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Shamanism – the origins of chi-kung

Shamanism – the origins of chi-kungbyMackenzie Blyth

Shamanism – the origins of chi-kung

I remember while completing my apprenticeship in Tuva 2000, that it seemed to me that my fellow shamans were using energy to heal people in a similar way to the Chinese external chi-kung system.

But nobody in Tuva knew anything about it – under that name. There was no reason why they should have. They were doing something their own way, employing a method which had changed little over thousands of years.

Then I discovered that many Chinese methods like chi-kung and acupuncture came originally from southern Siberian shamans.

The Chinese took these ideas and made them much more technical. They developed many, many exercises for people to move their own internal energy around their bodies.

But I think, after examining chi-kung, that the Chinese made it much too complicated. A lot of people spend more time thinking about particular exercises, or counting their breaths than actually dealing with the energy directly. The exception being zi fa gong, a looser, spontaneous version of chi-kung which might be closer to the shamanic origins.

I know that the idea behind many Chinese practices is that you spend years doing the exercises to get to a point where you transcend the exercises and get to an enlightened plateau.

But how many people, carrying out the exercises every day over reach that point?

In terms of the long slog, versus the short slog, shamanism is more like the path of Crazy Wisdom in Tibetan Buddhism. It is not necessarily better, nor easier, nor any more of a guarantee – but Crazy Wisdom might suit some people rather than others.

A shamanic apprenticeship is very different to most other apprenticeships. I remember comparing notes with my teacher’s only other pupil. He taught us very differently from each other. He taught us as individuals. He recognised our individual strengths and weaknesses.

Some things he would be strong about and very disciplined. In other areas he was deliberately vague, almost challenging me to kind out for myself by experiment.

He guided me towards discovery of knowledge rather than laying it before me on a plate.

There is knowing. And really, really knowing. And when you find something for yourself, you remember it more clearly. It has more impact.

In the end, everything is a question of balance. And the balance varies from person to person. Some people need, and perhaps thrive better with a balance weighted towards a more academic discipline, using the building blocks of certitude to achieve a wealth of knowledge.

For others, that kind of balance stultifies, slows them down, fixes the mind too much. They respond to the freedom of questioning, of individual experimentation.

Just because – as in the example of energy practices like chi-kung – that shamanism came first, it doesn’t mean that its balance suits everyone.

But whatever you practice for your own health, you should ask yourself the simple question – is it working for me?

And if it is, then little else matters.

Mackenzie Blyth



About the author:
Mackenzie Blyth was offered an apprenticeship by a senior shaman in Tuva, Southern Siberia where he was playing with local musicians in the mid 1990s. He kept returning to study and in 2000 he became an initiated shaman. He is based in London, UK.


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