The Itch to Move Your Chi

We tend to think about our energy level like the money we have in the bank. You wake up in the morning, look in your energetic wallet and say, “I’ve got a lot of energy today” or “Man, I need 7 cups of coffee.”

Or, to put it another way, thanks to this New Yorker cartoon:

If we're all just energy, then why don't I have any?

In qigong, we think about “having energy” a little bit differently. Often, it’s not just how much or how little, but how well is your energy circulating?

Good energetic circulation gives you a feeling of “more,” while stagnant or stuck energy feels draining.

Since this is such a different concept than most of us have, I’ve often wondered about where these two ideas came from and where these two ways of seeing the world split. In this post, I’m not going to give you a deeply researched exploration of the origins of the Taoist understanding of the world. I’ll let our practices stand as of evidence of that.

Instead, I want to share with you some of the writings of 20th century Western philosopher Hans Jonas. He wrote about the phenomenology of life and in his descriptions of biological processes, we get a really interesting connection to what many qigong practitioners come to realize: we have a fundamental need to circulate chi.

In The Phenomenon of Life, Jonas is trying to reconcile the simplest forms of life with higher thought and our human experience of the mind. He tries to place them on a continuum and asks which one is for the sake of the other.

Whatever the answer, one aspect of the ascending scale is that in its stages the “mirroring” of the world becomes ever more distinct and self-rewarding, beginning with the most obscure sensation somewhere on the lowest rungs of animality, even with the most elementary stimulation of organic irritability as such, in which somehow already otherness, world, and object are germinally “experienced,” that is, made subjective, and responded to (p.3).

My personal theory on the origins of qigong is that those early Taoists went exploring.

They sat or stood in postures and listened, both inside themselves and to the natural world. As they got quieter and more perceptive, the heard the echoes of Jonas’ “most obscure sensation.” The irritability that Jonas describes set them up against the world outside and framed their inner worlds.

That irritability is the same itch you feel when you know you need to get your chi moving, circulating through you and passing back and forth between you, the natural world around you and the other people you interact with.

When things are flowing, in and out, up and down, towards and away, we feel good: connected to something outside ourselves but at the same time internally unified and integrated.

Just like eating, breathing, and sleeping, circulating energy is a natural cycle that we can refine, enhance, and enjoy, but we need to pay attention to it on an ongoing, continuous basis to be healthy and feel whole.

More Energy in the Next 30 Days…

Take our free, email-based course and you will have more energy in the next 30 days than you’ve had in the last year.

How the course works:

We’ll take an in-depth look at moving your body, your energy, and your mind, all with the goal of smoothing out your nervous system and boosting your energy levels.

Throughout the month, you’ll receive these 8 lessons via email:

  1. How to Break through the Daily Noise
  2. How to Connect to a Natural Power Source
  3. How to Structure Your Practice
  4. Refining Your Standing Practice to Boost Your Chi
  5. How to Weave Together Tai Chi’s 3 Branches
  6. Take Tai Chi out into the World
  7. Finding Flow by Feel
  8. Boost Your Practice, Week after Week

These emails include audio practice downloads, tutorials, essays, and practice tips designed to get you deeper into the Energy Arts and expand your awareness of what’s possible with a personal movement practice.

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  1. BOB HUGHES says:

    Ah, two simple three letter words: Dao and tea.
    A friend loaned me her copy of the recent issue of the magazine, “The Empty Vessel.”
    It has an interview with a tea master from Portland (Paul Rosenberg.)
    Seems like the ancient Daoists cultivated both Qi and tea.
    “Tea brings you into the Dao.”

    So my New Year’s resolution is to substitute tea for my daily mochas.
    Already I have more energy.

  2. It is interesting that energy circulation is not discussed very much in BKF’s curriculum. At least in the parts that are published. I haven’t attended his workshops. so it could be discussed there. But yes, before circulating something one should have something to circulate. But this could be a discourse on eggs and chickens.

  3. BOB HUGHES says:

    I look at the “egg and chicken” paradox in several ways:

    1. Qi exists. But it might take eons to feel it.
    2. Assume that Qi exists. Even if it is a “null” quality, the “null” set is the very foundation of higher mathematics and calculus. The whole system, tai chi as well as mathematics, is based on the “zero.” If you’re an a-Qi-theist, you might as well not even practice tai chi.
    3. Qi is related to blood circulation. The tai chi classics say that, the mind leads the Qi, the Qi leads the blood, the blood leads the body. Anatomically we know how the blood flows and circulates; therefore the Qi would be circulating just ahead of blood flow.
    4. Frantzis does mention Qi circulation in many of his works. For example, the First movement in “Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong” traces “energy pathways” which coincide with acupuncture meridians.
    Of course, this is Qi Gung, not tai chi.
    5. Qi circulation in tai chi is different from the Qi circulation in Qi Gung and acupuncture.
    Frantzis makes this point in his “Tai Chi Mastery Course.”
    In acupuncture Qi circulation follows a set pattern (Lungs: up & out to the hands/head; then Large Intestine: down & in to feet/chest; Stomach: down to feet; Spleen: up and back to chest.
    In tai chi the energy is moving in & out of the central channel and dantiens–the microcosmic orbit is involved.
    6. Qi works. Sink it and you are well-grounded.
    7. Qi is mental. We don’t see our “blindspot” because the brain fills it in. The optic nerve does not transmit iinfo about blue light, but our brain “constructs” many hues of blue. Maybe there is no Qi, but our brain can “construct’ it as a percept.
    8. Qi is quantum, a flux. It exists as both a wave and a particle at the same time until observed.