Clarifying the Truth

Energy Practices Vs. Regular Exercises

My Master said many people readily mistake energy practices, or qigong exercises, for being essentially a form of physical exercise. And it’s only natural to think that way, since the two are comparable on a superficial level, as both promote physical health. But it turns out the two differ greatly if you get into the specifics of the techniques and approaches they employ.

Physical exercise aims to foster health, and so those who do it need to engage in physical exertion and go through training routines that condition the body. The opposite holds true with energy practices.

One needs to be still when doing them, and any movement that does take place is to be gentle, slow, and fluid; sometimes one is even completely motionless. So this differs much from physical exercise.

And speaking at a higher level, energy practices go beyond mere health benefits to include higher and more profound aspects. They are not about the little things that are at the level of ordinary people. They are higher things and manifest differently at different levels. These practices are far from ordinary.

Physical Exercise Can Cause Premature Aging

Physical exercise is by its very nature quite different from energy practices. Athletes, and especially competitive athletes today, need to constantly try to push their workouts to the next level; they have to consistently keep their bodies in top condition to meet the physical demands of competition in this day and age, and stay competitive.

To this end, they have to increase the intensity of exercise and ensure that there is maximal blood flow. Doing so boosts the athlete’s metabolic capacity and means that he is getting in better shape. Athletes seek to increase their metabolic capacity since their bodies need to always be in top competitive form.

The human body is made up of countless cells, all of which are subject to a process which, in rough terms, goes as follows. A cell that has been newly produced through cellular division is full of vitality and ready to develop. After reaching its peak of development it will have nowhere to go but down, and it will do so until the very bottom is reached, at which point it will be replaced by a new cell.

We can illustrate this with an analogy, using the twelve hours of the clock. A cell that is generated at six o’clock in the morning via cellular division would develop steadily up through eight, nine, or ten o’clock, with things progressing well all along.

But by twelve o’clock the cell would have no further capacity to develop, and could only decline. So while the cell would still have half of its life remaining, it would be ill-suited for the competitive form that an athlete needs to be in.

So athletes respond by raising their level of physical intensity and increasing their blood flow, with the result that new cells are generated to replace the older ones earlier than is normal. This means, then, that the cells that are replaced don’t complete their entire life cycle and are replaced midway through.

This ensures that an athlete’s body is always strong and his or her level of fitness is improving. But the fact remains that a person’s cells cannot divide indefinitely; there is a limit to how many times a cell can divide.

Suppose, for example, that a single cell can undergo a total of one hundred divisions (though the actual number far exceeds a million) and that under normal conditions a person would be able to live one hundred years. Then the cells of athletes, on the other hand, would only be able to complete half of their life cycle, and so these individuals would live only to be fifty.

Even so, this hasn’t had significant consequences for professional athletes so far, since the level of competition today forces many into retirement by thirty. And then they go back to a more normal routine, basically no worse for wear.

The bottom line is that while physical training can make you fit, it comes at the cost of a shorter life, in principle. And this is why a competitive athlete who is in his teens may well look like someone in his twenties, or one in his twenties may look like he’s in his thirties.

Athletes often give the impression of having aged prematurely. There is a consequence for every action, and we should be aware that things have both pros and cons. What I’ve described are the consequences of regular physical exercise.

Energy Practices Can Extend Your Life

Energy practices, on the other hand, are just the opposite. They don’t involve vigorous movement, and what movement there is tends to be relaxed, fluid, and slow, sometimes to the point of being motionless. And it’s known that the body can become so still during meditation that every aspect of one’s physiology slows down, such as heart rate and blood circulation.

Many yogis in India can sit submerged in water or be buried underground for days at a time; they make their bodies completely still, controlling even their heart rates. So, if we suppose that a person’s cells normally divide once a day, then a spiritual practitioner might be able to slow his cell division to just once every two days, or once per week, half a month, or even longer.

This would mean that he is extending his life. And this is possible even with practices that just cultivate the mind, but not the body; even they can achieve gains in longevity.

This might seem to beg the question of how someone who doesn’t cultivate his body could extend his life, when one’s lifespan is normally something that’s set in stone. The explanation is, it becomes possible when one achieves a level of spiritual attainment surpassing the Three Realms. But the person will look quite old.

Then there are practices that truly cultivate the body. They do so by constantly storing up high-energy matter in the cells of the body. And as the density of the stored energy steadily increases, it gradually comes to inhibit, and ultimately replace, one’s normal human cells.

This will lead to a qualitative change, such that you become youthful, and stay that way. Of course, spiritual development is a long process that involves significant sacrifices. Both the body and mind must be tempered, which is very trying.

For example, when you’re in the middle of tensions that test your character, can you stay calm inside? Do worldly things hold no sway over you? It’s hard to reach that point; it isn’t something you can just will. Your mind and your character have to reach a certain point first.

Energy Practices Vs. Physical Exercise

People have long confused energy practices with regular physical exercises, when in fact the two diverge widely and are different at their core. Energy practices are only similar to regular exercises when they are practiced at their most basic level, for health and fitness, where the focus is on basic chi energy.

But energy practices are altogether different at their more advanced stages. The bodily purification that happens in them has a greater purpose behind it, and higher principles have to be followed. Physical exercise, by contrast, is just an ordinary endeavor.

(This article is an excerpt from “Zhuan Falun” (The Ninth Talk) by Master Li Hong Zhi)