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The Yin and Yang of Intent

The many benefits of Qigong practice are greatly enhanced when the mind is part of the process because Qigong is an exercise for mind and body together. Certainly just doing the exercises regularly brings lots of benefits, but it is when the mind becomes part of the process that the true magic happens. When explaining the role of the mind, some teachers talk about the power of intent. Intent means to intentionally orientate the mind in a direction. For beginners this often means using the mind to allow the movements to follow the breath. It can also mean setting an intent to allow thoughts to come and go without taking hold of them. Indeed, as we get deeper into our practice, we can layer up a series of intents.

Three of the more common intents for instructors are relaxation, focus and concentration. By remaining relaxed, we perform each movement with grace and beauty. When we focus on the breath, it keeps the pace of our movements slow and even. When teaching, we usually do a set number of breaths for each movement, and this requires a level of concentration so that we don’t lose count. However all these intents require the mind to do something; we purposefully try to relax while also seeking to maintain concentration and focus. These are what I would call Yang intents, because they each require a form of effort.

If relaxation, focus and concentration are Yang intents, what might be Yin intents? By definition, they are intents that require little effort, so that we can practice them with effortless effort. Consider ease, inquiry and kindness. When we are at ease, relaxation is a happy side-effect. When we have an inquiring mind, we have an intent to know more so that things naturally come into focus for us at exactly the right time. When we practice kindness, especially towards ourselves, we don’t lose concentration by getting side-tracked into berating ourselves for making mistakes such as losing count or forgetting the next move. We are simply amused by our human-ness. My students can always tell when I’ve lost count during Qigong practice because a slight smile comes over my face as I realise I have lost concentration. This always brings my concentration back to where I need it to be.

When we practise Shibashi, we invariably feel better and more energised afterwards. It can be the same with our teaching. When we stop trying and just allow, we connect with the flow and everything takes care of itself. Relaxation, focus and concentration can be natural side effects of a more relaxed approach toward teaching. An approach that also teaches our students by our example; how they too can take a lighter approach to their practice.

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