The last time I was in the heart of the pine grove there was a pile of pine cones right where I wanted to do my tai chi. My instinct was to move them aside so they would not be in my way; instead, I left them where they were and practiced around what I perceived to be an obstacle under my feet. As water moves around rocks, I moved around the pile of pine cones while doing my tai chi form.
Today when I arrived, the pile of cones had been formed into a circle. Seeing the transformation of the pile into a circle awakened my perception. First, I realized that my view of the pine cone pile as an obstacle was perceived by another person as a chance to create.
Secondly, I realized that when I let things be, possibilities can blossom forth. I do not always have to be the doer making effort to change something. I can allow space to see what manifests.
When my body is relaxed and my mind is quiet, I become more aware of my senses. I am more engaged with life in a positive way and less trapped in my mental struggles. Tai chi and qigong helps me to achieve a sense of relaxation and a quiet mind.
My spiritual teacher Ishwar Puri told me that we have 8 senses. The first 5 senses are the senses of sight (perception), hearing, touch, taste and smell. The 6th sense is intuition, which is our soul level awareness. The 7th sense is common sense. The 8th sense, which is the most important, is a sense of humor. We can laugh and play. Life doesn't have to be so serious when we come to our senses!
Spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle states, "Life isn't as serious as (the) mind makes it out to be."
A big part of the practice of tai chi and qigong is to learn how to relax our bodies and quiet our minds so we can live more harmoniously. Our minds can be consumed by our thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions, reactions, how we relate to other people and situations. This all can seem like serious business because our "monkey minds" or overly active minds can get involved.
I have seen this occur with my own monkey mind. At this stage of mental agitation, I depend on the slow, flowing movements of my tai chi and qigong to bring me back to a place of relaxation, grounding, and emptiness from mental drama. Life doesn't have to be as serious as my mind makes it out to be.
Here is a poem that has helped me through difficult moments:
It does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still
be calm in your heart.
There are so many ways we could respond to Covid-19. When facing uncertainty, anxiety, fear or a sense of powerlessness, we may choose to respond in some of these ways. Some of us might steadily consume news and information in the hopes of educating and protecting ourselves. Others might avoid the media and place our attention on our daily tasks. A lot of us might find comfort by watching our favorite TV programs, reading books, eating comfort food, going for walks or a run, sleeping more, talking to our therapists, practicing our meditation, yoga and tai chi when we are stressed. We might try to connect with our friends through texting, emailing, and other online face-to-face apps like Zoom, FaceTime and Skype. We seek others to comfort us in our state of fear and anxiety. Perhaps we do a combination of all of these things to try to balance and calm ourselves. Personally I have tried several of these ways during this uncertain time.
How does all of this truly make me feel? Does it bring me a sense of lightness, inner peace and clarity? Is my mind still grasping for safety and security? Am I practicing self-care? Am I even aware of how I am feeling? Is my attention scattered? Am I tense and aching from the stress I hold inside? Is my breathing shallow? Is it time to pay attention to how I truly feel right now? Can I self-check for a moment? These are some of the questions I ask myself.
Once at a spiritual gathering someone said to me, “The internet can be very helpful, but more importantly is our inner net.” What is happening inside our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies? Spiritual teachers share this message of going inward to help us navigate our human lives as we connect with a greater awareness. When we can place our attention inwardly instead of outwardly, we can start to get in touch with our true nature. We can truly listen to how we are feeling when we calm our minds. Our attention can become more focused. We can even separate our attention from our minds; thereby, allowing our souls to speak. My spiritual teacher Ishwar Puri said that our intuition is our soul speaking. We can be guided by our intuition on how to best live our lives, especially during challenging times.
From knowing our true nature and listening to ourselves we can quietly sit in courage. Here is a saying that has brought me comfort: One of Homer’s best lessons for our world is that courage is not just for the battlefield or witch’s cave. Often it appears in our daily lives. During this time of great uncertainty let us try to have compassion for ourselves as well as for others. We all are trying our best to meet this virus challenge. There is no right or wrong way of thinking, being or acting, but if we can go inward to our center, perhaps we will also benefit from this way of responding. Let us practice what the Buddhist practitioner Tara Brach calls “The Sacred Pause” and check in with ourselves, even if it is for a moment. Perhaps we will be able to be compassionate warriors instead of worriers while we sit in courage.
Important note on breathing: The (inhale) and (exhale) indicates which type of breathing each segment of the posture requires. Do not just inhale and exhale at the end of each segment. Breathing should be done throughout the segment.
The following 3 postures are the first 3 postures from a series of 16 postures known as the “Temple Qigong”. On the video I have done each posture once. You can do the postures separate or string them together.
RISE AND FALL TO HARMONIZE THE QI–stand with legs together, sink weight into feet, palms face upper thighs, rise up a little with body as palms rise to forehead (inhale), allow palms to fall (exhale), back of hands draw up to heart level (inhale), palms fall (exhale), repeat 5-10 times
RISE AND BLOSSOM THE GOLDEN FLOWER-stand with legs together, sink weight into feet, palms look at upper thighs, rise up a little with body as palms rise to heart (inhale), palms open out and sink into feet (exhale), rise up (inhale), palms return to center (exhale), draw palms up to forehead (inhale), allow palms to fall (exhale), back of hands draw up to heart level (inhale), allow palms to fall again (exhale), repeat 5-10 times
RINSE THE BODY WITH QI- stand with legs together, palms at side, sink weight into feet, rise up a little with body as arms gather upward to forehead (inhale), allow palms to wash down center of body (exhale), repeat 5-10 times
The more you practice these postures, the more relaxing and natural they will feel. It isn't about being perfect. Relax into the flow of the movement. Enjoy! Also see the directions on my previous blog for more postures.
