All of us experience events and environments that cause us stress and may disrupt our Qi in various organs. We are exposed to pollutants, noise, and crowded spaces. We may not have enough time to restore ourselves with rest and time in nature. Work might be overwhelming, or we may be experiencing a life change or grieving a loss. We experience anxiety, loneliness, and fear when confronted with these circumstances. Our life force energy can become blocked and unable to flow naturally. For these reasons, creating a daily Qigong practice will allow you to adapt better to changing circumstances while keeping your Qi healthy and your mind calm. You will find that you experience fewer minor ailments, you’ll have more energy throughout the day, and you will transform your moods so that you don’t experience negative emotions for long periods of time. You will be more resilient overall, with good digestion, quick healing, and a vitality that will allow you to accomplish what you set your mind to.
Furthermore, a Qigong practice connects you in a deeper way to the cycles, elements, and energy of nature. These are all in a continuous flow that generates everything in existence.
This flow is based on the theory of Five Elements, which dates back as early as the Yin and Zhou Dynasties (sixteenth century B.C.–221 B.C.) Our ancestors, through the enlightenment of deep meditation and observation, have discovered the hidden connections and transformations between matter, energy, and information, and categorized them into five phases (Wuxing in Chinese: ). They selected five common elements in our daily life to lead each category. These five elements are: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Basically they all have an interrelating action in which wood generates fire, fire creates earth in the form of ashes, earth creates metal in the shape of minerals extracted from the earth, metal creates water through melting or condensing atmospheric water, and water grows wood. The cycle by which each element helps to create the next is called Xiangsheng 蛺, generating interaction. They also participate in a cycle of dissolution called Xiangke 郕, overcoming interaction, in which wood penetrates and overcomes earth. Earth absorbs and overcomes water, water puts out fire, fire melts metal, and metal chops wood.
Extensively, the relevant materials, motions, seasons, sun and earth, time and space, etc. in this universe all can be enlisted to one of the five elements. For example, the materials in the wood category include wind, moisture, paper, cloth, and so on. The wood color is green, wood direction is east, wood motion is expansive and exterior, and the wood season is spring.
Combining all five of these with the Xiangsheng cycle and the Xiangke cycle creates every change and transformation. That’s why WuXing is also translated as Five Phases, which I believe makes better sense.
Specifically for our body, liver is wood, the color is green. Heart is fire, the color is red. Spleen is earth, the color is yellow. Lung is metal, the color is white. Kidney is water, the color is deep blue.
But what is the force or energy that creates all of these changes? It is Yin-Yang. We will see this force represented with the famous two-part symbol that incorporates yang, the positive, masculine, and yin, the negative, feminine.
The circle itself represents ONE. This ONE can be one thing, one event, one world, or the Big Dao, the supreme force, with half Yin and half Yang, each with a dot of its opposite. This symbolizes that despite its polarity, within Yin-Yang, each contains seeds of the other. If you draw a line through the center of the circle, every half will have both Yin and Yang. That means they are inseparable. They are mutually independent, constantly interactive, and potentially interchangeable.
Originally these words referred to a mountain’s duality. It has a sunny south side and a shaded north side. And no mountain can have only one side, it is simply impossible. From this, the ancients understood that these two forces that oppose one another are necessary for balancing everything in harmonious unity. The universe could not exist without the polarity of Yin-Yang, just as darkness cannot exist without light, wet cannot exist without dry, and cold cannot exist without heat.
The principle of Yin-Yang applies to everything in the universe no matter how huge or how small, including the start of the universe. At the very moment of the Big Bang, we begin to have polarity: the time and space, the matter and energy, the matter and dark matter or anti-matter, the expansion of the universe and the collapsing of the black hole, the sun and earth, the earth and the moon, the mountain and river, the plant and animal, the human and animal, mother and father, the friends and enemies, body and mind, the electrons and nuclear. All these creations and phenomenon are governed by the law of Yin-Yang, including the five elements.
In the human body, the front is Yang, while the back is Yin. Yin controls blood, Yang governs energy. The inhale is Yang, while the exhale is Yin. Internally our body organs are also paired with Yin and Yang throughout. The stomach, gallbladder, small and large intestine, and bladder are Yang; the liver, heart, spleen, lung, and kidneys are Yin. So we all are a complex with countless Yin-Yang forces to make us as an overall balanced and harmonious one.
It is through perceiving and experiencing the opposite that we know the power of each force. And Yin and Yang energies both have their place in health. Yin is more internal, cooling, receptive, and slow. Some personalities may embody one quality more than others. Yang is external, warming, expanding, and fast. Yin and Yang are expressed in a variety of character, physical, and mental attributes. Perfect balance is never achieved, because the balance is continually changing and evolving. Imbalance is the root of disease, suffering, and unhappiness. So seeking this balance is what we do in Qigong, attempting to always counter one energy with the other so that we are never too strong on one side. The balance between the phase-shifts of creation and dissolution are what create vitality and longevity. This is not a full-effort struggle, though. It is a gentle process of shifting the Qi, rather than fighting against anything with too much force. Qigong practices are soothing and calming for this reason.
Let’s try the following Yin and Yang exercise to a have a taste of Awakening Awareness:
Awakening Awareness can be practiced standing, sitting, or lying down. This is an exercise you can do anytime, anywhere, for any length of time, even while you are waiting for an elevator or at the checkout counter. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes to integrate Awakened Awareness into your daily activities until eventually it becomes as natural as walking or breathing.
The exercise is divided into three parts.
1. Sit upright comfortably in a chair with your hands resting on your lap. Open your eyes and become aware of the outer world. This is the world that flows into awareness through the physical senses. Concentrate on the sights, sounds, smells, and the sense of space around you. Continue doing this for a few seconds.
2. Now close your eyes and become aware of your inner world. This is the world that flows into awareness through the inner senses. Concentrate on the feelings and images floating through your mind, and even on the sense of time flowing by. Continue doing this for a few seconds.
3. Now with your eyes still closed, focus your attention outward once again on the qualities of the outer world. This state of consciousness feels like being in a dark forest on a dark night while your senses extend like antennas. Continue doing this for a few seconds.
4. Next open your eyes and focus your attention on the qualities of your inner world. This state of consciousness feels like being in a daydream in which your eyes are open but your senses are introverted. Continue doing this for a few seconds.
5. With your eyes still open, now become aware simultaneously of both your inner world and the outer world. Become aware of both objective and subjective experiences arising in awareness. Concentrate on the spacious quality of awareness for a few seconds.
6. Then close your eyes while maintaining an awareness of awareness of both your inner world and the outer world. Realize that all experiences arise in the light of awareness. Concentrate on the formless quality of awareness for a few seconds.
7. Now let go of all experience. Allow your inner world and the outer world to dissolve into nothingness. Become “aware” of awareness itself. Awaken your awareness. Realize that Awakened Awareness is your true nature.
Picture a room divided by an opaque, velvety veil. Half the room is lit and the other half, where you stand, is plunged in darkness. Each time you awaken your awareness, the veil is lifted a bit. Gradually, light amplifies and the darkness fades until finally the entire room is inundated with beautiful light: enlightenment!
Continue to practice this exercise, and that is what you can look forward to. ◆
This piece is from the Winter 2022-2023 issue of Parabola, DARKNESS & LIGHT. The full issue is available to purchase on our online store.