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Correcting Qi Deviations: Negative Reactions to Meditation and Nei Gong

Students often worry about experiencing negative reactions (Qi Pian Cha or “Qi Deviations”) to meditation and Qi Gong or Nei Gong exercises. Negative reactions can occur from incorrect practice and are a medically established fact. However there are many ways to avoid and correct these kinds of problems, that students and teachers of Nei Gong and the internal martial arts should be familiar with.

Students often worry about experiencing negative reactions (Qi Pian Cha or “Qi Deviations”) to meditation and Qi Gong or Nei Gong exercises. In a sense, such reactions are inevitable because the process of activating and regulating the innate energy of the body involves adjusting your practice as you experience different sensations. This is much like the normal functioning of the various homeostatic mechanisms of the human body. For example, a “negative” reaction such as feeling short of breath tells you that either you are forcing the breath, or that there is tension in the diaphragm chest and upper back. Only by knowing that there is tension, can it be dispelled. Knowledge about the theory and practice of meditation and Qi Gong will help you to understand and rectify “negative” reactions.

The Three Harms

Avoiding the Three Harms is one way of preventing negative reactions. The Three Harms are:

  1. Forced Breathing: Forced breathing can cause the lungs and the muscles of respiration to be tense, creating shortness of breath.
  2. Labored Use of Strength: Tension in the body, especially if focused on one part of the body, creates blockages in the Qi/Breath.
  3. Throwing out the Chest and Sucking in the Abdomen: This posture prevents the Qi/Breath from sinking to the lower abdomen and the Dantian.

When you catch yourself forcing the breath, you will often notice that the diaphragm or the muscles of the ribcage, upper back and chest are tight or tense. By focusing your attention on the Dantian, without any other intention, the Qi/Breath will naturally sink down without effort. Tension in the body can be difficult to release because we are often unaware that we are tense. Detecting and releasing tension is an ongoing process. As the Qi and Breath begins to move smoothly through the body, you will discover deeper, more subtle areas where the Qi and Breath does not move easily and smoothly. The very process of discovering these areas is how they release. This process happens in its own time, It cannot be forced and is different for each individual.

Qi does not move smoothly through tense areas, so using tension during Nei Gong exercises, or during standing (Zhan Zhuang) can cause the Qi to block and create stagnation or an imbalanced Qi dynamic and cause the Qi to deviate from its normal movement. Similarly, if the posture is incorrect and the contents of the lower abdomen, the intestines are lifted they encroach on the stomach, liver, and gallbladder, which then in turn push upward against the heart and lungs. The makes the chest and chest wall feel tense. In China this is referred to as “ti xin diao dan (literally to lift the heart and hang the gallbladder), meaning to be scared, jittery, etc. and a feeling of zhi fei jian gan (literally: roasted liver and fried lung)” [1] To avoid this cultivate “firmness of the abdomen and relaxed chest” (fu shi xiong kuan) as a fundamental condition.

In his very interesting book The Science of Internal Strength Boxing, Zhang Nai Qi gives three reasons why “firmness of the abdomen and relaxed chest” is a healthier body pattern.

  1. The intestines are less delicate then the heart and lungs and therefore their functioning and harmony is less disturbed by pressure. Hence, the Lungs and Heart need to be protected from pressure by the sternum and rib cage.
  2. Chest volume is restricted by the rib cage and has less room for expansion and contraction.
  3. When “tension” is establishes in the lower abdomen it becomes stronger and healthier and the chest then becomes “lighter, nimble and more spacious. The combination of heaviness below and lightness above creates a condition of stability and calmness and a structure that is especially relaxed and natural.” [2] One is then balanced and stable like a buoy, weeble, or a Humpty-Dumpty Dahruma Doll.

The Fourth Harm

A fourth harm that is very common when people engage in meditation or Nei Gong practices is pushing to hard with the Mind Intention: This is often the cause of severe Qi deviations. It is important to be natural and relaxed. Trying to hard to achieve results not only prevents one from noticing many important internal sensations, but also can create more severe deviations of the Qi. We want to move quickly; we want to see progress, but like the farmer in the Chinese fable who pulled on rice shoots to help them grow more quickly only to succeed in killing the plants, excessive enthusiasm can cause great harm. Instead adopt a natural attitude, like a small boat without paddles or sail that leisurely follows the course of a meandering stream.

General ways to prevent Qi Deviations

  1. Fatigue

If you feel tired and unfocused, stop for the day or simply do less.

