In a previous article I mentioned hard qigong and its ability to transform the shape and function of our bodies, and also the importance of having a balance between hard and soft in our qigong development.
This month we will look a little more closely at what exactly hard qigong is.
In order to understand hard or ‘yang’ qigong, it is necessary to also understand soft or ‘yin’ qigong and discuss them in relationship to one another. Yin and Yang are relative in their nature in that what one describes as yin and another describes as yang will depend on their starting reference point. Also, everything contains aspects of both yin and yang so similar practices may be yin or yang alternately depending on which aspect is emphasized.
Yin and Yang
The concept of yin and yang flows through much of Chinese philosophy and describes opposite and complementary states of which all things are made up. Yin is passive, heavy, cold, dark, moist, soft, internal and so on. Yang is active, light, hot, dry, hard, external and so on. Objects and situations are described according to how much of each of these principles they embody. For example: Summer, when the heat of the sun is at a maximum, it is very light, animals and plants are active… is Yang. Winter, when it is cold, darker, many animals and plants are in a rest phase… is Yin. Autumn and Spring come somewhere in between, Autumn is descending Yang as activity levels fall, and Spring is ascending Yang as activity levels increase. Yin and Yang follow one another as the seasons follow each other, the one season preparing the way for the next. A land of constant winter ‘Yin’ (think Antarctic) or a land of constant summer ‘Yang’ (think Sahara) may support life, but not the abundance of life found in places with a cycle of seasons, or a more balanced mix of yin and yang year round.
So in terms of qigong, soft qigong practices will be those practices which focus on the development of the internal or organ energy and involve less active (more passive and relaxed) movements. Hard qigong will focus on the development of the external energy or energy of the muscles, tendons and bones, and will involve more active movements. There will always be a combination of both Yin and Yang, but one will usually predominate.
We will gain greatest benefit by doing at least a little of each. As we develop our Yin or internal energy, this will allow our organs to provide sustenance to our external structures – our muscles, bones and tendons. As we develop our Yang or external energy, the greater strength and stability of our external structures – our muscles, tendons and bones, will take pressure off nerves and blood supply to the inner organs and allow them to function efficiently bringing health to the whole body.
So if hard qigong is about developing the muscles and tendons of the body how does it differ from going to the gym or other western forms of exercise?
Excellent question. Many western forms of exercise focus strongly on the development of the external body, and as such can properly be done with one of the best home ab machines called a form of hard or yang exercise. Some hard qigong may even look quite similar to common western types of exercise. Where hard qigong differs from these types of abd exercise is in the important role of the mind AND body, and the awareness of energy this creates. Hard qigong also focuses more on developing ‘skill’ (remember ‘gong’ means skill) rather than simply developing bigger muscles (bigger is not always better). This means that the exercises use mental focus to help achieve good posture, stability, balance and steady contraction of the muscles. This in turn allows the Yin aspects of the body to continue to function freely even when under strain. The blood will continue to circulate, the nerves are not impinged and the overall effect is greater relaxation and free flow of energy to and from the internal organs.
What does hard qigong look like?
In many traditional qigong systems the hard or yang work is accomplished through practicing fighting kung fu forms, these tend to naturally involve intense activity in the form of fast movements, muscle tension and bracing for impact and striking. These forms are often technically demanding and very strenous and the focus on martial movements may not appeal to some people. Other systems have specific simplified non-martial hard qigong forms for health which may be easier for some people to learn. Others use the same forms and exercises they perform slowly and gently (yin) and simply perform them quickly and with force (yang). The reality is that any movement can be yin or yang, hard or soft depending on the focus and intent put into it.
Where can I learn more?
The opening of the North Shore Kung Fu and Qigong Health Centre has made it possible to offer a much wider range of classes to students. There are now classes available at a range of times that focus specifically on hard qigong. In these classes you will go through a range of the simplest exercises that embody the principles of hard qigong including tension, rapid movement, supporting load and using impact. While we perform these exercises with a sole focus on increasing our health and well being these exercises create a good foundation for later applying these same principles to martial arts or other activities. Qigong students are also welcome to come and learn the hard fighting forms of the Chi Kune Jow Do Kung Fu system in evening classes. Click here to view the class timetable and read more about the released lately.