Monthly Archives: May 2013

“Just Like Kung Fu Panda….”

This weekend, I was wandering about outdoors waiting for a first-grader’s birthday party to end when I realized that the clouds had parted and that a walkway between two mid-height apartment buildings was now bathed in the light of the late afternoon sun.

After a day of clouds and rain, the sun was warming in every possible way. I stood at the edge of the walkway, savoring the sunlight, and then one little movement led to another and I ended up doing some incredibly satisfying qigong and then taiji. A number of people passed by, but the walkway was wide, so I wasn’t in their way and they seemed to be “over there.”

Practicing taiji and qigong outdoors can be exquisite, and there are plenty of places you can do it if you’re not afraid of being seen—parks, detention ponds, trails through the woods, pockets of lawn outside office buildings. They’re all good so long as you feel safe and have enough physical and psychological space.

Yet I know many people are afraid of being seen—and I’ll admit I wasn’t comfortable at first. But I’ve been doing taiji in public parks for more than 10 years now, usually in a group but sometimes alone, and in the last year or so, I’ve also done qigong in public places, most often alone.

And here’s what I’ve learned:

Most people simply aren’t interested. They won’t look at you longer than, say, 17 nanoseconds. They see slow movement, and they think “taiji.” They’ve read about taiji in newspapers and magazines, and they’ve seen it in movies and on television, including during the spectacular opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. They’re not sure about the details and won’t know if what you are doing is actually taiji or qigong, but they have a label for it and know they needn’t be alarmed, and they quickly return to whatever they were preoccupied with before they saw you. Continue reading

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Women’s Spiritual Power: Connecting through the Body with the Earth

book-body-of-wisdom[1]During my taiji studies and early forays into qigong, I periodically encountered things that men and women were supposed to do differently. The most common was choosing which hand to put down first when putting one atop the other at the dantian, the energy center below the navel.

I can’t say for sure which hand women are supposed to put down first, because different teachers said different things—and because my Yang-style taiji teacher and his teacher, a Chinese woman revered by her American students, felt it really made no difference.

Still, every time I encountered this or any other gender-specific instruction, I bristled. I was sure the woman’s hand position was less powerful. Black people figured out early on that “separate but equal” wouldn’t work for them, and I didn’t think “different but energetically appropriate” would work for me, either.

I am, after all, the daughter of a feminist born ahead of her time, in 1912, to Bohemian immigrants living in Chicago, a woman who was feisty and smart but hobbled in her pursuit of the American Dream by being a woman. Continue reading

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What Is a Sensible Girl Like Me Doing at an Event Like This?

NOTE: The following is the text of the speech I gave at the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine’s 2013 Conference, held May 18 in Seattle.

What IS a sensible girl like me doing at an event like this?

I’m logical, analytical, skeptical, a believer in the principles of western science. If I had come to a conference like this even three years ago and heard the things I’m expecting to hear today, I would have thought, “Oh, my, these people certainly have active imaginations.”

Three years ago I did know what qi was, or what is was supposed to be. I’d studied taiji for eight years, and my teacher talked about qi as a given. But I’d never experienced anything so unique that I felt it warranted a special name, and nobody had managed to convince me, in my heart of hearts, that this thing that I had never felt, that couldn’t be seen or measured, was real.

When my taiji teacher led our bows at the beginning and end of class, he’d say, “Let your hands rise to the level of your heart and be drawn together as if by some force.” I’d think, “Whatever,” and I’d keep one eye open to make sure my hands didn’t miss and embarrass me.

But today, here I am, talking to you guys about qi and qigong. I practice qigong, I’m training to teach qigong, I blog about qigong.

Clearly, something changed. Actually, everything changed. Continue reading

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Placeholder Post

As I was beginning to think about what to write for today’s post, my friend Karl asked if I planned to post the speech I’m giving tomorrow at the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine’s 2013 Conference “Empower Yourself With Energy-Based Integrative Healthcare.”

I wasn’t—I’m planning to write about another conference presentation—but I realized my speech about why I do qigong would be just the right length and certainly an appropriate topic for a post. And it was already written!

Karl and I agreed that it would be a bit tacky to post my speech before giving it just because today is my regular post day—hence this placeholder post. I’ll post the actual speech tomorrow.

Its title: “What’s a Sensible Girl Like Me Doing at an Event Like This?”

 

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Scrubbing Legs Qigong

Scrubbing Legs Qigong

Scrubbing Legs Qigong

My lower extremities got short shrift in the shower for years. I’d scrub my face, arms and torso, but my legs and feet had to make do with the run-off from my upper-body.

It made sense at the time. Legs don’t sweat much, and mine were rarely exposed to the dirt of the world because I wore long pants. How much washing could they need? And my feet—well, in truth, they were just awfully far away, although I did wash between my toes when I wore sandals.

However, it occurred to me during a recent shower that perhaps this neglect of my legs and my feet was not simply efficiency or sloth. Perhaps it was symptomatic of my dysfunctional relationship with my legs and feet. (Don’t laugh; I’m serious.)

During my early years of taiji practice, I would blame my arches when I couldn’t sit a kick and my thigh muscles when my teacher noted that one of my knees was out of line and at risk for injury. Everything that was good about taiji was good from the torso up; my legs and feet were necessary evils.

When I started practicing Yi Ren Qigong, I had a hard time bringing my legs and feet on board. Hey, I knew my feet were down there, because I could see them, but energetically, they were a dead zone. Continue reading

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Empower Yourself

2013 IQIM conference logo

In my head, the classic yin-yang symbol is black and white and flatter than a pancake. But there’s nothing flat about the yin-yang symbol created by Vincenzo Lalli to publicize the Institute of Qigong and Integrative Medicine’s upcoming conference.

Vincenzo’s yin-yang symbol bursts from the surface, and the little “eyes” that represent the presence of a little bit of yin in the yang, and yang in the yin—well, those little eyes seem as ready to pop from the page as the symbol as a whole. Which seems fitting since, as I understand it, the “eyes” are constantly expanding and becoming the fish-like bodies of the symbol, as the fish-like bodies are shrinking and becoming the new eyes, as yin becomes yang and yang becomes yin, ever-changing and definitely never flat.

Anyway, I love it! And the bolts of electricity and the power cords! My first thought was “Wow, Vincenzo must have an awesome qigong practice!”

However, Vincenzo says he was just trying to connect a symbol of qigong with the theme of the May 18 conference, which is “Empower Yourself with Energy-Based Integrative Healthcare.” Continue reading

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