Tag Archives: taiji

I Wish I Knew What I Did….

A thing happened today, while I was leading my taiji class through the form—one of those things I don’t understand but would oh, so, like to.

When we do the form (Yang-style long form) during the second half of class, I talk. I describe what I am doing, sometimes name the move or point out that we’re in a section of repetition, or make suggestions regarding weight distribution or body alignment. Nothing is scripted. It’s whatever comes into my mind as something that might be helpful to say, depending on who has come to class.

Today, about two-thirds of the way into the form, I felt something shift. I knew I had entered an altered state of consciousness. I relaxed into lightness of body and mind. I felt a quiet within me and around me. I was still talking, but I said less. I felt very good, very complete. After class, I went up to my apartment and did a bit more taiji and then sat on the sofa for a time with my eyes closed. Gradually the state dissolved, and within an hour, I was at my computer going through emails.

I wish I knew how I had reached that state so that I could return to it at will, but I don’t.

I do think one factor may have been that, as I spoke our way through the form, I was emphasizing sinking, sitting down into the hips, relaxing the shoulders, pausing for a moment to really settle into a posture. I was doing this partly for myself, although I had not planned to, and partly for one of the students who had said at our last class, when I talked about relaxing the shoulders, that a therapist once told her she carried all her emotional problems in her shoulders.

I suspect that sinking, relaxing, grounding may have been key to this morning’s experience in part because a couple of weeks ago, about two thirds of the way into doing the form with my long-time Saturday morning taiji partner, I similarly entered a similar state. That time, because nothing had seemed to be going well, I had decided that maybe I should just focus on my feet, and the shifting of weight from one to the other.

Of course, I tried the same approach the following Saturday to absolutely no avail. I guess connecting with earth may be key, but not a guarantee.

One more experience comes to mind, one that happened more than a month ago during a 3-hour meditation session at the convent where I go for Zen-style sitting.

About two-thirds (hmmm… there’s that fraction again)—anyway, about two-thirds of the way into the first half of the session, I entered into a delicious space—soft, quiet, relaxed, accepting. It had the same quality of being separate from my normal awareness as did the two taiji experiences. As I was in it, I knew that it was wonderful and also that it would not last, but that that was OK.

Though I am grateful for all three experiences, in a small way they trouble me because they are akin to some of the more extreme experiences I had two and a half years ago—experiences that a neurologist labeled “spells” when he told me he didn’t think I had epilepsy even though I had had two “unusual” EEGs.

So what is it, what is it, what is it that I am experiencing?

Brain deviance or spiritual growth?

It seems possible that the sole meaning of experiences like the one I had today is that the 3 pound mass of tissue inside my skull has gotten a bit wonky in some of its particulars as a result of my various practices. My brain gets wonky; my perception of reality shifts; I feel good; end of story.

Of course, it is also possible—and, I hope, true—that there is some greater, objective reality that I may somehow be able to access as a result of my various practices.

It would be nice if there was more than just me, my brain and I….


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Where Am I Anyway?

I’m still at it. Still dancing around qigong, still trying to figure out where I am and where I might be going.

Almost two months ago, I was asked by someone who responded to my post about depression  if I had lost faith in qigong. My answer is attached to that post, but I’m going to bring it forward here. I said that my faith in qigong was at very low ebb—and now I’ll pick up with the rest of what I wrote then:

I probably wanted far more than qigong could ever deliver—and wanting too much, I am told, and believe, pretty much assures that you will get very little.

“I had believed that qigong could resolve various of my health issues, but I no longer expect that to happen. In my qigong community, one woman has survived lung cancer that was predicted to kill her in something like six months, and she attributes her survival in large part to qigong. Another woman, an ardent practitioner and teacher, developed lung cancer and was dead within months. True, she was a smoker, where the other woman was not. But still, qigong didn’t protect her and qigong didn’t save her.

“My very darkest thought about qigong goes back to a margarine commercial from the 1970s with the line ‘It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.’ I consider that quite possibly when I am doing qigong, I am ‘fooling Mother Nature’ by manipulating my bioelectric field. Should I be doing this? I have no idea how the energetic effects of qigong compare to the energetic effects of using my cell phone or walking across a parking lot where people are using invisible energy waves to remotely lock or unlock their cars. I can’t feel the latter things, but I can feel something when I do qigong.

“I have thought that perhaps the effects of qigong are similar to the effects of other types of meditation. Meditation does change the brain and also how one feels and acts in the world, although I know enough meditators to know it’s slow going, and I’ve known of people who live in Zen monasteries and take anti-depressants.

“I do still hope for personal change from qigong. And, well, in truth, I still hope for a whole lot more. I still want to understand, to know, what existence is all about. Through qigong, I have had experiences I would not have believed possible—or, more precisely, that I had no concept of. What more will I learn? I don’t know. I am impatient. Will learning more make me happy, or satisfied, or whole? I don’t know.”

Since the beginning of March, when I wrote the above, I have been very busy in other sectors of my life and haven’t done much qigong. In truth, I haven’t made much effort to find the time to do qigong. I have a cell phone app that lets me check off when I have done something, and I used to try to check off more than half a dozen practices related to qigong and taiji every day. I don’t do that anymore.

