Introduction: A most important question
Over the past 30 years I was asked many questions regarding Qi Gong. But interestingly enough, I was never asked about the difference between Qi Gong and sports. I suppose, the simple reason why this important question never arose, is that many people interested in (or even already practicing) Qi Gong are not aware of this crucial difference.
It is quite difficult to give a proper answer to this question anyhow, as any explanation might not make sense until you actually feel this difference, this otherness of Qi Gong yourself. Still I would like to take the opportunity to illustrate in this article, with the limited ability of words, the difference between sports and the internal arts. I hope that these words will at least give you an idea of where to search in order to bring depth into your own practice; and maybe this article even inspires you to look for an authentic teacher. For when you perform Qi Gong merely as sports or as gymnastics you will never enjoy its real beauty and its extraordinary benefits. And when you have a teacher who teaches you Qi Gong merely as sports or gymnastics you have entered a dead end road even before you have started the journey.
Qi Gong is not Sports
There is a big difference between Qi Gong and sports. We can state that:
Sports is externally orientated – Qi Gong is rather internally orientated!
That means that sport seeks external measurable results. You aim to run faster, jump higher, to become stronger etc. This is very obvious with so called „serious sports“. It is all about the effort you make, the results you get and about your final accomplishment. Your body and your effort are subjected to the achievement of the desired results, external visible, measurable results. That is why we have the german saying „Sport is murder/Sport kills“ („Sport ist Mord“), because the wellbeing of the body is sacrificied for the target of success.
But finally even success is not enough. It has to be compared to the success of others, for actually the very basic idea of sports is competition. Even if you like to go to a gym simply for health reasons, it will prove impossible not to compare with others and be checked out by others. Competition and comparision is used purposefully everywhere as a powerful motivating and advertising tool. That is why simple sports people are celebrated like heros for their success, and in every gym you get brainwashed by perfectly styled bodies on posters and screens. It is not you as a person that counts, not even the pure result of your honest effort counts. What counts is how your personal success relates to the success of others.
Even pure health orientated sports is not free from outward orientation. Although there might be no issue of competition, still exercise serves the purpose of achieving measurable results, be it the increased mobility of one joint or another, the improvement of muscle functionality, a better balance, the lowering of the heart rate or whatever. Still it is not the doing that really matters but the results you are aiming for.
Qi Gong is very different. It is not the results that matter but the doing – and in the doing actually not even so much the outer (visible) act but the inner (invisible) exercise.
Obviously Qi Gong has external components like body postures and movements. And of course these postures and movements, if practiced regularly, will have measurable effects. They might increase your endurance, flexibility, strength, balance or your ability to relax. And in this way Qi Gong is comparable, even identical, with sports. That means if there would be nothing more to it, Qi Gong would definitely be a kind of sport or gymnastics.
Here we come across a great sin of China, the ancient mother of Qi Gong. During the cultural revolution she has annihilated the spiritual roots of her internal arts, degrading them to a mere gymnastics functionalized to improve the national health. Surely Qi Gong enjoyes a great respect in present-day China, but not anymore as a living art of internal secrets in the hands of masters and reputable family traditions, but as a tool of the government for the improvement of the functionality of society.
This functionalized and externalized aspect of Qi Gong, promoted at chinese universities and medical institutions and becoming more and more popular in the West today, is only a fraction of the whole reality of Qi Gong and actually the least important part. For Qi Gong is not just about exercising, performing an effort and thus reaping a result. It is about how you do an exercise and how you are able to relate to what it provokes inside you. It is about how much you are able to sense the body’s reactions and to respond to it in a beneficial way. It is all about what happens inside you when performing an exercise. And the more you advance in this art the less it has to do with your physical body anyhow – relating correctly to the status of your own innate Qi (and even to the Qi of your environment) rather becomes the final issue. This is why it is called Qi Gong – „Qi Work“ – or Nei Gong – „Internal Work“.
Of course you can perform Qi Gong exercises purely to achieve an aspired external result. But then you are actually doing sports or gymnastics and not Qi Gong. It may look like Qi Gong, performing Qi Gong movements, but it is not Qi Gong! This you need to understand!
Health is not result but consequence
Many people come to me and say: „I want to learn Qi Gong because I need to relax more“; „I want to learn Qi Gong because I want to get rid of pain“; „I want to learn Qi Gong to achieve more calm“; „I want to learn Qi Gong to achieve this or that.“ Let us summarize that people want to learn Qi Gong finally to become more healthy. And that is only fair, for – yes – proper Qi Gong practice will improve your health for sure!
But health is not the result of merely doing an exercise. You cannot create health in the same way as you can work for a higher efficiency. Improving your health will result in an increased efficiancy, no doubt. But increasing your efficiancy will not automatically result in an improved health – surely not, maybe even the contrary.
Health is a consequence of many factors which together constitute a state of harmony, integration, wholeness and balance. And there is not a single exercise, taught secretly or openly, which can achieve that state for you. For the benefits of Qi Gong, which clearly surpasses the benefits of sport and gymnastics, are not based so much on the exercise itself but rather on how you perform that exercise. It is not so much about what you do on the outside, but rather about what you do on the inside.
Let me give an example. One of the most basic aims of Qi Gong is to get the Qi to sink, because this is the most crucial prerequisit for mental and physical health as well as for generating power in healing and martial arts. But even when you find a lot of Qi Gong exercises that promote the Qi to sink, the movement alone will not do it for you. You simply cannot make the Qi sink merely as the result of an outer action. Several basic factors, which are independent from the visible movement, have to be fullfilled and brought together: a) alignment, b) relaxation, and c) intent.
When your body-alignments are poor, the relaxation of your muscles and tissues insufficient, and your intent weary, airy and weak the Qi in your body will not sink sufficiently – no matter which movement you perform and how often –, it just cannot. On the other hand, when your alignments are precise, the relaxation deep, and your intent clear and steady the Qi will sink naturally as a consequence – please note: as a consequence, it is not you doing it!
Now, proper alignment, deep relaxation and the correct use of consciousness/intent are the matter of internal work and of applying inner principles during your exercise. No way can it be the result of any outer act.
A master once explained: „Be clearly aware of the difference between ‘consequence‘ and ‘result‘. A result is consciously desired; a consequence is a by-product. For example, if I say to you, that if you are playing, happiness will be the consequence, you will try it for a result. You go and you play, and you are waiting for the result of happiness. But I told you it will be the consequence, not the result. Consequence means, that if you are really in the play, happiness will happen.“
If you practice Qi Gong for certain results, you may achieve certain results. But these results can only be superficial effects. The cause for health, harmony and balance lies rather in the depth of you and can only be touched by a holistic approach. Harmony, balance, integration, deep relaxation, calm, and finally health you cannot make – they have to happen as a consequence. They have to appear naturally as a consequence of the right state of being – physical, energetic and psychic – which you will cultivate by the correct process of internal work. Any outer Qi Gong posture and performance is solely the container for this inner work and wants to be filled and made alive.
When we really grasp this essential point, then it becomes obvious why any competetive strive is alien to the original idea of the internal arts. For you can only relate honestly to your self, to your own innate abilities and possibilities. The path of true inner work completely unfolds inside you and rather is an ever changing and progressing multilayered individual reality than an outer measurable and comparable temporal event.
Even though Qi Gong is taught today at universities, in parks, at educational institutions, associations and fitness clubs to the billions, this true internal work you can only learn through the close relationship to an authentic teacher or master, one who – over time – can reveal to you the many layers and dimensions of the Internal Arts.
Copyright © Torsten Schiz 2018