The gross body is what we know to be our flesh, bones, muscles, organs etc. The subtle body are those systems that cannot be seen with visual sight, but with experience, come to be known through clarity of mind. These include the chakra system and the meridian system, and through the energetic cultivation of the subtle body we can make deeper progress with meditation.
The practice of energetic cultivation has been at the heart of cultures across Asia for many centuries.
India has its practice of Yoga, which as its basis works to prepare the body for meditation, by opening the body’s energetic pathways using a variety of postures known as Asanas, and then moving onto the controlled breathwork practice known as Pranayama. These two ‘Limbs of Yoga’ as described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, start to prepare us for the application of our mind towards meditation and samadhi (concentration). The practice of Yoga works specifically to stimulate and vitalise the pranic energy in our body. Prana is the energy associated with consciousness, and flows through a distribution network around the body known as the Chakra system.
In China, it was the cultivation of the lifeforce within the body that manifested in many forms, turning into what we know today as chi kung (literally meaning the cultivation of vitality). Taoist practitioners saw that the lifeforce that supported and sustained nature and the world around them was the same energy that nourished their own bodies. This cultivation of ‘Chi’, as they called it, provided a vehicle for these adepts to start tapping into the limitless potential of this gift of life that we are living.
There are many forms of chi kung that are practiced today, but they can mostly be categorised into either Nei Dan Chi Kung (internal cultivation practice) or Wai Dan Chi Kung (external cultivation practice). Wai Dan Chi Kung uses external form to cultivate the chi in our body. Nei Kung uses internal energy work with the emphasis on a concentrated mind to cultivate chi. The Meridian system consists of various channels and pathways that allow the flow of chi in the body, as described by Chinese medicine.
Fundamentally, the way of practice must capture the essence an attitude that understands that the less we interfere with our bodies inate intelligence, the more coherent our energy will become. When I am teaching Chi Kung, I gradually introduce the student to the fundamentals of Chi and Chi Kung, whilst giving them a taste of the highest expression of Chi Kung but encouraging the connection to the Chi’s own innate wisdom. It is all too easy to overcomplicate our practice, when the highest approach is simply to allow the chi to express itself naturally.
Regular practice at this level leads to a unification of our own body’s chi field with the vast, perfect universal chi field that permeates through all of creation. As such, even beginners can experience profound results with their practice during the course of a weekend workshop or a week retreat.
It is through this re-organising effect from Chi Kung that the practice of meditation becomes more refined and subtler. These two disciplines perfectly support each other. I have incorporated Chi Kung practice into my retreats since I first bean teaching, and I believe it allows us to make much swifter progress towards a deeply coherent state of mind, body and energy.