Essential Meditation Basics for Mastering Qigong
I wish someone had given me the information in this short article on meditation basics when I first started Qigong practice in 1989. It would’ve saved me years of confusion and frustration. Although this article will focus on mastering Qigong meditation, the concepts that I am about to teach you are universal to all forms of meditation and thus can be applied to whatever meditation practice you feel drawn towards. Whether you are practicing yoga, zen, tai-chi, or any other practice, these concepts will be of immense help to you on your journey. These meditation concepts are what I consider to be the essential foundation behind every practice of meditation broken down into a format that is easy to understand. I hope that they will help you as much as they’ve helped me.
The practice of meditation means different things for different people. For our purposes I will define meditation in these two terms:
1. Meditation is the unification of the three centers of being: mind, body, and spirit, into a harmonious state of wholeness.2. Meditation is a method for stripping away the illusion of a separate identity (ego) and coming into intimate, personal contact with the universal consciousness that dwells within you. This consciousness has been called by many different names such as qi, spirit, prana, aenema, force, etc.
These two effects feed off of each other. Reaching a state of internal unity where you no longer experience inner turmoil and conflict allows your being to become still. It is only in this stillness that you can feel and perceive the universal energy that dwells within you. Conversely, experiencing this energy on an intimate level has an effect of dissolving internal conflict and bringing you to a state of mental, physical, and spiritual unification.
What do you mean by “internal conflict”?
I’m talking about the nagging feeling inside of you that is never content with life, is always viewing life as a struggle, makes you miserable, and would never allow you a moment of peace if it had its way. And this feeling is not always from mental conflict, it could come from physical tension or deeper, spiritual/energetic disturbances.
Take for instance, you reading this article. Is your mind fully absorbed in the act of reading, or is your mind being pulled toward other issues that are not relevant right at this moment? Is your body relaxed and allowing your mind and spirit to function properly, or are you holding on to nagging tensions and pain? And finally, from an energetic standpoint (I tend to like using the word “energetic” rather than “spiritual”, it’s not as loaded with concepts.), do you feel a sense of peace and contentment inside of you, or are you constantly fighting with feelings of unexplainable anxiety and angst?
The practice of meditation is a tool to help you focus the mind, relax the body, and calm the spirit. It brings these three centers of being into harmony with each other and reduces the internal conflict that makes you miserable. From this state of internal harmony, the experience of life becomes easier. If it’s something that interests you, this state of internal harmony is also the foundation for developing the metaphysical powers that can come from meditation such as: extra sensory perception (ESP), energy healing, aura reading, Mesmerism, and clairvoyance.
I make no judgments as to whether or not developing these powers is good or bad. It’s neither good nor bad, it just depends on whether or not they’re important to you. But unless you have cultivated a state of internal calm and clarity, your ability to manifest these powers will be sporadic at best…and they also will have a potential to injure you.
So to summarize, these are some of the benefits of meditation practice:
1. Unification of the mind, body, and spirit into a state of internal harmony and clarity.2. A focused mind, relaxed body, and calm spirit.3. Relief from physical pain, heightened ability to recover from illness, and a healthier body overall.4. Relief from anxiety, depression, anguish, and lack of concentration.5. Greater understanding of life. Acceptance of life as it is, and with that comes more enjoyment in living.6. Coming into a more intimate connection to the universal energy that dwells within you and all of creation.7. If it’s something that you want, the development of extraordinary powers.8. I could go on, but I think this is enough for now.
How do I unify my three centers of being?
I will discuss with you the nature of each center of being and how to bring it into harmony with the whole. Let’s start with the body since it’s the easiest to understand.
The First Center: Physical
The key word here is “relax”. You need to relax your muscles as much as possible. And if your meditation practice requires movement or holding physical postures (like Tai-Chi or Yoga), then you need to use only as much tension as is necessary to perform the movement or hold the posture, nothing more.
