and Qigong are all branches of Traditional Chinese medicine.
All of them use the same concept of qi, or vital energy.
I went to acupuncture college because I wanted to understand the concept of qi on a deeper level. And I succeeded.
But here’s the thing: You don’t need to understand qi in order to sense it.
In fact, an intellectual understanding of qi might just make it harder to sense.
Science Says You Have a 6th Sense
What if I told you that — according to science — you have a sixth sense?
What if I told you that you have a seventh? And an eighth?
You’d probably call me crazy.
If you think that you’ve only got 5 senses, then I’m sorry to say that you’re the crazy one, my friend.
The theory of the 5 senses actually dates back to Aristotle (b. 384 BC). So yeah, it’s a wee bit outdated.
It turns out humans might have as many as 20 senses. Whether we have 8 senses or 20 depends on which scientist you ask.
The only thing agreed upon by the research is that there are definitely more than 5 senses.
And we already knew this, right?
For years, I’ve been asking my students to prove this to themselves as follows:
An Exercise To Prove That You Have a 6th Sense
- Sit or stand comfortably.
- Close your eyes.
- Keeping your eyes closed, touch your nose with the pinky of your left hand.
Which of the 5 traditional senses did you use to touch your nose?
It’s fun to watch skeptics start crossing things off the list:
“Sight? Nope. My eyes were closed. Hearing? Nope. I can’t hear my pinky! Smell? Nope. Taste? Nope. Touch! Aha! That’s it! Wait, no, I didn’t touch anything until the end.”
Another way to analyze this is to figure out which organ you used to touch your nose.
The answer is that you used a system, not an organ. That system is call the vestibular system. This is what allows you to not only touch your nose with your eyes closed, but balance on one leg.
Congratulations. You now have at least 6 senses!
Change Your Paradigm
A deeper discussion of the human sensory system is above my pay grade.
The takeaway lesson is this: You only thought that you had 5 senses.
Your entire life, you’ve had more than that, but your thoughts got in the way.
If you still believe that you only have 5 senses, if you still operate from that paradigm, then subconsciously, it is impossible for you to feel qi.
Once you change your paradigm, once you accept that there are more than 5 senses — then it is much easier to sense the qi.
The Zen Mind Is The Key
A central theme of my teaching is the importance of quieting the mind and Entering Zen.
Entering Zen is an ancient term to describe the process of going into a gentle, meditative state. We call that state the Zen Mind.
The Zen Mind can be achieved sitting or standing. With qigong and tai chi, it’s most often done standing.
If you’d like to experience a simple version of this state, then close your office door, turn off your phone, and follow this free 4-minute meditation right now:
The opposite of the Zen Mind is the Monkey Mind. You’re familiar with this state because you live it.
The Monkey Mind is the constant stream of thoughts in your head, the radio station that you can’t seem to turn off.
If you are trying to sense your qi, but subconsciously you’re wondering what sense you should use — that’s the Monkey Mind.
Or, if you are trying to sense your qi, but you’re second-guessing what you feel — that’s also the Monkey Mind.
Change your paradigm. Let go of the idea of the 5 senses. Let go of thoughts.
How I First “Heard” My Qi
I was able to sense my qi long before I could explain how I was doing it.
I was able to sense my energy was because I was in a Zen state of mind.
In that state there is no intellectual thought. The idea of the five senses dissolves.
I knew what I was sensing the qi, but I didn’t understand the mechanism.
Some people think that if you can’t explain the mechanism, then it’s not scientific.
That’s simply not true, even in Western Medicine. For example, we used aspirin for nearly 100 years before we understood the mechanism.
In other words we knew that aspirin worked even though we didn’t know how.
I was the same with my qi. I knew I could feel it, but I didn’t know how.
Maybe it’s because I was raised a classical violinist, but for years I actually swore that I could “hear” my qi.
Other people told me they could see it. That wasn’t my experience. Even after all these years, I still don’t “see” energy.
Others said they felt a tingling sensation in the hands and body. I did feel that.
But I also heard something, a vibration, or a sound. And yet, it wasn’t in my ears.
Hearing With Your Fingers
When I was in acupuncture college, I had a similar experience while learning what is known as Chinese Pulse Diagnosis.
With Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, you learn to sense dozens of different pulse qualities. If you get good at it, then you can be amazingly accurate at diagnosing patients. (We joke that my wife is a human MRI because she is so good at this kind of diagnosis.)
Once you get the hang of Chinese Pulse Diagnosis, you realize that you’re not just using your fingers. There are other senses involved, no question.
For me, I always felt like I was “listening” to the pulses.
But how can you listen with your fingers?
Students are always asking me what qi feels like.
This is a difficult question to answer, mainly because everyone uses different words to describe their own sensations.
If we stick with the paradigm of the 5 senses, then we’re stuck with only 5 words: see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.
The words people use to describe qi are almost always connected to the five traditional senses.
Some students describe feeling a tingling or a buzzing in the hands.
Some describe seeing energy moving through the body.
Others, like me, talk about hearing the energy.
Who is right?
I believe that people describe sensations of qi using words that relate to their dominant sense organs — usually sight, hearing, or touch.
In the end, however, these are just words. And words suck because they encourage the Monkey Mind.
In the Zen tradition, this is the “finger pointing at the moon”. Words are the finger. They point to the moon.
Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory. (Yes, I just quoted Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon.)
How to Sense Qi
So what’s the big secret then?
My advice to students who want to sense the qi is simple: Learn to quiet your mind to the point where words are no longer necessary.
In the Zen Mind, we don’t need words like “sight” and “hearing”.
From that deep meditative state, we can just sense the energy directly — without any need for a description.
Resist the temptation to label it. Just feel it. Allow it.
However — a meditative state is not enough. You will also need some skill in qigong or tai chi.
This is why people who practice sitting meditation don’t always feel qi. They need to learn some qigong or tai chi.
On the other hand, and just doing chi gong or tai chi movements is not enough either. Real qigong and tai chi must be combined with a meditative mind.
A Guaranteed Way To Sense Your Qi
If you’ve struggled to sense your qi, if you want a guaranteed method for finally sensing it, then follow these steps:
A Guaranteed Method for Sensing Qi
- Learn to quiet the mind.
- Learn some good qigong.
- Go to a mountain retreat.
- Practice there daily for a week.
I’m half joking. Of course, you can learn to feel the qi without the mountain. But if you’ve been trying for years to sense the energy, and you’re still unsure — then you might need the mountain.
I say this because of my experience teaching a mountain retreat in Costa Rica every year. I’ve had students attend the retreat who were blown away by their ability to sense the qi up on the mountain.
Even people who had felt qi before suddenly felt it in a new way on the mountain.
Why? Because the amazingly beautiful mountain not only helps to quiet the mind, but also has lots more energy to play with. The feng shui, the energy of the environment is better on the mountain.
If you can’t make it to Costa Rica, and you want to feel the qi, then do yourself a favor and take one of my online workshops. My intro workshop will teach you a specific method for not only quieting the mind, but also getting the energy flowing.
When I first started teaching qigong 10 years ago, I had a funny slogan on my brochures: “No Qi, No Fee”.
It was meant to be funny. But I chose it because I kept meeting people who were struggling to feel the qi.
After taking my workshop, they were finally able to sense their qi. For some of them, it was the end of a years-long quest.
What is your experience with sensing the qi? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. From the heart, Sifu Anthony