BaGua Qigong Circle Walking
Bagua Circle Walking, a graceful and profound Chinese martial art is deeply rooted in the Chinese classical philosophy of change. Its history is clouded in mystery and its current practices are equally mysterious. My approach to Bagua circle walking is influenced by Master Wan Su jian’s BaGua Xundao Gong system of qigong. And secondly, my approach is influenced by the research on the history of Ba Gua Zhang which discovered possible Daoist roots of a simple circle walking practice by the early Longmen Dragon Gate Daoists.
Bagua circle walking reconnects the practitioner with the original cosmic forces of nature, charging the body like a battery and revitalizing the person’s fundamental constitution. The practice of circle walking makes the body become very strong. The simple act of walking circles creates a vortex which attracts natural energies coming up from the earth, and down from above. The spiraling energies caused by the twisting actions moves the body’s qi producing numerous health benefits. These movements unravel the deeper mysteries of the human condition.
Although I have indicated 3 levels of practice, these levels are not strict divisions of skill, but are merely meant as interchangeable phases of development, similar to the Phases of Qigong.
The beginning student should practice circle walking in a very straightforward and simple manner. Walking at a natural pace (not too slow and not too fast) with a natural heel-toe walking gate. The student’s body is to feel natural and comfortable when walking the circle. If the student feels natural and comfortable, less fatigue will be experienced and the practitioner can practice longer.
Changing Directions While Walking
The change of direction is the most important component of basic circle walking; it manifests the concept of the endless changes of the Yi Jing. The walking and change of direction practices will increase coordination, internal and external integration, and functional flexibility of the ankles and legs, which eventually develops into beautiful footwork.
Daoist Changing Directions
In ancient China, Daoists changed directions by entering the circle, following the imaginary path of the yin-yang diagram. Changing directions this way, the practitioner does not have to make any reverse movements. Simply walking along the lines of the yin-yang, one finds himself walking in an opposite direction.
Twisting, Coiling, and Turning
It is extremely important that the twisting and coiling of the whole body is maintained while walking in a circle, specifically in the torso area, which provides the connection between the upper body and lower body. The hips do not twist with the waist; they turn only slightly, mostly staying in line with the feet and knees for rooting and positioning. The spiral energy of the whole body is maintained by physically coiling from the bottom of the feet, through the energy channels up to the ankles, legs, hips, waist, chest, shoulders, and arms, and on to the hands, neck, and head. This always keeps you centered, in line with your central core.
Mind and Body Integrations
The mind plays a very important part in circle walking. The mind should remain calm, relaxed, and focused on the center of the circle. The physical movements of circle walking and changing direction will naturally move your energies to where they need to go as the mind becomes more aware of how energy naturally move the body and reminds the body of many important points of practice. An increased energy flow throughout the entire body (including the brain) integrates power and grace, which will make the circle walking smooth, continuous, and high quality.
Rooting is also built up through circle walking. Rooting allows the energy to sink down to the lower dantian, makes the mind calm, and makes the body feel centered and perfectly balanced. Well-rooted steps reduce or completely negate the need to think about footwork. Walking very slowly and focusing on feeling the energy in your legs helps to develop this rooting process.
After you have gained some skill in practicing the basic 8 postures, and become natural in your walking method, it is time to develop finer skills of awareness and a sense of stillness. A helpful thought as you walk is to reflect that you are taking your inner stillness for a walk.
Stillness and Awareness in Circle Walking
Once you become proficient in the 8 arm postures, the turning directions, and the natural circle walking steps, it is time to fine tune the stillness and awareness practices. Here are some guidelines to consider:
As you walk, bring awareness to the different parts of your body: feet, legs, arms, etc. Bring awareness to the space in front of you, to the sides, and even behind you. Sense this space around you without actually looking with your eyes. Turn inward to your experience of stillness. See stillness as the root of movement. Find stillness as you circle walk. It is not only there when you are physically still, it is there regardless of whether you are moving or standing still. Stillness transcends body dynamics. Combine stillness and awareness in all the activities of circle walking. When you find or discover yourself just walking, with no preferences, no attempts to correct yourself, no effort to walk effortlessly, then you have attained the Dao of walking naturally.
Exercises and tones all the small and large muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Open up the spaces of your body. Allows blood to flow throughout the body.
The squeezing and stretching of the lymph nodes in the inguinal crease (where the legs join the body), along with the constant twisting of the muscles, increases the flow of blood, lymph, synovial fluid of joints, spinal fluid, fluids of the brain, thereby strengthening the immune system.
