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      article: Qi and the American Indian  |  date: 2016-12-08 15:40:51  |  Find articles by this author



    Qi and the American Indian

    By James Loretta


    The American Indian reverence for and understanding of Nature links to their mystical beliefs through their acceptance of the hidden or unseen energies that are the vibratory foundation of all phenomena. These beliefs go back thousands of years. Whereas the Chinese call the unseen vibrating energies qi (chi), which are linked to interplay of Yin and Yang and the Tao or Grand Ultimate, Native Americans say these energies are a manifestation of the Great Spirit or Great Sacred, and instead of qi, they use the term ni in Lakota, and nilchi'i in Navajo.

    All physical objects are made of vibrating particles of energy, and even the space in which they sit is a sea of unseen energy or "qi." Prayer, chanting, music, smudging, herbs and laying on of hands were all used by Native healers; while this may seem primitive to many, the active force working in all of these was and is the manipulation of body energy (qi) to restore balance, wholeness, and health.

    Native culture thrived on all levels in a belief in the flow of qi, and how to manipulate and reverence it to serve them in a harmonious relationship with Nature, family, community and a balance of body, mind and spirit. Living in harmony with Nature, Native Americans understood this relationship between one's surroundings and its influence upon the health of the body through the effect on the energy flows. Similar to Chinese practices, their healing methods passed to subtler spiritual planes, and this allowed for a return flow of energy creating the bridging between the various subtle bodies of the human. This reciprocal relationship between energy and the physical and subtle bodies takes place due to a constant state of resonance.

    Just as with the Chinese practitioners of Feng Shui, Native Americans understood the importance of the flow of qi in a living space. An example of this was their belief that they were becoming sick because they had been forced to abandon their circular tepees and live in square cabins: ...we made these little gray houses of logs...they are square. It is a bad way to live, for there can be not power in a square...everything the Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles…

    Photo of Black Elk and his family, circa 1890-1910

    ...Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round...and so are the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours... Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop...the Wasichus [white men] have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone … [it] is not in us any more. [1]

    Black Elk was expressing the stagnation of qi energy they were experiencing in square structures; the lack of the flow of qi was making them weak and sickly. The Chinese also understood that qi moves best in a circle. In square structures, qi runs in straight lines and stagnates in the corners. It is interesting to note that both cultures may have common roots and beliefs shrouded by the mists of time of thousands of years. They discovered that the qi energy of their surroundings linked to the qi energy of their body and internal organs. Just as Black Elk spoke of the importance of the circle for Power, in Tai Chi (taijiquan), circular movements create a centered relaxation and power in the body as the waist coordinates the limbs like an axle turning a wheel. When the body is more relaxed and fluid, the blood circulatory system becomes a perfect conductor for qi energy.

    Aurora Borealis

    The Lakota Sioux had a similar practice. Before the border to Canada was closed in the 1800s, they would journey north each spring to experience the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. They would stand beneath this energy field, draw down the energy from the sky into their bodies, breathing it in, and pushing the vibrations up their spine. The Lakota believed that this practice raised the vibrational energy of their bodies and made them well as a consequence. [2] In this practice, they were accessing the qi of Heaven and Earth just as Chinese martial arts and healing Qigong do.

    In the book Black Elk Speaks the Medicine man describes a healing ceremony he did for a sick boy. In it he draws upon the Power of the earth (qi) to fill his body with healing potential in a way similar to Chi Kung practices that draw up the earth energy for health and healing. In Black Elk's words: "Four times I cried 'Hey-a-a-hey,' drumming as I cried to the Spirit of the World, and while I was doing this I could feel the power coming through me from my feet up, and I knew that I could help the sick little boy.… I kept on sending a voice ... saying ...'To you and all your powers and to Mother Earth I send a voice for help' ... Standing there, I sang thus: ... 'A sacred two-legged, he lies low. In a sacred manner, he shall walk.' While I was singing this I could feel something queer all through my body.... When I looked at the sick little boy ... he smiled at me, and I could feel that the power was getting stronger.... In four days he could walk around. He got well'." [3]

    In the book Coyote Medicine: Lessons from Native American Healing, the author describes his metaphysical vision in a sweat lodge healing for a person with mental illness: "I felt the [healer] reach out and begin to explore Homer with acceptance and compassion....I traveled with that spirit toward him, maintaining an awareness of how (he) was doing. I watched as she entered his skull and began to rearrange the electrical patterns of his brain. She allowed me to see how she perceived his brain waves—to her they were colorful patterns of electromagnetic energy. She straightened and adjusted the waves as a weaver might untangle strands of yarn on a loom. His fear dissipated; it had been removed and realigned. 'I'm teaching him to love himself'….In a state of heightened awareness, I was given to understand how electromagnetic patterns create all forms of the body." [4]

    In healing rituals, the Native American Medicine man may hold things in certain ways, stomp the ground, drum, spit water, blow smoke, smudge and insist on moving in a certain direction, all of which may seem odd to an outsider, but Native healers understood that such things were a necessary part of harnessing the energies of the Earth.

    This is the world of the shaman—the mystical realm where the seemingly impossible is possible. In light of this then, we are all capable of "medicine"—we are all capable of influencing ourselves, and our environment including other humans and life forms, and even the Earth in which we live. Native American shamanistic practices are but one aspect of this.




    [1]^ John G. Neihardt. Black Elk Speaks. SUNY Press, 2008. Pgs. 155-156.

    [2]^ jyotisha.com

    [3]^ Ibid., Neihardt. pgs. 159-1161.

    [4]^ Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D. Coyote Medicine: Lessons from Native American Healing. Simon and Schuster, 2011. Pg. 179.

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