One of the subtle ways that people stagnate their progress is through mixing up training of different internal energies. In Chinese martial arts, they call it all “qi” and in yoga it’s all “prana”. Not only are these two not the same kind of life force, not all qi is the same qi. Try putting some diesel in your gas engine or putting different battery types into an electronic and you can imagine how mixing these up is not optimal. Read on to learn more about the different kinds of internal energies.
Qi is a type of life energy that our body possesses. It is formed within your body from birth, nutrition, and rest. It circulates and remains within your body. A physical analogy of it would be like blood, which doesn’t generally leave your body, and it’s not convenient to transfer it from one person to another.
Prana is a type of universal energy that the universe and everything within it interacts with. It flows in and out of your body. A physical analogy of it would be like air. You breathe it in and out, and it is shared with the environment and everything within it.
The qi network
The qi network travels through what are called meridians. They are cyclical paths within our body. When engaged, it creates a sense of fullness and strength in our body. It inflates the space between our joints. The body feels dense and powerful. Movements that are harmonized with qi tend to travel in an ellipse.
The prana network
Prana travels through what are called nadis. Nadis spread through our body in branching paths that look like roots. When engaged, it creates a sense of lightness and suppleness. It relaxes the space between our joints. The body feels free and agile. Movements that are harmonized with prana tends to travel back and forth straight lines.
What is harmonization
Harmonization is the process by which we optimize our physical motion with the mechanism of how that force is produced. Let’s look at this through some analogy.
A chariot is harmonized with a horse. The design of it, height and weight of it, size of wheel, length of attachment and so forth are optimized to be pulled by a horse, something that size and pulls with that kind of force, and have that cantering type of movement. If you tried to tow it with a truck it may not go perfectly well.
In contrast, a steam engine train is harmonized with the pumping pressure of steam. If you tie a horse and had it move the wheels of the steam engine, it would not work very efficiently at all.
So energy harmonization is the process by which we make the energy system the driver, and make the physical movement compatible with the energy movement. As previously stated, qi harmonized movement tends to be elliptical, and prana harmonized movement tends to be straight lines.
You’re probably wondering about how a martial art tends to have both straight and circular movements. Yes of course. The harmonization isn’t an exclusion. There are overlaps and you can make the body produce straight and elliptical motions with either energy system. But on a broad level, a martial art that is very elliptical such as Dai Xinyi is likely qi harmonized, and a martial art that is very linear such as tantui is likely prana harmonized.
Qigong vs Yoga vs Neigong
Qigong is a broadly used term to describe exercises intended to influence our internal energy. The confusing part is that some qigongs are actually using the prana network. Neigong means exercises that work on our internal energy. I prefer the term neigong to describe energy exercises without necessarily misdirecting the practitioner. Yoga, as far as I know, is always working on the prana network.
One example of a qigong that develops the qi network is the beishaolin small golden bell qigong. You can see in the video below how it powerfully inflates the body.
One example of a pranic neigong is the shaolin yijinjing. You can see in the video below how it gently winds & stretches the body.
But the yijinjing is an example of a so called qigong that’s actually a prana exercise. This isn’t surprising if you consider that it was said to be taught by Bodhidharma. According to wikipedia: “According to the principal Chinese sources, Bodhidharma came from the Western Regions, which refers to Central Asia but may also include the Indian subcontinent, and was either a “Persian Central Asian” or a “South Indian […] the third son of a great Indian king.” In other words, what he practiced may well have been a form of yoga.
How to make your training more efficient
The training of internal martial arts, or what I call an energetic martial art, entails harmonizing your physical motion with the energy motion. If you pair motion with qi one day and prana the next, it is hard to really ingrain either. When you drive the same car day after day, or play the same musical instrument day after day, you gain the familiarity to really make it a part of you. So pick the one that you feel more in tune with and practice it for a while. I recommend 3-4 months.
Can I not practice the other one?
You certainly can. Once you’ve mastered piano, you can learn the guitar. Once you’ve mastered guitar, you’ll be able to pick up the piano again easily and you’ll become a more well rounded musician. But in the learning process, you don’t want to switch until you have ingrained one. And when you start the other, let go and do not think about the first.
Seasoned martial artists at my class often compare what I teach to something they learned their pas. While the similarity is definitely there, the comparison does not help you. You want to let go of past habits and immerse yourself in the present so that energies do not get mixed up.
Learn to speak a new language as a native speaker, instead of as someone constantly translating it in your mind. This is the direct path to learning.
For this reason, the Yiyangmen training splits after physical harmonization. We all benefit from physical harmonization. After that, it is recommended for a person to focus on either the qi harmonization or prana harmonization practices until they are comfortable with it. One can become accomplished with both if proper separation is practiced.
Let’s take a look at someone who demonstrated high level of both. Early in his career, Bruce Lee demonstrates movements with a more elliptical path. That suggests that he practiced qi harmonized movements.
Later in his career, his techniques became more linear. They go out directly and come back on the same path. In this phase he is demonstrating prana harmonized movements. But in either method, he demonstrates very remarkable skill and attainment!
I’ve learned something, is it qi or prana?
Over time, one will become familiar with the hallmarks of the each energy system. If you are not sure about something, feel free to ask here in the comments or through the contact page. We’re always happy to help people maximize the effectiveness of their training!