The reason why relaxation is so important is because excess physical tension will keep your mind and spirit from realizing its potential. You cannot concentrate or experience the sensitivity that comes from stillness if you are too tense. The analogy I like to use is that the spirit is a powerful thoroughbred race horse while the body is a feeble old man who is tied to the back of the horse. Although the spirit is infinitely more powerful than the body, it is still limited by the constraints of the physical form. When the body is tense, the feeble old man (physical form) is fully attached to the race horse (spiritual form) and the horse cannot fully exhibit its potential.
Through relaxation of the body, the feeble old man becomes less attached to the horse…and the horse can show more of its power. Notice that I said “less attached” and not “detached”. The only way that the spirit can become completely free of physical limitations is through death. As long as you are in physical form, your spirit will in some way be limited by what your body can handle.
So keeping that in mind, it makes sense that good physical habits will directly benefit your meditation practice. Be sure to keep good hygiene and clean living conditions. Get enough exercise and rest, drink plenty of water and don’t eat junk food.
As for learning how to relax the body, I’d like you to stand up and imagine your body as a skeleton holding itself up by it’s own structure, with as little assistance as possible from your muscles. Imagine that your muscles are simply hanging off of your bones. If your posture is correct, this will be easier to do. From here, mentally scan your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. As you do this mental scanning, feel the level of tension or relaxation in each part of the body.
If you feel a certain part of you is too tense, pay gentle attention to it and ask it to relax. If for whatever reason it refuses to relax, move on to the rest of your body and come back to that part later. Scan your body as many times as you need to in order to reach a state of physical relaxation.
The reason why this simple technique is so effective is because you are giving your body the conscious attention that it craves. Please remember:
Attention is love. Love is attention.
Now I don’t mean to come off as sounding spongy here, but a lot of our physical problems are due to the lack of attention/love that we give to our bodies. You body does everything for you. It is the thankless servant of your mind and spirit that never takes a day off and always does its best to obey.
From an energetic perspective, when a part of your body is holding on to excess tension that is its way of asking for conscious attention on your part. Give that part of you the attention/love that it is craving. It will eventually relax and thank you in the form of better health, relaxation, and a better meditation practice.
The key to unifying your body is to relax and let go of physical tension. Whatever posture or movement you perform in meditation, do it with the least amount of tension necessary. Practice the scanning exercise mentioned above to develop more control over the amount of tension in your body.
The Second Center: Spiritual
Now that the body is not inhibiting you with excess tension, we can focus on unifying the spirit. We do that through the breath. We do that through the practice of Qigong breathing.
Have you ever asked why almost every meditation practice from every part of the world places an emphasis on deep, diaphragmatic breathing? The reason why is because the act of breathing can be used as a conscious method to connect to the unconscious (spirit). Let me explain.
There are very few physical processes that are involuntary (unconscious) in nature which we also have voluntary (conscious) control over. The act of breathing is involuntary because we do it without thinking about it and we also breathe while we sleep. However, we also have voluntary control over our breath because we can hold our breath or breathe faster or slower at will.
Because it has both involuntary (unconscious) as well as voluntary (conscious) qualities, the act of breathing can be used as a conscious method to access the unconscious. The breath is a bridge to the unconscious. Let me say that again because it’s the main point that I want you to understand:
The breath is a bridge to the unconscious.
The type of breathing that is most conducive to this is slow, effortless, and from the belly. It’s exactly the way infants breathe. In Taoist philosophy, an infant is a brand new manifestation of pure spirit, the universal energy that gives life to us all. Because the infant is still so close to being pure spirit, he is the perfect example of what our natural state is like. I think this is a major reason why people are so attracted to infants. Even on an unconscious level, infants remind us of our most natural state…one of pure spirit.
As longs as his basic physical needs are met (food, shelter, touch, etc.), an infant:
- Accepts reality as it is and does not judge the world as good or bad.
