My understanding Of Chinese Qi Gong in the context of western culture, connection between Art and Qi Gong Practice.
Anne-Sophie Hueber, France
One day my taiji teacher told me that, when he was 8 years old he used to go in the forest to feel the Qi of the flowers and trees and to play with his best friends by throwing Qi balls. That day, I realised how deep the difference is between our two cultures about the perception of Qi. For most of the western people I meet, Qi is an intellectual concept we create with our brains. For Chinese people, it is as natural and obvious as a kid’s game.
I will try to explain my understanding of Chinese Qi Gong in the context of western culture through my experience of learning Qi Gong in China and through my Art work. Those 2 activities are deeply connected one to another and with my life. I feel that it is a good way to follow my evolution from my French background to my learning of Qi Gong. My paintings tell me more about my evolution than my brain can tell me.
I’m a painter and for many years my subject is the body. My work had two parts: the first one being the outside shape of our bodies, I do watercolor life drawings, and the second one would be the emotional part, the inner part of the body. But for many years the outside part was separated from the inside part. When I started to practice Qi Gong in October 2014 at the Qi Gong Research Institute of Shanghai with Doctor Sun Lei, it helped me to connect these 2 parts.
a – The body and the QI, the visible and the invisible
Connection of qi gong, body and art
In western world the naked body is the main and noble subject of paintings in Art history. Nowadays, it is still an endless source of inspiration among painters. In China, Artists are aware of the Qi circulating in the body, so there is no need to represent it in painting.
It is not a subject as the shape of our body is always the same, and it is obvious. What is important for them is not the anatomy but the circulations of energy from inside and outside. As well as the connection and resonance between the inside and the outside. In their painting the human representation is a part of an environment. It is not only a body for its shape, but the body is part of the Qi circulation, in the body and in the nature. Leonard de Vinci had a very scientific ways to represent the body with the morphology. It was much codified. But the shape of a rock or the shape of a cloud are mysterious; it changes all the time and the Chinese painter find more noble work to be able to paint the Qi of the stone or to be able to show in their painting the spirit of a cloud.
The Chinese painters developed the ability to understand the law of nature and the talent to capture the invisible side of thing, the essence of nature. They go beyond what their sense can offer to them. It is a way to go deeper than the information our senses can give to us. It is the same for the way the Chinese doctors see the body, beyond what they see. This idea is more developed in the book “Le nu impossible” from Francois Jullien.
I feel practicing Qi Gong offer a deeper understanding of ourselves, of the outside world and the connection between both.
After 4 months practicing Qi Gong, I realized that I was making less mistakes in the proportion of the body, while drawing bodies. It may be related to the thinking; in Qi Gong we try to reduce it. In painting it is the same. If we draw with our thinking we will draw what we think there is and not what there is. With less thinking we will be more close to a kind of truth. Sometimes we think we are too big or too small, too ugly or too good looking, but it is just a superficial thinking. Qi Gong practice changes the perception we have of our body inside, but also outside.
After 1 year of Qi Gong, the need to draw the outside shape of the body disappeared. I naturally stopped drawing bodies when I began to feel the Qi in my body. I wasn’t expecting such a result. Maybe I was like the Taoists, when they wanted to find a longevity elixir outside the body. One day, they realised the elixir was inside the body. I feel as if I was looking for something. By representing the shape of the body, I had no way to get deep inside my body. Practicing Qi Gong gave me a path, like a road or a direction to follow and explore deeply inside. It also gave me a key to understand Chinese paintings, the whole and the nothing, the black and the white. The way they are spreaded and the importance of the empty space in their composition, a space for breathing.
I understood that with Qi Gong, our 2 cultures have really different ways to consider the body. The body, the mind and the breath are deeply connected as a unit for Chinese people. It is not only an outside way of seeing it, as in our western culture we have a head to think and a body to exercise. We have emotions and we try to control them with our brain, which does not work for me. What makes my emotions quiet is meditation and abdominal breathing. To put my consciousness in the dantian, puts my body and my mind at peace.
