As an instructor who holds classes in the park, the weather can often be unpredictable and challenging due to extreme conditions. I sought guidance from my Gung Fu friend Mark who has years of martial arts experience. Mark shared his teacher's advice which is as follows: "Climb a mountain on a windy day. Play sword on a full moon night. Read a book on a rainy night. Never play Taiji on a windy, cold day. Why? Because of the negative effect on the Oi. The wind is introducing too much air or pressure to the lungs. Also not to play internal arts in extreme heat due to the heat that is generated from Taiji. It is better to remain idle. You must play within the rules of nature! Too cold, bad. Too hot, the same."
Tai chi and Qigong focuses on breath and movement. Breath and movement are life sustaining. When we become more aware of our breath and movement we can cultivate a greater sense of well-being. Slowing down our breath and movements can calm our minds, our nerves and center us more in the present moment.
Movement is important for good health. If an area is blocked, whether it is structurally or energetically blocked, that area can become stagnant. This leads to stuck Qi (life sustaining energy) which can inhibit blood and bodily fluids from circulating properly. This poor circulation whether it is in the spinal column or elsewhere can lead to issues such as calcium build up, plague in the vessels, or blocked Qi in the body, etc. That is why it is very necessary to make sure that our bodies are not blocked energetically or structurally. Then we can move better.
The catch 22 is that we don’t want to move or can’t move if the movements cause pain. For this reason it is important to find a competent healer to support your body to heal. During personal injuries I continue to do my tai chi and qigong because the breath and movements are slow and gentle. Practice time allows me time to check in with my body and see how my healing is progressing. Breath, movement and healing all work together.
Through breath and movement we unite in celebration of our tai chi and qigong practices. On this day we come together to share our different qigong postures, styles and forms, which there are many. Each of us has our own personal experience with Qi or life energy. In Daoist philosophy humans are the connection between heaven and earth. When we gather and share we can collectively strengthen our connection to heaven and earth.
I recently heard Pam Grout, the author of The Course of Miracles Experiment, ask, “What would a being of light do today?” She was referring to each of us as beings of light or energy bodies. What would you do if you saw yourself as a being of light and not just your physical body? How would you flow through your day? Tai chi and Qigong is all about energy and flowing through life in an effortless way.
I have been so conditioned to hit the floor running and to pack in as much as I can possibly do in one day with great effort. On the other hand if I saw myself as a being of light, I would approach my day in a very different way. I might start off by taking a deep breath of fresh morning air, give thanks for another day, kiss my loved ones good morning and anticipate the excitement and joys of a new day. My inner being would want to radiate self-love as well as love to others. I would see practicing tai chi and qigong more as an act of self-love rather than as a discipline. I would smile inside. What would you do as a being of light?
If we all could see ourselves as expansive beings of light and love, we could collectively transform how we approach life as a whole. On an energetic level we might elevate our mundane to the sacred and feel the interconnectedness of self to all of life. During this time of hardship, it’s worth trying this shift in perspective to see if it helps us to let go of our fears and struggles. In letting go, we are ready to embrace the gifts that continuously flow our way.
YEAR OF THE METAL OX
Last year was the Year of the Rat. According to the Chinese lunar calendar every 60 years is known as Geng Zi or a year of catastrophes, which 2020 was. Hopefully the next 60 years will be more peaceful and prosperous. If you are personally interested in the mystical way, research the 10 Zen Ox Herding pictures on YouTube.
It was exactly one year ago on this date, February 6th, that I wrote my first blog for this website. I had no idea the twists and turns that were in store for 2020. In the midst of continuous upheaval there was the adventure waiting with its possibilities. It was an adventure full of questions. At times all the grasping for answers became exhausting. I completely forgot that I was to” live the questions” as Rainer Maria Rilke suggested in the following segment of his poem :
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
As I look back, I see the many steps I journeyed to the ground where I now stand. I no longer want to ask the questions. I just want to be calm from within and live. I know that my tai chi practice can help with this.
My monkey mind has been very active lately, leaving me feeling exhausted energetically. I had to admit that fear was at the core of all my anxiety. Once I got clarity, I could calm my mind and body. Then I could breathe more peacefully. My mind is my strongest opponent, but it can also be my friend. I must constantly be in tune to what my monkey mind is doing.
The drama that entangled my monkey mind was a desire to understand what was happening in my daily life, in our country and on a global scale. The fear appeared when I couldn’t be certain of what is to be. Then I remembered this quote from C. Joybell C., “The day I understood everything, was the day I stopped trying to figure everything out. The day I knew peace was the day I let everything go.” In tai chi, this would be a practice in yielding to whatever comes with softness and flexibility, yet remaining rooted like a tree in a storm. Then I can really know my true center.
Sometimes it is necessary to push through. Other times it is necessary to reset by unplugging ourselves. We must listen carefully to what we truly need, regardless of what our minds are telling us. We have body awareness and spiritual awareness which often get neglected when our minds are so strong. We must connect with our body awareness in order to feed our spirit. This is the "sacred pause" that Buddhist practitioner Tara Brach mentions. When we give ourselves this sacred pause, we can refill ourselves with joy!
I came to my practice from a need to quiet my mind, de-stress, heal and bring about self-awareness. In our busy lives we often find it hard to connect with ourselves or the present moment. I used to live more in my mind and less in body awareness. I would go through my days unaware of the stressful pace I pushed myself to make each moment count. I seldom gave myself time to rest or to check in with myself. I never noticed my tight muscles, my quick shallow breaths, the exhaustion setting in and the disappearance of joy in my life. I held the belief that I could not afford to rest.
I did not understand that tai chi was more than just a bunch of movements and breath work. Yes, I felt the benefits from doing tai chi such as being more aware, feeling more relaxed, happier and uplifted in spirit after doing the slow movements and deep breathing, but after a few hours, I would return to my hectic pace of living. I would forget what I had practiced. I did not integrate the principles of tai chi into the way I moved through life.
During this time of the pandemic I have had to practice on a deeper level the art of tai chi and qigong. I have had to slow down the pace of my days, pause and listen, come to awareness that pushing through to accomplish things does not really achieve any worth when it is at the expense of my health or my enjoyment of the day. I need time and space to breathe, to allow things to unfold naturally and effortlessly, to trust that all things will happen when they are meant to, to smile, to be. This approach is more in sync with the spirit of tai chi. This is when my tai chi practice truly supports my life. The slow movements and breathing of tai chi and qigong assists me to live in this awareness.
I am filled with wonder, gratitude and awe for the journeys we travel and for the teachers we meet along the way.