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As discussed in What is Qi power and has it been proven to exist scientifically?, when no one can really agree on what qi is, the construction of a scientific experiment to verify it is rather problematic. Part of the problem is that even among qi experts, there is no firm definition, and the word is variously used to describe a myriad of probably distinct concepts. Therefore, I think we are starting from the wrong question to understand qi. Rather than try to define it first, the first step should be to feel some version of it.

If you have some personal experience with qi, how should skeptics go about reproducing a qi experience for themselves? What is a fast way for a beginner to experience qi unambiguously in their own body?

Obviously, if you do not believe in qi, your answer to this question will be that there is no way. But you should be able to go through a training process and verify for yourself what happens. Maybe afterward you will be able to explain some of what other people describe as qi.

Note this proposal would still yield a lousy scientific experiment because all the results are self-reported and therefore cannot be objective.


If you need additional motivation for why qi is discussed, here is a blog post from the New York Times on muscle knots. Muscle knots are a concrete, unambiguous feeling that I hope everyone is familiar with. They are also unexplained scientifically because they rarely show up on scans, which leads some scientists to believe they may not, in fact, exist. The sensation may be related instead to nerve issues, but apparently no one knows.

In the classical qi language, this would be described as stuck or blocked qi. There's no mythical forces at work, just language to describe a feeling that happens to be scientifically unexplained.

The best training I am aware of to reproduce this particular feeling is to take a long flight in economy class, but I warn you that this kind of training is detrimental to your martial development.

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    Creating physical sensations in the body as a result of visualization is a relatively trivial feat. However, even if you "feel something", this tells you nothing about the veracity of Qi. All you will know by this is that you "felt something". – The Wudang Kid Jul 10 '15 at 12:06
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    You didn't mention it. You state that you are trying to "feel Qi". Visualization is one proposed method of doing so. However, the point of the comment is that, no matter how you go about it, whatever you feel is simply a feeling, nothing more. It tells you literally nothing about the veracity of Qi as a phenomenon. – The Wudang Kid Jul 10 '15 at 12:14
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    @mattm Regarding visualization: lots of people not otherwise considered to be mentally ill convince themselves that they feel demons inside them, or that they feel magic flowing through their arms, or that they're experiencing past lives. Relying on self-produced feelings to prove or define something is not exactly sturdy ground. – Dave Liepmann Jul 10 '15 at 12:56
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    I just want to state this as a consideration for what you're attempting to do: Gravity, for example, is a theory explaining a phenomenon, namely that things fall down. My problem with Qi as a theory is that there is no one phenomenon that it attempts to explain. When asked "what do you mean by Qi" people answer anything from "life force" to "hitting stuff really hard". Without a consistent definition, there's no need to even talk about Qi. – The Wudang Kid Jul 10 '15 at 13:41
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    "What I am mainly trying to point out you should feel something and be able to personally verify that certain exercises produce particular feelings" -- So any feeling you have either while doing or after exercise is "qi"? All that can be explain without referring to a mythical energy thus rendering qi either utter non-sense or a catch all term for "you have exercised". – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '15 at 7:00
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There is no such thing as Qi outside of Movies and Mangas. (If we define Qi as some sort of magic spiritual energy a la Reiatsu). The closest thing to it that actually exists is Getsumei no Michi, which is a type of non-meditation that heightens your awareness. But it's a psychological phenomenon, not magic.

Source: I worked directly with a grandmaster of Taekwondo and Kyukushin. I asked him this very question and he told me everything is physical and mental conditioning. There's no spirit magic BS.

1

Claims to unambiguity are usually bunk

Everyone I have ever heard claim about a method towards "unambiguous" experience of qi, has always pointed to a method that causes known physiological effects, not qi.

These include: pressing/poking nerves that causes the electric/burning sensation along the nerve path, stance work that causes your body to shake as muscle fibers begin to exhaust and your brain has to activate lesser used neural pathways to get different parts of your muscle to work, pressing the palms against the eyes to "see lights", swinging the arms to push blood into the palms from centrifugal force causing them to "warm up", etc.

This is not to say I personally don't think there is such a thing as Qi, however, I think 98% of the methods and descriptions around it are bunk.

Ambiguity IS my experience

So, I spent several years getting certified hours in kinesiology, sports medicine and neuromuscular therapy - along with studying chinese acupressure. Most of everything I deal with, I can work with using the science stuff, but there are some things which I haven't found a scientific explanation for that acupressure can do.