- Is completely present in the moment and does not hold resentment over the past or anxiety over the future.
- Is totally relaxed and free of excess tension.
- Breathes slowly and deeply in the belly. It’s only as the infant becomes older and reaches adulthood that he becomes exposed to the vices of the world and begins to breathe shallow in the chest.
It’s my observation that 99% of all the patients that I treat for anxiety, depression, and fatigue breathe shallow breaths from the chest. It’s also my observation that the vast majority of my patients who suffer from obesity, stomach problems, constipation, migraines, fibromyalgia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a host of other issues also breathe shallow breaths from the chest.
Now, I’m not saying that bad breathing habits directly caused their problems, but I am saying that correcting their breathing habits has helped every single one of them overcome their problem to some extent. For some patients the breathing practice alone has cured them, for others it has helped them along with a program of more vigorous methods. But every single one of them has improved with better breathing habits.
The use of this breathing technique in your meditation practice will not only improve your emotional and physical health, it will allow you to connect to the deeper subconscious levels of your being. It’s free, accessible at all times, and you don’t need to buy any gadgets to do it. Over time, this breathing practice will help to heal injuries of the spirit that result in anxiety, depression, resentment, guilt, and anger. When the burden of these injuries is lifted, you will be able to experience a deeper connection with the spirit of life.
It is difficult to experience this connection to spirit, this connection to your most essential form of being, unless your spirit is still and sensitive like a calm lake. Your spirit cannot be still when the heart is heavy. This breathing method will help free the spirit and unburden the heart. It is not just a breathing technique, it can serve as an entire meditation practice in of itself. In fact, this technique was the first one that I learned as a kid and is one of the few that I still practice to this day.
Here it is:
Begin by lying down on a flat, comfortable surface. A towel or yoga mat on the floor is the best option, although a firm mattress is also acceptable. If you can, it is best to do this without a pillow, so that the entire spine may be kept naturally straight.
Place a small folded towel over your Dan Tien. You will use this towel as a kinesthetic reference for your Dan Tien. The Dan Tien is the area about 2-3 inches below your naval. This is one of the most important body areas in qigong, as it is considered to be where the source of your vital energy is located. This breathing technique will magnify the amount of vital energy, or qi, in your Dan Tien.
Keeping your lips gently closed, begin by inhaling through your nose and directing the air downwards towards your lower hips. As the air moves down, I want you to feel your dan tien begin to slowly expand upward towards the ceiling. As this happens, feel the skin of your lower abdomen pushing against the towel and lifting it up. Breathe as deeply as you can without forcing it. This exercise should feel comfortable and no strain whatsoever should be felt.
As you exhale through the nose, feel your abdomen gently contract as the towel moves toward the floor.
Now, continue to breathe. It is important that the chest does not move during this exercise. Breathing from the chest is very inefficient and counterproductive to the practice of meditation. Allow all of the breathing to take place in your lower abdomen, your Dan Tien. If you feel your chest expanding during this exercise, gently relax your chest and ribcage, and direct the air downwards towards your lower hips.
Continue to breathe. Slowly…deeply…and evenly. With each breath out, feel your muscles relax. Pay special attention to letting go of tension stored in your face, your shoulders, your hands, and your hips. These areas are particularly prone to harboring excess tension.
Feel...everything. Feel the relaxation taking hold of your body. Feel the air entering through your nostrils and moving into your abdomen. Feel the sensation of your clothes against your skin. Feel the weight of the towel over your Dan Tien as it rises and falls with your breath. Feel the air leaving your nostrils.
Feel...everything. Feel your facial expression relax. Feel the muscles in your hands let go. Feel your body sinking into the floor with every breath out. Feel the gentle currents of air in the room. The movement of energy around your body.
Feel...everything. Become engrossed in the act of feeling your breath. Observe the internal movement of energy inside your body. Observe your mind and body, without judgment or attachment. Allow the slow rhythm of the breath to overtake your mind, and overtake your being.
