It’s more of an approach centered on inner power and is reflected in softer, more fluid movements. These movements are often graceful and beautiful to behold when executed by master practitioners. This grace and beauty can be deceptive however, since the inner power behind them gives them an impressive force. They are unquestionably formidable and can have as much combat utility as the more overtly aggressive external techniques.
In fact, the internal approaches all acknowledge the need for muscular strength, resilience and endurance. Most incorporate exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles, and many practice hand-to-hand combat drills, weapons training and other fighting skills. The goal however, is for physical prowess to be aligned harmoniously with body, mind and spirit.
This harmony of inner and outer practice can be a supreme advantage against aggressive opponents who tend to be rigid and unyielding in their approach. Much of this aplomb stems from the internal practitioner’s strong qi. Qi is the invisible life energy that animates all living things, and circulates through the human body in well-defined pathways. Internal practitioners work diligently to increase their levels of qi and develop their ability to move and manipulate it.
The overall goal of qi development and other internal exercises is to strengthen the body from within. This supports robust health and the ability to execute techniques with greater poise and skill. Healthy, physically strong practitioners can strike harder and more skillfully, and also better withstand opponents strikes. Optimum health also means these skills and capacities can be maintained well into one’s ‘retirement’ years. Master practitioners remain formidable well into their 70’s and 80’s.
A key practice for qi development is breath control. Deep breathing combined with visualization is used to gather and direct qi. As part of this, students have to develop the ability to breathe from the lower abdomen. This takes practice since most people’s breathing tends to be shallow and restricted to the upper chest. As students become adept at deep abdominal breathing, they become more sensitive to their qi and better able to direct it.
An important aspect of this greater sensitivity is the ability to detect where qi has become blocked, or where there is too much or too little. These imbalances can be remedied by focusing and manipulating the qi in the areas of the body that are affected. In addition to qi development, deeper, fuller breathing allows for a much greater intake of oxygen. This gives practitioners greater reserves of energy as well as supporting overall health.
The health-boosting properties are one of the main reasons why so many health-conscious people in the US now practice techniques like Qigong. In trend-leading states like California, many people are reaping the benefits of the greater mental and physical poise that these techniques offer. Even short-term practice can yield subtle but very real results, longer-term practice transforms these results from pleasant to genuinely life-changing.