Some Thoughts on Energetic Hygiene
We take a shower or a bath on a daily basis (at least some of us), we brush our teeth, we change our clothes. We might not necessarily pay much attention to it, but personal hygiene is something we do on a daily basis.
Same goes to our homes. We try to keep it clean, although for many of us it's not exactly the favourite pastime. But still, once vacuumed and cleaned it's a rather nice feeling, you feel somehow... accomplished.
Oh, the trash needs to be taken out. It's no good letting the pile grow bigger indoors. Takes too much space and the smell isn't too good. Inside our being, a process not too dissimilar takes place: we eat and drink, our body does certain things to the food and fluids consumed, and then we get rid of the waste product. Things pass through us, both on the internal and external level.
When it comes to Tai Chi and/or Qigong, we aim at recharging our inner, invisible batteries. By practicing we hope to increase our wellbeing by having more Qi or vital energy. Certainly the practice gives something positive to us - peace, clarity, health, wellbeing - while at the same time taking away something negative - stress, anxiety, ill health, anything out of balance. We "consume" or "digest" the positive effects of the Art, and get rid of the "waste product", stress.
But do we, really? And if so, to what degree?
Based on my personal experience, witnessing other fellow Neijia ("internal arts") practitioners / enthusiasts / addicts (in the best possible meaning of the word), what seems to happen is the gathering of Qi - in other words making our Qi stronger - but no releasing of old, outdated, no longer useful energy. There seems to be no deliberate, conscious releasing of internal energy which no longer serves a purpose. Maybe it doesn't need to happen, perhaps the "new Qi" and the fact that it's constantly circulating (otherwise we'd be quite dead) somehow automatically gets rid of the "old Qi", energy renewing itself? Possibly.
After having experimented with both ways - not doing any conscious release ("flushing", as I call it) of old energy after practice, and doing it, with focus and clear intent - I'd say it certainly doesn't hurt to give it a good flush every now and then. Nowadays, I doubt I even could practice without doing it, at some point, sooner or later. While I certainly do feel fresh Qi becoming available in my system (or maybe it's more correct to say Qi renewing itself) thanks to practice, I also do feel the old, stagnated energy remaining in my system, unless I release it deliberately and consciously.
It just makes perfect sense to me: we flush the waste products from our physical bodies, likewise we should flush the waste products from our energetic bodies. What happens to "negative thoughts", stress energy we accumulate during the day while interacting with other people - does it exit from our system automatically, or does it stay in somewhere, possibly taking a different form? What about sadness, grief, guilt, anger, any "negative" emotions - do we at some point manage to transform them into something else, or release them from our system, or do they stay within us, somewhere?
I can hear some of my friends and colleagues saying here, "Well isn't that precisely what Tai Chi and/or Qigong is supposed to do to you - internal alchemy, hello? - transforming the "negative" into "positive"?" Yes, certainly one of the goals of both Tai Chi and Qigong is precisely that: internal transformation. And yet... at the risk of upsetting some of my friends here, I'm not sure if it's quite enough. Ok, fair enough - when I've consciously and deliberately done Qigong with the intention of transmuting a specific energy (mental or emotional), then yes, I certainly have experienced this internal transformation. Say, for example, I've focused on transforming an old, outdated belief pattern, changing that into something more positive, affirming and in line with my present self. But what if you don't (want to) practice Qigong with a specific intention of transforming something in your own being, what if you simply wish to relax, enjoy, and recharge your internal batteries. What will then happen to these "negative energies" within yourself - will they automatically transform or exit from your system?
I recently attended a Qigong workshop, where a large group of practitioners (some very ill) worked with Lung energy, releasing old, outdated Qi from their systems, coughing loudly and clearly feeling the benefits of the form / practice. I was sitting at the back of the room, and could feel the entire room slowly filling with all sorts of dirty energy, as if clouds of smoke had been released into the room. There were no windows or doors open, no air circulating in the room. By the end of it, I felt I could've used an oxygen mask, and quite possibly a Hazmat suit, too. In fact, I had to lift my feet slightly up, as I could've sworn there was something quite nasty - and very much alive - "swimming" on the floor.
Once "negative energy" (whether it's mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, whatever) gets pushed out from our system, is it still active, "alive", or is it inactive, "dead"? If you believe it's inactive, then there's no reason to do anything about it. Out of the system, end of the story. If you believe it's still active, then it shouldn't be the end of the story, not quite yet.
