Interview with Claire Johnson, founder of North American ZY Qigong Association

Claire Johnson founded ZY Qigong North America in May 2000, and served as President until June 2008, learning extensively from Grandmaster Mingtang Xu. Since then, Claire has gone on to become a master teacher in her own right, now teaching internationally alongside her husband, Mongolian healer Jerigtu Borjigin.

Interview by Janai Mestrovich, originally published September 2015 in New Consciousness Review (http://ncreview.com). Republished with permission.

20 Questions about ZY Qigong: Interview with Claire Johnson


  1. Please define what ZY Qigong is and explain how you and Jerigtu find ZY Qigong benefits you in each area daily in maintaining a higher consciousness: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

ZY Qigong is one of the largest frameworks that I’ve encountered. There’s a lot of spaciousness that allows. It is one of the oldest practices of human kind. It used to be taught teacher to student directly so when a student is ready, the teacher appears. And only in the 80s did it start to be taught publicly because the earth is changing, consciousness is changing.

It is not a form based practice but rather, it uses simple forms in service of meditations so that we can increase our life force, and as life force increases our busy mind can slow down, and quieten down easier and easier with the goal that eventually we connect with our soul and with the universe.

In this process as we are strengthening our lower energy center (Dantian in Chinese), our physical health is improved, our energy level is increased. Our sense of connection to earth is opened up, in a way that is tangibly felt through energy and thus we are more grounded, firm in our stance. The areas of trust and security, and the ability to persevere are strengthened. It enables us to be firmly planted on earth.

And as there is enough energy, or life force, accumulated in the lower Dantian, there is an energetic explosion that sends this life force down to the perineum and then up the spine. This strong energy expels all stagnations and blockages – be it physical, energy, emotional or spiritual, and rises up to open our heart center.  And in opening the heart center, we start to sense the strong flow that is life, that is nature and we start to have a sense of being able to go with the flow that is life. All in all there’s an ease that happens in meditation that spreads out into our daily lives, our heart opens to other human beings and living things. We start to feel what they feel and gain a deep empathy for where they are. There’s a strong tangible communication that is established, that is opened and in this process there’s also more compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others.

As our life force naturally rises up to the upper energy center, it starts to light up the inside of our head. It starts to activate our ability to see beyond the physical world, our ability to see beyond this world, our ability to see beyond time and space. And we start to get greater perspective of what life is, we start to understand the cause and effects in life, our karmas.  We start to understand the web of connections and just what it took for a soul to be here, right here right now.

And as our life energy continues to go up and opening our connection to the universe, we see where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  We see the big picture that is life. And that is when we are no longer afraid of death.

The framework of this practice is so large that it can very well be a lifelong practice. And often when there’s enough life force accumulated one is ready for a great shift, like a jump in so many realms. This is when we experience that everything changes in our life. At first the practice may be hard just like life sometimes seems hard, when we are confused and we don’t know where we are going. When the energy jumps we start to feel an easy flow within our practice, a blissful sensation that’s almost like a climax.  It puts a natural smile on our face in meditation and this is when we start to feel easy flow in life. That somehow we almost know where life is going and we’re flowing with it with ease, and things are manifested out of thin air as if by our imagination but it is part of that energy flow. This is what is said, that from within we manifest the without.

When there is enough accumulated energy so that it comes up to the upper Dantian, we gain wisdom.  And suddenly a lot of questions are no longer questions, there is a peacefulness, it’s easier and easier to let go of internal knots or struggles. All in all, life becomes simpler, it’s really not that complicated. The steps in life become clear, with sureness, with ease and with foresight.

In a way this process, this natural process is described by practitioners of many faiths, practitioners who have done solitary meditations in caves, so it truly is a universal practice. It doesn’t have many cultural stamps, it comes from humanity. A lot of things I’ve talked about I’ve experienced myself, in my life.

This life force is what keeps us alive, it is the fuel that we need for transformation. Physicist talk about how there’s no such thing as physicality, or solid material.  Indeed, when our mind becomes deeply calm, this is what we see, this is what we feel, this is what we know: that everything is energy and information, and once you are able to tap into the finer reality, the micro, spontaneous and comprehensive changes are possible.

