The Qigong Experience
An interview with YingXing Wang by Spirit of Change publisher Carol Bedrosian
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is Jung Chang’s memoir of several generations of her family’s history, including her account of a difficult life during China’s Cultural Revolution. During this time of great poverty and deprivation for the Chinese people, most rural villagers, and even some city dwellers had no access to medical care other than the folk and traditional medicine offered by the untrained “barefoot doctors” of that era. Despite hunger, brutality and only the most meager of medicines, herbs or supplies, an entire nation of humans healed from their wounds and sicknesses mainly through medicine from within their own bodies. I credit this book with crystallizing my own confidence in the power of natural medicine as a viable form of healthcare for all but the most extreme medical conditions.
When I met YingXing Wang, founder of Eastover Estate and Eco-Village, a holistic retreat center in Lenox, MA, I was fascinated to learn she grew up in China during this time. She had experienced the hunger, the political uncertainty, frequent nightmares as a child, and the terror at the age of nine of following her mother — a teacher — to a remote village in the countryside where her mother was to be “re-educated.” While she found healing and soothed herself with the freedom of fresh air and water, being outside in nature with other village kids, and the kindness of teachers and lots of creativity in school, she endured the unending stress and anxiety that every student did over whether they would be admitted to the Young Communist League. The stress and feelings of not being good enough as a teen exacted a health toll she did not fully realize until adulthood. When the extraordinary health benefits of tai chi and qigong daily practice became apparent to her, she started her advocacy on behalf of sharing these healing arts.
Because of the successful holistic healings she had gone through herself and the many qigong masters she had met, Ying wanted to share these healing practices and authentic masters with others. From an impulse of compassion she founded Eastover as a retreat to host teachers from many different healing traditions, inviting only authentic masters of demonstrated quality. A labor or love, over eight years of infrastructure building have gone into making Eastover an eco-friendly center offering group and individual accommodations including healthy meals, classes, retreats, studio spaces and individual Chinese medicine and qigong energy treatments. It is still a work in progress, and every person who goes there as a guest or teacher is part of building that healing community together.
To my great delight, Ying suggested we introduce the healing skills of these qigong masters to a larger audience at the Natural Living Expo in November. All have dedicated their highly developed skills and years of experience to sharing with others how to access the healing power already inside us; we just need to learn how to turn it on and use it. I proposed this interview as a way to learn more about the qigong experience.
Carol Bedrosian: Can you tell me a little bit about your history with qigong and how that unfolded in your life?
Ying Wang: I first started with tai chi. When I started to study qigong — or Chinese breath work — I had already been practicing tai chi for almost twenty years. But at the time, I didn’t fully understand what I was practicing — like going through the motions — until after I started qigong. Tai chi is actually a form of qigong; it’s considered qigong in motion, and is a really enjoyable practice for me. It has helped me tremendously so I’ve practiced it for a long time.
By coincidence, I was looking for a class to attend during a weekend that my husband was away on a business trip. I happened to see in a brochure that Robert Peng was teaching qigong that weekend for a retreat, so I decided to go. I saw that he is Chinese and I am Chinese and thought I could learn in a similar way that I learned tai chi. That was the weekend I began learning qigong.
I’ve noticed that people of middle age who are from China, like me, might have a tendency to shy away from qigong, and that perhaps the reasoning is historical. During the Cultural Revolution that we lived through, people showed superstitions towards a lot of older practices, and at that time the Chinese government wanted people to stay away from such things. There was a belief that people who practiced qigong might become misled or insane. A lot of us were brainwashed by the government at that time. As an advocate to learn qigong, I still run into people who are similar to my age and from China, who will say things like, “Oh, you be careful with qigong; you might really get into trouble.” (laughs). All of this was why it took me so long to decide to learn qigong six years ago.
And it was pretty amazing. Right before I went to the class, I was working so hard [setting up Eastover], that by the time I arrived at Robert Peng’s class location my back was so stiff I was having trouble even climbing out of my car. But I went to the class and by the end of the weekend I noticed that all my pain went away. I was moving and flexible and I said, “Wow, this is pretty amazing.” When I got back home, I continued to practice my tai chi in the morning and felt a totally different feeling. I began to feel the qi ball of energy between my palms, and I realized what had happened. I realized that in this weekend of learning qigong, I got the qi moving in my body. We call it “my qi got activated.” (laughs)
We all have this energy. Our body is an energetic body; it’s just that you don’t realize that your energy body is moving. Your energy is moving all the time but you don’t feel it. Or it may be that your body is so tight all the time that your energy is not really free-flowing. Once I realized what happened, I’ve continued to practice tai chi because the moving meditation works really well for me. Plus the feeling after trying qigong has become totally different. Once you become aware of the energy, you feel the qi ball between your palms. I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve wasted so much time.”