In the last week, I’ve felt myself drawn to seated meditation again. I just sit and breathe and feel my breath filling my body, making it swell and tingle and come alive. Sometimes I’ll focus on particular energy centers or parts of my body and connecting them in various ways. When my mind wanders, as it regularly does, I do find it easier to say, “Oh, well….” and get back to my breath, which, wouldn’t you know, has continued of its own accord while part of me was away–and then I immediately fall back into total body energetic awareness.

I do an hour of Yi Ren Qigong with friends once a week, but other days, if I do qigong at all, I do either Damo Mitchell’s Wu Xing qigong exercises, which are so much simpler than the Yi Ren Qigong exercises, or the Shibashi Taiji Qigong I used to teach.

Also in early March, when I wrote the passage I quoted above, I quit the taiji school I had been going to for more than a year. I had tried to do taiji their way but concluded I couldn’t because of my balance issues—and also that I really didn’t want to. I will always do taiji, but I am trying to enjoy it again, to be aware of my alignments and how energy is moving in my body without worrying too much about whether I’m getting some of the details wrong. I don’t even push myself to do the whole form, which takes me a bit over half an hour. I quit when it starts feeling like I’m doing it for the sake of getting it done.

Today I went for a walk during a sun break between spring rains and paused in a small neighborhood park to do half of my taiji form and then, because the sun was out and the sky was so beautiful and the birds were singing and the grass was incredibly green, I did some Taiji Qigong.

It was just very nice, as had been my Seated Meditation with Cat earlier in the morning.

And perhaps that is enough. To have something you can do to take you to a space that is just very nice is really quite wonderful.

Even if nothing more ever happens, perhaps this morning was worth all the time and angst I have put into taiji and qigong.


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New Year’s Day Spiritual Recognitions….

Like many of you, I generally use the turning of the year to take stock of my life and make resolutions to fix some of the ways in which I find it, and me, wanting.

On this New Year’s morning, I had repaired to my sofa with tea and cat, prepared to do what I’ve done before, when I found an email from my Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner and his naturopath wife in my iPhone inbox.

They proposed doing a different sort of stock-taking: taking stock of what’s good and what’s working in our lives, instead of what’s wrong, and beginning the year with feelings of gratitude instead of focusing  on deficiency.

If we’re struggling in some areas, they suggested we bring kindly attention to those areas, without berating ourselves, and then realign, perhaps redefine, and shift from wanting to having.

Frankly, some years I would have found this message a bit pat, even cloying. This New Year’s Day I realized, slowly but surely, that it was just what I needed, and what I wanted to and could do.

There are many areas of my life where I realize on a regular basis that I am incredibly fortunate, where gratitude comes easily.

But my spiritual practices had become problematic. I worried that they were self-indulgent, perhaps even pointless, or worse. Taiji often felt like an exercise in failure, what with my balance/dizziness/internal swoopiness issues. And I didn’t know where to go with qigong, since maybe I’d been doing it wrong and/or amplifying flaws inherent to my aging brain, with the result being internal swoopiness instead of knowing and peace.

But as I pondered, I realized there were indeed positives in my spiritual practices, things I could be grateful for. Continue reading

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Why Is My Qi Running Amok?

It appears that qi is running loose in my body, doing what it will without regard for my conscious mind’s wishes, timetable or understanding—indeed, it seems to be running amok.

This would explain the events that I’ve written about in recent months, events that have been officially characterized as “spells.” It would also explain some more recent phenomena which I’m not calling spells and haven’t reported to my neurologist because they seem so clearly to be energy events and because they have not been accompanied by cognitive shifts.

Among the non-spell phenomena are what I refer to as “balance issues” when speaking with outsiders and as “internal energy swoopiness” when talking with friends who practice qigong. Also included are the periodic uprisings of sexual energy about which I speak only with qigong friends.

Yesterday, both of these phenomena occurred.

First came the balance/swoopiness-related event.

I was in my kitchen, doing kitchen things, when I paused and felt a wave of softness descend downward from my lower back. It was lovely, and I was thrilled. The same thing had happened a few days previous, and I was thrilled then, too. My qi was sinking instead of swooping!

In recent months, internal swoopiness has become the bane of my taiji practice. Balance was never my strong suit, largely because of creeping scoliosis and poor alignment of body parts. But even as my alignment has been improving, thanks to a lot of hard work, my ability to do the kicks required in the form has been declining.

This internal swoopiness is a bit like the way you feel when you’re back on land after having been on a boat, where things are going up and down inside but not outside; sometimes, especially when I’m tired or a taiji class is stressful, I’m feeling so much internal roiling that I’m amazed I don’t simply fall over.

Taiji people all say I need to relax and sink my qi, although it is hard to relax given how hard I am working to maintain proper alignment.

My own view has been that my difficulty grounding might have to do with the lack of energetic sensations in my legs and feet—I used to refer to them as my dead zone—and I’ve been addressing this on many fronts for quite a while. Success has begun to come, albeit in small increments. I can now feel energy moving up and down my legs as I inhale up from my feet and exhale down through my sacrum to the earth. But I still can’t stick a kick. 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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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.


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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