This is a practice of finding our true self and connecting our true self to the universe. It’s not a practice that’s based on knowledge but rather direct transmission from practitioners. This practice is about leaving the known world of knowledge and opening our heart to the greater mysteries of nature, releasing into the flow of nature. It is a practice that uses our physical body as our greatest gift and guard rails for self empowerment and deep transformation. It’s not about transcending from the daily life on earth but rather making earth one of our greatest supports and allies in this transformation, together with the sky. There’s a reason why human beings stand between earth and sky. Many ancient teachings say that with an incarnated body we can reach enlightenment in this lifetime. When disincarnated it may take a soul eons. This is a practice through the body, not leaving the body or disregarding the body.

  1. You mentioned living in a cave for a period of time after studying with Xu MingTang. Why were you motivated to do that?

People experience spiritual crises or emergencies. I had an episode of this when all that I was concerned about was what is the meaning of life, why am I here. Life held no more interest for me unless I got these questions answered. We have these crises when our soul is ready for a big change and knows that this is the right time, we have enough resources to bring about this great big discomfort so that we will get out of our old way of being, shift to a new level of perspective, and live life from a different level of awareness. I did three months of Bigu Shiqi practice (no food and eight days of no water), followed by twenty eight days of solitary meditation on top of the Song Shan Mountain. I also did twenty eight days of solitary practice in a Tibetan cave at an earlier time. This is when the soul is no longer satisfied with the mundaneness of our monotonous life that was unclear of its purpose.

  1. What were the conditions of your retreat and what were some of your experiences that taught you about yourself?

I consider myself to be one of the slowest learners. I remember first doing standing meditation and my feet felt like I was wearing concrete boots, it was extremely uncomfortable. Just as I wanted to give up I had another astonishing experience of standing meditation. I thought I stood for two minutes but it was an hour. That is what kept me going, kept me standing and standing and standing until I felt the energy points, the big energy points on my feet suddenly opening up and a rush of earth energy coming into my body for the first time. These are the earliest experiences. I’ve had too many more to count in the years of retreats I attended.

  1. You and Jerigtu live, travel and teach as a married couple. Do you have the same background with ZY Qigong?

We’re opposite in some ways, I’m someone who practiced and practiced to come onto this path whereas Jerigtu was born into a family with strong lineages of Tibetan Rinpoche (living Buddha), Mongolian Healers, medicine people, shamanic soul retrievers. So, this path was very easy and natural for him, it is exactly what he grew up with.  And it is so broad that it fits in with the Tibetan teachings, the shamanic teachings and the Taoist teachings he has studied.

  1. How do you see ZY Qigong having impact on the new consciousness the earth is evolving into at this time?

We are coming into a faster time, energies are strong. Energies spiral in two directions, in both directions, traveling stronger and faster. As we do our own work, shed our own blockages and stagnations and dark energies, we manifest that outward into our life and into the lives of those closest to us.  And when there are enough of us doing that, it affects a whole community, a whole population and the whole earth.

There have always been Buddhist teachings about how the earth is one living thing, and when a large group of people is fearful and slipping into the dark energies of greed, the earth will experience water related calamities.  When large populations of people continue to be angry, resentful, judgmental, critical, there will be fire related calamities on earth. Ignorance, which could mean living in ignorance without finding ourselves, without doing the inner work to enlighten ourselves, literally bringing light into ourselves, and living in ignorance without understanding other living beings on earth – it can bring wind related calamities. And pride, excessive pride, brings earthquakes.

And each one of us may have these qualities sitting in our bodies as stagnations, as dark clouds of energy in our liver (anger or resentment), or stagnate energies in our kidneys (fear and insecurities).  When each one of us brings light, brings awareness within ourselves to release these old stagnations, the earth as a whole becomes lighter and brighter, with an ease of flow. We are all in this together, as a union. What is within each of us, the internal landscapes, the inside – is a small universe that mirrors the outer universe.  The Taoist practitioners have always known that. And when we have stayed in our mind for too long, we are only manifesting peripheral creations that can serve either energies, going up or going down. The real change must come from the body which is connected to nature through energies. The body does not lie.

