I’ve read a few Nei Gong books by Damo Mitchell over the last few months, and I thought they were pretty interesting. From an intellectual point of view, they were one of the better introductions that I’ve happened across to the conceptual framework that underlies parts of Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine (e.g. acupuncture), Qi Gong, and so forth; I’m pretty dubious about the actual truth value of that framework, but I figure I’ve gotten enough out of doing Tai Chi that it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little more about these concepts, in case there’s something there that would shed light on my experiences with Tai Chi? And, from a practical point of view, he presents a set of practices that he claims help lead to a direct experiential understanding of aspects of those frameworks, and also gives somewhat specific claims about how different parts of that experience will manifest in different stages in your training in those practices; that gives the beginning of an empirically testable approach towards validating some of those claims that I’m dubious of. (Not empirical at the standards of clinical trials, or anything approaching those, but that’s okay with me: I can get value from evidence provided by internal experience as long as it’s my internal experience!)

So I’ve started going through a few of his basic exercises a few a week; nothing deep coming out of that, but there have been some sensations that I’m not used to that make me at least somewhat interested in going a little bit deeper. I looked on his website, and it turns out that Mitchell will be giving a five-day introductory course in the Bay Area in May; maybe I should sign up for that?

Five days sounds like a bit much time to devote to something that I’m not particularly sure about; not much I can do about that, though, the duration is what it is. But it also made me think that I should see if I can get a bit of local hands-on instruction: if there’s one thing that Tai Chi has been teaching me, it’s that it’s very very easy to get not just details but broad aspects of movements and positions wrong, so the chances are nil that I’m coming close to successfully reproducing exercises just by reading them in books. (And, of course, there are lots of exercises that I’m not even trying yet.) So I figure doing a bit of hands-on learning first will get me aware of some of the most basic mistakes, so I’d be able to make it to learning about slightly less basic mistakes in May.

I emailed a local teacher, and it turns out that she and another teacher were co-leading a four-day course in February; I wasn’t up for spending four days on this in February, but she kindly offered to let me come to the first two days. So that’s how I spent last Friday and Saturday.


My main takeaway: this was significantly more intense than I expected. I was assuming that it would be like a Qi Gong course; and, even if it’s more active than that, I’ve done a most-of-a-day Tai Chi seminar without much trouble? But this course was quite a bit more painful than that: significantly more physical exertion than I’m used to in Qi Gong (even in the parts of the course that qualified as Qi Gong, which not all did), and exertion of a type that was different enough from what I’m used to spending time on in Tai Chi that my practice there hadn’t helped in the ways I’d hoped. Basically, the difficult exercises in the Nei Gong class were more along the lines of “hold this posture for a period of time that feels like forever” instead of “go through this sequence of different moves a few times, with instruction sprinkled into the repetitions”; and unless the relevant muscle groups are used to that sort of test, it’s going to hurt. (And also going to cause me to sweat buckets!)

This kind of training is actually quite in character for martial arts as well, it’s just not the style that I’m used to, and went quite a bit beyond the level of pain that I normally seek out. But I’m also quite willing to believe that, for students who are willing to put up with it, it’s a more effective training regimen than the kind of regimen I’m used to; also, the teachers for the seminar live in other parts of California (I believe), so I can see how it would make sense for them to give fewer but more intense workshops instead of weekly classes with a more gradual on-ramp.

And the second day felt different to me than the first day: some portion of that was probably the specifics of the exercises on the two days (there was a little more movement in the second day, and I found those exercises less painful), but the second day involved quite a bit of the most painful exercise from the first day, and I managed it better. I still didn’t enjoy the second day at all (and I bailed out a little before the end; but I basically kept going through all the exercises right until then, whereas in the first day I dropped out of individual exercises several times), but that was a sign both that the exercises weren’t completely beyond my capabilities and that they were already having a physical effect, even if that physical effect is probably mostly a prosaic muscular one rather than anything deeper than that.


So: what next? I definitely feel like I’m more informed about the May course than I would have been without this course; I haven’t actually decided yet for sure whether or not I want to go, though. My initial reaction was that I in fact don’t want to go to the May course. Two days of pain is bad enough; five definitely sounds like too much. And I didn’t see anything that made me want to seriously up the time I spend working on the Lotus stuff, doing it daily or having it supplant some of my Tai Chi work.

Thinking about it once the pain had receded, though, I’m now leaning the other way. The next day, my abdomen felt strangely calm: I don’t know that that’s a sign of any long-term benefit (and, a few days later, it’s returned to normal), but that seems like something good was going on physically? Also, in terms of pain: that one exercise that was most painful for me was also the one they said was most important. So I can work that into my Tuesday/Thursday lunch practice: start out just doing it 5 minutes (which I’m confident won’t be a problem, and indeed that has proved to be the case this week), bump it up a minute each session or two, and I’ll be up to 20 minutes by the time May comes along, which will put me in a much better position. (And hopefully my improvements will come from relaxing more and improving my positioning, not just from building up muscle strength.)

There’s also the question of whether I feel like I’ll really benefit from the course. I’m curious but sceptical of the systems’s claims, and I didn’t really see anything to change that. (Though a few of the other, returning students were showing some of the apparently inadvertent physical and emotional reactions that the books do claim are a normal part of the process, so that’s something at least.) But I didn’t really expect to experience anything significant directly; and I do feel like I’m at least starting to appreciate the feeling of doing some of the Lotus Nei Gong movements correctly, and how that differs from what I’m used to. And, like I said, my abdomen really did feel better after the course.

So I think I’ll probably go to the course in May? Though it may not be up to me: I’m on the wait list right now, so I might end up not having a choice…

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.