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Water as a Teacher

Anything can teach us about the nature of reality if we observe with an open lens of awareness. But the more visceral and universal something is, the easier the path of understanding. Water, being necessary to life, is universal. And its palpable quality gives us many ways of understanding it. We all know the feel of water, the taste of it, and provided our senses of sight and hearing are available, the sound and sight of it.

Water as a phase/element vs. Water as a teacher of Qi movement

In earlier posts on 2022's year of the Yang Water Tiger and 2023's year of the Yin Water Rabbit, I discuss the element/phase of water at length. But in this post, let's take a look at how to use water as a teacher in the practice of Qigong. This perspective on water will teach us about motion, direction, and nuances within the interplay of Yin (the receptive principle) and Yang (the active principle).

Water & a Qi Ball

One of our many tools in Qigong practice is the "Qi ball." To form a Qi ball, simply bring the hands in front of your lower belly, palms facing each other, and hands softly rounded as if holding a ball about the size of a bowling ball or a kickball. Be aware of the centers of the palms facing each other, and let the finger and thumb tips lightly (not precisely) face each other. The Qi ball can expand, contract, turn, and move through space, depending on our intention and movement. Adding the imagery of water to our Qi ball practice enriches the experience.

Expanding & Contracting the Qi Ball

The simplest motion is to expand and contract the Qi ball in time with the breath. Keeping the hands at the level of the lower belly (roughly between the navel and the top of the pubic bone), and maintaining the softly rounded shape of your hands, move the hands apart as you inhale, and back towards each other as you exhale. At the same time, visualize the ball expanding and contracting in all directions, as if your hands are following the edges of the ball as it increases and decreases in size. Let the backs of the wrists energetically lead as you inhale and expand, and let the palms energetically lead as you exhale and contract. As your hands and the ball expand, you are in Yang mode - active, moving outwards, building. As your hands and the ball contract, you are in Yin mode - moving inwards, returning, condensing.

Adding Water to the Qi Ball Practice

Once you feel comfortable in your timing of breath, motion, Yin/Yang awareness, and visualization, add the imagery of water. Imagine your Qi ball is underwater. Imagine what it would feel like to open and close the arms within water. Immediately, you can feel the resistance of the water your body pushes against, but you will also feel the returning rush of water moving the opposite direction around your arms. As your body pushes into the water, the water moves back to fill the space where your body was. You move in one direction, and while some of the water will also flow that way, most of the water moves in the opposite direction.

Yin and Yang enriched

This means that when your hands move outwards (Yang - active, expanding), the water mostly moves inwards (Yin - coming into the empty space), and when your hands move back inwards (Yin - returning, condensing), the water mostly moves outwards, (Yang) activating the space around you.

These principles hold true in all movements, with or without a Qi ball. If we lift our Qi ball, or even just a single arm, some Qi will rise with the motion, and some Qi will descend to fill the empty space below. When we move to one side, some Qi will follow us to that side, and some Qi will move into the empty space on the opposite side. This is the nature of water - to fill empty spaces. It is also the nature of Qi.

Training the mind on the Empty Space

In both life and Qigong practice, our human tendency is to focus on apparent activity. This is a natural and necessary step in learning any new Qigong movement or form, or any life skill. But once we understand how to coordinate the elements of any action, it is then beneficial to cultivate an awareness of the emptiness that is counterbalancing and receiving the action.

To find this elusive emptiness, stillness is required. Once you complete your Qi ball experiment, I encourage you to take a moment in stillness and observation. What do you notice? What feels different, and in what way? This is like the reflection on the surface of a calm pool. Then see if you can let even the action of observation go, and just be. Let yourself sink into the calm stillness of the depths of the pool.

Thank you for reading. May you be full of warm, bright, flowing Qi,



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