  1. Can you speak about the potential of self-help and self-healing with ZY Qigong with a couple of stories/examples of students or people you have known?

I can talk about a professional athlete who got chronic fatigue where he could not even get out of bed. He came to a four and a half day retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs. All through the retreat he kept on saying, I am so tired, I am in so much pain, I feel worse. By the end of four and a half days, he said, I actually feel worse than I ever have. But there was something in him that also felt something different because he didn’t just leave, but rather he came to talk to me.  And I said, your body is waking up, your body is telling you, communicating with you where there’s blockages, where there’s stagnations. Your body is telling you that it’s so low on fuel, or so low on life force – so the standing meditation is the perfect meditation to increase life force for you.

There’s a saying in Chinese that ten movement forms cannot equal to one standing.  This is because standing meditation is the most effective in increasing life force.  So, I said, if you would continue to do this practice for one hundred days, I promise you, you will feel a shift. Months later I heard from him.  He said, I did the one hundred days.  I did it not because I was happy, but rather to spite you, to make sure that I show you that you’re wrong, so I marked off every day, half an hour a day every day.  And then one morning I woke up and I felt a desire to do things, so I jumped out of bed and told my wife, who is the head administrator of a large regional hospital, honey what are we going to do today? She looked over to me with astonished eyes, and started to cry, because she hasn’t seen me this way for many years.

So, his energy level continued to increase as he continued to do standing meditation.  One time he even invited us to his house and cooked an elaborate French meal for us, that took him all day of preparation.  So, his energy level wasn’t a problem anymore.  But a year or two later I heard from him again.  He said, why am I so angry lately? I’m so easily angered. I said, are you just doing standing meditation? He said, yes. I said, you need to start doing sitting meditation because the raw life force you’ve accumulated is suitable for increasing your energy level, but it’s not suitable to go into finer areas, channels, for healing and for spiritual purposes.  It’s pushing against the blockage in your liver, but it cannot go in there to clear it out. So, do sitting meditation to refine that energy.

Another example of healing and self-healing is about this young woman.  She had an extremely traumatic birth, both physically and emotionally.  In childhood, she described herself as floating above her body most of the time.  She received counseling from age thirteen to seventeen.  In college she studied Public Health, and began to experience periods of depression.  With Qi Gong practice at first she had a lot of resistance.  Anger came up in meditations a lot, and the healing sessions were stalling because her awareness was locked into her head, and could not come down into the body.  Working in the public welfare system, she felt herself running into another wall.  As she almost hit the bottom, she chose to leave work and pursue her gift in healing.  In doing so she immersed herself in practice and healing sessions.  She began to feel subtle shifts in her old held pessimism and increased ability to gradually inhabit her body.  As she began to do more and more healing sessions with me, we had one session where I had clear images of one of her past lives, where thousands of deaths were caused by stupidity and greed of the people in power.  She came into hopelessness and apathy when she herself contracted the disease and was dying.  This trauma made her not wanting to come back again as a human being, and also made her vow not to bring more lives into this world, thus her strong feeling of not wanting children.  The past life story paralleled her current lifetime of challenges and emotions.  But we only got to the images and not yet the feelings in that session.  Then she suddenly received the news that someone close was dying, and it brought up whirling emotions.  As I coached her to come into the pelvic region of her body, she tapped into the hopelessness and apathy, the lowest and darkest energies in her body.  She cried with full body convulsions for more than an hour, as I continued to bring her awareness back into that dark energy so she could go deeper and release more.  When she was almost done, but I still sensed a powerlessness, that she still hasn’t stepped into her life yet, I saw another smaller pool of black energy at the bottom of her pelvis, and it was hate, seething hate, for the self and for God.  As soon as my awareness brought her awareness into it, she began yet another round of deep crying, release.  After this, a suppleness came over her pelvic region, and light.  She was exhausted and needed to rest for the rest of the day.  The healing sessions are often intense releases, and the practice is a gradual release and increase of our inner core strength.  With the two combined, we ourselves and us as a community can move in transformation toward realization of our true self and us as one.