You will find that this practice of qigong breathing will purify your mind of reckless and uncontrollable thoughts. This practice of becoming centered in the breath and body will calm the mind and give you the gift of focus and concentration. The breathing technique shown here is one of the most prized treasures of Chinese qigong meditation. It has been shown to strengthen the internal organs, detoxify the body through the lymphatic system, regulate the autonomic nervous system, and calm the tortured mind. It is especially effective, for those suffering from fatigue, digestive disorders, insomnia, anxiety, and various forms of chronic pain.
Practice this exercise for at least 10-30 minutes per day, or whenever you desire to feel calm, energized, and centered in spirit.
The Third Center: Mind
I talk about harmonizing the mind last because without a relaxed body and proper breathing, it is extremely difficult to focus the mind.
The use of the mind in meditation can be summed up in two ways: form and no form. The first involves focusing on something. The second involves focusing on nothing.
A meditation with form is one where the mind has a specific purpose or objective. An example of this would be visualizing the light of the sun coming into your body and permeating your cells. Other examples can include focusing on the form of a religious symbol or a phrase/mantra that has special meaning to you.
A meditation without form is one where the mind is allowed to dissolve so that the experience of formless emptiness can be had. You can say that this is actually a disuse of the mind. In my personal experience this is a bit harder to do but the practice is extremely profound. In this type of meditation the mind is viewed for what it is...an illusion. The mind is not a noun, it is a verb. Mind is the process of thought. Without the process of thought the mind does not exist. When the process of mind is allowed to fall away during meditation, there is a connection with pure spirit that is impossible to describe in words.
Both of these forms of meditation have value depending on your background and situation. The problem that most meditators have with either method is being able to keep their mind from getting out of control and wandering towards other thoughts.
Here’s what to do:
When extraneous thoughts come into your mind during meditation (like what to have for dinner, the fight you had with your spouse, etc.), practice observing your thoughts and do not become attached to either having or not having them. Don’t do what I used to do and try to force yourself to keep focused. That will only give power to the other thoughts and make them more prevalent. I’d like you to try simply watching the thoughts pass through your mind like scenes in a movie. Let them come if they must, don’t get upset, just watch them and let them go on their own accord. As the thoughts leave, gently bring yourself back to the focus of your meditation.
I view this process of thoughts coming in and out as a sort of cleansing process. It’s a way for you to unburden yourself of thoughts and impressions that you may be holding onto for some reason. During meditation it can happen that many of the thoughts and feelings that we repressed come to the surface as we become still. Be grateful for this cleansing process, getting mad only stifles it. Let the thoughts pass and come back to focus.
The harmonization of the mind in meditation (either through form or no form) will lead to a state of stillness within the mind. Most of us walk around with a mind that’s very noisy and uncontrollable. It’s like all of a sudden you get a thought in your head and you can’t get it out. It takes control over you and you feel like a prisoner trapped inside your mind. This is what the Chinese sages talk about when they liken the undisciplined mind to that of turbulent water.
When the mind becomes still through meditation, specifically observing your thoughts without judgment, the mind becomes like a calm, placid lake. When you throw a pebble into this lake it senses it immediately and reacts to it. When the mind is still, only then will you be able to sense the subtle aspects of spirit and consciousness. If your mind is noisy, you will be able to sense very little of your physical and psychic surroundings. That’s how car accidents happen, by the way.
To recap, here’s what you can do to become a master at whatever meditation practice you have. I use the term “master” because if you follow these concepts you will achieve what I feel is the essential goal of meditation: Harmonization of the three centers of being and an experience of oneness with the universal.
1. Keep the body relaxed.2. Breathe correctly. This means slow, effortless, and in the belly.3. Focus the mind by observing your thoughts, should they appear. The practice of observing your thoughts with detachment will free you of the power that they have over you and bring you to stillness.
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