In western medicine we believe what we see. Doctors do autopsy and draw schemes of the body with inner organs, nerves, bones, blood vessels… The Qi and the meridians are invisible, so for many western rational thinkers, if they can’t see or can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.
b – In resonance with nature and others
Qi Gong is a deep source of inspiration for my paintings, as it is very poetic and a very delicate discipline. At first, I thought it was a way to know my body better and to find a state of peace, but now, I am beginning to understand and feel that the body is in resonance with nature and can also connect with others.
The 5 elements wood, fire, earth, metal and water are connected with the 5 Zang organs liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidney which are also connected with the 5 emotions anger, joy, worries, sadness, fear and finally connected with the 4 seasons.
So, the inside is connected with the outside.
The liver is connected to the spring, the wood, the tendons, the eyes, the tears, and the dynamic parts of the muscles. The heart is connected to the fire, the summer, the tongue, the vessels and the joy. The spleen is connected to the earth that feeds us, to the stomach, the muscles, the mouth and to the late summer. The Lung is connected to autumn, the metal, sadness, the skin, the nose, back to the inside to prepare winter and to regulate our energy. The kidneys are connected to winter, the water, the fear, the ears and to the bones. It is a very important storage of energy, like a battery, Ming men, door of life; it is the power of life area.
When I started Qi Gong I couldn’t understand nor feel that resonance with my environment and especially with nature. In France many old people have a garden and grow vegetable, they say it’s a social activity and very relaxing because while they are gardening, they don’t think, so it is a kind of meditation.
There is the inside nature and the outside nature. The Taoist talk about the inner landscape, the inside and the outside has to communicate.
Everything is connected together, if we focus only on one or two elements, there are no results to improve our condition.
This painting reminds me that Qi Gong is a very natural process and that it has to remain a game. If we take it too seriously it will not work.
When I say that I am doing meditation, some people tell me it is a lonely activity where I create nothing. But I realised that the opposite happens. I don’t feel I’m connected to people while meditating but I feel more connected to others because I’m quiet, rooted and clean, only then, I can listen deeper. It is a kind of paradox but to get deep inside my body allow me to go easily outside and to get along well with people.
c – Softness and strength
When I ask my children to practice Qi Gong with me they run away because they prefer to practice sport where they can move more and use their muscles. For them, the muscles power is very important. The softness is connected to weakness.
So I found a way to practice Qi gong with them through other sports.
- When we ski together I explain to them that if they do zhuanzhang position while they are skiing, they will improve their speed and their way of turning. If they focus on the back of their legs, they will avoid pain in their front legs muscles and they will ski softer.
- One of my sons is playing rugby. In that game they need to push each other. So together we are practicing the wood standing posture of zhuanzhang and try to push each other to feel our roots.
When I do meditation they say “mum is sleeping”. So for the moment at their age, 18, 17 and 14 years old, they feel it is a waste of time. They also told me that it is a big commitment, to have a result through Qi Gong; you need to practice every day. But I can tell you that since I started Qi Gong my family has a better balance. Because I am more quiet everyone around is more quiet. This silence state spreads even if others don’t practice.
Practicing Qi Gong is like a self cleaner for the body and the mind. The consciousness is more vivid. We think clearly when we stop thinking. Ideas are clearer and the concentration is easier.
Connection between Art and Qi Gong
Before I started Qi Gong, the grounds in my paintings were strong ones. In January 2016, I did an exhibition of my art work about Qi gong in shanghai at the Art CN gallery near Suzhou Creek, in Guangfu road. The top line of paintings was after Qi Gong, and the bottom line was before Qi Gong. When I was preparing the exhibition I didn’t realize the gap between the two rows but what people told me opened my eyes.
Before Qi Gong I was cleaning my mind and my body through my paintings. It was my way of having a good balanced life.
