Yang Circles, Yin Circles and Spells…

This past weekend I attended a Yi Ren Qigong seminar, the second in a series on Internal Martial Arts. We are not learning a taiji form in these seminars; rather, we are learning the energy of taiji.

On Sunday afternoon, our teacher, Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, announced that we would do some walking in circles around our basement classroom as an introduction to bagua-style circle-walking.

We pushed our chairs into the middle of the room, then went outside to re-enter the classroom and begin walking around it six times in a counter-clockwise direction.

I had walked circles in that classroom before as part of ritual cleansing of the room, and I’d never felt anything more than a little silly, so my main thought in embarking upon this exercise was, “Dang, I forgot to put my Fitbit on this morning; I’m not going to get credit towards my 10,000-step goal.”

We went outside, then filed back in with Dr. Sun leading the way as we slowly walked counter-clockwise, our line becoming a circle as everyone joined in. The walking was pleasant; I like walking, even when it’s not for credit. And then somewhere during the second or third circle I began feeling incredibly heavy in the dantian/lower abdomen and legs. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling or why I was feeling it, but I really didn’t care. I liked it; I was into it; I walked connected to the earth.

After six times around, we went outside again and entered via the back door. This time, I was curious. What would I feel? Nothing the first couple of rounds, even though I probably suggested to my dantian that it might want to do what it had done before. And then my back, including the mid-back area where the kidneys are located, began feeling intense. I had more feeling on my back and in the kidney area than I’d ever had before. Wow!

We subsequently walked some bagua circles, with our feet stepping around the perimeter while our hands and head faced and focused on the center of the circle. I didn’t get much out the bagua walking, largely because I didn’t understand Dr. Sun’s initial instructions.

But the memory of walking counter-clockwise and then clockwise stuck with me. Dr. Sun had told us that counter-clockwise was yin (feminine) and that clockwise was yang (masculine), but that’s the sort of information I have trouble holding in memory, and it wasn’t in my memory when we started out—at least not in my conscious memory. But now I know, and will never forget, that counter-clockwise is yin (the front and lower part of the body) and clockwise is yang (the back of the body).

After the seminar ended, I went home, fed my cat, cleaned and sliced some mushrooms and began frying them with spinach and eggs for dinner. At some point into the frying, I became aware that an image had popped into and out of my conscious mind, a scene with people in it, a scene from my life or, well, maybe a scene from a dream, which maybe I’d recognize if I could take a closer look at it—only I couldn’t get it to come back.

And then I realized I had had another of my spells, albeit one a bit different than its three predecessors. (See: http://qifrontier.com/2016/01/08/the-draining-of-my-brain/) Oh, my. It was over in moments; the eggs did not burn, and the rest of the evening was uneventful.

The next day, a Monday, I led a qigong group, did some computer work and then did my Yi Ren Qigong practice. It was particularly intense, and I felt a bit spacey afterwards, but I decided to walk to a nearby shopping center so I could feed my Fitbit and deposit a check at the bank.

As I walked, I realized my mind wasn’t quite right; I was stoned on qi. But I seemed to be doing fine, so I kept walking and would have  continued to do fine if, when I got to the bank, I’d been able to remember the password for my checking account, a password I’ve had for 20 years. Fortunately, I remembered it before the bank clerk I was asking for help turned me in as looney tunes or as a debit card thief. I bought a cup of coffee, walked home, and sat on my sofa, my mind wandering quite freely from this to that. I fell asleep, as I am prone to do when I sit down in the afternoon, and when I woke up, I felt fine.

But I count that as Spell #5. Continue reading

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Brain Fog in My Form…

I had no idea, when I committed to remaking my Yang-style taiji form in the manner of the Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan Association, that it would be so very, very hard.

This morning in class I was attempting to learn two moves, moves ostensibly the same as ones I’ve done for 15 years but different in all sorts of particulars. It did not go well.

I am not a rapid motor skills learner to begin with, and in this remaking process, I can do something half a dozen times and still not have a cognitive map for what’s happening—only brain fog. If I relax and let body memory take over, my body will do what it’s done thousands of times before, and my brain knows that that will be wrong. Periodically my neurons get so tied up in knots that my brain goes into white-out. When this happens, I am paralyzed, and I experience a moment of panic that my brain may not kick back in in time for me to continue with the teacher and the rest of the students.

I began remaking my form in June, and I really thought I’d be done by the end of the year and back to actually enjoying doing taiji. But it’s January, and I’m maybe a third of the way through the form, and the process isn’t getting any easier.

