The use of the mind in Qigong is a very controversial topic. Some teachings emphasise it and others do not. However, much of this debate could be over a misunderstanding of the Chinese concept of `the mind’.
There is a lot of debate in Qigong circles about the use of the mind in training and in Qigong practice in general. Various systems advertise the use of the mind to move energy through the microcosmic orbit (Ren and Du channels), or to guide energy through the acupuncture meridians to remove blockages. The opening of the Ren and Du Channels to form the energy circuit known as the ‘Small Circulation’ is one of the fundamental principles of Qigong practice.
Many popular systems (particularly in the West) advocate focusing one’s thoughts on focusing one’s thoughts on various acupuncture points along this route, sometimes working on one point for days, weeks or even months until it is felt to “open”. Likewise, ‘Meridian Meditation’ practises involve the practitioners learning the location of the various acupuncture channels and then mentally guiding the energy through the channels, until energy can be sensed flowing within them.
On the other hand, many Qigong systems, the Kunlun Dayan Qigong system included, are opposed to this method of using thought to induce energy flow. Does this mean that some Qigong systems believe in mind over matter and some do not? And what is really meant by the concept of ‘mind’ in Qigong philosophy? – Let us examine this point.
In the West, we understand “using the mind” to mean using the intellect or using the powers of thought. It implies that we mean to consciously apply mental control. So we think that we can mentally direct energy. Is this true? There is a Qigong saying “Qi follows Yi”, translated as “Energy follows Intention”. Many people take this to mean that by thinking we can make energy go where we want it to go. However, in Chinese the concept of ‘Mind’ can be referred to as ’emotional mind’ (Hsin), or ‘wisdom mind’ (Yi). Both of those minds generate intentions or ideas. But not all intentions or ideas stay around in your consciousness long enough to become thoughts.
One Qigong master has described the phenomenon by saying that Bioelectric energy (Qi) travels faster than thought. So by the time your thought reaches say, the next acupuncture point on the meridian, the Qi has gone beyond it. By concentrating on that point you may CAUSE energy to artificially build up, stagnate and form a blockage. Alternatively, people con-centrate too hard on the Dantien point only to find a stuffy, congested feeling emerging sometimes with pains in the chest. Many practitioners have suffered from “side effects” from Qigong practice as a result of misunderstanding what amounts to mental force blocking the spontaneous flow of energy.
On the other hand there is ample medical evidence to show that thought does indeed have physiological effects. Grief is shown to affect the white blood cell count, anger produces a change in stomach timing and stress is linked to hypertension and heart disease and so on. Here it is more appropriate to say the mind at work is the ’emotional mind’ (Hsin) that has ordered a reaction to some thinking that was generated by an idea. Yi refers more to a detached, calm mind, which is why it is referred to as wisdom mind. Yi is intention that does not interfere with natural functioning. So before Yi can lead Qi, Yi must predominate over Hsin. What does all this mean in practical terms? Can we practice Qigong without using the mind? Surely if we don’t concentrate on what we are doing we will become distracted and achieve nothing.
The key to understanding all of this can be found with certain Taoist concepts. Traditionally, Qigong was not taught to disbelievers of Taoism because Qigong was considered to be a way of attaining the ultimate state: The state of no thought or nothingness. In other words it involved the ideas of giving up pre-conceptions, of giving up “achievements”; the idea of giving up end-gaining. These concepts may be all very fine but a bit high-minded and profound for the majority of us who practise Qigong simply for health. Still, we cannot deny that to practise something properly we need to understand its principles. So we need to regulate the emotional mind, calm down its overactivity and set ourselves free from fixed ideas about where our energy will go and how we will build it up. Then we can avoid getting absorbed and excited by sensations caused by Qi flow, and body and mind will be balanced. It is only when we don’t try to force things or expect things in our own Qigong practice will our mind be relaxed and truly concentrated.
When the mind is at peace the true condition of internal energy can be accurately judged and Qi will begin to flow. Yang Meijun, inheritor of the Dayan Qigong system, despite knowing more than 70 Qigong forms says that once you understand the principles behind Qigong, the best way is really very simple.
The Root of Chinese Qi Kung, Yang Jwing-Ming, YMAA 1989
Prenatal Energy Mobilising Qigong: China Taoist Ancient Qigong; Chinese Kung Fu Series, 1992.