Carol Bedrosian: If you had practiced tai chi for twenty years before going to this workshop, perhaps this had something to do with opening your energy channels, although I’m sure some people could get their qi activated first time without ever having done any class before.
Ying Wang: Absolutely, yes. In my case, I had a good teacher to learn tai chi from for one or two years, but the teacher moved away and for almost twenty years I didn’t have any teacher. I remembered the movements and was just doing it myself. That’s why now I tell people that even though they’ve been doing their practice by themselves or watching videos, go to a teacher. You commit yourself to the practice when you have a teacher, who can also give you guidance. You are saving yourself so much time because your practice becomes so much more effective.
Really good teachers have an energy around them that can easily be transmitted to you. You can feel their energy when you’re in the same room with them; it activates your own energy. When you get that feeling and then do your practice, you’ll notice it’s totally different.
Carol Bedrosian: Is there a difference between teachers who are trained in China and teachers trained in the United States?
Ying Wang: I do not feel there is too much of a difference. There are many teachers in the United States that are very highly cultivated, and there are a lot of masters in China who are also very highly cultivated. In the United States we are very lucky because tai chi and qigong, relatively speaking, are not as well known as yoga, for example, so there are a lot of very good qigong teachers that have very affordable classes here. There is very much talent in the United States. If these teachers were in China they would get paid so much money because people in China pay a lot to go to a good teacher. They understand the value of it. In China, they have a natural respect for teachers; that is in their blood.
Carol Bedrosian: What was it like living in China during the Cultural Revolution?
Ying Wang: I was born in the beginning of the 60s, which was the height of the Cultural Revolution. By the time I was 5 years old, it was full blown. We saw things being burned and abandoned. Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors are typically required to have training in tai chi and qigong, but not this generation of them. The colleges for TCM didn’t require the doctors to practice those things during that period. They also did not require spiritual cultivation. This was not even allowed to be mentioned.
Carol Bedrosian: Have those things returned? Do the doctors now talk about qigong?
Ying Wang: Oh, yes, it’s so amazing. Because tai chi is like a meditation in motion, even if you don’t know how to practice it properly, you’re not going to get yourself into any kind of trouble doing it. So tai chi was always practiced, even during the Cultural Revolution, although it wasn’t emphasized during that time, just considered a general exercise. In the parks, people could teach or practice tai chi. Qigong was not. I had a classmate during school in China who practiced it privately. No one knew; I didn’t even know until after we graduated.
But in the last fifteen years, a lot of the old, traditional practitioners have come out and taught students privately. But while everything is coming back now, there are some things that aren’t so great going on in China. Some people worship qigong and act as if it’s so mysterious. Some people charge others to learn very little of qigong and require a fee of 30,000 or 50,000 Chinese yuan to even accept them as a student. That’s how hot it has become. And under such circumstances, the Chinese government has, in a way, tried to step in. They established a guideline that does not allow people to collect money just for accepting somebody as a student. Some of the masters get paid so much money that ordinary people are not able to learn. But in the United States, we have all this luxury because the top teachers have learned from Chinese traditional teachers and now we have the chance to learn from them.
Carol Bedrosian: You founded Eastover retreat center out in Lenox, Massachusetts, where you are bringing many of these qigong masters there to teach.
Ying Wang: We bring in teachers whose main objective is to help others master the art of qigong. We avoid teachers who use qigong as a tool to make money. The main qualification we look for is the teacher’s desire to pass on what they know to people who want to learn the self-healing aspect of the art themselves, rather than having to depend on the teacher. And this is, of course, in addition to the fact that they’re just really good at qigong.
Carol Bedrosian: What is the healing potential of qigong in the body?
Ying Wang: Qigong and tai chi have been included in many clinical trials in places such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, etc. But first of all, qigong is a way of cultivating energy, or as I said earlier, our energy body. So the healing aspect of qigong is the energy that can be cultivated. The Chinese, from ancient times until now, have discovered and practiced specific ways to cultivate this healing energy so you can become aware of it and feel its movement in your body.
When a teacher conducts group healings, they are basically able to harmonize this enormous amount of energy with the people who are present. Each person will experience the energy and vibrations differently and at various levels. For example, people with depression may experience lower energy vibrations. You can achieve a healing effect through a good practice where you will feel the vibration of a higher energy. Through practicing qigong, that vibration can be raised. A teacher with good, positive energy can both in person and remotely affect a person that has studied with them.
