Qigong and Tai Chi both make use of the Qi energy that runs through the body. That qi energy is moved about through the acupuncture energy channels of the body, by use of the mind. “The mind intent leads the qi energy, and the blood follows” is an old training adage. It is the blood that is following the qi, that brings about the greatest health benefits. If using imagination, little to no blood flow, because the mind is not really moving the qi. In imagination, the mind pretends to move the qi. In using mind intent, catching the feeling of the qi is of primary importance. Once the feeling of the qi is found, the mind intent ( I Nian ) can easily move and guide the qi.
The Chinese word for mind intent is Yi Nian (意念 ). Yi meaning thought / to think / intention and Nian meaning to study or train. Yi Nian in Qigong and Tai Chi means to think and study the qi movement in your body, through your channels.
Over time, this phrase Yi Nian has been mis translated into Imagine or Visualize. Imagination and visualization are different mental concepts then to think and study, and they use different parts of the brain and human consciousness.“The visual information from real events that the eyes see flows “up” from the brain’s occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, but imagined images flow “down” from the parietal to the occipital.” 1. Says researchers in a study published in journal NeuroImage.
“The occipital lobe sits in the lower, back part of the brain. Containing the visual cortex, this lobe’s primary function is to process visual information. The parietal lobe lies above the occipital lobe, and its primary function is to integrate sensory information, such as vision, but also touch and sound. In doing so, the parietal lobe assembles elementary building bricks from so-called “lower-order” brain regions to create concepts, said Daniela Dentico, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author on the report.” 2.
So if I use imagination, instead of mind intent, a different part of my brain becomes activated. By using mind intent (Yi Nian) and not imagination we can integrate sensory information. This sensory information is called catching the feeling of the qi. Catching the feeling of the qi is essential for proper, controlled qi energy flow through the body. Imagination is actually a determent to the qi discovery and qi movement process.
Catching the feeling of the qi can be easy or complicated, depending on your qi sensitivity. If you are a qi sensitive, it can be felt right away. If you are a qi insensitive it may take years of looking to catch the feeling of the qi. Most people are somewhere in between.
The feelings of the qi are: hot, cold, jump about, fullness, pressure, distension, itch, pain or electrical feelings. Sometimes it is also felt as a menthol feeling, this usually falls under the cool sensation, but I can notice a difference between menthol and cold.
So remember, the mind leads the qi. Use the mind intent to lead the qi and not the imagination and you will begin to have great control over your qi flow in your Qigong and Tai Chi Practice.
Senior author, Christopher Berger, in a study of imagination said “We often think about the things we imagine and the things we perceive as being clearly dissociable. However, what this study shows is that our imagination of a sound or a shape changes how we perceive the world around us in the same way actually hearing that sound or seeing that shape does. Specifically, we found that what we imagine hearing can change what we actually see, and what we imagine seeing can change what we actually hear.” 3.
It is clearly evident that the use of imagination moves us away from clearly perceiving what is actually there. In qi energy manipulation, a clear perception of the qi is needed in order to gain mastery over it. This is why the ancients left us the message, ” The mind leads the Qi.”
There is a place for imagination and visualization in Qigong and Tai Chi practice. They can help us remember a move, or even conceptualize the path of a channel. Just make sure you recognize that there is difference between imagery and reality. The qi energy is a real, actual force of nature that needs to be felt and embodied. Keeping it in the realms of imagination limits the understanding of what it is and how to use it in your practice.