Nei-kung 內功 — a profound way of transforming

As I explained in one of my prior posts, I stopped using the term 氣功 Qigong in describing my work with movement, and instead adopted the term 內功 Nei-kung that I became acquainted with during my time in Taiwan, studying Mandarin, Wing Chun and more there in the 1980s. In this particular prior post, I was trying to show that my switching of terms is not trivial linguistic nit-picking.

What does the term Nei-kung actually mean? What is it referring to? Nei-kung literally means internal achievements or practices. The term is referring to practices that—besides other effects—enhance the inner workings of the body and—in the interpretation that I follow—doing so alongside the cultivation of one’s personality.

In Chinese martial arts, Nei-kung might be practiced for mere utilitarian reasons, without much idealism, simply to pragmatically, but very smartly and effectively improve one’s skills on a deep level. But it does not have to be done in a non-idealistic way. As I also mentioned in a prior post, the same might hold true for a broad array of Nei-kung practices in some of the esoteric organized Daoist 道教 schools striving to attain some extraordinary skills. Those are all ego traps. I am therefore not interested in this, either.

The part of the martial arts that exerted a profound influence on me as a teenager was the ideal of honing one‘s physical skills alongside the cultivation of one’s personality. I mentioned the Shaolin monks as an example. In my mind at that time as a teenager, there might also have been something of the ideal of European knights in the mix. No matter how much of completely unrealistic romanticism or idealization there might have been at play in my mind in those days, the idea of an interrelated and inseparable unfolding of body and mind in a constructive way has always been an idea worth exploring—and I have never stopped doing this.

Daoist and Buddhist Nei-kung has been a part of the spiritual paths of traditional Daoist or Buddhist practitioners from the start, and this unity of intellectual, emotional, and physical cultivation has always had a strong impact on my way of thinking. My personal way of practicing and teaching Nei-kung, has from early on been heavily influenced by the first scripture of the Daoist traditions, the 老子 Laozi or 道德經 Daodejing, because it is an incredibly open-minded, constructive, and wise text.

The healing powers of Nei-kung are manifold: By enabling the body to move with more agility and less tension and contraction, there is less strain on nerves and joints and less pressure on the inner organs. If the inner organs can operate more freely, the body’s metabolism and hormonal balance will be positively affected, our mind can operate more energetically, and our moods will be more stable. There you have mutually reinforcing loops all over.

Movement impulses move through the body unhindered, or they get disrupted and hampered. We observe, interact, and learn. We also take clues from what we observe in the plant, animal, and “inanimate” worlds. This information is then again fed into the processes of dealing with the movement inputs and outputs. How you perceive and describe these worlds (and their languages) feeds into how you deal with the movement dynamics in your movement practice and vice versa. What I want is to broaden my horizons—and I do not want to restrict this to the conscious spheres. Observing what is happening inside of us, can be like going to school in a positive way. There is a diverse body of competent teachers, teaching different kinds of subjects. Such an inclusive way of practicing Nei-kung can basically be seen as a kind of interpreting practice. You learn to better understand and interpret different language systems. From the point of view of the Daodejing the multi-level information flows are best served by non-autocratic modes of dealing with them. “We”—whoever that might be—let ourselves not only be guided by what we know, or what we believe we know. We try to get out of the traps of the prescriptions and descriptions of who we are, as much as we can (無我、心齋). We move in between conscious effort, subconscious, and unconscious processes. We “simply” focus on generating mutually reinforcing interconnected constructive movement and information flows.