In classes of 30-40 people doing acupressure, the thing is you might have a good number of students "feel" the same thing on the same person ("Something's is weird with the client's calf muscle") but how they felt it could be 101 different ways ("It's cold" "It's hot" "It's tingly" "It's throbbing"). As much as the Blue/Gold White/Gold dress turned out to be some bizarre effect of subjective brain color processing, I suspect sensing "Qi" works the same way.

Receiving Massage

Anyway, with that in mind, the path which I have found has the least likelihood of being a complete mistake of normal physiological effects is receiving massage from a skilled tuina or qigong practitioner. Find someone who doesn't explain what they're doing or how it's supposed to work (so you can avoid your own suspectibility).

Odds are you'll get 80-90% normal massage and 10-20% qigong work.

Pay attention if:

a) They are working on one part of the body and you get heat, releases, or reactions from another part of the body. Make sure it's not just a response along the dermatome zones. Also pay attention if this effect MOVES to other parts of your body.

b) They are not doing any pressure or manipulation and you are getting effects in other places. (Holding a single area can relax that muscle, and there are trigger points you can use to relax a muscle, however, parts which do not share a nerve path until the spine shouldn't affect each other... at least according to science.)

"But what can you do with it?"

Overall, I don't think most people should waste their time trying to "discover Qi".

You have to dodge all the crank stuff to begin with, of which, there's plenty, both from source traditions and new age books. You can do a lot of exercises on faith it will improve things, when maybe all it does is give you really good muscle endurance for stances, or increase your capacity for holding your breath, or something else of minor benefit.

Unless Qigong is a side activity to something you're already doing ("It's part of my martial arts form" "We use it in our tuina massage"), you'll probably be spending a lot of effort for little return.

  • Qi work is a major investment of time. I do think it leads you to understand how to be healthier in a reasonable amount of time by explicitly teaching relaxation to expend less physical/chemical energy at all times of day. Whether this is a useful time-benefit tradeoff depends on your age and general energy level (in the nonphysical sense), which is why you mostly see older people studying it. After several years of study, I still do not understand its fighting applications (if there really are any) so I definitely think you are better off learning to fight initially outside a qi framework. – mattm Jul 11 '15 at 12:19
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In my opinion it is a mental state as opposed to a physical one. This in itself can be powerful, as if it removes a self limiting belief, then great.

this can be compared to the placebo effect Eg if you believe that you will get better because you are taking a pill then in some cases you can get better.

this doesn't really answer the question, but the first step would be to make sure you fully cement the belief that it is real, can be felt and can be harnessed.

Then you can get them to feel it.

And note, just because it is a mental state doesn't make it less 'real'

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I don't think many things (particularly this) are as 'unambiguous' as you may think. I also suspect the amount of un-ambiguity is inversely proportional to the time spent practicing.

For someone who doesn't want to do 30 minutes of stance training a day, I practiced the qigong exercise Lifting the Sky twice a day for a minute or two each time for six months before meeting my teacher. I could easily feel the hand and forearm heat and tingling by the time I actually met him.

He has two free videos which teach Lifting the Sky and a guided meditation to help you enter the qigong state of mind.

http://academy.flowingzen.com/fe/59693-lifting-the-sky-part-i

You have to sign up for the meditation. It comes with two free ebooks and is under "Get your free stuff" in the side bar.

http://flowingzen.com/

You can certainly practice the exercise without ever doing the meditation.

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Do standing zhan zhuang for 30 minutes every day for 100 days (you can start with less time and work up to 30 minutes). I am not sure this qualifies as fast; if you have a faster way, please provide your own answer.

Two postures should be sufficient to get a taste of the practice.

  1. Wuji : basic standing stance with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, back straight, and arms hanging down by sides but separated from body. Center weight over the center of the foot, not the heel.
  2. Holding the tree : stand with legs as in wuji, but with arms forming circle in front of body with elbows down

Basic guidelines for standing practice

  • Stand up straight
  • Relax
  • Breathe deeply from the diaphragm
  • Observe what happens
  • Don't move for at least several minutes in either posture. Shifting your weight is moving. When you get uncomfortable, focus on trying to relax the uncomfortable areas.
  • Between sessions, consider whether you can adjust your alignments while standing.

In my experience, there are real (to you, at least), unexpected, and unambiguous feelings that arise over sustained practice. Call these feelings what you will.

