We are starting a new blog series that runs alongside our 30 Day Qi Gong Series. If you haven't checked out the series yet please take a look at the introduction, lesson 1 or one of our promo videos. The blog posts are there to support the video series and take a deeper dive into some of the main methods we use in Qi Gong. The general approach will be to describe what the method is, how to do it, what the benefits are and where you can go for more information. Good, now that we know what we are here for, let us journey into the wonderful world of Qi Gong.
Check out our 30 Day Qi Gong Series (we do dissolving in session 5 during a seated qi gong set)
What is Dissolving?
Dissolving is Taoist mental technique where the practitioner uses their focussed intention to achieve physical, energetic, emotional and spiritual relaxation. It is a specific set of mental cues that can train the mind to bring a relaxed focussed attention to parts of the body (initially) in order to break down tension and ease pain.
Dissolving is achieved when the practitioner is able to feel blockages in the body and then able to focus their relaxed intent at those blocked locations. This requires two main skills; the awareness to feel the areas of tension in the body (which can be trained with body scanning, a different skill, coming in another article soon!) and the development of focused and relaxed intent.
Dissolving is a purely mental technique, it is not connected to moving or breathing. As such it is more subtle and can take more time to develop and the benefits are less in the physical body and more in our energetic, emotional and mental bodies.
A word of caution, just like how when we perform physical training, we bring our own poor motor coordination, muscular imbalances and skeletal deformities to our training (alongside our physical strengths of course), in mental training we bring our own emotional pain, cognitive biases, past traumas and other mental limitations with us. The dissolving method as I have learned it is very, very safe. It is considered a Yin method, and I class it as having a very low risk to medium reward ratio. Nevertheless, it is best to conduct all mental and meditative training under an experienced teacher (I am of course available for private lessons!). Dissolving is largely benign but care must be taken to achieve a relaxed and focussed intent with many new trainees too focussed and not nearly relaxed enough.
How do we practice Dissolving?
The basic practice is fairly simple. Assume a comfortable standing, sitting or lying posture with a neutral spine that can be held without excessive tension. As you will be working directly with the mind you want to minimise distractions in a similar way as meditation practice. You won't be moving so make sure that you are warm enough during the practice session. In your relaxed posture first of all take some time to settle yourself. I recommend a basic centering practice like abdominal breathing (outlined here) first to bring your awareness inside your body. Ten deep abdominal breaths is a good starting point but don't rush, if you need more time calm and centre yourself then take more.
Now gently close your eyes and perform a body scan. Start at the top of the body and bring your attention down slowly, just noticing at this point any feelings in the body, good or bad. Slowly work your way from top to bottom, spending some time noticing but not influencing any feelings in the body. This process should take 5-10 minutes if done at a reasonable pace. You are now ready to begin dissolving. Start your body scan again at the top of the head. Now, the first time that you come to an area of physical tension, stop. Allow your awareness to rest at that point of tension. Feel like your awareness is like a gentle ray of sunshine on summer day, slowly warming and melting away the tension in the blocked area.
The best way to describe it is by the metaphor: Ice to Water, Water to Gas
At first the blocked area feels solid (but sometimes hot, painful or dry as well) but over time with you relaxed, calm, focussed intent, that feeling begins to soften and melt.
This is normally where most people who might have accidentally engaged with this method (or performed a yogic body scan) stop. You get some relief, the area feels loose and more mobile, joins often feel wetter or more lubricated and pain decreases or goes. However, this is only half way! We continue to maintain our awareness and intent at the now warmer soften area, this is often tricky, the mind grows bored, it wants to wander. If the mind wanders, just as in meditation, don't judge it, just gently guide it back to the task in hand. Over time you will eventually feel the blocked area loosen and soften again. This is often accompanied by a feeling of expansion, looseness and openness, even with feelings outside of the physical body. Continue focussing your intent and observe the light, gaseous, warm and free feeling in the blocked area. This process can take quite a bit of time, with a single point sometimes dissolving in a minute or two but occasionally taking 30 minutes or more. You continue the practice working through each point of tension as you work down through the body. Similar to pure meditation this is one of those methods that can be practiced for very extended periods of time by the experienced. Continue for as long as you have time, maybe just doing a single point per session at start. When you finish, scan downwards to the abdomen, then close with some more deep abdominal breathing.
Dissolving Key Points
Assume a comfortable posture with a neutral spine
Practice deep abdominal breathing for at least 10 breaths
Gently close your eyes
Perform a body scan
Begin your dissolving at the head and work down
Ice to water, water to gas
Close by scanning downward and further abdominal breathing
What are the benefits of dissolving?
If you are hoping for yoga like flexibility or awesome qi powers you will be sorely disappointed. Dissolving is a subtle, yin, calming and purely mental method. As such its results are similarly subtle (but powerful), yin, calming and concentrated heavily in the energetic, emotional and mental bodies.
The primary benefit of dissolving is an increased awareness of blockages, issues and imbalances in the body. This, when combined with an effective qigong/tai chi /exercise program leads to a positive cycle where the practitioner feels their physical and energetic imbalances more clearly and learns how to correct them. You start to notice when you are slumped in that office chair for too long and you begin to naturally take steps to avoid/correct issues.
The next main benefit is the reduction of the mental and emotional burden of pain/tightness/blockages in the body. As we are not doing any physical movement we are not breaking down any muscle knots, loosening fascia, stretching tendons or improving blood flow. We are not dealing with any physical causes of pain, but we are retraining our brains’ experience of any underlying issues. Pain is deeply subjective and tied up in our mental and emotional awareness. By working directly with the mind and resting our relaxed intent we are likely helping restore normal pain signalling (no evidence here, this is just theory at this point).
Finally we also get some of the effects of meditation. As we are working with the mind directly, we are training the mind to remain focussed on a single locus. In this way dissolving serves as one of the many Daoist bridging techniques that takes you from qigong into true meditation.
Dissolving, where can I learn more?
I recommend two main resources for information about dissolving, both by the same author who popularised (maybe even introduced) the method in the west:
Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body by B. K. Frantzis (my review here)
Relaxing into Your Being by B K. Frantzis (my review here)
Bruce Frantzis is the go to dissolving guy. He was the first Western author to push this approach and his Water method of qi gong and meditation places extreme emphasis on this method. I also of course teach this and many other qi gong methods both in person and via zoom. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like to learn more.