I thought this morning of a boy who was in my daughter’s first grade class many years ago. I helped out in her classroom a few times, and I remember watching him work with the teacher on his reading. She was an older teacher, much loved by many parents and students, including, I think, my daughter, but she was clearly frustrated with this boy and said, more than once, “You’re just not really trying.”

Well, I could see the boy was trying. I could see he was sweating bullets. This was before dyslexia was a household word, but it was obvious to me that he simply couldn’t do what the teacher wanted no matter how much he wanted to or how hard he tried.

I considered calling his father—I knew this boy somehow didn’t have a mother around—to urge him to take his son out of that teacher’s class, but I didn’t do it. I’ve wondered from time to time over the years how the boy’s life was going, and whether it would be going better if I had called his father.

I thought of that boy today, and what I thought was, “I think I know how his brain felt.”

 

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The Draining of My Brain

NOTE: I’ve not written many posts lately. I got sidetracked dealing with other aspects of my life. But also I haven’t been clear enough about what I think to try writing it down. The following post is probably too long, but let’s just say I’m making up for lost time. (Hah! Try telling that to any editor.) (Oh, well….)

Something is happening to my brain, and I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it is good or bad or if it’s the consequence of my qigong practice, of ordinary aging or even of some sort of disease process.

Well, some of it for sure is aging. Anybody who claims that age only matters if you’re a bottle of wine or a wheel of cheese has not sat with a group of people my age—73—who are trying to remember the name of a mutual friend, or a flower, or a movie or a book. We all hate it when that happens….

But there are other things—in particular, my “spells.”

I’ve never thought of myself as the sort of woman who’d have spells, but the word is there, in the report from the neurologist to whom I was sent after I’d had two of them.

They frighten me—but they also intrigue me. I want to know what they are, and what they portend, but I don’t know and haven’t figured out how to find out.

From a western medical point of view, my spells may have been cardiovascular events or, as I think more likely, they may have been neurological events, perhaps some sort of seizure. Neither of these alternatives is cheering.

On the other hand, as you will see when I describe my spells, they were also energy events, because, of course, everything is an energy event, but they were energy events with features akin to what I experience when I practice qigong. My qigong teacher, Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, has said they indicate progress in my qigong practice, and perhaps he is right. Maybe after a certain amount of energetic development, one’s brain must reboot.

I will start by describing the event that got my attention in a really big way.

It happened on Aug. 15, 2015, at the end of a period of significant stress. I’d felt I was handling everything well, and was enjoying that feeling, but in retrospect, perhaps I was not.

The day before the incident, I’d been working at my computer when I learned that I needed to assemble a group of people to meet in 20 minutes—not a big deal, really, but as soon as I started scurrying around to do what needed to be done, I felt like I was working through some sort of roiling mental and physical fog, and it was difficult to keep focused on what I was saying and doing. It was not a new feeling—for months I’d been experiencing a variety of odd sensations that I wrote off as energy things, or blood sugar things, or balance mechanism things, or digestive things—but it was more extreme and not at all pleasant.

However, the next morning, I felt fine. I went to a friend’s apartment for brunch and ended up staying five hours, talking about issues in the community in which we both live.

By the end of that time, I was sitting on my friend’s sofa, slumped down with my neck arched over the top edge. I was looking up and talking to her when I realized that I was having difficulty expressing myself because I couldn’t call forth names and facts that I knew I should remember. I got up and left, just wanting to go home, and walked through her building and another building feeling just a bit strange. I knew something wasn’t right. I stepped out into the sunlight to cross the parking lot in front of my building, and the back of my neck seized up. Continue reading

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One Watch and Two Reads…

I regularly receive links to articles and You Tube videos from Damo Mitchell’s Lotus Nei Gong School in the UK and recently received one to a video labeled “Yang Family Taijiquan.”

I clicked on it immediately, as in “Oh, my, goodness, here’s Damo doing the same type of taiji I do,” and I liked it so much that I’ve shown it to everyone I can get to watch it, whether on my cellphone or on a computer—and now I’m putting the link up here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DWotBV8wQU&feature=em-subs_digest

The video is a sampler of Damo doing a variety of Yang-style taiji practices in the woods in Sweden. He does a bit of “song” practice, where his arms look more liquid than solid, followed by movements from the form. When he does Snake Creeps Down, you see the snake—and I practically weep at how beautifully he performs a movement I can only sort of do. Then there’s “Yang Style Fa Li,” a twitchy sort of upper body practice which I’ve never before encountered, followed by segments of a sword form where Damo is wielding the longest sword I’ve ever seen.

In the course of an online search for the meanings of “song” and “fa li,” I found two excellent articles which I’d like to share as well.