The advantages of zhan zhuang

  • Zhan zhuang is common to schools of taiji, xingyi, and bagua.
  • You can start unsupervised and practice alone. Although an instructor would definitely be helpful with alignments, you are basically standing still, so even if you had an instructor, the work is mostly yours and not an instructor showing you movements.
  • It's free, as in beer, because you can start unsupervised, do not need any equipment, and do not need to consume anything.
  • This is the same practice that Tim Cartmell recommends for learning the principles of body movement without describing as a qi process.
  • You can do zhan zhuang while injured. Personally, being unable to do more active exercises was the only way I could focus on zhan zhuang long enough to produce results.
  • There are no movements to distract you.
  • This requires only enough space for you to stand.
  • You can do this while doing other activities like watching TV, though the best results will probably be from shutting out external stimuli.

Problems

  • This is very boring at first. There will be a significant period of time when you think nothing is happening.
  • You have to actually do the practice (without moving!), and regularly. You may not need 100 days, but to my knowledge, this isn't a process you can shortcut.
  • Do not expect zhan zhuang training alone to be sufficient for martial applications.

References

There are much more qualified people than me who have written books on standing practices. I recommend any of the following if you intend to actually invest your time in training:

  • Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body: Qigong for Lifelong Health by Bruce Frantzis
  • The Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung Exercise by Lam Kam-Chuen
  • Daoist Nei Gong: The Philosophical Art of Change by Damo Mitchell
  • Principles, Analysis, and Application of Effortless Combat Throws by Tim Cartmell

What you can expect

Locally there is various tingling, usually starting in the hands, and your skin may start to crawl, but this is more superficial. You will get tired and your muscles will start to burn, and you may start to shake. When you learn how to relax those muscles and support yourself with structure, there is a sense of melting, and which is following by a strong sense of well being. At this point the sensation is more in the nerves, rather than in the skin. Personally, I think there is a sharp transition in feeling between when your are muscles straining to maintain the standing position and the relaxation that follows.

The Way of Energy has a chapter on this subject.

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    -1. Do 30 minutes of exercise (cardiac and weights) a day for six months and eat more healthily: Feel the difference. Do no exercise and eat McDonald food for six moths: Feel the difference. Did I "prove" Qi/Chi? In addition, this does not follow any scientific method whatsoever: no clear hypothesis, no control group, not repeatable, no expected results... – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jul 10 '15 at 6:58
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    What are these "real", "unexpected, and unambiguous feelings that arise over sustained practice"? Obviously some feeling will occur while doing anything 30 minutes a day for 100 days, so how do we distinguish the qi feeling from the non-qi feeling? Or does literally anything resulting from this practice qualify as a qi feeling? – Dave Liepmann Jul 10 '15 at 12:41
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    What part of "what you can expect" is qi? It all sounds like what I'd expect from working at any physical challenge over time. Are you defining qi as the feeling of relaxation when one is standing properly? – Dave Liepmann Jul 10 '15 at 17:34
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    I think Dave's question is the same as mine: how will you know that the feeling is Qi without first defining what Qi is supposed to feel like? Otherwise, it could be an itch, a tingle, or gas. And here's your Catch-22: how do you know what Qi is supposed to feel like until you've felt it? – The Wudang Kid Jul 10 '15 at 19:01
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    OK, here is the dirtier answer. Many of these minor sensations can be called qi. But no one cares if you feel a little tingling in your hands. I am trying to describe for you the point at which the sensation becomes unambiguous. Maybe it's like a runner's high without the running? For a longer discussion of the what you should expect to feel when, I think you are better served looking at the references I have listed. – mattm Jul 11 '15 at 11:57
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Unambiguous is a non-starter unless you consider Qi to be something metaphysical, which is not a universally accepted opinion. I would liken it to unambiguously proving that you can view things from a perspective centered on you. We can stand facing each other, 4 feet apart. I can proclaim "There's something 3 feet in front of me," just to have you proclaim "but that's not unambiguous, because it's actually 1 foot in front of me." Both perspectives describe the same thing, they just approach it from different points

The next step would be to try to identify something which is so difficult to explain in a non-Qi mindset that others cannot reproduce it without Qi. However, if Qi produced something rapidly which could not be explained in any other way besides Qi, there's no reason to believe we would have such a question about Qi in modern western mindsets. The highly down-voted answer of doing zhan zhuang for 100 days is actually not wrong, despite all the downvotes. If you want something truly unambiguously uniquely Qi, it's going to take time. This is true for any martial art. You won't find anything unambiguously uniquely Brazilian Jujitsu in a hold or a joint manipulation until you take some time in that art either.

