Embodiment: A Different Take on Qigong’s Turf

Aligned book coverMy latest “wow!” book sat in my “To Read” pile for at least five years. Twice I started to read it but quit after a few pages.

But now my copy of Will Johnson’s “Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness” is stuffed with sticky notes marking exercises I want to try and points I want to remember, and I’m about to give it a second read.

I am blown away by the fact that he seems to be writing about what I consider to be the turf of qigong without ever using the “q” word, and I can see that I will learn a lot from his quite different approach.

Johnson is a practitioner of Buddhist mindfulness meditation. But where some meditators regard the body as a hindrance and a source of little more than knee pain during prolonged sitting practice, Johnson believes not only that any practice of mindfulness must include full awareness of the body, but also that full awareness of the body is a powerful tool in leading you towards that goal of goals which he calls pure awareness.

He has coined the term “embodied mindfulness” for what he teaches and, indeed, is director of the Institute for Embodiment Training, which I would guess is headquartered on Vancouver Island, where his website says he lives.

So let’s look at the three leading words of his book’s title: “aligned,” “relaxed” and “resilient.” Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

“Iron & Silk”: A Darned Good Read

iron & silkHow is it that after more than 12 years of practicing taiji and qigong and being, therefore, interested in most things Chinese, I’ve only just read Mark Salzman’s “Iron & Silk”?

It is a marvelous book, both illuminating and a darned good read, about his experiences while teaching English at a medical college in Hunan Province from 1982 to 1984.

Of course, Salzman was not your everyday English teacher. He’d started studying kung fu at age 13 and gone on to majoring in Chinese literature at Yale, whence he graduated fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. Oh, and one more thing about Salzman—he doesn’t travel light: He took his cello with him to China.

Because of his martial arts background, and because he was clearly an engaging, game sort of fellow, friends and colleagues and people he met on the street introduced him via the “I know someone who might know someone who might be willing to teach you” route to some excellent teachers of Chinese martial arts. The styles he studied ranged from such internal-energy-focused, “soft” styles as baguazhang to one style so “hard” that it involved turning one’s fist into a club by beating it against an iron plate to develop tough calluses.

Because of my own interest in martial arts, I found the tales of his martial arts training fascinating—but his stories about other sorts of experiences were just as compelling.

When I tell friends about “Iron & Silk,” the story I relate is about Teacher Wu, a woman who was 70 and a member of the medical college’s English Department staff when Salzman met her. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under China

The Devil Didn’t Make Me Do It… My Liver Did!

What energy lurks in yonder liver?

What energy lurks in yonder liver?

Some years ago the daughter of a friend of mine observed that the difference between her dad and me was that I thought before I spoke.

This struck me as odd, since I knew there was nothing rational going on in my head between something happening and my responding to it. It was true that I rarely let loose with a torrent of words, but I thought I was just slow.

Still, I doubt that my friend’s daughter would say the same thing today.

I find I have become more spontaneous, and quicker to say what I think. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps age is causing me to become Lucy Loose-Lips. But I suspect it is due in larger measure to my qigong practice.

I find I am more confident, more creative, and just generally a bit less constricted in many areas—all of which are things you’d expect from a practice that aims to help you relax the grip of your intellectual mind so that your body’s knowing can be expressed. Indeed, I have a qigong friend who has noticed similar things happening in herself.

Mostly I think being more spontaneous is good; certainly it’s more real. But sometimes I realize that there’s an edge to what has just popped out of my mouth, or that I’ve sounded harsher or more vehement than I thought I felt, or that I’ve said something I simply shouldn’t have said at all and have no idea why I said it. Several recent incidents have made me want to know where in my unconscious being my edge is coming from. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Practicing, Progress

Connecting With Earth from On High

Too high to ground?

Too high to ground?

A few years back, when I was an assistant in one of Brendan Thorson’s Yi Ren Qigong classes in Seattle, a student observed that Brendan and I were wearing shoes, while all of the students had theirs off, the better to feel the energy of the earth.

“Why are you wearing shoes?” she asked.

“Because I prefer wearing shoes,” said Brendan—and, indeed, I had never seen him without shoes in the many classes I had taken from him before he offered to let me assist.

And then Brendan added that if you can feel qi at the top of an eight-story building, the sole of a shoe isn’t going to make much difference.

(I don’t remember Brendan’s precise words, but I am certain that it was an eight-story building and can only wish that I remembered other, more important, things as clearly as I remember that the building had eight stories, not nine, and not seven.)

I have thought of this of late because, while I lived in a single-story house when I was Brendan’s student and during the rest of my Yi Ren Qigong training, I now live on the top floor of a three-story building (four, if you count the garage).

And I must confess that when I moved here five weeks ago, despite what Brendan had said, I was a tad worried that my growing sense of being grounded, of being connected to the earth, might suffer a setback from practicing up here amongst the trees.

But it hasn’t.

I don’t know why this is. I don’t know if feeling grounded is about gravity (and when you’re talking about gravity, three floors or even thirty don’t make much difference) or if it’s really about my own qi, which is with me wherever I am, or if it’s because of both of those things or maybe something else.

But I have had some wonderful practices up here in my third-story aerie—with and without shoes.

AFTERWORD: I asked Brendan to read the above portion of this post. He replied that actually, he remembered what he’d said as more like, “When your feet get really energetically opened up, then you understand what it feels like to be grounded and connected to the earth, and you can connect to the earth with your shoes on, and you will also be able to connect to the earth from the 80th floor of a skyscraper just as you can from standing directly on the earth.”

Hmmm…. So was it eight or 80? What did Brendan actually say? Did I mishear, or misremember? Who knows? But I liked what Brendan remembered better than what I remembered, so you have this Afterword.