Carol Bedrosian: Since inflammation is the basis of many diseases within the body, how does qigong work with inflammation?
Ying Wang: Through practicing qigong, inflammation can be lowered. Healthy cells have a vibration that is much stronger than diseased cells, which calms down the other cells. Master Zhao Xue Zhong was one of the first qigong masters to open an official clinic in China; I believe that this was in 1981. He is able to meld his energy body with the patient’s and can feel the patient’s pain and help calm their nerves down.
Carol Bedrosian: Can qigong actually revive diseased organs or negative patterns in your body and revert them back to healthy functioning?
Ying Wang: Yes, absolutely. Actually, the cells in our body change all the time. It is common to hear of miracle healings of cancer and other diseases through a combination of traditional medical intervention and qigong practice. First we need to relax the mind, let go of expectations and learn to trust the universe. Once activated, qi — this moving energy in our body — is very powerful. It can travel through blockages, it can travel to cells or blood vessels where hand acupressure massage cannot reach, to where Chinese herbal tea medicine cannot reach, to where the acupuncture needles cannot reach. A good acupuncturist who cultivates qigong can use the needle as a guide to deliver the right qi beyond its physical point. Then it’s up to us to do the daily practice to do the same. Through positive conscious direction, we can learn to accept cancer and be with cancer, and let positive qi permeate throughout the body and surround the cancer.
When you cultivate qigong, you tap into the qi field. Through the practice, first you are able to receive cosmic or universal energy, which is free and present all the time; you just have to learn how to receive it and let it pass through your body. That’s number one. Second, all the negative energy is being sent to the ground. The ground is so huge. It’s the most generous living body besides your physical body, and it’s there for you to be grounded to so you can recycle negative energy.
The ground can also pass on positive energy to you. One of the techniques in qigong uses the middle of the palm, called the lao gong xue, open to the sky and you can feel the tingling of your fingers. That’s when qi in the universe is passing through the lao gong xue, an acupuncture point. Through this passing, we receive good, clean and fresh qi from the universe.
Another qigong practice is to use qi to cleanse the body by sending energy through the lao gong xue in your palm, placing it at the crown of your head, called the bai hui xue. This energy passes through the middle of your body and bathes you in beautiful qi, which passes through to your feet and into the ground.
You can also take the beautiful and nourishing water energy from the ground through the bottom of your feet, called the yong quan xue, or spring bubble acupoint, and nourish your organs, like the heart and liver. You circulate this through your arms and whatever you don’t need is returned to the ground. Your body is a conduit for this qi in the universe. Your body becomes the conduit between the sky and the earth.
Carol Bedrosian: Can you do this wearing shoes or do you have to be barefoot?
Ying Wang: No, you can do it with shoes on. It’s a conscious feeling. But let’s say that on a particular day, you really feel like you need to be grounded, that you need to feel the connection physically. Then you can be barefoot, standing on the ground or standing on the grass. Yes, you definitely will feel a much stronger feeling, especially if you find a spot that is an energy vortex on the ground. There are spots like that. I have found one at Eastover.
Carol Bedrosian: How are tai chi and qigong different? Tai chi is said to be particularly helpful for seniors.
Ying Wang: Tai chi practice has a lot of things in common with qigong practice. For example, the way you stand in tai chi is called standing post, and in qigong there’s a standing post meditation that is one of its most powerful meditations. Your mind calms down as your energy is moving, and your muscles are strengthened quietly while you stand there. In tai chi, throughout almost the whole practice, you are in that standing post position. It’s as if you’re standing near the edge of a chair, poised in a semi-seated position with your knees slightly bent. This allows movements to originate from the center of your body, building the strength of your legs, back and the whole center part of your body, from which you want all movement to be generated from. That builds natural stability for the practitioner. Everything else is just an extension of the center.
I had the lucky experience of having a tai chi session in New York City where I saw a woman of 92 who had fallen and broken her hip two years before. She went to the tai chi class after that broken hip in a wheelchair and two years later she was fully practicing tai chi again. That’s how effective tai chi can be.
Carol Bedrosian: Can you see qigong and the internal energy arts becoming mainstream medicine in the United States?
Ying Wang: I think it’s possible, but it depends on how open minded the healthcare system will become. I heard some encouraging news when I went to a conference this year that a hospital is experimenting with giving a prescription to practice tai chi for three months for pain management. That’s very encouraging.
Probably within two to five years, all of the 1.3 billion people in China will be practicing tai chi because the Chinese government just passed what would be called a bill here, that makes tai chi and qigong practice a part of their healthcare system. What they will do is very similar to what happened during the Cultural Revolution. In rural places, they will establish care centers with what they used to call “barefoot doctors” during the Cultural Revolution, who weren’t college trained but had some training to do things such as give shots or deal with an emergency. They are training tai chi instructors everywhere. They’ve made this a part of the healthcare system and now require what is called tai chi learning centers everywhere, and all citizens are required to go there and learn qigong and tai chi as part of their healthcare system. Only China, a dictatorship, is able to do this.
Carol Bedrosian: But think of the benefit for increasing the vibration of the whole planet with that many people pulsing qi energy daily!
Ying Wang: Yes, because China has such a huge aging population, for them to be able to take care of all these people, they know that tai chi is one of the best preventative medicines for the mind and the body. But the old ones that have really mastered this art and know it very well are aging. These people are 80 to 100 years old and the Chinese government is realizing this. They’ve also passed another bill that Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors don’t need to go and get a college education to practice, which allows these masters to pass on their information to younger kids without the college requirement. So that’s very encouraging because the art will be preserved and people will have the chance to pass it on to other countries, too.
Carol Bedrosian: Which is why I was very excited by your idea to bring these masters to the Natural Living Expo in Marlboro this year in November for people to meet and work with.
Ying Wang: Yes, one of the masters who’ll be at the expo is Sifu Terence Dunn. He is an amazing master. Another amazing master is Junfeng Li, who at 80 years old, is like a living encyclopedia of qigong. This year in October at Eastover, he’s conducting a thirty-six day retreat where he will pass on his knowledge about how to cultivate and heal yourself and others.
Sifu Dunn is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, but he is a descendent of China even though he wasn’t born there. He loves this art so much that he studied with many of the top masters of the world, but he is very modest. Even though these masters can make quick money doing healing for other people, in their hearts they are here to teach others because they really want these arts to live on and help others heal.
Carol Bedrosian: The way that humans were naturally meant to heal with energetic self-healing.
Ying Wang: Yes, exactly. These are experiential studies. You can gain some knowledge from reading books or watching videos, but working with a master provides experiential studies. You want to find a good master, one where you can feel the energy of the master and whether or not you have a connection with that specific teacher. All of us are at a different level of vibration; sometimes it’s not until your vibration level is raised to a certain point that you feel a connection. All of us feel a different natural connection with the people around us. It’s the same thing with masters.
At the Medical Qigong and Eastern Medicine Symposium at Eastover in May, we gather masters together who have different traditions and ways of healing to give people a chance to come and experience this in a short five to seven day time period. This gives you the experiential opportunity to see with whom you naturally connect.
Science has advanced greatly to help us understand human potential, but there’s so much potential in our own human body that we can cultivate ourselves. I just came back from an anti-aging conference in Las Vegas where I met one of the lead researchers at Yale University who discovered that the temperature in the center of our heads — one of the main meditation qigong cultivation spots called the ni wang — has the most stable temperature in our body. He measured the temperature through a light tunnel from the middle of the head to the front, in between the eyes—what we commonly call the third eye. The Chinese have known for thousands of years that you can see light through the ni wang, and when the third eye is open, you can see everything in light speed; you can see scenery on the other side of Earth!
This researcher found a very strong correlation between the temperature of that spot and the sleep quality of a person. If a person is able to practice techniques to calm down the temperature of the ni wang, they can fall asleep right away and have a good quality of sleep. One of these is to open your arms wide and collect qi in the center of your palm. Then moving towards the top of the head, use your palms to push the qi through the center of your head, washing down through the body to dan tien [just beneath the navel] and down to the earth. Keep doing this until you feel empty in the head, stillness in the heart, your eyelids falling down. These highly cultivated masters have the ability to do that and that is why they can sleep well and immediately fall asleep. They don’t even have to worry about jet lag. When a person has the ability to help themselves sleep well, that boosts that person’s longevity and health.
We live in a very exciting time period. Not only do we have these ancient tools to help us cultivate good health, but we also have science to help us understand why these things are beneficial for us. They can help us save a lot of money in our healthcare system, and produce no negative side effects, just healing.
For more information on qigong classes, Master Li’s 36-day training in October or the Medical Qigong Symposium in May, contact Ying at Eastover Estate and Retreat, PO Box 2282, Lenox, MA 01240. www.eastover.com. (866) 264-5139.