Qi Dao – Tibetan Shamanic Qigong: Book Review

Tsa lung trul khor

After reviewing the training methods of Qi Dao, Kumar Frantzis suggested that such material would be more precisely labeled as shen gong, or spiritual cultivation, rather than as qi gong (energy cultivation). While I cannot disagree with his observation, it seems to me that most English-speaking qigong enthusiasts are in fact seeking self-realization, harmony and peace of mind—not merely a vehicle for increased physical vitality—so some imprecision can be forgiven here.

Qi Dao - Tibetan Shamanic Qigong

Qi Dao: The Art of Being in the Flow is (to my knowledge) the first English book on the obscure Tibetan art of Shamanic Qigong, or trul khor. Written by Lama Somananda Tantrapa, an ordained Buddhist monk and longtime martial artist, Being in the Flow introduces the basics of this unique brand of Tibetan Yoga.

Sadly, kinesthesia is not a part of many modern people’s vocabulary. The sense of movement is the only way to experience first-hand the relationship between space and time. It gives you the direct experience of life. Many people only experience life through their visual and/or auditory senses. This externalizes their experience…they just observe life happen instead of participating in it.

The signature element of Qi Dao as a qigong style is its emphasis on physicality, unadulterated by the choreography of strictly defined forms. Just as Jesus Christ was no Christian and Shakyamuni was not a Buddhist, Lama Tantrapa teaches that we should not expect to attain self-realization by staring at the ground and tracing another person’s footsteps.

The Qi Dao curriculum has been strongly influenced by various martial arts, and practice with an “adventure partner” is encouraged. Partner exercises in the book explore the use of the complimentary forces (up and down, forward and backward, opening and closing) to harmonize with incoming energy expressed as grabs, knees and elbow strikes.

Video from the accompanying DVD

Although Qi Dao is said to be rooted in the traditions of Tibetan Bon shamanism, the sections dedicated to stretching and martial applications resemble equal parts Indian Yoga, Chinese Qigong and Japanese Aikido. These two sections comprise one-third of Being in the Flow.

Experienced martial artists will agree with many of the movement principles expressed here, but may object to the particulars of some illustrated applications—and to Lama Tantrapa’s ubiquitous references to the dream-like nature of existence.

Holding Out posture pattern

The most fascinating part of Being in the Flow is its discussion of holding patterns. These habits of chronic tension inhibit the healthy flow of qi, limit the natural range of motion, and create pain and discomfort.

From a very young age, your bodily movements naturally played an essential role in your emotional life as somatic (physical) expressions of your feelings and emotions…As you were growing up and developing your unique personality, you were also developing your particular way of holding yourself.

Self-undermining patterns—categorized here as Holding Forth, Holding Back, Holding In and Holding Out—are reconciled through the Qi Dao practice of somatic awareness. This awareness, rather than direct manipulation of energy, is the primary focus of the book.

Taking into consideration that people have a tendency to create rigid identities out of their habitual states, Qi Dao teaches to transcend attachment to the old sense of self expressed through holding patterns. It is not really your holding patterns that you are working on—it is your sense of identity attached to the states of consciousness manifesting as your patterns of holding tension that you are learning to surrender.

You won’t find a laundry list of chi orbits, locks and other esoterica in The Art of Being in the Flow, and that is a good thing. Lama Tantrapa uses clear language and entertaining imagery to describe how Qi Dao can help you develop a harmonious mind, body and spirit; his explanations apply to other high-level martial arts as well. If you enjoy reading Martial Development, then you will also appreciate this book.


  1. Wow, you like this stuff? I just find it embarrassing. Doesn’t offering an accurate explaination of religion or history matter? Bonpo enlightenment principles? Give me a break, or at least shrunken head and a scorpion satchel!

  2. Scott, I tried to review the material in the book (not the material it excludes), and with respect to its intended audience (which is not experienced martial artists).

    There are some topics I would have presented differently, but I don’t think they need to be enumerated here.

  3. Heh, nice job Chris, I’m new to this side of the whole martial arts thing, so this perspective was very helpful to me. And a video, too!

    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  4. As a Bonpo who just happened to stumble in here, the only question I have to ask is “How come the spiritual community has never heard of this guy?”

Add a Comment