Standing Qigong, The Vital Signs
By Erle Montaigue
Wednesday, April 09, 1997

How do you know when your training is finally beginning to reach an advanced level, or that some of the things that should happen with your training are actually happening. Dedicated students who wish to have some kind of sign as to their progress always ask me these questions.

Well, there are certain physical and internal signs that one is able to look for provided they are told about them. In just the same way that the body lets you know what it wants in the way of healing, provided that you are in tune with your body, Taijiquan lets you know how you are progressing by having certain physiological signs appear in or on your body. These signs begin the moment you begin your Taijiquan and qigong training.

Standing Qigong: The Shakes

The shakes will begin about 3 minutes into your first standing qigong session. The reason for this is that the Qi is already trying to flow more freely and is finding resistance in the form of tension. During standing qigong, the Qi needs to be at full strength or flow so that more Qi can flow freely to all parts of the body. The Qi 'springs' from the bubbling well point or 'K 1' (Kidney one point, the first point on the kidney meridian). But first of all, the Qi must flow downwards from tantien, an electrical point about 3 inches below the navel, to K 1 so that it can then flow to all parts of the body, healing as it goes. The Qi will flow downwards OK, but when it tries to move upwards from K 1, it encounters tension in the thigh muscles. So this Qi flow is like a wave hitting against a wall until so much Qi is built up that it MUST break through in big bits rather than an uninterrupted even flow, hence the shakes. Often when I have obviously strong men come to my classes and I ask them to stand in their first qigong position, they often have a look of "come on, is this all there is to it". But after only a few minutes they, more than anyone else, are shaking like leaves in the breeze. They just cannot understand why, as they are so strong, they are unable to do this simple exercise. What they do not understand is that it has nothing to do with how strong their muscles are, but rather that their Qi flow is impeded because of their huge muscles and more-so, tension caused by exercising in the incorrect way.

After some time, around perhaps 4 to 6 weeks of training in the basic standing qigong, the shakes lessen to a mild vibration and it becomes quite pleasant standing there. This is your best indication of an increased Qi flow and that finally something is beginning to happen. If you do not get the initial shakes, there is something wrong with your stance. Perhaps you have slowly stood up and not even noticed it, this is usually the problem. Everyone, no matter whom gets the shakes.

Standing Qigong: Pain

Pain is also an indication that either you are performing qigong in correctly or that you are performing it correctly! Your instructor, provided that he or she knows, will instruct you as to why there is pain and correct the stance accordingly, or not correct the stance accordingly.

While in standing qigong, we are in the most natural position for the body to try and put itself back into alignment. You will find that bones will crack and pop just standing there. However, if bones and tendons are out of alignment and have been for some time, and tension is the cause, then this may take some time and there will be some slight pain when the body tries to get the bones back into position. So this pain is OK. All that your instructor has to do it to check that your stance is absolutely correct, then he will know that this is good pain. If however, there is pain and you are standing incorrectly, this is bad pain and must be corrected.

Standing Qigong: Heaviness in the Tai Chi Form and Qigong

Qi is heavy, or rather, it gives the feeling of heaviness as Qi does not have physical weight of course. When you have advanced enough in your training, you will notice that your arms feel heavy when you raise them, this is the first sign that something is happening. Slowly, your whole body will have that 'heavy' feeling causing you to fell as if you are moving in water or oil. The reason is that when you Qi is finally unblocked and a normal amount begins to flow again, it becomes a little more difficult to bend the joints because of this flow. It's not an unpleasant feeling however like for instance arthritis! It's more like a relaxed controlled feeling where the joints all move at the same pace with no jerky movements.

Your whole body will feel heavy especially when performing the tai chi form, you will feel your own weight under your feet and you will actually think about what is under your feet. A pleasant 'sinking' feeling will happen, joining you to the earth like as if you are putting down roots into the ground. And indeed you are, energy roots that is.

This 'heavines' will enable you to do exactly what your mind tells your body to do without any imbalances, and although you fell heavy, you will be able to move quickly and lightly because of your increased mobility and control that you now have over your movements and balance.

Standing Qigong: Fingers Buzzing in the Tai Chi Form and Qigong

This is a sign that you are really getting somewhere and not simply entering into old age! Your fingers and palms will begin to vibrate lightly at the end of each Yang movement, lie at the end of the posture known as "brush knee, twist step". There will be this uncontrollable vibration of the hand that is doing the attacking movement. Do not however, TRY to do this, as it will just happen naturally. And if you try to do it, it will be seen to be false and 'put on'. This is a sign that the Qi is streaming out of your fingertips due to there being no tension in your arms and torso which causes blockages etc. Eventually, this vibration will extend into any weapons forms that you perform, depending of course upon the rigidity of the weapon. For instance a hard stick will not have much vibration at the tip, but it will be there, whereas a sword will have a seeable amount of vibration at the tip.

Standing Qigong: Fingers Perspiring in the Tai Chi Form and Qigong

This is one of the areas where you can really see that you are finally getting somewhere. We are told in western medicine and science that the whole body perspires because of thermo-regulatory factors, but that the palms, fingers and soles of the feet do not perspire because of this reason. They perspire because of emotional reasons, hence the saying that "he has sweaty palms" etc. In the Chinese martial arts, we say that this occurs because of "internal reasons". In other words, because the Qi is circulating right down to the peripherals of the body, thus causing perspiration at the fingertips.

This will be more evident when you practice your form at the 'lung' time of between 3 am and 5 am. This is the time when the lungs kick in and the Qi is activated in that particular meridian to get us going for the day. The lungs are our power source and so at that time I the morning, we need a power kick to get us started. When we practice form at this time, the feeling is amazing with all of the things that we read about that should happen, happening. And the fingertips will perspire profusely.

I am getting into the habit if rising at around 3 am and practicing my form at around 3.30 or 4 am. I go back to bed and to sleep afterwards and have had some of the most enjoyable sleeps during this time.

Standing Qigong: Three Circle Qigong

There is a certain way to perform the four different palms during three circle qigong. The palms are... the normal palms facing toward you is the (mother or yin). Away from you is the (father or yang). Facing downwards is the (daughter or a little yin) and facing towards each other with the thumbs pointing upwards is the (Son Palm or a little yang.

The times for each of these palms are as follows. You perform the two major yang and yin palms exactly half of the total time spent with the palms in the upper position. You perform the two lesser yin and yang palms exactly half of the time that you would normally hold the palms in the lower position. SO you would do the two major palms while standing in the upper hand position and the two lesser palms with the palms in the lower position.

See also the article on the natural progression of learning Taijiquan.