Here are 5 of the most common mistakes I see people make when they start learning qigong.

1. Learning only from Books, DVDs or Youtube

As a child, I was really interested in the martial arts. I would occasionally buy or borrow a martial arts book and try to practice in my bedroom, but I never got to go to any classes until I was at university. The first Qigong class I took was with the author of a number of books I had read. I can honestly say that no matter how closely you try to practice what is in a book, DVD, or online course, there is absolutely no substitute for attending classes in person.

Firstly, without corrections your structure and form is very likely to be wrong. Related to that is the fact that without someone correcting you, you are unlikely to have confidence in what you’re doing, and will always wonder whether you’re doing it right. Actually, as one of my teachers likes to say, “you’re never right, just less and less wrong”. If you don’t have anyone helping you, your progress will be slow and you may never get ‘less wrong’ at all.

Secondly, attending classes gives you motivation to practice regularly, watch other students and learn from their mistakes, test and improve your skill with partner work and many other benefits.

Finally, there’s the idea of transmission. This is where information is passed energetically from the teacher to the student(s). You may not believe in this, but if you don’t attend classes, it’ll definitely never happen.

There’s nothing wrong with learning from books and DVDs (I certainly have quite a few), but they’re best used to support instruction from a good teacher. It’s also worth bearing in mind that different schools, teachers and traditions emphasise different principles. If you’re new to the subject, learning from too many different sources can be confusing.

2. Performing exercises as physical movements only

If all you’re doing is copying the physical movements of a qigong exercise, you’re not doing qigong. Without the internal mechanics and principles, you’re just waving your arms around and (at best) doing some gentle aerobic exercise.

At the very least, qigong requires integration of body, breath and mind. The posture/movement, breath and awareness are all doing specific things according to the purpose of the exercise, and all should be synchronised.

3. Too much emphasis on the details

Details are very important in Qigong, but focusing too hard on the details means the mind can’t soften and let go, nor can you fully pay attention to the sensations in the body. In the early stages, you should spend the first few minutes of your practice working on your structure and any other principles you’re working with, then let go and pay attention to what you can feel. You’ll still want to check in occasionally just to make sure your alignments are still okay, and pay attention to any corrections you receive from your teacher though.

4. Breathing too forcefully

Qi (as in Qigong) is usually translated as ‘energy’. This isn’t a particularly satisfactory translation for me as it has a lot of new age connotations that are misleading. However, another translation for Qi is ‘breath’. This should tell you that breath is pretty important in Qigong, and the correct use of breath takes some practice.

Aside from the various breathing methods, the most common mistake beginners make with the breath is being too forceful. When the breathing is forceful, the movement of Qi becomes choppy, in the same way that wind creates waves on the surface of a lake. In Qigong practice, we’re looking to create smooth movement of Qi, so your breathing needs to be relaxed, smooth and even.

5. Insufficient practice

I’ve heard the same advice time and again from every teacher I’ve ever had that unless you practice regularly (like, every day) you will not progress. Each day you practice, you open up your system a little further, or store a little more Qi (depending on your stage and practice), but no matter how advanced you become, even a few days without practice will allow things to close up and any stored qi to dissipate and you’ll be back to square one. It can’t be underestimated how important regular practice is. This doesn’t mean you need to practice for a very long time each day, but little and often is better than one long session a week.