According to Robert Chuckrow, “song,” pronounced “sung,” is a Chinese word that “refers to releasing all contractive muscular tension while maintain optimal structural alignment.” Chuckrow’s article “Taiji and Qigong,” http://ymaa.com/articles/taichi-and-qigong, makes a strong case for practicing qigong as an adjunct to taiji, with more quickly learning to reach a deeper state of song being one.

“Fa li” is explained in “The Concept of Qi, Jing, Li, and Gong-Li,” by Tu-Ky Lam, http://tukylam.freeoda.com/qi_concept.html. The word “fa” has to do with releasing or issuing energy; “li” refers to the inborn strength we all have, or to partial force. Li practice involves only the hands and arms, as you’ll see in the Damo video.

However, I especially appreciated Lam’s discussion of what “qi” is—and whether feeling something to which you apply that label matters to your taiji training. Lam concludes that it doesn’t matter—but he points out that just because you may not feel anything doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.

 

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A Pathway to Balance

Balance has been a problem for me through all the years I have practiced taiji. I simply am not good at sitting the kicks.

When I first started, I thought the problem was my feet, and if I could only get the proper shoes, or the proper arch supports, I’d be fine.

Eventually I realized that the problem wasn’t just my feet. It was pretty much my entire body. It was the way I’d adapted to the curve in my spine. It was the way I’d allowed my head and neck to give in to gravity. It is very difficult to sit a kick when your body parts aren’t aligned.

But now I have a new pathway to balance.

In my last two posts I’ve talked about taking classes at the Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan Center in Redmond. One of these classes is a taiji basics class taught by Master Yang Jun’s wife, Fang Hong. Laoshi (teacher) Hong is patient and kind. She also clearly knows her stuff.

So when she told us at the first class that standing on one leg for 5 minutes per leg per day would give us good balance, I decided to believe her, no ifs, ands or buts, and I made a commitment to myself to do it. Continue reading

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My Saber and Me

saberWhen I said, in my previous post, that I might be on a yangward journey, I did not write about one small, very yang thing:

My saber—and the fact that I am learning a taiji saber form, full of slashing, chopping and thrusts, with the occasional kick and hand blow thrown in.

When I studied the class schedule for the Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan Center in Redmond a couple of months ago, I noticed they were offering a saber form class on a night I was free. I decided to sign up.

I cannot remember why it was that I thought I should take a saber class. Certainly I was forgetting that I had once learned a Chen-style sword form, but had decided to abandon it because I wasn’t spending enough time practicing it to keep it up.

But sign up for saber I did, and I am now perhaps halfway through learning a two-minute form. You wouldn’t think it would take eight weeks to learn one minute of movement, but it has, and I am not good. My moves are sloppy, my balance is poor, and I’m not yet feeling any qi, although that could be because the saber form is faster than the bare-hand form, and I have slow-moving qi. However, I am definitely beginning to feel the form’s potential for yangly fierceness. Continue reading

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A Yangward Way

Taiji Diagram: Yin contains yang, yang contains yin; yin ever becoming yang, yang ever becoming yin

Taiji Diagram: Yin contains yang, yang contains yin; yin ever becoming yang, yang ever becoming yin

My friend Karl is writing a novel titled “A Yinward Way.” Its aging male protagonist believes the world has become so yang-dominant, so overly, aggressively masculine, that it is in peril. He’s seeking to find a way to help the world restore its yin/yang balance, even as he himself is being drawn towards the yin.

The notion that the world has become way too yang for its own good is not unique; I’ve read many discussions of this and believe the argument has merit. A yinward shift might be a good thing.

And yet I find that I, myself, am actually on a yangward path of late, at least in my energy practices.

I don’t know why this is.

It may be that men become softer and more sensitive as they age—i.e., more yin, like the protagonist in my friend’s novel, while women become fiercer and more direct, i.e., more yang. (I’m only partly making this up; I think there’s some science in this area.)

However, it could also be that my internal Daoist pendulum is swinging from the yin-ness of all the Yi Ren Qigong and Taiji Qigong I’ve done so much of over the past five years towards something more yang.

In any event, some months ago I found myself wanting to do more taiji. The many systems of taiji are also systems of qigong, although they don’t generally get referred to as that. But they are particular systems of qigong originally practiced as training for hand-to-hand combat.

My two qigong practices are mostly about moving energy around inside my body to improve my health and well-being. It feels very good to do this, very relaxing, very heart-opening, very bringing-me-back-to-peace. Taiji involves sending energy outwards in a focused manner, whether or not there’s somebody to hit. It’s definitely more yang. Continue reading

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