Painting number 3 is about Anger. When I was angry, I used to observe what the feeling of anger was doing to my body. Then I would relax and an image would appear in my mind. Then I would just have to paint that image. Anger, in the third painting, is represented by the heavy sky whereas peace is only a small portion of that sky (light blue sky). To paint the ladies I used opposite colors on the chromatic circle (here green and red), that contributes to the feeling of anger. Opposite colors on the chromatic circle always give an energetic feeling, which lives no space for peace. The shapes of the bodies also show a feeling of anger. I hope that one day, I will be able to paint a peaceful anger. I have already tried, but for the moment I can’t do it, as the result is weak.
The second painting is about loneliness and melancholia shown with the heavy grey, a deep gap, and the contrast of the dark and bright colors of the bodies and shapes that contribute to the feeling of loneliness. Those 2 paintings are 2 examples of the way I could manage my emotion. To put these feelings on a paper, cleans my mind and body, and makes me free.
Practicing Qi Gong cleans my mind and my body from thinking, emotion and pain. So in a way Qi Gong took the job of my painting. At a moment I became very worried about my Art work. What am I going to paint? But naturally, from the emotional bubble in the paintings, became Qi bubbles.
And step by step the colors became lighter. The ground disappeared. The body can be anchored without a stable ground. It is more related to the density of the body.
Before Qi Gong, when the ground wasn’t stable, it was related to a feeling of fright. With meditation this feeling of a non stable ground, gives the feeling of happiness and lightness.
The practice of the tree position helps me a lot to feel and to build my inner roots. We can find stability inside our body despite the change of our environment.
This painting is about the feeling of meditation. The emotions and the Qi are down, there is no thinking, the body becomes very light, and the environment becomes very wide, there are no limits.
Meditation, feeling of Qi
Here are a few drawings about my understanding of Chinese Qi gong with my western need to represent what I feel.
Sometimes I feel that I follow a path with no end. This painting is: “The master and the student”.
Maybe it is because I am French that I need to represent what I feel inside my body; even if I know that the feelings will change. Here are the different feelings I have from the energy line in my body, the meridians. Through the practice of Qi Gong, I have understood that giving a shape to something that does not last is related to my western frame of mind. It is also a way to keep a memory of what is not going to last.
I feel that, Chinese people, instead of representing a state of a shape are more focus on representing the “in between”. For example, I hope that one day I will be able to represent the subtle line between the consciousness and the moment we fall asleep, the “in between”, or the difference between the intention and the will.
These paintings represent the mix of Qi coming from two different people. It is what I feel when I play tuishou.
In “Roots and confidence”, the thoughts are behind represented by the flowers without any roots, and the emotions below represented by the bubbles.
This painting that I painted in 2016 shows me that my thinking and my emotions have changed. My emotions will not influence me as they did before. During meditation it is easier and faster for me not to have thoughts. I put my intention into the dantian and breathe from there, so there are less emotions and less thoughts, it makes my heart more at peace.
So, practicing Qi Gong cleans my body and my mind from emotions and thoughts. Before, painting made me peaceful and now it draws a smile in my heart.
Sometimes during meditation my body becomes so heavy that I m afraid not to be able to move. The orange dot is consciousness; there is no space for it in the body.
The body is melting within the environment; it dissolves like soap in the water.
To conclude, practicing Qi Gong is the starting point of deeper creativity. This practice gives me the ability to access and catch more subtle parts of the inner body. Therefore it is more and more difficult to find a way to represent those inner feelings. Recently, I felt that my bones were warm. I need to find a different way to show what we cannot see.
Often, my paintings tell me more about my evolution than what I am aware off. I paint what appears during meditation, and then when I look at the paintings I understand the change.
Qi Gong practice helps me reconnecting, unifying and harmonizing the inside and outside part of the body and the mind. Here, the outside is not only the outside shape of the body but also the outside world, the nature and others.