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Depending on what Qigong book you read, video you watch, or class you attend, you'll hear about this "mysterious energy" or "life force" that runs through our bodies called "Chi".
These authors and instructors usually define "Chi" as "energy" in some fashion:
After this definition, usually comes discussions of one or more of these topics: Chinese medicine, history, and philosophy; acupuncture charts and diagrams; descriptions of fantastic martial arts feats attributed to chi; explanations of related topics such as feng shui; definitions of "energy" from other cultures; alternative medical practices; and/or relating of "chi" to Western scientific concepts, such as quantum theory or mainstream medicine.
You might even see dramatic video of Qigong masters using "Chi" to heal others. You may hear how Qigong is based on "theories" of Chi. If you are a Qigong student, your teacher may tell you what the "Chi" in your body is supposedly doing while you practice. Or they may tell you to "relax and use your chi" while doing the exercises.
And some teachers will tell you that to really experience Chi, you have to "believe" in it. You have to take this theory of Chi on faith. You have to believe that Chi exists, and take it on faith that your Tai Chi/Qigong practice will help you develop it.
But as a Qigong teacher with 30 years experience in the Chi arts, I say: forget all that.
In my courses, we follow none of those paths to understanding "chi."
Yes, we sometimes define "chi" as "energy", and yes, we do discuss information about "energy pathways" in our courses. But when we get down to it, we like to define "chi" not in terms of "beliefs" or "theories," but in terms of "actions".
Our definition of chi is ...
Chi is the result of performing certain "activities" and/or observing certain "processes." You can see, feel, hear, and experience "chi" by performing those activities and observing those processes.
This definition is extremely important, and the key to the benefits and successes our students have experienced in my courses. I've found that defining "chi" as others do (as "energy," and with "beliefs" and "theories"), while technically accurate, is too vague, too impracticeal for our purposes. Instead, I prefer a more practical, experiential, working definition.
I define chi as "process/activity/result" to create a certain mind-set in our students. This definition changes your perspective on "chi" from some vague, mystical "energy" (that may or may not exist, or that you may or may not experience) to something you will definitely experience by doing and observing.
And you're going to get a chance to experience chi ... right now.
To answer this question, I often teach my beginning qigong classes a simple exercise in "chi emission" - the ability to feel chi as it leaves the body. In this exercise, students learn to feel internal energy as it emanates from the palms of their hands.
I also encourage the students to approach this exercise with a healthy amount of skepticism. I don't want the students to visualize, imagine, hypnotize, nor will themselves into feeling their chi. I wanted them to keep their eyes open and not "space out."
Above all, I want my students to be honest with themselves - either they feel the chi coming from their hands or they don't. Either experience should be considered to be valid and acceptable.
I remember one of the first times I taught this exercise. This happened years ago. One student - a skeptical engineer - didn't feel anything in particular during class when I taught this chi emission exercise. But the next day, he sent me this email: "I was practicing that exercise this morning at my desk, and I felt a sensation between my palms. I can't believe it! Is it truly real or is it a part of my imagination? If it's real, what is it? Is there a scientific explanation?".
Scientific research over the last few decades has arrived at an explanation for chi emission in terms of infrasonic waves.
Infrasonic waves are sound waves vibrating below 20 Hertz (Hz) - too slow to be audible to the human ear. Every living person emits these waves from the palms of their hands, generally in 8 to 12.5 Hz range at an intensity of 40 to 50 decibels (dB). (Niu Zin, et al. "Measurement and Analysis of Infrasonic Waves from Emitted Qi." Beijing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 1988.)
In one research study, 29 Americans with no prior qigong training had the intensity of the infrasonic waves from their palms measured both before and after a week of qigong practice. Before the training, the average intensity for the group was 47dB. After one week of training, the average intensity rose to 54dB. (Lee, Richard H. "Emitted Qi Training Increases Low Frequency Sound Emission." China Healthways Institute. 5 June 1998.)
Well, a 7-decibel increase might not sound like a lot, until you realize that decibels are a logarithmic unit, meaning that you cannot add and subtract them like ordinary numbers.
So when these 29 students had an average increase of 7dB, they were actually producing FIVE TIMES the energy from their palms after qigong training than before! And as part of the same study, one Qigong master generated waves of 78db, which is 1000 TIMES GREATER than the average person emits.
Now chi emission may actually involve more than just infrasonic waves. But the fact that at least one component can be measured suggests that chi emission is more than just part of our imagination.
Would you like to experience chi emission yourself? Here's the Qigong exercise in chi emission that we teach beginners in our workshops and classes.
Sit comfortably in a relaxed position. Take your two hands and place one over the top of the other, as if you were about to clap your hands. The centers of the palms should be in line with each other, but the hands should not touch.
Now slowly begin to move your hands in one of two ways. 1) Make circles with your hands, as if you were rolling a small ball between them, or 2) move them towards and away from each other slowly in a pulsing motion, as if you were clapping in slow motion, but without the hands touching. Do this for two or three minutes, keeping your body and mind as relaxed as possible.
At some point, most people will feel something between their hands. The "something" may feel sticky or gooey, like pulling salt-water taffy, or may feel like two magnets attracting or repelling each other. Other common "somethings" people feel are: cold or warm spots on their hands (not the normal body warmth, but specific spots), the feeling of pushing down on a balloon or spring, a "squishy" feeling to the air between the palms, or a tingling in the palms. You may see some visual changes in your hands, as the palms may take on a mottled appearance of red and white spots during this exercise.
You may need to play with the distance your hands are apart from each other. Having the hands too close together or too far apart may not be effective. You need to find the distance that works for you, and this distance will be different for each person.
The feeling of "something" between your hands is simply the result of chi that naturally emanates from your palms. Again, this not a visualization or imagination exercise. Just honestly ask yourself, "Do I feel something?" If you do feel something, you will know it with certainty.
Some people will have this feeling on the first attempt. Others may need to practice this exercise several times over a few days before sensing the chi in their palms. Most people will feel something within a week. If you are having trouble feeling anything, it's helpful to practice some moving Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga, full-body stretching, or meditation to open up the chi channels before each time you attempt the exercise.
I've had only two students in over 20 years of teaching that had no sensations after extended practice of this Qigong exercise, so chances are good that you will soon have the answer to the question, "Is chi emission real?" And the answer will be right in the palm of your hand!
You have my best wishes for health, well-being, and Chi Development,