What Does a Chi Kung Expert Look Like?

What Does a Chi Kung Expert Look Like?

“You’re not what I expected.”

I got this comment in the park while I was doing my evening practice. Someone had come over to ask me some questions about Chi Kung. She remarked on the quality of my energy and asked me where I had learned these arts. I mentioned that I was a teacher . . . and then she made the comment.

Honestly, I wasn’t offended by her comment. It wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten this kind of response. Even when people are polite enough not to say it to my face, I’m pretty sure they’re thinking it.

Lots of people have preconceived notions about what a Chi Kung expert should look like, even those who don’t know what Chi Kung is! They’ve likely been conditioned by mainstream American culture, which has absorbed a vague awareness of Chinese martial and spiritual practices. But whatever the source of the conditioning, if people encounter an art that seems esoteric, involves choreographed movements, and has Chinese origins, then their expectations get triggered.

So what are these expectations?

Your Master Must Be Chinese

The biggest expectation I encounter in potential students is that a Chi Kung expert should be Chinese. After all, Chi Kung is a Chinese art, it’s been a part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, and there are more than a billion Chinese people alive today. Why shouldn’t experts of the art be Chinese?

This expectation reflects an ignorance of Chinese history. Elements of traditional Chinese culture have long been exported from China to other parts of Asia. What’s more, upheavals in China over the last two hundred years or so led many masters of traditional Chinese arts like Chi Kung to leave the country. As a result of all this movement, these arts gradually spread to students around the world, including non-Chinese students. These days, many excellent practitioners and teachers of Chi Kung are not in China and are not ethnically Chinese.

Old Is Never Old Enough

It’s a truism in the world of Taijiquan that the art takes a lifetime to master, and  people sometimes transfer that idea to Chi Kung. As a result, they expect a Chi Kung teacher to be middle-aged or older. For students who cling to the image of a wizened graybeard as their instructor, my baby face and lack of gray hairs will be a turnoff. I can hear the critics now: “Who does that kid think he is?”

The truth is it doesn’t have to take a lifetime to develop some mastery of Chi Kung. Chi Kung, like riding a bicycle, involves particular skills that one can get better at through practice. How quickly you master the art depends in part on how well you learn and how well you practice. If you don’t learn the fundamental skills of Chi Kung, or if you do but then don’t practice them much, mastery will remain out of reach. On the other hand, high-quality instruction combined with consistent practice could enable you to reach a basic level of mastery in about a decade.

What Chi Kung Experts Really Look Like

Chi Kung experts enjoy the benefits of their art, which include having good health and vitality, a positive attitude toward life, and a sharp mind. They can be of any ethnicity and gender and of almost any age (barring extreme youth, for practical reasons). You might not notice, at first glance, that these folks are Chi Kung experts—unless you catch them practicing. So next time you’re wandering around a city park, keep your eyes peeled. You might just find your very own local Chi Kung expert.

The Benefits of Chi Kung: What the Research Says

The Benefits of Chi Kung: What the Research Says

Chi Kung has a tremendous reputation in China, and increasingly, around the world, as a self-healing art. But many of the reported benefits of this art come from anecdotal experience, not scientific studies. For instance, I could tell you about the many ways Chi Kung has helped me, and about how, for instance, Chi Kung has helped ease the symptoms of depression in several practitioners in our school, but these personal accounts do not carry the same weight as scientific research, which is typically done under controlled conditions.

So what does the science on Chi Kung say about the benefits of this art? Recent years have seen a spike in research on Chi Kung and related arts like Tai Chi. PubMed, the online database of the National Institutes for Health, currently lists the results of more than seven hundred studies on Chi Kung (spelled “Qigong” as a search term), a majority of which were published within the last decade. The research on Tai Chi is even more extensive: PubMed currently lists close to 2,500 studies on Tai Chi.

In one study, published in 2013, researchers examined the effectiveness of Chi Kung in managing the symptoms of depression in patients who had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. The findings were promising: the researchers found that study participants who did Chi Kung experienced an “antidepressive effect.” In short, the study provides evidence that Chi Kung may help alleviate symptoms of depression. These results seem consistent with the experiences of practitioners in our school.

The growing body of research suggests that Chi Kung may offer a whole host of benefits, such as:

• better sleep

• better cognition

• relief from chronic pain

• lower blood pressure

• greater strength

• improved balance

• better quality of life

Some of the studies look at the effects of Chi Kung in different demographic groups, such as adolescents and seniors. Other studies examine the use of Chi Kung for patients who are getting treatment for breast cancer, knee arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, and COPD, among other conditions. Browse the research yourself, then check out my upcoming classes.


How Is Chi Kung Different from Physical Exercise?

Conventional exercise involves stressing the cardiovascular system or working the muscles, but in Chi Kung we relax the body, breath, and mind. When we are relaxed at all levels—physically, emotionally, mentally—we can bring our nervous system back to rest and digest mode, which facilitates deep healing. The more deeply we relax, the more effective our Chi Kung practice becomes.

Shirtless man with bulging muscles strains to lift a tire

Good old-fashioned grit and determination. Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst.

Chi Kung also ranges into territory beyond the confines of conventional exercise. In Chi Kung we develop and apply skills in managing chi (vital energy). Getting the chi to flow is the most basic skill in Chi Kung. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, a smooth flow of chi will clear away the blockages that underlie physical and mental health problems. So when we practice Chi Kung to improve our health and happiness, it makes sense that we emphasize developing chi flow rather than, say, building muscle.

person holding a stance

Me relaxing (smiling!) in the horse-riding stance. Stance training is a type of Chi Kung.

If you’ve never experienced chi flow, if you’ve never felt your vital energy moving through you, then all I can say is, you’re missing out. Not only does the sensation of chi flow feel good, it helps make Chi Kung a holistic art, one that brings together body, energy, and mind.

The benefits of Chi Kung are also holistic. As a form of mindfulness, Chi Kung improves mental focus and eases the effects of stress. As an energy art, it helps to clear pain and inflammation, improve sleep, balance your metabolism, and establish an emotional equilibrium, among many other benefits.

How do you know if you’re practicing Chi Kung effectively as an energy art? If you don’t feel any obvious sensations of chi, that’s okay; those sensations will vary in intensity and may be quite subtle. But if you feel refreshed and energized after a session—like you’ve had a massage and a cup of coffee—then that’s a sign that you’re working with energy. More broadly, take stock of the progress you’ve made since you first started training. If you can identify a reduction in tension, pain, and inflammation in your body over time, then you’re on the right track.

In my Generating Energy Flow course, I teach students basic skills in managing their energy, from entering into a meditative state of mind to letting the energy flow freely in order to clear health issues. With our cost-effective method, you can get the benefits of an energy art in just 10 to 15 minutes of practice per day.