SuttaCentral

The importance of Qi/Chi flow and mindfulness/awakening


#1

Hi Everyone,

I have a question. I started having panic attacks as my back started getting worse due to some injuries and also after my Dad died. I have the panic attacks under control now. My question is, I am wondering if anyone has come across any teaching of the Buddha talking about Qi/Chi flow and how it relates to the state of the mind and awareness and whether the Buddha thought it necessary to stretch/exercise to put the body in a state that is conducive to comfort and energy flow.

I remember reading a Sutta while I was at a Goenka retreat in a book about Ananda I believe that said the Buddha was teaching and he asked Ananda to continue teaching because he needed to stretch himself, but haven’t come across much else relating to the state of the body.

I just rolled my hips with a lacrosse ball and I can feel my energy flowing so so much better. Peace is right here instead of needing to work so hard for it.

When I started meditating about 10 years or so ago, I was able to reach deep states of meditation easily, but as time went on, my body has become more and more stiff and it has become more challenging to stretch it as it seems to get tighter when I stretch sometimes.

I also notice that when I get to some deeper states now through longer sits and the relaxation response kicks in as I get closer to or into a Jhana, or even just into a more tranquil state, that it’s like the tension just melts away from my body and I can sit for longer, which seems counter-intuitive since it is hard for me to sit when the body is tight to begin with.

I did a Metta retreat at home in the spring and I ended up being able to sit for 2 hours quite easily as the mind softened and gained more concentration.

Any thoughts or references?


#2

You’re very fortunate in that you have personal experience to use as a measuring stick, so you really don’t need to search for justification from the suttas.

In the EBT, besides step 3 and step 4 of 16 APS, and passadhi sambojjhanga of 7sb (awakening factors), which include both physical and mental tranquility, I’m not aware of any thing else that explicitly say or imply the importance of relaxing, qi flow.

The fact that the vinaya allows for sauna, junior monks massaging senior monks, that makes me think the Buddha never taught any basic stretching or accupressure to relieve pain or stimulate qi flow.

The secret of strong qi and qi flow is very simple though.

  1. Keep brahmacariya very well. no sex, no masturbation, no lustful thoughts. Any negative emotion, especially if its intense, is going to drain some internal energy, but probably lust for sex and sensual pleasures drain people the most.
  2. spend lots of time, I’d say no less than 4 hours a day, in A-vitakka a-vicara samadhi + passadhi sambojjhanga.
  3. do some exercise and stretching every day, I find it’s better to shoot for something like at least 15 minutes every 2 hours, then say doing 1 hour of exercise a day in one session.
  4. eat healthy
  5. keep your body warm. If you have a shaved head, wear a beanie unless you live in a tropical place that’s too hot. If your hands, fingers, toes, feet, knees , elbows, are cold, then meditation is not going to go well. Your qi and internal energy first have to get your body warm to work properly before jhana feels good. If you’re very cold and jhana capable, you either won’t be able to get into jhana, or if you can get into jhana, that period where your body warms up will feel like a car having trouble starting in cold weather.

#1 brahmacariya is a prerequisite for monastics, so the Buddha had no need to explain the importance of it. But for lay people, especially modern westerners who have harmful ideas about “healthy sex life”, it’s partially true from a perspective of a worldling with worldling aspirations, but if your goal is nirvana, brahmacariya is of primary importance. That is what builds up the power, force, heat of your vital internal energy, which is the driving force for how easily you can do jhana, how sharp and quick your mind is, and also your immune system, physical health.


#3

Thank you for this.


#4

On a more worldly note re stretches. I highly recommend Dr Quinn Heneich’s Darkside Strength YouTube channel (and articles around the web) for when stretching doesn’t work. He works with breathing and stimulating neural pathways to release tension in the body. It’s the only thing that’s helped my back stay loose.


