In Qigong is usually difficult to give a short answer to unknown Qigong practitioner about whose practice you practically don’t know anything. This is usually the case when communicating in social media. Therefore, in this blog, »How to practice Qigong, with eyes open or closed?« I apply the answer to various forms of Qigong practice, considering also the difference between the practice of beginners or more experienced practitioners…
Purpose and experience
If you practice under the guidance of a Qigong teacher or master he or she will usually give you specific instructions when to keep your eyes open or closed while practicing certain Qigong sets, forms, breathing or meditation and maybe explain you the reasons why to do so.
If you practice by yourself and you are not sure about the choice this explanation might help you to understand the difference between both practices. And also to recognize the advantages that each one can bring to you in specific parts of your Qigong training.
Speaking generally, it is not about the right or wrong. Qigong can be practiced in both ways, with eyes open or closed. The choice depends from the purpose of your Qigong practice in the first place. And it depends from your experience in Qigong as well. And finally, the criteria of choice might be also your health condition or other special circumstances.
According to the Chinese theory of YinYang we could say that in general the state of keeping eyes open is more Yang and keeping eyes closed is more Yin. I’m sure that anyone can feel the difference between these two states.
When your eyes are open your mind is naturally focused more on your surrounding and therefore also your Qi, energy, is expanding more outwards. With eyes open your feeling to have everything under control is stronger and you feel safer. This is important when you find yourself in new places or new circumstances.
However when during a Qigong practice you keep eyes open there are many visual stimuli that can catch attention of your curious mind and distract you from your Qigong practice. This happens often to the beginners whose Yi (wisdom mind, intent) is still weak.
On the other hand, when your eyes are closed your awareness and your energy automatically shift more inwards, inside your body. Without the visual stimuli the chatter of mind slows down a little bit and this is the reason why majority of Qigong beginners (and people in general) concentrate and relax easier when their eyes are closed. When eyes are closed also your breathing will get slower and deeper.
Qigong is very much concerned with the proper relaxation of structure, tissues, organs… and eyes are not an exception. Later on in your practice try to dedicate some time to learn techniques to relax eye muscles, eyeball and its background (where optic nerve is located).
It is not rare that Qigong beginners tense their eyes in attempt to observe the teacher or simply because their mind is tense. If during your practice you start to feel tension in your eyes, stop and close them for few seconds and try to relax them or…
…instead of keeping your eyes normally open try to practice Qigong with eyes half-closed. Keeping your eyes partially closed prevent them to tense. Your eyes remain more relaxed but you are still able to see. This way of looking balances extreme Yang of widely open eyes.
Soft eye focus
Later on in your practice try to keep your eyes relaxed while you softly focus them into a point but simultaneously stay aware of everything in your visual field. The point of focus might be close or distant, preferably in the height of your eyes. People like to focus on the floor which is fine but doing so you shouldn’t lose alignment of your neck and head. It is a bad habit and it is hard to lose bad habits, once you get accustomed to them. 🙂
The point on which you are focused will be more clear than the rest of the visual field which will be little foggy but still clear enough to discern what is going on around you.
Awareness in the center of Upper Dantian
If you practice Qigong seriously in time you will develop the ability to keep consistently a part of your awareness in the center of your Upper Dantian inside the head (physically this would be the third ventricle cavity inside the brain). At that stage you would probably be able to keep your mind focused and relaxed, not susceptible for eventual distractions, no matter if you would stay with eyes half-closed or normally opened.
In short, soft eye focus and awareness in the upper Dantian help you to maintain concentration, inner awareness and sensitivity for energy, which are important factors in Qigong practice. At the same time you can be aware of what is going on in your surrounding which is very important if you are practicing a moving form or martial techniques, but also if you are a teacher or a healer.
Here are some general suggestions that will help you to decide when to practice with eyes open/half-closed or closed.
Breathing, meditation, internal practices
I have mentioned that when your eyes are closed attention of your mind and your energy shifts inwards. With eyes closed you are more sensitive for what is happening in your body, your mind can calm down easier and gradually become silent, you get in contact with your energy system easier… Practicing with eyes closed is recommended when you are practicing relaxation techniques, breathing, meditation (sitting or standing), Nei Gong… The main purpose of all these practices is relaxation or inner cultivation, connection with your energy body and consciousness, achieving the state of no thoughts…
However I have to mention that when your eyes are closed it is easier to get sleepy. This happens often to Qigong beginners. Keep this in mind especially if you are practicing with eyes closed a standing meditation. You need to be cautious.