While I fully endorse the idea and practice of releasing old energy from our system (part of the purpose of this article), I also think it's worth considering about what we actually do with the old energy, once it's been pushed out from our system. Do we just leave it lying (or maybe even flying) around, for others to come across? To me that would be a bit like emptying the bin on the floor indoors, instead of taking it out for collection. It doesn't really take that much, folks. Open the window and push it out. "Oh great, isn't it enough the planet is drowning in litter thanks to us - now he's telling us to terrorize nature with dirty energy, too!". Well, maybe there's something more we can do, after "flushing" the old vibes from our system.
I've found visualisation a great tool to assist in both releasing old energy, and in managing the waste products. After pushing out old Qi from my being, I visualise the energy sinking down into the earth, deeper and deeper, until it finally reaches the burning magma in the interior of the earth. There it burns, and becomes transformed into pure energy, neutral in itself. One of my students visualises a small pyre, burning brightly in front of her, where the old energy burns away in smoke. Another student visualises a river, which carries the old energy out to the sea, where it transforms into clean water. A friend of mine, fellow Neijia enthusiast, believes no amount of visualisation will work or do anything, when it comes to "energy work" and Qi. Find out what works for you, and what fits into your belief system. If something doesn't feel good or right, then it probably isn't good or right for you.
Of course, just as with anything, we can take things too far following this method, leading us to constantly clearing and releasing old energy. Becoming addicted to staying clean, "pure". Not unlike someone who needs to wash their hands every other minute. On a deeper level, this is about boundaries, and allowing the world to affect us, "letting the world creep in". A healthy balance should be discovered and maintained, whether it's to do with personal hygiene, germs around us ("demons", as the Chinese practitioners of the past sometimes call them), or internal arts practice.
If this energetic flushing sounds good to you, or feels right, then here's how I do it, in case you would like to give it a go:
Releasing Old Energy
Place one hand above the other (left or right on top, whichever feels good), with index, middle, ring and little finger together in each hand. Place the thumb tips together, to create a hole or gap in the middle, like this:
Keep the hand formation in front of the lower Dantian, which is slightly beneath the navel level. Leave a bit of space between the hand formation and your body.
Palms are always facing out.
Visualise old, outdated, no longer useful Qi or energy gathering in the space between the hand formation and your body. Keep breathing in and out through the nose, relax the breathing. Throughout this, keep the top part of the tongue connected to the roof of the mouth, tongue resting behind the upper teeth, linking Ren Mai and Du Mai together. Keep the teeth (upper and lower jaw) gently together.
Next: inhale through the nose.
Take a nice, long breath.
Then exhale through the mouth,
and at the same time visualise the old,
outdated Qi exiting from your system through the gap
or hole in the hand formation.
As I wrote above, if you believe that the old energy is still active or "alive", you may wish to direct the exiting energy somewhere specific, instead of just leaving it around you. Create your own system of disposal.
Repeat the above at least three times, preferably five times in total. Always inhale through the nose. When you exhale through the mouth (only when pushing out the old energy), disconnect the tongue from the roof of the mouth, allow it to rest naturally in the mouth. Always when inhaling keep the top of the tongue connected to the roof of the mouth.
Repeat this process for the Middle Dantian (heart level) and Upper Dantian (forehead level). Always take some time to allow the old, outdated Qi gathering in the space between the hand formation and your body, before you start pushing it out. Don't rush.
I always advise to gather or harvest new Qi after this practice. Don't return to your daily chores before consciously recharging your batteries first. After release; gather ("nature abhors a vacuum"). Breathe in new energy to all three Dantian centres: lower, middle, and upper. You can use your hands to assist you in doing this. Also, pay attention to where you're doing this - preferably nowhere close to bins or car park, etc. After this, inhale and bring both hands above your head in a big arch, then exhale and slowly lower both hands at the same time with palms facing down, in front of your body, until reaching the lower Dantian ("Closing the Gate"). Place one hand above the other (right or left on top, whichever feels good), and close the hands to navel area, keeping the hands resting against your body. Stand eyes closed for a moment, relaxing and feeling the effects, tongue top still connected to the roof of the mouth, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.