  1. How long did you study with MingTang and what did you gain from him as a mentor and teacher of ZY Qigong practice and philosophy that helped you shift into a new consciousness?

I started studying with him in 1999. I traveled around the world with him being his assistant and organizer so I attended all the workshops in all different countries. It was a very intensive, complete immersion practice. I studied with him until 2008, and that is when I had a big shift again in my own practice, when I finally felt that I am on my path, that my path is clear and I just need to walk one step after the next to continue on this path.  And this is when I no longer needed to attend his seminars. There’s still very much of a connection but I no longer need much guidance. So, the nine years has finally helped me come into my own with clarity and confidence in the direction that I travel. It’s been a long path, I probably could write a few books on all of the experiences (laughs).

  1. Without ZY Qigong’s impact on your life, how would you be different today?

I came into ZY Qigong when I was very confused, I didn’t know what I’m meant to do and I was too scared to go after my dreams. There seemed like a lot of obstacles and I did not have enough trust or perseverance to walk the path. This practice accelerated growth of a strong core, so that whatever direction I may take, I have all of the abilities to pursue it.  And life force manifests as creativity as well. When the life force is strong and the life path is clear, creativity flourishes like the flow of life, with ease and abundance and trust. I feel it has helped me overcome some of the main challenges my soul is here to face, some of the intense family dynamics, karmic connections.  Because when our core is strong we can easily shed external negativities. This practices is all about developing a strong core, physically, emotionally, energetically and spiritually.

  1. Can you explain two different practices for readers to have a sampling of the power and potential of practicing this discipline such as Big Tree and perhaps one of the breathing techniques?

I also want to mention that many knowledge based practices stem from this practice.  When meditators come into deep calm, they can see beyond the physicality.  So, with this new perspective of life, they have distilled the experiences into knowledge that non-practitioners can use.  For example, acupuncture, herbal medicine, many martial art forms and movement Qigong forms all come from this heightened perspective.

Big Tree is one of the fundamental practices in ZY Qigong. Like I said earlier, ten movement forms cannot equal to one standing form. There’s a place for the movement forms. They help to resolve the courser blockages on the physical level to enable the energy to start flowing in the body.  Standing meditation is where, once the energy is flowing, we can accumulate cosmic energy and continue to open up finer blockages energetically.  And as we move from standing meditation into sitting meditation, once we have accumulated a lot of energy, it’s easier for our mind to calm and for us to go into deeper calm of even finer reality until there’s nothing more to open and release and that is when the energy becomes even, quiet, peaceful.  And that is when the mind is sustained in a deep calm, and this is when our original soul begins to stir.  Only when the mind is deeply calm can the soul begin to let itself be known. When our mind is busy, our soul is dormant.  For meditators with their third eye open, this is all clear like a picture.  It’s like how we see apple and oranges with our two eyes.  There is no question what they are.

In Level Two, there is a breathing exercise called Body Breathing or embryonic breathing. It is an ancient practice that was kept very secret, a practitioner had to be practicing for at least a few years of standing and sitting meditation before they were taught this practice, if they were ready. It is the most effective exercise in bringing us into the deep calm. It is also an exercise that can be used for self-healing, healing others, accumulating energy and distant healing. And this exercise is absolutely necessary for approaching the deep calm state when the soul starts to stir. It is an exercise for longevity and also an effective exercise for cancer patients.

  1. Why do you emphasize the importance of yawning in your workshops?

In our daily lives many of us operate from the mind alone and ignore the body, for example tightening the jaws is a habitual way of composure.  The mind takes us into the past and future, but when it’s quiet, our awareness comes into our body, and we enter into the now.  In practicing Qigong and in doing healing, we must come into the body, we must release our awareness into the body and we must let go of all facades, all masks, all composures so that we can look at what is, as it is, the reality of our current state, of what is right here right now. Change only happens in the now. We can heal the past, but we also must bring it into the now, into the body, to change it tangibly. Yawning is one way of relaxing the mind, relaxing the jaws, relaxing all the muscles in our face and head so we can start to release our awareness into the body.  It triggers a relaxation mechanism, and begins to bring oxygen into previously tight and held areas in the body.  So, enough yawning can wake up blind spots where we hold chronic problems, and start the internal healing process.

