Gong is the skill one develops through cultivation, practice, and embodied change over time.
A craftsman has gong. A musician has gong.
In Qigong we learn many techniques for developing Qi gong but only through mindful practice do we attain gong. Learning a set of forms is not attaining Qigong. Practising the techniques you are taught will help you develop gong/skill. These skills amount to much more than simply feeling Qi for although Qi sensitivity is important it alone does not help us manage our health in any way.
Belly breathing—to take a very simple example—is a technique for calming the mind and switching the autonomic nervous system from high arousal Fight-or-Flight to low arousal Rest-and-Repair mode.
You do it a few times. You understand the technique. You get it. You don’t bother to continue practising because you are confident that you ‘have’ it. You have understood it. Anyway, how can something as simple as belly breathing be important? You continue to breathe as you always have and there is no change. You have learnt a technique (Fa) but because you do not practice it you are not developing skill (gong).
To develop gong (of any kind) we need to practice; not just mindless repetitions but with attention monitoring our technique, honing change. Skill is not merely learning. Skill is physically embedded. The skill of a craftsman is enabled by physical changes that occur through repeated practice. These changes are brought about by the natural plasticity of the body. The thickening of skin on one finger, a line of tensile strength through the body which is needed for the craft, and the habitual mental focus required to perform the craft. The muscular and neuronal connections (the routes) used for the craft are biochemically enhanced through practice and our craft therefore improves. Our body changes as we develop skill.
Gong is embodied. Skill is embodied.
In belly breathing practice, our diaphragm loosens and lengthens with the daily expansion which means we develop deeper longer breaths. Our nervous system adapts to the change in breathing and no longer automatically stimulates those high chest (anxiety) muscles for breathing. In other words, our breathing software is re-written and our choice of default breathing options increase. In the absence of regular practice our nervous system will not change and we will continue to breath the same way we always have.
Due to diaphragmatic stimulation of the vagus nerve in our daily belly breathing practice, our body gets a period of ‘rest & repair’ every day. Digestion and immune activity are switched to ‘max’. Many physiological improvements result. Our blood acidity changes due to improved exhalation of waste carbon dioxide. Less acidity leads to improvements in many aspects of chronic ill health such as pain and muscular tension. Physiological change from a daily breathing practice.
As Fight or Flight mode is switched off, our mind settles for a few minutes each day. We develop an ability to experience mental quietude which will be important in other aspects of our Qigong. Mental change from a daily breathing practice.
As belly breathing skill develops, we find we are able to control our level of arousal/relaxation. This is not possible just by understanding the technique. Our body needs to experience and connect the nervous system routes for self-calming so that it can be used when necessary. Gradually, we develop gong, in that, we can modulate our level of arousal, mental quietude, and physiology.
This example, illustrating how one technique can be transformed into Qigong is only the first step towards developing a more advanced gong called ‘Sung’. Sung cannot be achieved by conceptual understanding.
In short, we should not confuse the techniques we are taught for Qigong.
A good Qigong teacher will teach us techniques but only through practice can we develop gong.