Neigong & Interoception

My research regarding Neigong defines this practice as internal cultivation, or as the practice of developing internal awareness. Neigong is not a specific practice in itself, but rather an aspect of Qigong and Tai Chi since both practices utilize internal cultivation. Typically Taoist sitting breathing techniques and sitting meditation practices denote and equivalent to Neigong however, Neigong practice also occurs in movement practices of Qigong and Tai Chi since internal awareness is applied along with the movement. Internal awareness may also extend beyond the physical body as some Qigong practices require sensing awareness beyond the physical form. Primarily though, Neigong refers to internal awareness practices within the physical body. In western language, this could be similar to Interoception since the two concepts of Interoception and Neigong significantly overlap in their meaning though they have differences.

What Is Interoception?

An article by Kelley Mahler defines Interoception as the “Eighth Sensory System”.

Kelley Mahler states that we are able to feel sensations within the body using our eighth sensory system or Interoception. Interoception refers to receptors located throughout the inside or our body, in our organs, muscles, skin, bones and so forth. These receptors gather information from the inside of our body and send it to brain.

So even though we can sense simple things within our body like; pain, hunger, heart rate, heat, etc, most of have not developed a highly keen sensory awareness of our body. In Neigong tradition, this would mean the skill of sensing the following but not limited to;

  1. Sensing internal organs, brain, eyes, etc.
  2. Sensing the sensation of the breath entering the nose, the throat, the lungs & the bronchials
  3. Sensing the tissue under the epidermis
  4. Sensing the energy gates
  5. Sensing meridians
  6. Sensing qi movement and blood flow
  7. Sensing our bones & marrow
  8. Guiding and directing Qi

These are just a handful of Neigong examples and much more exist. Neigong is a much more expanded concept of Interoception since sensing Qi, sensing energy gates, and sensing bodily meridians expand beyond only sensing the body itself.

We might consider Interoception as a beginning step in Qigong and Tai Chi and Neigong practice is what Interoception evolves into. Neigong thus remains a highly significant part of Qigong and Tai Chi practices because developing internal awareness and affecting change with that awareness is a key concept in such practices.

What Make Neigong So Important?

So even though the Qigong and Tai Chi movements remain highly significant, the balance of, or the Yin and Yang of these practices, can be considered the combination of Neigong blended with the physical part of the practice. With a developed sense of internal awareness, we not only can sense our internal body, but we can also positively impact our body. With Neigong practice our intention alone can positively alter the body. This alteration could refer to clearing blocks at acupuncture points, clearing meridians, cooling or heating the body, energizing the body, sending Qi to bodily tissue, etc. The effects of Qigong and Tai Chi are therefore not attributed to only the physical exercises, but they also come from the intention of the mind. Many may argue that most Qigong and Tai Chi benefits comes from the internal awareness (Neigong) applied within these practices.

The Mind Impacts The Body

It’s been proven that just thinking causes your brain to release neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that allow it to communicate with parts of itself and your nervous system.

Studies also have also demonstrated how thoughts program our cells.

Using this same understanding with Neigong practice, we can know that where we place our mental intention, there we can invoke change. In Taoist tradition, the mind leads the Qi. Just as the mind is thought to be the one affecting the physical body, the Qi force is what travels as the vehicle for implementing change in the body. So every movement performed with conscious intention of inner awareness, provides and added benefit of Qi flow. Although a particular exercise may automatically invoke the flow of Qi to a given part of the body or meridian, that same exercise performed with intention becomes amplified in its benefit with mental intention. This is because the mind is consciously leading the Qi and this conscious awareness is an aspect of Neigong.

The goal of Neigong is to develop greater awareness within and without our body to where we can positively direct and affect our being, our environments, and others around us.

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