I have heard one way to feel Qi quickly, which you may judge for yourself. Stand in a doorway, and press against the doorframe with the backs of your hand, hard. Hold that for 30-60 seconds. Then step out of the doorframe and feel your hands rise. There are some who argue this is either Qi or some proto-qi. It is also naturally explained by science, but that is okay. I did point out that you're not going to find a simple example that is unambiguous.

If you could conjure the feeling of your arms rising on their own, and have them rise along with that feeling, without any real conscious effort on your own part, I think you may have felt something that can be described as Qi. However, to turn that into a full fledged claim of "this is how you can experience Qi," I would certainly seek the input of masters first. However, I think, in this very informal setting, some assumptions can be made without seeking their input... as long as you always try to deepen the meaning of whatever interpretation you find. I will be truly sad if I accidentally create a new Qi art consisting of nothing but people flapping their arms in the air mindlessly claiming they are building Qi, just by answering a question.

EDIT: as an addendum for the skeptics, consider pure mathematics: does it exist? I have spent time tutoring middle schoolers, and their arguments have strong parallels to those made by the skeptics about Qi. When I tutor a child on algebra, and give them a question like 3+x=7, and ask them to solve for x, they look at me blankly. They might even go through some ritualistic process taught to them by their math teacher and eventually end up with the symbols x=4 on their paper. Then they ask me "this is pointless. Nobody needs math! When will I ever use math."

I then give them one of the traditional word problems, like "I have 3 apples, I would like to have 7 apples. How many apples do I need to get?" They immediately answer "4 apples." I tell them, "see, you just did math." They retort, "no, that wasn't math. I just had to think of imaginary apples, and I kept track of how many apples I needed to grab. No math was required! Math is useless!"

This is the same stumping ground. The simple stuff can be done using math, or it can be done using their intuition. However, at the middle school level, they cannot appreciate things like why it is better to critically damp a spring-mass system (like the shock absorber on the car). They could not possibly fathom d^2/dt^2(x)+2*zeta*omega_0*d/dt(x)+omega_0*x = 0, or why adjusting parameters to lead to zeta = c/2*sqrt(mk) = 1 is ideal.

Worse, to them, there's no point in learning these things. You can tell them that this equation is essential for making your car ride smooth, and they just balk and say "Someone else can do that. I don't want to do that." And that's fine. They don't have to do the one example you came up with. But eventually, in this society, many individuals find this phantasmal thing called mathematics to be essential in their daily life. Alternatively, to the point the skeptics raise, many manage to live their entire life healthy and happy without needing to use mathematics after they leave the schoolroom. That's okay. Personally, I'm an Engineer. In my chosen profession, mathematics is not optional. I must believe in it.

So how do you explain to someone, who is just learning math, why it is worth learning it, when they cannot even comprehend its power until much later in their life? All you can do is give them trivial examples, which can be dealt with by other means, and hope that they connect the dots once they reach a task that is too difficult for their intuition. A very skilled teacher can find that one example that makes the subject worthwhile to each student.

  • -1, no definition of Qi, using mystical explanation for something that is easily explained by bio mechanics, and flawed experiment. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '15 at 6:53
  • @Sardathrion where did I claim the explanation was mystical, as opposed to biomechanics/neuromechanics? I did spend two of the four paragraphs pointing out that the effect was explainable with science, and why I deemed that acceptable in the nature of what the OP is looking for. And if I may quote the original question: "Rather than try to define it first, the first step should be to feel some version of it." – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '15 at 15:19
  • "You won't find anything unambiguously uniquely Brazilian Jujitsu in a hold or a joint manipulation until you take some time in that art either." What? "that's not unambiguous, because it's actually 1 foot in front of me" What? The analogy to math is even more ludicrous: math is the name for the principles and relationships and methods you describe, for which we have no alternative explanations. The kid didn't use intuition, they used math. In contrast, examples of qi always have alternative explanations. – Dave Liepmann Jul 13 '15 at 16:14
  • @DaveLiepmann: Have you taught math? It seems like they use math, until you see the problems they have. Then you realize that the assumption that they use math is a poor model for actually teaching them. And name one hold or joint manipulation in BJJ that you learn in the first few days which does not have some corresponding-but-slightly-differently-explained hold in another martial art. – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '15 at 16:41
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    If qi is nothing but biomechanics/neuromechanics, then we should use correct term: either biomechanics or neuromechanics. If qi is something else, then what is it? If you cannot define it, then it is useless to name it. Furthermore, one cannot create an experiment without (at least) a clear hypothesis of what you are trying to validate. – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jul 14 '15 at 6:48

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