FILL THE BODY WITH QI (BUBBLES)- stand with legs wider than shoulders, palms are looking up as they rest 1 and 1/2 inches under your belly button (lower Dan Tien region), raise palms to throat (inhale), turn so palms look outward (exhale), continue with raising palms to top of head (inhale), flip palms to look at top of head, separate palms as they open out (exhale), at shoulder height turn palms so they look at earth (inhale), continue to form a bubble around you as palms come to rest again at lower Dan Tien (exhale), repeat Bubbles 8-10 times
SUN GREETS WILLOW-stand with legs wider than shoulders, shift weight away as the opposite hand brushes outward, circle palm to forehead as you shift weight to the center (inhale), present the palm to opposite side as weight shifts away, return to center (exhale), repeat same side 3-5 times, switch palms, do other side, when comfortable with single palm try alternating with double palm
The next posture, Wave Hands And Circle The Clouds, comes from a series of 16 postures known as the "Temple Qigong" postures.
WAVE HANDS AND CIRCLE THE CLOUDS- stand with legs wider than shoulders, weight shifts to right leg as right arm circles up like a wave (inhale), left palm looks at heart level as weight shifts to the left (exhale), lower palm looks at heaven, repeat 3-5 times, try the other direction with the opposite arm and leg
Enjoy these qigong postures! I will be sharing the postures from my last video soon.
Tai chi when performed with slow movements in a rhythmic flow calms the mind and body; therefore, it has been referred to as fluid meditation or meditation in motion. A fellow tai chi teacher calls it open eye meditation. The point of meditation is not about sitting in a certain posture with our eyes closed rather it is about where we put our attention. Our busy minds, referred to as “monkey minds”, can be scattered and pulled in so many directions. We might not even be aware of our bodies, our surroundings, or our interactions with others. This continuous scattered state from which we live can leave us feeling depleted energetically, mentally and physically. When we are exhausted our immune systems weaken and our quality of life becomes questionable.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh on page 102 of How to Relax wrote “When we leave the television set on for a long time, it becomes hot. Our head also gets hot from all our thinking. When we can’t stop, we may be unable to sleep well. Even if we take a sleeping pill, we continue to run, think, and worry in our dreams.”
The slow and flowing movements of tai chi can wash away our endless and worrisome thoughts. Doing just one posture can support our work day or our nightly rest. By refocusing our attention and our breath on what our bodies are doing, instead of allowing our minds to run wild, we can return to our center or place of inner tranquility. We can feel more present in the moment.
In my 4 YouTube videos you can see the slow and repetitive nature of the postures. My upcoming blog will have directions to go with the postures. I invite you to try a posture that appeals to you.
Valentine’s Day is a good day to ponder the mystery of love. According to Lao Tsu (Laozi) from Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing ) Chapter 1, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” For me, this is the case with love.
Psychologists try to name love by categorizing it into many different types of love: Agape, Eros, Philia, and more. Musicians try to express the meaning of love in songs. In 1984 U2’s Bono composed Pride (In the Name of Love). In 2016 Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha came out with a music video, In the Name of Love. The Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz wrote about the ecstasy of divine love. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote a book of love poems Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Artist Gustav Klimt depicted love in his work The Kiss. Sculptor Robert Indiana created a 12 x 12 x 6 foot sculpture out of the word love. Most of us have heard the quote, “Love makes the world go around.”
Why do we have this need to express love in so many ways? For me, part of the answer came from the tag of a little Yogi tea bag. On it was written, “You don’t need love. You are the love.” Love is what sustains us and lies within us. For me, it is hard to define and to understand its diverse ways of manifesting.
One of my spiritual teachers, Ishwar Puri, has many things to say on the topic of love. He says love comes instantaneously and does not involve the mind. We love at first sight but then our egos and minds confuse us. Our minds start asking questions and doubting. Ishwar is not talking about not using our minds wisely to decipher whether someone is healthy for us or not, but rather, not over analyzing so that the essence of love is squeezed out like an old rag.
Because we embody love, we must first honor ourselves. This is not selfishness but rather self-love, which leads to self-care. We must love ourselves so that we can honor and love each other in a healthy and pure way, without strings attached. Ishwar Puri once said, “No matter what the question is. Love is the answer.” If our actions are guided by love, it most likely will benefit us as well as others.
Eternal and unconditional love, like the Tao, is hard to be told, or to be named. Love exists in its purity. Love flows inside us and we can work with its energy to manifest a lot of good within us and for others around us.
Love is also fun and playful to experience. We might never understand love’s mysterious ways, but we can feel it and enjoy it, especially on this Valentine’s Day!
A lot of us have heard the famous saying attributed to the ancient sage Lao Tsu (Laozi) from his book Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) chapter 64 which states "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Each step we take defines who we are and how we will manifest our potentials to live a full and amazing life! It was on this very date that I immigrated to the United States from my island country of Taiwan. That was a solo journey.
Together you and I have recently witnessed many new beginnings: a new year, a new decade, the beginning of a new 12 year cycle in the Chinese Lunar calendar starting with the Year of the Rat. It is really an auspicious moment for exploring possibilities! You could possibly try a new class, a new hobby, a new food, a new place to visit and other possibilities. Your choices are vast!
Also to my understanding 2020 numerically is very special since it is a pair of the same number. Things in pairs hold positive significance for the Chinese people. I wish all of you the magic of this moment to begin your quest for achieving better health, more relaxation, inner peace and joy in the present moment!