  1. What do you and Jerigtu consider the role of emotions to be?

Emotions are part of energies.  Most women operate from the heart whereas most men operate from the gut, from the lower Dantian. This is why even in Qigong practice, women start from the heart and come down, and men start from the gut and come up to balance the fire and water energies, to balance the yin and yang in their bodies and their lives. That is why for most women emotions can be the catalyst for the biggest shifts, strongest energy flow and strongest change. Emotions are also a way for the body to communicate with us. It is the perfect guardrail in clearing out stagnations and blockages so that we make room for more life force to flow in. We can also say that it can be the catalyst in clearing out karmic ties or webs, to start to undo the web of karmic restraints, releasing the karmic attachments. This works well for a lot of men as well, especially in modern day city life when many have lost their connection to their gut level. Emotion can be the powerful way of taking them out of the control of their mind, and releasing into the natural flow of energies.  It can be the way to bring their awareness down into their gut level, instinct and power.

When someone is either unfamiliar with their emotional terrains or they are too analytical about the emotional terrain, then we could tap into the energies, and that can gradually move the emotional baggage, emotional holds that tie us.  Two directions, clearing out the same holdings.

  1. Do you and Jerigtu plan on building a center for your work in addition to your travels?

Yes, we are in the process of creating a center in Inner Mongolia where people can come and be steeped in the originality of the lifestyle that holds direct connection between heaven and earth.  It is a culture that is still very alive with Shamanism, Tibetan Buddhist practice and many healing modalities: herbal medicine, bone setting and fantastical modalities. We would like to introduce modern city dwellers into this untainted lifestyle that amazingly is still untouched by the urban civilization, the urban cultures. The herders hold a closer connection with our origins, even more than the agriculturists, and this connection and awareness to our natural environment, to the movement of nature’s energies is alive in this ancient culture, its lineages. We would like people to experience the untainted foods, and the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted here on earth, supported by this practice and by healing.

  1. As a couple, what is your life like in one day when you are not teaching workshops? Do you practice ZY Qi Gong together?

We’re at different places in our practice, but both of us have incorporated the practice into our moment to moment life, so that it’s not always necessary to do the forms or the postures, but rather we’re constantly aware of the energy flows.  And even at times when we need to do deeper practice, we can feel the rise of the energy relatively quickly and make that connection with the universe quickly. So, we live life, and each moment in life is our practice. Just like the stages of practice, at first, mountain is mountain, water is water.  You only see them from the outside.  Then when your heart opens and you feel their energies, you say, mountain is water, and water is mountain.  And when your third eye is open and you connect with your soul and with the universe, you understand that life itself holds all practices of all realms, physical, energy, emotional and spiritual.  You see everything in their full reality.  Thus, you say, mountain is again mountain, and water is again water, but it’s not the same as of the beginning anymore.  So, we lead a normal life. We like to play music and sing a lot of times, and write and read, and hang out with friends and family when we’re not working.

  1. Can you and Jerigtu speak about your view of the common illness we call cancer and how to best deal with it?

Cancer is an informational illness.  If we can open our heart, actually tangibly feeling the opening of the heart region, the heart center, and feel the tremendously powerful energy that we call universal love – cancer can heal spontaneously. It is also something the Mongolians call a guest, so I’m receiving a guest and when the guest is ready to leave, it will. This comes from a place of the heart at peace and a strong sense of trust. So, again it’s the lower and middle Dantians opening and balancing.  When they’re in a state of balance, we simply let things run its course with its own timing without fear, without attachment.

