By Sorcha Hegarty
We’ve talked about qi, and we’ve talked about the dantians, but when it all comes down to it, how does that relate to you, and your tai chi practice? What does qi feel like?
The answer is a little bit like trying to describe what the colour red looks like to a blind woman. You might use a lot of words, but seeing red is an experience that resists easy description. Similarly, the feeling of qi in your body is an experience, and one that can vary widely in how it presents itself.
While I can’t tell you exactly what qi might feel like for you, I can tell you what to watch out for, and what to focus on, to increase your awareness of qi.
People may experience qi sensations without being aware that this is what they’re feeling; when we don’t have the words to describe something, we tend to put it to the backs of our minds and forget about it. So how do you know that what you’re feeling is qi?
Because the tai chi and qi gong stance was developed for qi cultivation, sensations may arise while we are in the stance. Most people feel something, maybe tingling or itching, in their hands or fingers to begin with, others notice an odd smell or see colours with their eyes closed. Some feel the temperature changing – either hot or cold. If you notice something like this, you can determine whether it’s a physical sensation or a qi sensation by deliberately dropping your focus. If the sensation fades, then you know what you were feeling was qi, and you know what to look out for the next time.
For me, qi sensation first manifested as heat. While standing, I would get uncomfortably hot, but almost as soon as we started moving again, my body temperature would drop back to normal. I knew that what I was feeling was energy, because there was nothing external to explain that rise and drop in temperature, and no one else was feeling it. After a while, I started to be able to keep centred during silk reeling movements, and that’s when the feeling moved to my hands and arms. It was if the air thickened and became viscous, almost solid. It pushed back against my hands when I moved them. This was a huge help in my tai chi practice; the path of least resistance through the air guided my movements.
Remember that feeling the qi is not necessary for there to be a positive effect from tai chi, and moreover, it is not an indication of skill in tai chi or qi gong by itself. People can have a stronger awareness of qi when they are ill or in poor health, for example, and that’s certainly not what we want to aim for! Cultivating qi awareness can be a guide and a help in your practice, but it does not need to be the focus.
© Sorcha Hegarty, 2013