And at the end of the day, we can all most certainly agree that grounding is good….

Leave a comment

Filed under Practicing

It Feels Sooooo Good…

I haven’t done much qigong lately—leastwise, not my Yi Ren home practice.

I was moving from a small house with a garage that made it possible never to say goodbye to anything, to a smaller condo with a wire cage in shared underground parking.

As I was buying and selling real estate and making all the decisions that moving in general and downsizing in particular entail, I cut myself a lot of slack.

My qigong practice was probably the last thing I should have let fall out of my schedule, but so many other things seemed like must-do-nows.

However, now that I’m resuming regular Yi Ren Qigong practice, it is just so delicious! My two practice sessions since moving have been deep and fulfilling.

Is feeling this good doing qigong again like feeling good when you go for a nice, long walk after being cooped up in the house because you’ve been sick—or is it more like having sex when you haven’t had sex for a long time?

In other words, have I developed a qigong drive?

Inquiring minds want to know….

Leave a comment

Filed under Practicing, Uncategorized

Guy-Wire Grounding for Snowman and Me

inflatablesnowman2Though you might not have guessed it from reading this blog of late, I’m still practicing qigong—pretty faithfully, actually. Most days I do an hour of Yi Ren Qigong, give or take, plus several days a week I do Taiji Qigong and another several, just plain taiji.

I have felt subtle change—a deepening of my energetic experience and perhaps greater emotional strength and stability—but there’s been nothing specific worth writing home about. Or blogging about.

Except now, maybe this:

Several days ago, I discovered that if I stand with my arms at my sides and point sword fingers to earth (the thumb holds ring and pinky fingers down as the index and middle fingers extend), I feel energy welling up through my legs into my body. It’s a bit like being one of those inflatable snowmen people put in their yards at Christmas; when the snowman fills with air it swells and stands tall, yet its guy-wires keep it tethered to the ground, just as the energy from my sword fingers keeps me connected to earth.

I don’t really know what this new experience is, but when it happens and I let myself sink into it, I feel very grounded and strong.

I think this is something that will come in handy.

Dr. Sun (Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, my qigong teacher and the man who developed the Yi Ren Qigong system) talks about not letting other people’s energies lead your energy—certainly not when you’re teaching but as well in other situations where letting it happen would be to your detriment.

I must lead a pretty sheltered life, because the notion of other people’s energies leading mine hasn’t meant much to me. But a day or so after I began feeling my guy-wire grounding, I had an experience with two men, neither of whom I’d met before, who both threw me way off balance, albeit in opposite directions.

To be fair, I am in the process of selling my house and buying a condo, and my life and I are in such upheaval that it doesn’t take much to throw me off balance, but still it happened, and I did not like it.

I experienced the first man as something like a black hole—very intense and self-contained. I don’t know if he was striving to suck energy in, but he certainly wasn’t giving any out. My response was to try to fill the vacuum, which was hard work—as it always is.

As we were working together, the second man burst upon the scene with something he wanted to tell me about. I experienced him as extremely anxious, and as my own anxiety rose in tandem with his, all I could think was “please go now”—which thankfully he soon did, leaving me with the black hole.

I will work with both of these men again, but next time I will be prepared.

There are other ways to build groundedness and energetic self-protection, but I like the handiness of my guy-wire technique. I just point my index and middle fingers towards the ground and fold the other fingers together—and this can be very subtle—and I let it happen.

I’d say I can hardly wait to try my new technique with these men, but I wouldn’t want to appear childish….

I don’t wish either of them ill; nor do I wish to “mess” with them, for lack of a better term. But I don’t wish myself ill either. I just want energetic integrity and stability, and that is my responsibility, not theirs.

Leave a comment

Filed under Progress, Uncategorized

Hope and Everything

hopeI’ve read another awesome book—this one written by a woman who survived stage 4 lung cancer quite possibly because she harnessed the healing power of love and followed the guidance of meditations where goddesses acted as healers and dancers did the likes of popping bubble wrap on the surface of her lung.

The book, published this fall, is actually two books.

everythingPick it up one way and the cover reads: “Something More Than Hope: Surviving despite the odds, thriving because of them,” by Diana Lindsay.

Turn it upside down and end-for-end, and the cover reads: “Something More Than Everything: A caregiver’s commentary on what went right when life went wrong,” by Diana’s husband Kelly Lindsay, who, she says in her portion of the book, “transformed his love into healing power and saved me.”

Diana was 52 in 2006 when she went to the doctor because of a bad cough, learned she had stage 4 lung cancer,  and was told that 1% of people diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer survive 5 years. However, she was determined to live, and she threw herself into healing her body with mind and heart wide open.

Shortly afterwards, a friend recommended a technique from Jin Shin Jyutsu, a Japanese healing touch system, that involved the treatment-giver holding a finger from one of Diana’s hands and a toe from her opposite foot until her pulses synched up, and then moving on to the next pair of fingers and toes. Jin Shin started out as a bit of a lark, as something people could do when there didn’t seem to be anything else they could do to help—and then someone noticed that when she was receiving a Jin Shin treatment, Diana stopped coughing. This got everyone’s attention.

Diana decided to let her intuition about the needs of her body be her guide in deciding which alternative healing avenues to pursue, and which western medical treatments to choose. (Among the alternative avenues was Yi Ren Qigong, which is how I met her.)

In “Something More Than Hope,” she shares her journey—the visual-imagery-packed meditations, the summoning of the support of family and friends who were many and willing, the canoe trips and visits to waterfalls when water became prominent in her dreams and meditations, the visit with the Muckleshoot tribal shaman, and on and on—the “everything” to which Kelly refers. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized