The sixth nei gong component of 16 that comprises the science of qi energy development underlying all Tao meditation and energy arts in the Water method is applied to bend and stretch the body in specific ways: namely, bending and stretching the body from the inside out and the outside in along the direction of the yin and yang acupuncture meridians. This class of techniques provides the methodology for working with the body’s soft tissues, including the muscles, tendons, fascia and ligaments. Loosening and releasing bound tension and restricted areas in the soft tissues though bend and stretch are absolute prerequisites for more advanced twisting, and eventually spiralling nei gong techniques, as well as introductory qi techniques.
However, many students do not fully appreciate the importance of bend and stretch, and therefore do not develop techniques sufficiently to safely advance to the intermediate realm. You would not try to build a house without a foundation, and if you did, it wouldn’t be long until the structure collapsed. Similarly, bending and stretching techniques feed all intermediate and advanced nei gong development.
Building the Framework for Energy Exercise
All nei gong energy arts require a framework on which to thread the 16 strands, including their many, many layers of complexity that will ultimately create a weave with all others. The framework starts with principles of proper posture and body alignments because if your blood vessels and energy lines are misaligned, any qi you might manage to generate will have little effect in terms of health and healing (at the very least) and may intensify blockages (at the very worst). You could think of kinks in a garden hose. You could run water through it with various kinks throughout a hose, but the water will not flow unimpeded and can exacerbate any weak areas (i.e. breakdown the hose) with little water pressure to drive water out the end. Similarly, focusing on biomechanical alignments and removing these kinks is of utmost importance to create positive results from training. This is especially true in the beginning stages of training, and continues as a point of reference as you magnify the intensity of internal exercise at more advanced levels. In short, without a strong physical foundation, all the other nei gong will be seriously compromised.
Of course, to perform an qi energy exercise, you also need a shape—a form or movement sequence that serves as a shell or container within which the nei gong can operate. This could be any of the beginning qi gong sets, such as:
- Dragon and Tiger Medical Qi Gong
- Energy Gates Qi Gong
- Heaven and Earth Qi Gong; as well as
- Tai Chi, or
- Bagua Circle Walking
Once you learn a form of exercise, you want to imbue it with internal content to connect the body and begin working with the following aspects of the body:
- Soft tissues, including the skin;
- Bodily fluids, i.e. blood, interstitial, cerebrospinal, synovial and lymph;
- Body systems, e.g. nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, immune and respiratory;
- Internal organs—the most important determinants of your health and well-being.
From the perspective of movement and by connecting the body, bending and stretching techniques begin to release tension and thereby set the foundation for more advanced training. When practised correctly, bending and stretching starts to release knots in stuck tissues while increasing blood and fluid circulation throughout the body—the necessary precursors for boosting chi flow.
Bend + Stretch Exercises to Develop the Body
Bending and stretching exercises slowly work out any knots by lengthening muscle fibres through a specialised protocol of repetitive and therapeutic stretching. In time and with practice, various knots release and the muscular frame opens up. This letting go allows you to begin to access the connective tissues (fascia), which in turn creates movement where the whole muscular frame works as one piece of cloth. When you move one thread in the fabric, the whole sheet moves: the same is true for fasciae trains in the body. Typically, the process starts with the arms, moves onto the legs and then connects the two via the torso.
As you continue developing bend-and-stretch techniques, you will work deeper and deeper into the body, where you can eventually gain access to the ligaments. The methodology used and perfected for millennia loosens the joints and prepares the way for pulsing to take root. Fulfilling these prerequisites allows you to release more concentrated layers of bound tension, create smooth and relaxed movement and begin to generate real internal power for health, healing, martial arts, increased concentration, meditation—whatever you aim to achieve.
However, without the soft tissues sufficiently lengthened and the ligaments engaged, progressing to pulsing techniques is essentially premature. Results are downgraded to only a shadow of the powerful healing potential of neigong component number 7 (concerned with opening and closing the body to strongly circulate fluids and thereby saturate your system with nutrients at the cellular level and increase chi flow). Many students find that their practice plateaus in one way or another—such as not being able to make the jump to more advanced pulsing methods or maintain a continuous pulse without stops and starts—which can ultimately only be fixed by backtracking to bend and stretch exercises to more fully embody component number 6.
So if you don’t want to be limited by a glass ceiling, the wise man’s strategy is to put in the effort to learn, accurately practise and deepen skill in bend-and-stretch techniques before investing time and energy into higher-level nei gong material that is otherwise largely unattainable anyhow.
Bend + Stretch Exercises for Qi Energy Development
Bend-and-stretch exercises also become the vehicle for all beginning qi work, especially in Dragon and Tiger Medical Qi Gong’s methodology for manipulating and generating qi energy. Dragon and Tiger Qi Gong’s specialty is pulling and pushing qi, which is dependent upon the physical framework of bend and stretch. Just as with pulsing, until your bend-and-stretch technique is smooth, deep and connected, pulling and pushing qi will be intermittent or broken. That is most of the qi you manage to generate will simply be dumped before you could re-circulate it (e.g. to further clear blockages) or bank it for future use.
Moving qi energy through the flesh is relatively easy when the tension has been released. If not, the effort required is like trying to push honey through concrete—something most people would not bother with as any attempt would be futile. Qi flow requires the smooth, slow and methodical operation of the body when in motion. This kind of movement simply isn’t possible when you have entangled knots, bound tissues and disconnected body parts. Bend-and-stretch techniques specialise in addressing all of these issues. Once the soft tissues are sufficiently stretched and connected, with a good portion of the body’s tension released, pulling and pushing qi energy through the flesh yields excellent results.
Bend + Stretch Techniques: The Platform of Qi Energy Development
The nature of nei gong science dictates that all 16 components link with all others, creating an integrated weave that sustains and generates internal power necessary for health, healing, martial arts and meditation. Therefore, you must devote copious practice to training of the introductory nei gong, especially numbers 1-6, if you ever hope to achieve any real and lasting benefit from training the higher nei gong.
Bend-and-stretch techniques are specifically geared towards building the physical and energetic foundation necessary to manifest profound health and well-being from training qi gong sets, tai chi and/or bagua. Dedicated practice of the basics naturally evolves into intermediate techniques, where all the benefits you have achieved are supercharged and magnified in body, mind and qi energy. It’s not so much about which forms you practice, but rather how you practice your forms. Focusing on the bend-and-stretch preliminaries provides a solid grounding in nei gong science, and allows you to safely and unambiguously advance to some of the more mystical and abstract qi energy arts for which the internal arts are renowned.