Intention is important in chi kung. Not everyone who follows chi kung techniques will achieve what they intend. Some masters and many references in both Taoist and Buddhist texts issue clear warnings: Those who squander or abuse their energies in the pursuit of worldly pleasures and those who are simply evil will be unable to control the forces they unleash.
The reason is this: Only if the mind is pure will the chi be able to circulate upward to illuminate it, thereby inducing enlightenment and stimulating the creative forces associated with heaven. If the mind is impure -- that is, focused on unwholesome thoughts or ambitions -- the chi will be attracted to and migrate to equally coarse energies associated with the lower realms of existence.
In Taoist folklore, fox spirits are said to inhabit these lower realms. Foxes, as well as people, are believed to be able to cultivate the elixir of life, which leads to the creation of a spirit body. As a result, foxes are occasionally thought to move up the evolutionary totem pole and reincarnate in human form.
But if we, who are already human, abuse the energies created in our efforts to form a spirit body, then we may descend into the lower realms and find ourselves reincarnated as a fox spirit. There, for perhaps a thousand years or more, we will roam free and happy in mountains under the light of sun and moon and stars. But, at last, we will be reborn into this same world, a world of strife and suffering.
The Backward Flowing Method
Parents impart a limited amount of prenatal chi to their children at birth. This finite quantity suggests its importance to our health and well-being and that it is vital to conserve and supplement it.
The monks focused their attention on developing special chi kung techniques that would redirect chi along the energy channels we know as acupuncture meridians. These pathways often become clogged in adult life, so these chi kung exercises help to restore the chi to a natural and efficient flow through the body.
Essentially, the many chi kung techniques developed by the monks are designed "to reverse the flow of chi" so that the mind no longer needlessly directs it to perform the menial tasks of the exterior world. While we naturally require chi simply to exist, chi kung practice teaches us not only to supplement the supply in our bodies, but to be more efficient in its use.
Typically, we simply give up certain habits that we recognize as interfering with our progress. We also learn to meditate and to discipline ourselves so that our attention does not wander and our energies are not dissipated while we perform a task.
Transmutation of Sexual Energy
The phrase "reversing the flow" has another meaning, more complex than the general description offered above. It refers to a complex, multistage chi kung practice that, according to Taoist methods, involves the transmutation of sexual, or "seed," energy.
Metaphorically speaking, the "seed" energy represents the creative potential that is latent within our bodies. We can express this potential in either of two ways. We can follow our biological instincts and mate and have children. Or, we can sublimate these primal impulses, redirect them, and express them as artistic creations, in the martial arts, in healing techniques, or in the pursuit of enlightenment.
How it might be possible to chemically alter physical substances in the body has been the subject of much debate and study over the centuries. The results of these efforts are the chi kung techniques we use today.
Through the practice of chi kung, the powerful reproductive instinct can be controlled. At this point, it becomes possible to awaken special processes that lie latent in the body and ultimately to induce the flowering of consciousness.
The first of these is the attempt to transmute the seminal energy from a physical substance directed toward the reproductive activities to form chi that can be used within the body. This process of seed energy conversion is a fundamental aspect of Taoist alchemy.
The second process is the attempt to direct the chi up the spine through a number of acupoints to the brain.
The third process is the attempt to nourish and sustain the shen, or spirit, which is believed to reside in the area of the forehead located between the eyes. When the spirit is sufficiently developed (some say it typically takes three years), it can be used in the pursuit of the final goal of enlightenment.
Typically, breathing exercises coupled with meditation are used to bring about these effects. Once perfected, the method leads to the flowering or expansion of consciousness, hence the phrase "golden flower," that is often used. The idea of sublimating sexual energy was elaborated upon by Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and used as a central concept in psychoanalytic theory.
On the next page, learn about two chi kung exercises that balance and strengthen the flow of chi in the body.