Understanding Vacancy and Serenity in Qigong

Xu Haipeng, Chen Yun

Health Qigong is a Chinese traditional sport integrating posture adjustment, breath adjustment, and mind adjustment. It is very good for both physical and mental health. Vacancy and serenity are the focus of mind adjustment of Health Qigong. For this sake, this paper discusses the knowledge and teaching methods of vacancy and serenity exercise on the basis of literature data and personal teaching experience.

What is Vacancy and Serenity?

First of all, vacancy and serenity is a mental state that must be maintained during the practice of Health Qigong. Good experience in vacancy and serenity plays an extremely active role in the improvement of mental health. The concepts about vacancy and serenity mainly come from ancient literature. For example, Xing Ming Gui Zhi says: “vacancy means keeping the mind empty, serenity means freeing the mind of any thought.” From this we can see that vacancy and serenity mainly refer to two aspects. Vacancy mainly means laying down everything on the mind and temporarily getting out of the complicated thoughts to enter a special exercising state. Serenity mainly means eliminating all kinds of distracting thoughts from the mind and avoiding sudden thoughts. And about the vacant and serene mental state, Xing Ming Gui Zhi also says: “turn a deaf ear to what you hear and blind eyes to what you see. Do not have any troubles on your mind. And you will be able to achieve vacancy. From this we can see that the exerciser of Health Qigong must keep a peaceful mind towards all kinds of external stimulation during the exercise, i.e. “do not get the mind perturbed”. Qi Bu Ming Shu Yao Ji says: “Forget your body and stay calm as if you are detached from everything. This is called vacancy.” It advises us to forget the body and gradually experience a vacant and detached mental state. And “Recover the spirit, swallow Qi, and stay still. This is called serenity.” This indicates that we should transfer the spirit from the outside into the body, focus on the experience in our own life, consciously regulate respiration, and keep a vacant and serene state of exercise.

Functions of Vacancy and Serenity

Xing Ming Gui Zhi says: “Once we achieve the ultimate vacancy and serenity, the essences will be naturally converted into Qi and Qi will be naturally converted into spirit.” From this we can see that “refining the spirit to recover vacancy” mainly means that the mind gradually experiences vacancy and serenity, i.e. the “ultimate vacancy and genuine serenity” mentioned by Lao Tzu. In this way we can exercise the essence, Qi, and spirit by practicing Health Qigong. In addition, Ting Xin Zhai Ke Wen also says: “When our heart becomes serene and our body reaches stability and we forget both motion and stillness, our three temples will ascend and descend naturally and our channels will be naturally smooth. The essence will be naturally converted into Qi, Qi will be naturally converted into spirit, and spirit will be naturally converted into vacancy.” This indicates that the spiritual and physical inaction will help us achieve “smooth channels”. From this we can see that vacancy & serenity does not mean simply doing nothing, but means “doing everything with inaction.” During the process of inaction, the latent functions of the body will be mobilized to cultivate and reinforce the healthy Qi, excite the immune mechanism of the body, and thus improve the immune functions.

Methods of Vacancy and Serenity Exercise

(I) Physical serenity

The serenity of the body is a basic method to realize vacancy and serenity of the heart. Aimless movements of the body during exercise are unfavorable for the serenity of thought. The serenity of the body does not simply mean physical stillness. It also requires the mind to control the body on purpose. The specific method is to keep the body straight through representation training. Have both shoulders, both hands, both hips, both knees, and both feet parallel to each other in order to maintain the harmony of the body.

(II) Thought replacement method

It was said in ancient times that: “The great Tao tells us to stop distracting thoughts in the first place. All efforts will be useless if we do not stop thoughts.” Generally speaking, during the practice of Health Qigong, one will not find himself surrounded by so many distracting thoughts until he is required to keep quiet and eliminate all distracting thoughts. Therefore the exerciser must use some methods to eliminate these distracting thoughts and thus realize the mental vacancy and serenity. Based on his own experiences in practice and in teaching, the author has summarized four methods.

Method 1: If the distracting thought is related to a certain matter, you can handle the matter first before practice. For example, if you cannot keep vacant and serene due to external stimulations during practice, you should timely settle these external stimulations before practice. If the matter cannot be timely handled, the exerciser may imagine all kinds of possible consequences of the matter, especially those worst ones. Do not spare your imagination so that you will find that even the worst result is not that bad. This will ease your mind.

Method 2: For some rational thoughts, you can use the natural way. For example, if a certain plan of work, certain methods in scientific research, or predictions of a certain matter come to your mind during practice, you could pause the exercise for a while and naturally follow these thoughts. Sometimes they may lead to the correct results. And you could resume the exercise once the mental burden is off.

Method 3: For some unclear distracting thoughts, you may try to analyze them with a matter-of-fact attitude. For example, when a distracting thought occurs, you can carefully analyze it to see if it originates from a specific object or position and to find out the possible source of this distracting thought. Through such objective analysis of the distracting thought, you will find it just a phantom which does not actually exist. In this way you will gradually and peacefully enter a vacant and serene mental state.

Method 4: When there are chaotic distracting thoughts, you may try to focus on the intervals between these thoughts. Zhong Yong says: “All emotions are intermittent.” When the previous thought disappears and the next thought is yet to come, the brain will often be vacant and serene. Grasping and feeling this short break will be very good for the exerciser to experience vacancy and serenity.

During the teaching of vacancy and serenity, the teacher should timely learn and understand the mental state of students and choose different teaching methods according to different distracting thoughts. But on the whole, we should let nature take its course. In other words we do not force ourselves to do anything in practice but progress bit by bit. In addition, when you start to practice Health Qigong, do not be hasty to move. You can first stand quietly for a minute to feel the vacant and serene state and try to make yourself calm. Then you will achieve double effects during practice.

Reference: Understanding Vacancy and Serenity in Health Qigong Exercise jsqg.sport.org.cn

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