The Qigong State
by Courtney Anderson and Brian Trzaskos
“Healing Springs Journal”
Qigong is a meditative-movement practice originating in ancient China thousands of years ago. An offspring of Qigong, Tai Chi is better known in the Western world; in actuality the practices are so similar that the novice may not be able to tell them apart. The ultimate goal of both Qigong and Tai Chi is to access a state of physical, mental, and spiritual coherence: the Qigong state. This experience of complete coherence signals a point of optimal physical functioning, emotional balance, and spiritual awareness. As long-term seated meditators, we were able to attain periodic levels of calmness within ourselves; however, we continued to struggle, as many do, with incessant streams of thoughts. With Qigong we learned to take the practice “off of the cushion” so to speak, engendering much more than a state of deep relaxation. This practice produced both physiological optimization and a profound sense of belonging in the natural world.
Qigong teaches us to access the Qigong state not only during formal practice, but more importantly as a function of daily life. We all recognize that waking life includes many challenges that result in anxiety and emotional stress. Our brains are largely responsible for creating these perceptual imbalances, yet ironically the brain has no direct contact with the outside world. Our brains are our body’s CEOs… in the dark.
The brain is like a CEO who sits alone in her office. There are no windows, but billions of doors. Each minute of the day the doors open and close thousands of times, as assistants come in to give their reports. The CEO never leaves the office and does not see the inter-workings of this large and complex company that she is running. She must use the information the assistants have gathered in order to make all her decisions. Sometimes the CEO’s assistants come bursting in, going ballistic about some emergency situation that is happening. Simultaneously, other assistants also enter and give their versions, from their department’s perspective, on the severity and details of the events taking place. The CEO analyzes all the information that she is given, and makes decisions based solely and exclusively on what she has heard, and never on what she sees for herself.
Every moment of the day our brains receive information. Through our experiences we sense what is going on around us, and data are sent to the brain for analysis. Since the brain needs to make all of its decisions based on information with which it has never had first-hand experiences, it is reasonable to conclude that it will attend to and deal with the most critical information first. If the brain consistently receives information that our life experiences are emergent, then the brain must adapt to a constant state of bombardment via excitatory information from its “assistants”, often resulting in a state of high alert. This is exhausting! Imagine yourself sitting in an office where people are constantly running in, exclaiming, “Oh NO! What’s happening is so horrible!” Of course the brain is going to send out all the reinforcements the body needs to deal with these stressful stimuli, which ironically results in more stress.
Now, we have the unique ability to choose what information we are going to send to the CEO in the dark: our brain. What if, instead of messages of impending danger, we were to send messages of calm, that even though things aren’t going the way we would like, we can handle it. How would the CEO react? She may not be so reactive or stressed.
Being able to send such messages to our brain, that everything is going to be alright in the face of stress, requires that we have at least experienced what calm feels like in our bodies. The more practice we have at reaching that feeling within ourselves, the easier it becomes to achieve it again when we need it most. Practicing Qigong teaches us to sense and direct vital energy by focusing on body, breath, and mind.
Our breath follows, our body and our mind follows our breath. When these three are aligned in the Qigong state, our bodies produce what the Chinese call an elixir, what Westerner practitioners call the relaxation response, and what we call just plain feeling good. When our bodies are used to feeling good, we are more readily able to return to that state, any time, all the time, and specifically when we are under stress. Calling upon the Qigong state at any moment in our lives gives us powerful options for choosing calm and peaceful reactions. In effect, we are choosing to say to the CEO in the dark, “Yep. Things are pretty stressful right now… but hey… look at me… I’m relaxed. I’m going to be just fine.”