#5

ran across this passage today

AN 5.125 celibacy, exercise, good diet necesssary
paṭhamānāyussāsuttaṃ (AN 5.125)
125 (5) Vitality (1)

:diamonds: 125. “pañcime, bhikkhave, dhammā anāyussā. katame pañca? asappāyakārī hoti, sappāye mattaṃ na jānāti, apariṇatabhojī ca hoti, akālacārī ca hoti, abrahmacārī ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca dhammā anāyussā.
576“Bhikkhus, there are these five things that reduce vitality. What five? One does what is harmful; one does not observe moderation in what is beneficial; one has poor digestion; one walks [for alms] at an improper time;1126"" one is not celibate. These are the five things that reduce vitality.

:diamonds: “pañcime, bhikkhave, dhammā āyussā. katame pañca? sappāyakārī hoti, sappāye mattaṃ jānāti, pariṇatabhojī ca hoti, kālacārī ca hoti, brahmacārī ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca dhammā āyussā”ti. pañcamaṃ.
577“Bhikkhus, there are these five things that increase vitality. What five? One does what is beneficial; one observes moderation in what is beneficial; one has good digestion; one walks [for alms] at the proper time; one is celibate. These are the five things that increase vitality.”

AN 5.126 if you can’t do AN 5.125, at least do this
dutiyānāyussāsuttaṃ (AN 5.126)
126 (6) Vitality (2)

:diamonds: 126. “pañcime, bhikkhave, dhammā anāyussā. katame pañca? asappāyakārī hoti, sappāye mattaṃ na jānāti, apariṇatabhojī ca hoti, dussīlo ca, pāpamitto ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca dhammā anāyussā.
578“Bhikkhus, there are these five things that reduce vitality. What five? One does what is harmful; one does not observe moderation in what is beneficial; one has poor digestion; one is immoral; one has bad friends. These are the five things that reduce vitality.

:diamonds: “pañcime, bhikkhave, dhammā āyussā. katame pañca? sappāyakārī hoti, sappāye mattaṃ jānāti, pariṇatabhojī ca hoti, sīlavā ca, kalyāṇamitto ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, pañca dhammā āyussā”ti. chaṭṭhaṃ.
579“Bhikkhus, there are these five things that increase vitality. What five? One does what is beneficial; one observes moderation in what is beneficial; one has good digestion; one is virtuous; one has good friends. These are the five things that increase vitality.”


#6

Is there a Sutta equivalent explanation to describe what Qi/Chi flow means?
Did Buddha ever talk about this?


#7

Don’t think so.

In SN36.21 he refers to winds (vāta) but it is more likely to be a similar concept to the one found in the ancient Greek notion of humors.

I believe the notion of winds was their ancient explanation to things like blood circulation which from outside feels like wind flowing through your body and responds somehow to how you breathe.

See:


#8

Maybe Qi isn’t mentioned as it isn’t important for attaining Nibbāna?


#9

Ajahn Sucitto teaches qigong (Goggle search here); I’ve been meaning for a while to follow up what he says/writes about how he sees the connection with practice. What @amimettalove says in the OP about direct physical intervention helping a body that is stiff or damaged settle for meditation may be the whole of it.

While not directly connected with Dhamma, both qigong and tai chi provide excellent routines for the cultivation of mindfulness.


#10

TIt might be of interest to you to search out Jivako Komarabhacco, on the web.

Such terms, as Qi, etc., that are principally Chinese and experienced in such as Taiji, are unlikely to be seen in the early Suttas, if seen in any of the collected discourses.

Stretching was introduced to Buddhist Sangha early on, in Buddhha’s disposition.


#11

Probably the closes thing to Chi in ancient India is pana, as in anapanasati (Sanskrit: Prana).

While it’s usually translated as “breath”, and this is correct, it probably had a broader connotation (including breath energy, breath of life, life force, etc) and is also similar to Greek concepts like pneuma in that regard.

Indian yogis practiced different forms of prana yogas, the Buddha himself practiced “forceful” yogas, which included holding one’s breath and so on. But he eventually abandoned these and taught a much more relaxed form of working with prana/pana, anapanasati.

