Qigong Energy Pathways


How Qigong Affect Your Chi Meridians and Chi Vessels

Energy Pathways in Qigong: How Different Styles of Qigong Affect Your Chi Meridians and Chi Vessels

Last updated on by Al Simon



Energy Pathways in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Qigong practice is built upon the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM theory looks at the body as consisting of various energy pathways. These pathways are involved in the maintenance and distribution of internal energy (called "chi" - also spelled "qi" - pronounced "chee") within the body. These pathways are similar to, but not identical to, the nervous system pathways used in Western medicine. This concept of chi pathways is fundamental to both acupuncture and Qigong.

TCM and Medical Qigong divides these energy pathways into two groups, based on the function each group performs.

Vessels are pathways or areas in the body that primarily store energy. These pathways store the energy derived from respiration, digestion, and movement. In other words, the energy derived from the food you eat, from the air you breathe, and from your Qigong practice is stored in vessel pathways.

Meridians are pathways that distribute energy throughout the body. They take the internal energy stored in the vessels and distribute it to the skin, to muscles and tissue, to the internal organs - to wherever it is needed.

Note: Some books on TCM theory use the term "channels" in connection with energy pathways. However, this term is not consistently applied. Some books refer to both meridians and vessels as channels. Others refer to just vessels (or just meridians) as channels. We will avoid the term channels and use only vessels and meridians for clarity.


Often in TCM when discussing chi, we compare it to the way water flows. To extend this analogy, we can compare vessels to "reservoirs" - places where water is collected and stored for a community. In this analogy, meridians are then like the municipal "water pipes" which distribute this stored water to homes and buildings in the community. (Unlike municipal water pipes, though, chi flows both ways through meridians.)


According to TCM, the vessels or "chi reservoirs" are located primarily within the body's trunk or torso. The meridians or "chi water pipes" flow throughout the entire body - both trunk and limbs. Many of the primary meridians actually start within the trunk usually at or near an organ, and run from the trunk out into the arms or legs.

Qigong Styles and Energy Pathways

Consequently, one way we can categorize Qigong styles is by whether they focus primarily on vessels or primarily on meridians. As with any categorization, we should look at it as a scale, not as a "black and white" grouping. Some Qigong styles are primarily "vessel" styles, some are primarily "meridian" styles, and many fall somewhere in between.

Vessel Qigong styles are called Neidan Qigong. Neidan is a Chinese phrase meaning "internal elixir." You can think of "elixir" as meaning "chi " or "energy," while "internal" refers to "inside the torso." Neidan Qigong styles focus on building up energy in the torso, where most of the vessels are, and storing this energy there.

Meridian Qigong styles are called Waidan Qigong. Waidan means "external elixir." "External" in this context means "external to the torso" - in other words, the arms and legs. As we've mentioned, many important meridians are located in the limbs. Waidan Qigong styles focus on improving the flow of energy throughout the entire body, with a special focus on the arms and legs.



How Waidan and Neidan Styles Work

Waidan and Neidan Qigong styles accomplish similar goals. Both styles aid in generating and storing chi, as well as in smoothly circulating chi. However, their approaches to obtaining these goals are quite different.

The Waidan styles, by focusing on the meridian "water pipes," help keep chi flowing smoothly through the body for health, stress relief, and well-being. They use the limbs to encourage smooth chi flow through the meridians. As chi builds up in the limbs during practice, it will eventually flow back through the meridians to the internal organs to nourish them. Any excess of chi in the meridians will be "siphoned" off into the vessel "reservoirs" for storage.

The Neidan styles, by focusing on the vessel "reservoirs," help develop abundant energy for the entire body. They use primarily torso movements, especially in the major joints such as the shoulders or hip sockets, and/or mental concentration to generate and store chi. As abundant chi becomes available, it will "overflow" the reservoirs into the meridians, helping to clear out obstructions and smooth out chi flow.

To make this a little more clear, let's put it this way:
  • Waidan/meridian Qigong works first on improving chi circulation in the meridian/water-pipes. As a by-product of generating chi to improve circulation, excess chi may then be stored in the vessels/reservoirs.
     
  • Neidan/vessel Qigong works first on storing chi in the vessels/reservoirs. As a by-product of generating chi for storage, excess chi may then be distributed through the meridians to improve circulation.

To put it even more succinctly, Waidan/meridian Qigong improves circulation first and storage second. Neidan/vessel Qigong improves storage first and circulation second.


Waidan vs. Neidan - Advantages to Each

As you can see, both styles achieve the same goals. Both help improve chi flow through the meridians and chi storage in the vessels. Though they both reach the same goals, the two different types have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

In general, Waidan styles use movement of the limbs. Because of this focus on limb movement, Waidan styles are often similar to Western exercises. This makes these movements easier to learn for most students. In addition, Waidan styles generally focus on a single technique at one time. In other words, in Waidan styles, you are usually only doing one kind of stretch or one kind of movement at a time. Also, meridians are easily accessed in the arms and legs, unlike vessels that can be buried in the torso. That means Waidan styles often bring levels of health and healing more quickly than Neidan styles. They are great for short-term energetic improvements and for quick "energy system" warm-ups.

On the other hand, Neidan styles focus on the torso through movement and/or concentration. By focusing on storing chi in the vessels for later use, Neidan styles generally have better long-term benefits for health and healing. However, since the vessels are not as easily accessed, Neidan qigong often requires the use of multiple techniques at one time in order to create the necessary effect. Using multiple techniques means that Neidan styles are harder to learn, especially for beginners. In the long run though, they result in a greater level of concentration, coordination, and precision.