  1. How do you and Jerigtu deal with pain and what is your view about pain?

There’s chronic pain and acute pain. Acute pain is something that tells us not to do something and we should listen.  But modern people usually come to us with chronic pain. Chronic pain occurs when our body has taken it as a normal condition and no longer knows what to do with it, it becomes a blind spot.  What we do in the practice and in healing is, we bring forth that chronic pain into the acute state so that the body knows there is something wrong, and starts to recognize and send help. And then in practice and healing we can let that help of energy move through that area. In Chinese medicine, the foundation of Chinese medicine had two sentences of eight characters, Tong(1) Ze Bu Tong(4), Tong(4) Ze Bu Tong(1).  It translates literally as “when open and through therefore no pain, when there’s pain it is not open, not through”. So, pain is that simple. If we can allow the energy to take its natural course of healing, then it pushes against the blockages or stagnations until there’s enough energy pushing on it that it clears it out. Then there is no more pain. And we can also use pain as guardrail for our awareness to come into the body and combine with the energy flow, so that we could gradually tap into the finer energetic state. Pain is just a signal from the body telling us it needs help. But often when we take that pain into our mind and start to run the mind in circles, it magnifies the pain into suffering. There is an old saying “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”, because when we drop our awareness from our mind into the body, there is no more suffering but solution.

  1. What can you share with the readers that would inspire them with their lives today?

This is your life. You have the ability to change. It is as simple as coming into your body, coming into the now and releasing into nature, the nature’s way, and let nature take over. It is easy to say but it does take a release, a surrendering that could take a leap of faith. But always remember that our breath is our greatest ally, the grace of god that can help us make that leap. So, come into your fullest self. Appreciate life in all its colors, and tangibly feel the interconnectedness, the heart to heart connections between us.

  1. What is your philosophy about sex and how do you see it being perceived and used in the present culture and media?

Our sexual energy is very much a part of our life force, but when there is a mind and body disconnect, when there is a mind power over the body, we could easily run empty both with sexual energy and our life force running on empty. There is a number to everything, to how much life force each of us are born with, to how much money I’m supposed to make in this lifetime, to how much food I can eat in this lifetime, how much alcohol I could drink in this lifetime, how much good karma I could expend in this lifetime, etc. If we overdraw on any of this, we may run empty before the life is over. Why some people over tap their sexual energy is a whole other topic, it could come from boredom that all their material desires were satisfied by their parents too early.  When everything comes too easy, we don’t develop empathy or open our heart.  In time it creates boredom and possible borderline depression, and in order to feel alive, they seek over stimulations such as sex, drugs or alcohol.  These are other topics about child rearing and substance abuse.

  1. Why nowadays so many children have allergies, ADD and ADHD, even depression, and how to heal this? 

Children need to run in packs and need to explore the nature.  Their kidneys’ energy is strong and manifests in their legs. This is why babies like to kick their legs and children need to run. This natural mechanism of running can clear out the liver and gall bladder systems very well, which all the above conditions stem from.  With our modern life styles, with pollution and chemicals, the liver system is the first to suffer.  These conditions in children can improve quickly in an open natural environment encouraging the energy flows in their bodies, while giving them space to have heart to heart connections with nature and animals. This process can be accelerated when combined with energy and spiritual healing.  In fact, children and animals respond to energy faster than adults because their hearts are open and their minds are more easily calmed.

  1. You mentioned a healer in the workshop who does not do anything except sit while people in his classroom, many of whom are healed because of their contact with him. Please share his story.

He simply talks, he lectures in Mongolian and people just come and listen and their aliments will be brought up, a lot of times from chronic into acute right in that classroom. Somebody may vomit, somebody may be burping up a lot of air, a lot of different manifestations. He would have up to five hundred people in a classroom and he usually has a morning class and an afternoon class. He’s healed many conditions that are “incurable” from western medicine perspective, and at first the hospitals felt threatened and sued him and won, so he was put in jail for a few years.  But people kept on going to jail to visit him and getting healed, including some people working at the hospitals. So eventually the hospitals decided to work with him and build a center that could accommodate a thousand people living there, some for seven days, some for twenty one days, some for three days depending on their illness. They’re healed just by his energy, the positive energy pushing out all the negative energies, clearing.

  1. Is there anything else you and Jerigtu would like to share that pertains to the time we are living in today on the planet and how we can help shift the consciousness and conditions to bring about a healthier future?

We cannot change anybody else, but we can change ourselves. We live in a crucial time. Great changes are happening, depending on our own internal work, the future of this realm can be changed, and is changing.

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