While most teachers teach anapanasati as just being aware of the breath, there are some who teach a more proactive approach which involves more “working” with breath energies. See Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s books and guided meditations for this. He got it from Ajahn Lee.

Ultimately, the importance of working with pana/prana is that it can lead to jhana and these exercises can cover the four satipatthanas, both of which are important for awakening.

IMO it’s important to understand the Vedic background to get a clue of what the Buddha meant by “pana”. It’s all too easy to just think it simply means “breath” (even if that is its main meaning). I haven’t been able to find any more recent research papers on this topic, so here is an old one by Arthur H. Ewing: The Hindu Conception of the Functions of Breath.-A Study in Early Hindu Psycho-Physics

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/592433.pdf


#12

Remember that is just the title of the sutta, nowhere in the sutta are those terms mentioned; instead the rather mundane assassati passassati (in-breathing and out-breathing, respectively) are used.


#13

Yes the breath is only just the breath, in Buddhism- delighting in the breath could lead to various theories being generated about the breath especially as the stopping of breath is potentially catastrophic event and fear requires a reassuring explanation.


#14

Yea but anapana is used in other texts as a synonym no? In the anapana samyutta etc


#15

Yea, and ānāpānasatisamādhi occurs as a reference to the practice (can’t find it right now, perhaps I’m slightly off-terms), but again, āna nor apāna occur nowhere in the actual instructions.

Could be that this was, like so many other Buddhist practices, a spin on existing ideas Brahmanical or yogic — thus the title conflation.


#16

Anapanasati is used in the sutta text: SuttaCentral


#17

Yea,

(as a “title”)

In a similar way, sati doesn’t really occur in the Satipaṭṭhāna instructions (just the “refrain” has a brief mention), the actually exercises seem to be aimed at the cultivation of the quality of sati. I consider it somewhat dangerous to really speculate on āna and apāna in the title of the practice of ānapāna since it certainly later comes with a jumble of metaphysics. Clearly enough, the practice seems to be aimed at experience, not speculation and metphysics.


#18

Well I wasn’t exactly speculating on metaphysics, just that having an understanding of the Indian views of pana/prana might help us understand how the practice might have been contextualized and experienced by those who had this background understanding of pana/prana.


#19

Tai chi” (pinyin tai Ji) is a philosophical idea – symbolized by the circle with S-shaped division into black & white with dots of the opposite color in each half. Tai Chi Chuan (pinyin tai ji quan) is the well-known soft-form martial art.

Qi gong” is a modern generic term, invented ca. 1930, basically meaning much the same as “aerobic”. Since the 1950’s, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party dynasty) has promoted it as a blanket term to encompass a range of traditional body-breath-mind practices / exercises, specifically to secularize them – divorce them from largely religious and philosophical origins. Perhaps the most well-known origin is “dao yin” (different characters than the dao of Daoism, and the yin of yin/yang), earliest documentation in an illustrated manuscript reliably dated ca. 3rd century BCE (search on “mawangdui” texts).

At least one documented tradition that very closely resembles Buddhist practice is the “internal alchemy” of the first millennium, which in fact is an amalgam of Taoist and Buddhist practices, which were widely practiced together, from the introduction of Buddhism into China at least up through the Tang Dynasty era.

According to one contemporary teacher (an 88th generation master of the Yu Qing Huang Lao Pai / Jade Purity Yellow Emperor Lao Zi School), the practice cultivates, successively, in perfecting energy in the three bony cavities of the body (pelvic, thoracic, and cranial), corresponding to the more broadly known (e.g. in taiji and much gigong) centers of jing (bodily essence, motion), qi (breath & heart beat) and shen (mind/spirit). The attainment of the third stage (actually called in this system “shui” or marrow of the cranial cavity, i.e. how they thought of the brain) is called “opening of the 3rd eye”, with the ability to see with perfect understanding in all directions of space and time – and otherwise characterized as a form of “awakening” comparable to Buddhist attainment.