  1. Wear loose clothes that does not constrict retard the movement of the Qi and Breath.
  2. Cultivate a Calm Attention
  • Try to find a quiet place where you will not be startled.
  • Cultivating a calm mind intention that is directed internally, yet also externally aware. This will
  • If you are startled during Nei Gong or meditation, keep the eyes half-closed and continue practicing.
  1. Keep the Feet on the Floor so that the Yongquan acu-point touches the ground or if you are sitting or have Huiyin in contact with a cushion to ground you.
  2. Practice the Dao Yin exercises before Nei Gong or Meditation. These exercises:
  • Balance and harmonize the Qi Dynamic
  • Stimulate the brain and calm the mind
  • Release blockages in the Jing Luo (meridians)
  1. After Nei Gong or Meditation
  • Leave space for the body and mind to adjust, or practice slow moving.
  • Stroll to let body relax and aid Qi circulation.
  • Rub your hand together until they are warm and massage or “wash” the face, head chest and meridians. 

Common Symptoms and Qi Deviations

Dizziness/Headache

Dizziness and headaches are usually the result of an over-focusing of the mind, or leading Qi/Breath upward and not letting it descend to Dantian.

  • Let the mind relax and observe without forcing the application of the mind-intention. Focus on the Dantian and let the Qi/Breath move naturally.
  • Practice Dao Yin exercises before doing other exercises – especially clearing the orifices of the head, massaging Dantian and massaging Yongquan.

An Upward Surge Of Qi From the Lower Abdomen

This physical sensation can occur if one focuses the mind-intention too much on movement of Qi/Breath.

  • Relax mentally and let the breath be natural.
  • Practice Dao Yin exercises before doing other exercises – especially massaging Dantian and massaging Stomach and Spleen meridians and massaging Yongquan 

Tension and Heaviness in the Upper Back and Shoulders

Usually this is due to noticing that upper back and shoulders are tense, and then trying too hard to relax them.

  • The simplest way to correct this is to work with the other alignments: the head lifting as though suspended, the tail sinking, drawing up the back while dropping the chest and letting Qi/Breath sink to Dantian.
  • Correcting these other alignments will help you to relax the shoulders and upper back.

Accelerated Heartbeat or Palpitations

An accelerated heartbeat and palpitations is a result of tension in the chest and unnatural or forced breathing. It can also be the result of focusing the mind intention too strongly in the chest area.

  • Focus on the whole pattern of the body alignments.
  • Letting the breath be easy and natural will usually resolve this problem

Abdominal Distension

A sensation of abdominal distension is the result of forced deep respiration or holding the breath, both of which can compresses the Qi/Breath downward.

  • Return to natural unforced, breathing.
  • Remembering that the diaphragm does not push the air down, but drops and lets the air flow into the lower abdomen, can help.

Insomnia

Insomnia usually occurs when one practices Qi Gong or méditation at night before going to bed. For some meditating before bed is relaxing, for others it is too activating. Although Daoist meditation can be practiced in the morning or the evening, if you experience insomnia, try moving your practice to the morning right after you get out of bed. Another possible reason for the insomnia is that the Qi/Breath is rising up the Du channel to the head, awakening the mind and over-exciting the nervous system.

  • Focusing on the Dantian and letting the breath be relaxed and quiescentwill help.
  • Dao Yin before Bed can Help – especially rubbing kidneys and Dantian and       rubbing Yongquan.

Feeling Light or Heavy in the Body, Sensations of Cold or Heat, Itching or

Numbness

These are signs the Qi/Breath is being activated. They are normal and will come and go, change and eventually disappear.

Slight Swaying/Shaking

There may be slight swaying or vibration or other small spontaneous movements of the body during the performance of meditation and Qi Gong. These are indications that the Qi/Breath is being activated. This is a good sign and is beneficial. The sensations should not intensify and

should disappear with practice as the Qi/Breath moves more smoothly.

Swaying/Shaking/Staring Eyes/Twitches

Stronger swaying and shaking, twitches and staring eyes are symptoms ofQi Gong illness from the Qi/Breath ascending and not descending. If these sensations are experienced, the Shen (spirit) can be disturbed. The spirit is “housed” by the heart and can only be clear in its perception, by having space in the heart. If you experience these symptoms it may be that theis too full.

  • This is usually a result of the Qi/Breath being forced up the Du vessel. It is not uncommon to develop these symptoms in the incorrect practice of Kundalini Yoga, or when martial artists practice internal exercises with too much Li (force) and shock-power. Meditation and QiGong must develop in their own time and cannot be forced. These sensations should not occur if practice proceeds naturally and is unforced. If they do occur, stop practicing and they should dissipate.
  • Stop practice and focus on practicing Daoyin exercises, or something like Ba Gua’s 28 Foundational Exercises including Yin Yang Patting to release and dispel blockages.
  • Correct the posture in basic standing and focus on gently applying the mind intention.
  • If serious, one may need to receive acupuncture and body work to rebalance the body.

[1] The Science of Internal Strength Boxing by Zhang Nai Qi (1933) Trans. Marcus Brinkman, p.18.

[2] Ibid, pp. 31-32

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