Waidan and Neidan in the ChiFusion Program

Some Qigong teachers believe that Neidan/vessel/reservoir styles are superior to Waidan/meridian/water-pipe styles, based on their long-term benefits. This attitude is often found among Tai Chi teachers, because many view Tai Chi as primarily a Neidan (torso/vessel) focused style. Other Qigong teachers believe Waidan styles are superior, because of the immediate, sometimes dramatic benefits these styles provide for health, healing, fitness, and stress relief.


In the ChiFusion program, we include both Waidan and Neidan styles.

Our research and experience has led us to conclude that your "best bet" for both short-term and long-term health is through combining both styles. In our own practice, and in observing our students, we found that using both Waidan and Neidan practices brings students a more complete list of benefits than focusing on just one category or the other. In addition, we view Tai Chi as a Waidan/Neidan hybrid practice that brings benefits to your entire energy system - both meridians and vessels - simultaneously.


Qigong Styles in Level 1

As mentioned previously, the ChiFusion program is divided into four levels. Each level focuses on a specific step towards improving health, relieving stress, increasing fitness levels, and learning the basics of Tai Chi and Qigong.

The main theme of Level 1 of the ChiFusion program is Opening Body and Mind. Using Eight Brocades Qigong, we worked on flexibility, range of motion, and easy movements to open and lengthen all major parts of the body. We used primarily movements in the limbs to open up the spine, hips and legs, and arms and shoulders. To open the mind, we worked on Falling Water Qigong (focusing on draining stagnant chi from the hands and feet) and Chi Emission (focusing on chi in the palms).

As you may have guessed, Level 1 uses primarily Waidan (meridian/limb/water-pipe) Qigong. We chose Waidan Qigong for Level 1 because of two obvious benefits. First of all, beginning students often find Waidan styles easier to learn, because they seem more like Western exercises that primarily use the arms and legs. In addition, a majority of our students, including both sedentary students and those with physical problems, see short-term benefits more quickly with the Waidan styles.

In the early years of the ChiFusion program, we actually tried out a number of different Waidan Qigong styles in our beginning program. We gathered student feedback on these styles  - what worked for them, what didn't, what was too easy, what was too difficult, etc. After a period of exploration with our students, we settled on Eight Brocades as our primary Level 1 Waidan style, because it was the shortest and hence the easiest to learn Waidan style that still provided great health, stress relief, and fitness benefits.

Qigong Styles in Level 2

Once you've gotten some immediate benefits from your Level 1 practice, we now begin to turn our focus to more long-range health and vitality in Level 2. To this end, we begin introducing Neidan and Waidan/Neidan hybrid practices in Level 2.


In using Neidan and Waidan/Neidan hybrid practices, we will be focusing on the torso and the vessel energy pathways. In Level 2, we'll begin helping you build strong "chi" reservoirs and using multiple techniques simultaneously to create "synergistic" chi effects.


Because we are using Neidan Qigong, you may initially find that the Level 2 exercises are more difficult to learn and more complex to practice. But don't worry! While the exercises initially look more difficult, our step-by-step kinesthetic approach will have you learning them just as easily as you learned the Level 1 exercises. You will soon be getting an even greater level of benefits from your practice with our Level 2 Neidan Qigong.





Comparison Chart of Neidan and Waidan Qigong styles

 

Neidan Qigong

Waidan Qigong

Translation

"internal elixir" (internal to the torso)

"external elixir" (external to the torso)

Pathways

Focuses on vessels ("reservoirs")

Focuses on meridians ("water pipes")

Focus

Building up energy in the torso, where most of the vessels are, and storing this energy there

Improving the flow of energy throughout the entire body, with a special focus on the arms and legs

Goal

Aid in the generation and smooth circulation of chi

Aid in the generation and smooth circulation of chi

Process

Develop abundant energy for the entire body by generating and storing chi. As abundant chi becomes available, it will "overflow" the reservoirs into the meridians, helping to clear out obstructions and smooth out chi flow.

Keep chi flowing smoothly through the body. As chi builds up in the limbs, it will eventually flow back through the meridians to the internal organs and torso. Excess chi in the meridians will be "siphoned" off into the vessel "reservoirs" for storage.

Advantages

  • Better long term health benefits
  • Uses multiple techniques at one time
  • Benefits are multiplicative
  • Develops greater concentration
  • Develops greater coordination
  • Develops greater precision
  • Easier to learn
  • Often similar to Western exercise
  • Focuses on one technique at a time
  • Benefits are additive
  • Easy access to meridians in arms/legs
  • Brings benefits more quickly
  • Good for short-term improvements
  • Good for quick energy system warm-ups

Proponents

Qigong teachers who emphasize long-term benefits in health and healing

Tai Chi teachers, many of whom view Tai Chi as primarily a Neidan style

Qigong teachers who emphasize immediate, sometimes dramatic benefits in health, healing, fitness, and stress relief

ChiFusion Program

  • Combines both styles for both short-term and long-term health.
  • Brings a more complete list of benefits than focusing on just one or the other.
  • We view Tai Chi as a Waidan/Neidan hybrid practice that brings benefits to your entire energy system - both meridians and vessels - simultaneously.
  • Level 1 focuses on Waidan because 1) it is easier to learn and 2) a majority of students, including the sedentary and physically challenged, see short-term benefits more quickly.
  • We chose a particular Waidan style for Level 1 after experimenting with a number of styles, because it was the shortest and hence the easiest to learn Waidan style that still provided great health, stress relief, and fitness benefits.
  • Level 2 introduces Neidan practices. These practices help build strong "chi" reservoirs. They also use multiple techniques simultaneously to create "synergistic" chi effects.

 

You have my best wishes for health, well-being, and Chi Development,

Al Simon   Al's Signature

 

 

Start Your Chi Development Right Now ...

Free Lessons - Click Here to Start

 

 

 

 

Previous: The chi in Qigong | Next: Tai Chi Qigong Techniques