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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