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Methods Of The Mind: The Regulation of the Yi  in Taiji and Qigong

Volume 3 Number 4
Fall 2002

By Junfeng Qu

The regulation of the yi — the mind and intention — is one of the key aspects of taiji and qigong practice. Both taiji and qigong involve psychological activity, whether in the context of the influence of the mind on the body, the mentality on physiology, the external environment on the internal environment, or the supplementation of the external environment by internal environment. No matter what style of taiji or qigong you practice, the use of the yi is always required to control breathing and adjust postures and movement. We can describe yi as the "spiritual and conscious activity" of the practitioner. The training of yi is also known by other terms such as "regulating the heart-mind" and "refining attention." This can be a spiritual and conscious self-exercise; and it is the training of the functions of the highest level of the nervous system, the cerebral cortex.

One of the purposes of taiji and qigong practice is to accumulate qi in certain parts of the body, and fill those in order to let the qi flow. However, the accumulation of qi must be controlled by the yi and flow along the certain channels. If the qi flows at its own will without the control of the yi, it may give one an uneasy sensation. Therefore, yi exercise and training becomes a critically important aspect of taiji and qigong practice.

The yi dominates the jing, qi, and shen (essence, qi, and spirit), known to the ancient Chinese as the "Three Treasures of Humankind." An ancient text, the Three Fundamentals of Nourishing Life, states that, "Accumulation of jing lies in nourishment of qi, nourishment of qi lies in the storing of shen. The relation between shen and qi is like the relation of mother to child. Qi is accumulated when shen is concentrated, and qi is dispersed when the shen is distracted." The shen is spiritual consciousness; in other words, the yi.

The keys to training the yi are the concentration and use of consciousness. Concentration refers to the focus of one's mind and consciousness on a specific part of body such as the dantian, or a specific object in nature.

Inward Concentration

Concentration on the body is done in general on areas such as the dantian, or specfic acupuncture points. The exact techniques depend on one's level of qi and style of practice, as in the examples below.

1. Yi Focused on the Dantian

The Daoists believed that the dantian is the point in which to cultivate qi. However, the dantian is not simply an acupuncture point, it occupies a specific space in the body. Current theory locates the dantian in the abdominal cavity at the level of the navel and about one inch behind it. Recent studies have found that there are abundant capillaries and autonomic nerves in this area. Better results can be achieved by the use of this location as dantian (there are other dantians mentioned in different traditions). After entering a tranquil state, having the yi focused on the dantian concentrates one's spiritual activities and consciousness.

2. Yi Focused on the Bubbling Well

The Bubbling Well (yongquan) is the starting point of the kidney meridian, and is located in the concavity of the sole of the foot. The Bubbling Well is the "fountain of qi" of the Kidney Meridian. Focusing the mind on the Bubbling Well point is all the more important as the foot is the place where of all six of the acupuncture meridians that traverse the legs come together and exchange their energy. The kidneys are the place where the prenatal jing is stored. This is the energetic foundation of the body. When placing the yi's focus on the Bubbling Well point, prenatal jing can be nourished and life-force enhanced.

What methods can be used? After one enters into a tranquil state, one can use one of the following methods. These should be done under the guidance of a teacher, as the effects and functions of these methods are different:

  • Focus the yi on the Bubbling Well and imagine the qi forming a ball at center of the foot.
  • Focus the yi on the Bubbling Well and imagine the earth energy continuously flowing into the body.
  • Imagine discharging the impure qi from within the body to the outside via the Bubbling Well, while the body integrates with the universe, like a tree rooted on the earth.

Outward Concentration

Concentrating the yi externally utilizes objects in the natural world as the focus point for the mind. For example, one could focus on a flower, a tree, a mountain, or the moon. These natural objects must be pleasant, familiar, calming and easy to meditate on. Overstimulating or disturbing focus points are not to be used in this or other meditative practices.

Focusing the yi on the sun and the moon is one ancient method of concentration. In this technique, people absorb the jing from the sun and the moon. It is believed that focusing the yi on the sun (of course, not by looking at the sun) can enhance yang energy in the body while concentration on the moon can neutralize yang energy. Therefore, the person who is weak in yang energy could absorb more jing of the sun and the person who is weak in yin energy could absorb more jing of the moon. This process is very technical and involves having great control of the yi, in coordination with correct times and places to practice, and thus should be undertaken under guidance of a teacher.

Although there are varieties of methods for concentrating the yi, the principles are the same. First, remove disturbing thoughts that surface during practice. Practitioners should relax in a natural manner and allow disturbing thoughts to surface for a moment but then be gradually removed.

Second, select a quiet and comfortable environment for practice. A place with a lot of traffic or noise is not conducive to entering a tranquil state or concentrating the yi. Last, it is enough just to have "a thought" of yi on a specific focus point. The qi will start to flow after a certain period of doing these exercises.

There are two states of qi flow. In the first, the qi flows naturally by itself. In the other, qi flows along meridians and is controlled by the yi. There are a few precautions: when the qi starts to flow, outside disturbances such as sudden noise can startle the practitioner, raising the heart rate or causing a shortness of breath. If this happens, the practitioner should be calm, not panic, and not stop practice abruptly. The practitioner should re-concentrate the yi and gradually reenter a tranquil state. The practitioner should stay in this state of yi concentration for a while before completing his or her practice.

The first steps in taiji and qigong practice consist of regulation of yi, breathing, and body. The best way to start your practice is to find a good teacher to guide you, and to practice according to the laws of nature. Hopefully, these introductory remarks can serve to "use a minnow to catch a whale."

Junfeng Qu lives and teaches in Athens Georgia.
He is a disciple of Joseph Chen.

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