Learning and self-correction
What to do when the word is about the practice of stationary or moving Qigong exercises? It is quite obvious that when you start with a new Qigong set or form, either stationary or moving, in order to learn it you need to keep your eyes open or half-closed, no matter if you are a beginner or more experienced practitioner.
Practicing with eyes open or half-closed enables you to observe teacher and it is very important for self-correction as well. Your eyesight gives you feedback on your balance, position, about your direction, stance etc. It is not rare that with eyes closed you »think« that your posture is correct but in fact you are leaning too much forward or backward, your hands are one higher than the other… It is that our feelings sometimes don’t keep us on the right track about the posture or movements.
So, even when you are already experienced practitioner and you prefer to practice with eyes closed, check from time to time with eyes open how you are doing, maybe also with a help of a mirror.
Teachability, presence, building the roots and center
As I said, many people relax easier when their eyes are closed. Therefore a lot of Qigong beginners have a tendency to close their eyes as soon as they think that they »know« the new movements.
We (me and Petar) always recommend beginners that the most of their training is done with eyes open or even better with eyes half-closed. The first reason for doing so is that if they want to make progress in this stage of their Qigong practice they have to develop their teachability and awareness. It means that they have to develop the habit of often observing their teacher and correcting themselves.
The second reason is that beginners are often not well grounded and they haven’t develop the feeling of center and roots yet. Therefore very often, when they keep eyes closed, their mind starts to wander around. They perform movements but they are not really present and aware of them neither about their posture. Keeping the eyes open or half-closed, helps them to be present in the moment in aware of the space.
Majority of people start to learn Qigong because they would like to work with energy. When you keep eyes closed it is easier (at least for beginners) to feel Qi. First yours and later also Qi from other people.
If the first part of your training was dedicated to the improvements of the posture and to learn new movements, practice the second part with eyes closed, trying simply to relax and sense Qi. Gradually you will become more sensitive and you will be able to discern the smooth flow of Qi from eventual tensions in different parts of your body.
Developing inner sensitivity
Practicing standing positions and stances with eyes closed can be also very helpful for developing inner sensitivity. In this way it will be easier for you to start feeling body structure and tissues as well as subtle movements of the body when it is realigning. Inner sensitivity is important also when you start working consciously on connecting the whole body via fascia.
Starting and ending the practice
In Qigong the start and the end of the training are considered very important. It is a good idea that at the beginning of your training you stand for few minutes (or more) with eyes closed, for example in a Wuji posture, concentrating on your breathing. This will serve you as a transition phase in which you gather your energy and you attune your mind for the practice. Then you can continue your practice (warm up, Qigong set…) with eyes open or combine both ways as mentioned above.
Get into the habit to conclude your Qigong training by standing or sitting for at least few minutes with eyes closed. Let the energy to settle down in a lower Dantian and prepare yourself to return in a daily life.
Moving in space
Walking Qigong and martial arts form and techniques are commonly practiced with eyes open because moving in space with eyes closed is quite challenging. Besides that, martial artists have to be able to concentrate, lead and emit Qi while keeping eyes open if they want to see their opponent. This is all true.
However, some training with eyes closed can improve your practice and let you discover new dimensions of it. Training with eyes closed is for example very suitable for your drill of single movements, steps, stances, practice with your partner (pushing hands…). It also help you to improving stability in transitions from one stance to another.
In this post I was trying to give you only few general guidelines when and why these two ways of practice, with eyes open or closed, can be useful.
However always keep in mind that there are various traditions and styles of Qigong. There are Qigong sets and forms where it is specifically required that (after you have learned the movements) you practice with eyes closed. And others which strictly require to practice with eyes open. Or some advanced meditation where you need to meditate with eyes open. These practices were carefully designed to develop specific skills and I recommend you to follow instructions and study them in depth to understand them.
I hope that this reading was helpful to you and it will inspire you to experiment and find the way that works best for you in different stages of your Qigong practice.
May the Qi be with you, Smiljana
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