The Way of Qigong: Body, Breath, and Mind by Kenneth S. Cohen

Published with kind permission of Kenneth S. Cohen

“Concentrating your energy and developing suppleness, can you become a child?” –Lao Zi, Taoist Philosopher, 500 BCE

Ken CohenWho wouldn’t wish for the wisdom of age and the vitality of youth? The problem is how to get there. In ancient China, doctors and Taoists developed a wonderful system of exercise and meditation designed to improve health and awaken the beginner’s mind. It is called Qigong (pronounced chee gung), literally “life energy work.” Qigong is practiced as a daily exercise routine, before but not instead of your workout at the gym.

Although there are many styles of qigong, they are all based on a practice called Standing Meditation, a way of standing like a tree with deep roots and tall, supple branches. Standing Meditation is said to improve posture, balance, strength, and vitality. It also makes the mind quiet and alert. The practice is based on “the Three Tunings”– gently adjusting the body, breath, and mind so that they make clear and harmonious “music.”

Tuning the Body

Stand with the feet shoulder width apart, the knees slightly bent. Your feet are rooted to the ground, like a tree. Your arms are in a round shape in front of your chest, as though embracing a beach ball. Your spine is straight, but not stiff. Imagine that it is stretched long; the crown of your head is reaching gently for the sky while your tailbone is reaching for the earth. Your breast bone is relaxed, neither depressed nor distended. Your shoulders are dropped, sitting downwards. If you have a problem with tight or raised shoulders, imagine that your elbows are heavy, pulling the shoulders down. Most important, relax; use minimum effort as you stand. Stand with stability, yet so delicately that you may imagine that if a feather landed on your head, your knees would buckle because of the added weight!

Tuning the Breath

To purify the air and conserve moisture, breathe through your nose. As you inhale, the abdomen gently expands. As you exhale it gently and naturally retracts. No need to force the breath. Just allow it to enter and leave, effortlessly. (Note: According to the medicine of both East and West, abdominal breathing is the healthiest way to breathe. It sends the most oxygen to your cells, relaxes the muscles, improves brain function, and, because of the movement of the diaphragm, massages the internal organs.) Think of the breath becoming slow, long and continuous, deep like the ocean, and smooth as silk.

Tuning the Mind

Once your posture is balanced and your breath is slow and quiet, then naturally, your mind can become calm. Qigong masters have discovered that the quickest way to change your mind is to change your body. You can’t try to calm the mind; that’s like trying to calm water by pounding on it. Rather, the waves of thought settle by themselves as a consequence of posture, breathing, and an attitude of self-acceptance and attentiveness.

Practice Standing Meditation once a day before breakfast, or at least 2 hours after. Hold the posture for a comfortable length of time, never straining or forcing. Most beginners can stand for about five minutes. Week by week increase the length of practice. Within a few months you should be able to stand for twenty minutes at a stretch. When you finish Standing, rock your weight gently front to back, side to side, and in circles to relieve any stagnant feeling in the feet. Imagine that as you rock your weight, the ground is giving you a foot massage.

Preserving Life

“People are valued for the amount of information they command.” That was the opinion of a web designer, as we conversed about ethics in the information age. How sad, I thought, that people are valued for information rather than for their generosity, parenting skills, kindness, and courage. Have we wandered so far? Qigong, and ancient contemplative practices like it, are important and more needed today than at any time in the past. Information is only of value if we have the wisdom to use it properly. Experiencing life, enjoying life, and preserving life all require a mind freed of selfishness, preconception, and prejudice– a beginner’s mind.

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by Kenneth S. Cohen
Ken Cohen is a renowned health educator, Qigong Master, and practitioner of indigenous medicine. He is the author of the critically acclaimed books The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing and Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing, as well as numerous Sounds True audio/DVD courses and more than 200 journal articles on spirituality and health. Ken speaks and reads the Chinese language, and his academic training includes graduate study of Taoism and theology. Highly respected as a traditional healer, singer, and storyteller, Ken spent many years learning from Native American/ First Nation elders. He is a member of various medicine societies and maintains close ties with his adoptive Cree Indian family in Canada. In addition, Ken studied African Zulu medicine for five years with Fred Lee “Ingwe,” in the lineage of the High Sanusi (Holy Man), Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa and was one of four North American students of a master dibia (diviner) of the Igbo tribe, Nigeria.