Focus on the Right Things
Finding the Heart of a Form

Cultivating Chi - What Does It Mean?

I get emails from people -- some of them starting out in the internal arts -- and they've been told that they do certain exercises such as standing or chi kung to "cultivate chi."  More than once, people have told me that when they do tai chi they don't "feel the chi," and they ask me what they're doing wrong.

My opinions on these matters tend to differ from the standard schpiel that you get in internal arts classes.

I tell them to stop worrying about feeling chi and worry about strengthening the legs, developing peng and silk-reeling and whole-body movement and the skills that will make their internal arts high quality.

Cultivating chi is a very interesting concept. In my opinion, cultivating chi means that you are growing stronger and more healthy, and learning to develop the body mechanics for good internal arts.

From a movement perspective, cultivating chi might mean practicing a tai chi form until you understand and can execute the movements with the relaxed strength that correct body mechanics give you. If your "chi is flowing" it means that your alignment and structure are sound, and you are exhibiting the "iron wrapped in cotton" that tai chi, for example, is known for.

Does that mean you have to do chi kung or internal arts to cultivate chi? Of course not. You can grow stronger and healthier by weight training, cardio training, healthy eating, getting a good night's sleep, maintaining a positive attitude.

The internal arts don't have magical abilities that other exercise programs or martial arts don't have. The standing stake posture, for example, can "cultivate your chi" by strengthening your legs (you will be extremely well rooted if your legs are strong), by helping you to develop a sense of peng, by giving you a vehicle to calm the mind and body, and the resulting stress relief will improve your health, boost your immune system, and--in short--"cultivate your chi" if that's the way you want to describe it.

Frankly, I most often describe cultivating chi as getting stronger and healthier, but what the hey -- to each his own.

I also cultivate my own chi through very hard sessions with my personal trainer. I've never felt more in shape than I am right now. I feel strong, light on my feet, and lean. When I do tai chi, I feel solid, smooth, and relaxed but strong. Does that mean I've cultivated chi or am I just healthy? Call it what you will.

We're going to get into more techniques on this blog and on the website, but I'll occasionally discuss this "chi" business because it's the one area that is used by internal artists to set us apart from the rest of martial arts, and I believe it has been misused to the point that it makes us look stupid to rational people who have enough critical thinking skills to see through the chi myth.

The internal arts can make you healthier. They can help you "cultivate your chi." But so can brisk walking or jogging or weight training or golf. Taking up jogging might not help your self defense skills, but if it helps ease stress and calm the mind, it will improve your "chi."

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