Learning the whereabouts of my organs was easy compared to what came next: learning the whereabouts of the invisible rivers of qi that connect the organs, and then learning to feel and encourage the movement of that qi.
This was the province of Level II of Yi Ren Qigong, the six-session series of classes which Dr. Sun has acknowledged separates the men from the boys, the dilettantes from those in serious pursuit of qi.
The rivers of qi are called meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine and also in acupuncture, which is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. The exercises of Level II help students learn to use their hands and their intent to move energy in their own meridians—and do acupuncture without needles.
In Level II, there are seven basic exercises for moving energy through the organ meridians.
There’s the foundational exercise, called the Large Universe, where your hand movements and awareness traverse all the organ meridians:
Up the insides of the legs and the front of the body, out the insides of the arms to the hands and then back to the shoulders via the outsides of the arms, followed by a detour up around the head and then back down the back and the backs of the legs.
And then there are six specialized exercises, one for each yin-yang organ pair, yin organs being feminine; yang, masculine—and I must say, for an organ to be one or the other was another little hurdle in my understanding of my organs. The yin organs are more or less solid; the yang organs are more or less bags, but I won’t share the sexist mnemonic device I finally resorted to to remember this.
The six pairs, for the record, are lungs/large intestine; kidneys/bladder; liver/gall bladder; reproductive system/lymphatic system; heart/small intestine; stomach/pancreas. It’s a somewhat different list than you’ll find in most acupuncture and qigong books, because Dr. Sun holds that the stomach’s partner is the pancreas, not the spleen, and he refers to what many people call the Triple Burner as the reproductive system and to the Pericardium Channel as the spleen/lymphatic system. (He also tells us that he bases this view on personal experience, that we should check it out with our own bodies, and that he’d like to see some scientific research done on the subject.)
So, seven exercises. How hard can learning seven exercises be? You’d be amazed. I knew I could do it, but I knew it was going to take a lot of work.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to learn the exercises just by mimicking Brendan. I wanted a cognitive map showing where the energy was going with each movement in each exercise. This was hard to come by. Brendan had us massage key points where the meridians were near the surface, points
known by their acupuncture nomenclature, like Kidney 1 and Gall Bladder 30. But in many places, the meridians lie too deep for that, and all we could go on was the line drawings in the class handouts.
I’d get confused and I’d ask Brendan to tell me precisely where the energy was at particular moments in an exercise. He’d say, “Where do you feel it?” or maybe “Don’t think about it so much. Just do the exercise and eventually you’ll feel it.” I’d say, “If you’d tell me where it is, EXACTLY, then at least I’d know where to look for it.” No luck.
I had begun attending some of Dr. Sun’s seminars, and a man I met at one of them told me I should get an acupuncture book. In the beginning, he said, you just feel the presence of energy in a broad area, but with time and practice, your awareness becomes more precise. And then it’s good to be able to look in a book and say, “Ah hah, that was it.”
So one night, when I was feeling I needed all the help I could get to master the meridians, I ordered “Atlas of Acupuncture,” edited by Claudia Focks. It’s not the largest book I own, but I think it’s the heaviest. It is a marvelous book, full of drawings and photographs of actual bodies, discretely draped, and it weighs almost 6 pounds. I have always been a copious margin-marker and underliner, but I discovered early on that with this book, there was no need. The most important points were listed first, and generous use of blue type and boldface organized the information in an absolutely logical manner. I loved it!
From the “Atlas,” I learned that the meridians were a lot more complex than I’d thought. Class handouts showed the primary channels, but there were also lots of divergent channels, including some that not all authorities agreed upon.
I don’t know why this surprised me. You can know where blood vessels go, because you can see them. But qi channels, after all, are invisible.
I decided that perhaps Brendan wasn’t willing to nail meridian location for me because the meridians aren’t altogether nailable.
Now, with hindsight, I think he was probably right in another way, too: I just needed to think less, do the exercises and wait to see what showed up. Because eventually, something does show up—and then there’s no denying it, no debating whether you’ve created the sensation in your mind or whether it’s real.
I have now taken Brendan’s Level II class several times. I can do all seven exercises. In fact, I can even lead them. I can feel energy in the general vicinity of whatever meridian I’m focusing on—for example, I feel energy moving up the insides of my legs when doing the kidneys/bladder exercise—but my awareness remains imprecise.
I trust, however, that my sensitivity will improve—not as soon as I’d like it to, but as soon as it’s ready.