Interview: Practicing Qigong with a Partner

We’ve had a number of questions about practicing qigong with a partner. So we asked Ted Mancuso to comment on some of these. Here’s what he had to say …

Q: What about doing qigong with another person there in the room with you?

A: Well, of course, given it’s the right kind of person—not someone you detest—not someone who is critical of you but someone who is actually doing it with you… that can be an incredibly good experience. The Chinese often do qigong in groups. There’s a couple of true benefits to this. The first thing people in China would say is that you have the qi of the community and you can ride it like a wave. There are some very practical reasons you would want to do qigong in groups. First of all people tend to speed up or slow down slightly over areas they have trouble with. When people do qigong in groups this evens out and they all find a kind of universal human time. This universal human rhythm is extremely educational. This is just frought with meaning. And of course there’s the wonderful possibility you might feel the qi which will tremendously heighten the appreciation of the exercise. In general it’s a very good thing to practice qigong in groups or pairs.

Q: If partnered, should the two people be at about the same level of practice?

A: They should be advanced enough that one person doesn’t impede the other. One caution is that there should be no teaching. Of one person is the other’s teacher that’s fine, but when you actually practice there should be no teaching just doing. No questions. You don’t want one person interrupting the other’s practice. The less advanced person is learning how to actually do it. This is an experiential lesson.

Q: If people are practicing together should they try to stay in sync?

A: Yes, and this is very important. It’s like being in a choir. People should try and do it together. I’m astonished when I see people practicing without paying attention to one another. Completely wrong! Why join the choir if you are going to just sing whatever you want? You’re going to miss all that beautiful harmony.

Q: Other than the contingencies of placement like not hitting someone by accident, is it better to face another person, keep your back to them or …?

A: In a large group there should be a leader, or at least a model. And everyone should sit in such a way to see the model. If you are talking about two people, a good way is for both people to sit so the partner is perceived just out of the corner of the eye. You should be able to follow the partner but not have to stare at them. You don’t want your eyes to be caught by what the other person is doing or you will lose your timing. You don’t want even to appreciate, “Oh that’s a nice way to do that move.” Then your timing is gone and your intent is gone.

Q: So you don’t want to actually sit across from one another?

A: That’s more in the sense of a couple and you want to feel each other’s energy. It all depends. For some people it’s just easier to sit this way to mirror the other person.

Q: And what about music for the syncopation?

A: That can work. Generally it doesn’t take any effort to catch the partner’s timing, but music may help. However the qigong student who can’t easily adjust himself to the timing of others is the one who hasn’t done enough practice. In qigong there is only one responsibility—other than practicing— and it’s amazing how many people don’t get this, you must memorize the set. You can’t memorize it in class with a thousand other people. Go home and memorize the set. That’s your job as a student. Even if you think you’ve learned it by doing it with other people but haven’t actually memorized it, then you can’t bring your full intent to it.