When first learning Qigong, you focus quite a bit on relaxing, breathing, and learning the movements of various exercises.
Your initial task is to learn the correct form of each movement while staying relaxed. Then you learn to match the correct breathing pattern (“inhale here, exhale there”) with the movement. Once the movement and breathing become more automatic or “dialed in”, kinda like muscle memory, you can relax more fully and use intention to help improve your awareness of your internal energy, or qi (“chi”).
While we keep in mind the general pattern of energy flow associated with the movements, we never force or guide the energy. The body, in its innate wisdom, knows what to do and how the energy should flow. Instead, as a newer practitioner, you want to open your awareness of the energy centers (the Dan Tien) and the energy flowing within you. It’s often a subtle thing: you slowly become aware of the flow, the feeling of tingling, or heat, or of a heavy, almost magnetic liquid. You may begin to feel a more powerful connection between your hands when you play with your energy ball (or energy pearl). And you begin to feel not only heat, but also movement in your lower dan tien during your standing practice.
These manifestations of Qi are welcome events. But don’t become stuck on them. Enjoy the sensation, be proud of your progress, but don’t dwell on the feeling. Keep practicing and learning, keep relaxing and opening, allow your focus and intention to grow. Be mindful during your practice; gently focus on what you are doing. Your ability to simultaneously relax and focus is one of your most powerful tools in Qigong – AND in life.
With our qigong, we seek to promote the flow of energy through the meridians, or energy pathways. Maintaining this free flow and eliminating any blockages is especially important. However, we sometimes focus on a specific point to help increase the results we can achieve from a particular movement. Or we press or tap on specific points to help balance or regulate their corresponding organ or energy center. Point manipulation should be an important part of your health and wellness practice. This is why we often end our Qigong classes or sessions with some seated work, during which we tap or rub along our meridians and rub specific points.
One of the best points to start out with is the Zusanli, or Stomach 36 (ST36), point. This point is below the knee along the Stomach meridian (see image below). The best way to locate it is to place your four fingers just below and to the outside of your knee cap. Just below your little finger will be the correct level of the point. Then move laterally so you are to the outside of the tibia (shinbone). You should find a small depression in the leg where the point is located (in between the crest of the tibia and the tibialis muscle). Feel around a little, pressing with your thumb or finger, until you get a sense of the point’s location.
ST 36 has a nourishing effect on the Qi and the blood. It’s a commonly used point and a great one to start out with, as it will not have a detrimental effect on any internal condition you may have. You can activate it by massaging or pressing on it with your thumb. Find and rub the point on one leg, then the other. Once you have the feel of the point on each leg, stand up and assume your Wu Ji posture, which we use for standing qigong and meditation.
Once in Wu Ji, bring your awareness down to the ST 36 point in each leg. Use your awareness to activate each point. Breathe into and out of the point. Specifically, focus on your exhale as you maintain intention on the point. After a few minutes, you should start to become aware of an increasing pressure in the area of your ST 36 point. The point may become warm, and you may start to feel energy or tingling. As you continue to keep your awareness at the point and lead your breath, you will move energy into the Stomach meridian.
If you continue, you may feel warmth and tingling move out along the meridian. This is a sign that the Qi and blood have been stimulated. Enjoy the feeling for a few more minutes. If you don’t feel anything, don’t worry about it. It may take a few attempts of finding and pressing or rubbing the point to get the feeling…focusing your awareness and breathing on it…then beginning to feel some pressure or warmth. As long as you are following these steps, you are engaging in a nourishing practice with wonderful benefits to your energy and wellbeing.
Why is the Zusanli point so powerful and nourishing? Why is it one of the key points that Medical Qigong / Classical Chinese Medical doctors have traditionally focused on and worked with, since ancient times? We’ll discuss this and more in our next post.