Twisting the muscles and other soft tissues as you move increases the spiraling and stronger flow of qi. Twisting also moves the ligaments attached to the spine. Twisting internally massages the organs.
Releasing the ligaments for unrestricted movement increases the body’s elasticity. Improves range of motion in joints, spine and internal organs.
Elasticity increases spiraling of energy.
Moving without abrupt starts or stops. Promoting external / internal unceasing flow of qi. The constant shifting of the body weight regulates blood flow and helps regulate blood pressure.
Moving the body from tips of toes/fingers to crown of head, thus the whole body moves as one.
Moving effortlessly in any direction, the arms become heavy and powerful as iron, and at same time, can move lightning speed, weightless, the body becomes simultaneously soft and strong.
Moving faster, you gain aerobic benefits: Fast pace circle walking will strengthen your legs, hips and internal organs. It will also twist, lengthen, and strengthen the muscles, tendons, ligaments of arms and back.
As your nervous system relaxes, the other body systems connected to your nervous system are upgraded, which in turn helps relax the nerves even more. All these qualities become trained inside you as you practice Bagua.
In Bruce Frantzis’s book Bagua and Tai Chi, Bruce interviews one of his teachers, Liu Hung Chieh. Some of his comments are here:
“Liu clarified, “You practice until you recognize that there are not a hundred changes or hundreds of appearances of change, but actually only one. Until, through walking … , this reality can stabilize inside you so the one and only change can manifest – even as you change the energy of any martial application within the flicker of a thought.” Not Two.
“Liu explained, “Somehow while looking at your finger, while moving your feet and body during the Single Palm Change, you join not just with every internal mental state you have, but with Taoism’s ultimate purpose of Circle Walking to join your movements with those of the universe. These include the chi of the stars, earth and everything else. As practiced in monasteries for thousands of years, it can be done solely through practicing the Single Palm Change or by sitting quietly in meditation.”
“This is why both monks and Taoist Immortals didn’t think you needed to do much more than this to achieve the spiritual aims of our tradition. If through one movement you can join yourself to everything in the universe and experience how the universe is moving through you, what more is needed?” he asked.”
“Bagua trains your mind to be very steady regardless of how external events flip from one thing to the next. During Circle Walking your mind eventually develops absolute stability within its dynamic movement. It changes from one thing to another and moves through them without becoming overly anxious or fearful even when the sky seems to be falling.”
“How can you flow with the changes every day brings and stay present within any maelstrom life chooses to send? This is the challenge of what you eventually progress toward as you practice bagua … ”
More ideal still is to reach a point in your practice where there ceases to be a distinction between you … and the circle you’re walking. There’s neither … you, only an event that is in play. If you can relax and let the event unfold into the unknown, this is where the magic appears. So the questions are:
Can you open up enough and relax into the energies of the universe – where things manifest, come into existence and go out of existence? In Taoism this is called the Tao, or emptiness. This place is utterly and totally free and leaves within it the potential for any kind of change to take place. The empty center permeates all change. That is the fundamental principle behind the Taoist spiritual art of bagua.
At a practice level, you let go and move into a space that has nothing to do with you, becoming concerned only with an “event” occurring at that moment in time. Beyond what’s happening within your own energy, there is equal concern for the energy of the surrounding environment. This includes the energy of the earth, stars, sky, trees and all the natural energetic forces surrounding you, and human manifestations like politics and economics. You allow your physical movements to harmonize with the matrix of environmental energies coming together. In time, you’ll find pure joy in blending with the forces of nature. You realize that you are part of it and it is a part of you – a microcosm within a much larger macrocosm.
Good luck in your practice of walking the circle. At first it may seem like a simple and non-productive practice. You might prefer other forms of qigong over circle walking, thinking they are the more traditional medical qigong practices that you want to practice. But, if you do, then you’ll be missing out on one of the important qigong practices that have been in existence in China for a very long time.
The Power of Internal Martial Arts: B.K. Frantzis
The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang: Frank Allen & Tina Zhang
The Fundamentals of Pa Kua Chang, Vol. 1: Park Bok Nam & Dan Miller
Pa Kua Chang Journal ( pakuachangjournal.com)
Bagua and Tai Chi by Bruce Frantzis. The Primary Positive Effects of Training with Bagua Circle Walking,Bruce Frantzis, Empty Vessel, Spring 2010
© 2012 Qigong & Daoist Training Center www.qigongdragon.com, Michael RinaldiniQigong Certification 100 Hours; Qigong Certification 200 & 350 Hour Certifcations, American Dragon Gate Lineage, trainings leading to Daoist priest ordination.