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A TASTE of QIGONG:
the view from Idaho
.... now Illinois...
immense gratitude to Gao Han for sharing this ancient art with open heart
How different the view from Idaho! Qigong's roots in the Far East are thought to have evolved in remote mountains, monasteries, and the military. I practice qigong with the scent of sage brush, burned coffee and dog piles, to the crushing of gravel. Here, the frontier spirit of the Wild West--the rugged individual doing it alone, "my way"--mixes with indigenous ways, modern evangelism and arrival of newcomers studying Oriental traditions. Such a potpourri is not unknown in the Far East, where philosophy, medicine, politics, religion and spirituality have mingled in relative harmony for millennia. Ironically in the relative freedom of the US of A, the rich traditions of the mysterious East are able to re-root, deepen and branch. Persecuted Living Treasures-- teachers from China et al.--are immigrating to the Western hemisphere, where they are again free to share ancient wisdom with westerners hungry for meaning, truth and health. Thus begetting endless benefits and controversy!
WORKSHOPSStanding--preferably along the Greenbelt, near river and trees--is my primary Qigong practice. My intention is to stand, outdoors, winter-spring-summer-fall. However, each winter more time is spent on yoga, a fine indoor complement .
Labor Day Weekends Annual Energetic Retreat at Lake Crescent, Olympic Peninsula with Michael GiIman and friends. POB 431, Pt Townsend WA 98368 web - email
"Just what do you do?" ask the curious. "Hopefully, nothing", is the reply, in what sounds like flippant contradiction. "Recharge body by holding still in correct posture, and breathing." Serious business, this relaxing and breathing; stilling body-mind and spirit. Empty mind, connect feet to earth, drop tailbone, lift crown of head to heavens; align spine to receive universal Qi (Life Force). Relax, Breathe. That's all.
The Taoist in me knows Nature is my highest teacher. My eyes absorb the seasons, shadows of birds, fresh beaver evidence, new carving on the nearby tree; my ears, the rustle of squirrels, calls of birds, sounds of passerby's; my nose, scents both wild and urban. All year long, ducks float up and down the stream, sometimes waddling onshore.
Qigong sounded like just the health practice I'd been looking for when I first heard about it some 10 years ago. Many books and workshops later I am at home with the teaching of Ken Cohen, who it turns out, was living in my old Boulder backyard about the time I moved away in 1974. The last few Mays I've enjoyed returning to Colorado for workshops. Ken, from NYC, is an impeccable scholar, Chinese linguist and teacher; shaman trained in multiple traditions; Taoist priest and Qigong Master (see qigonghealing.com). I'll return refreshed, re-oriented and recommitted to the wonderful health practice of Qigong. (Stories below.)
Beauty of Qigong - Boulder
Presenters table, Sunday night qigong banquet, Orchid Pavilion, Boulder
Drove west for an esoteric break in Colorado, Memorial weekend, with Ken Cohen and friends. Beauty of Qigong, whatever, I was clue less to envision the program; signed on because I enjoy most anything Ken puts together and it was time to return west. As usual the program sounded daunting, over my head, out of my comfort zone. Mime? Alchemy? Perhaps because of the soft art rather than martial art focus, an agreeable, smaller than average group gathered and pleasant hours at Chautauqua passed quickly. As usual, I couldn't master, or remember a thing from the new (whale) form Ken introduced. As usual, I was inspired to return to the basics of qigong for health. I was delighted to witness mime Avital teach; he embodies qi! Could almost--not quite--see qi extend from his finger tips, so alive is his presence. I learned that while I'm still uncomfortable standing up alone in front of a group (I wasn't the only one to turn down the opportunity to be an example) I was pleased that, thanks to yoga, I followed some of what he was trying to teach us about movement and bodies. As Ken is to qigong, Samuel is to mime. I was intrigued but not always amused by teacher of alchemy, Evan. Barely survived his puns; kept thinking of his poor students. Good thing I'm from Illinois, used to and unfazed by head and word trips.
Didn't feel like my question about how the Yin/Yang sign is doing these days was answered, though Ken said it was, and Evan explained that peace is found by meeting in the field beyond which problems arise. Yes, but. Did I really say what I meant? Was I really heard, or did I miss the answer? Probably. Undoubtedly balance is eternal, but I do wonder if one of the dots in the signs might not be tear shaped these days. Sure seems like the planet is struggling with harmony in a big way. But more than in other times? I don't know. Earlier I'd thought I'd heard Ken say something to that effect. Hence my current koan how is the yin/yang sign came to mind. Hmm. " The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name." (Tao Te Ching) The question that can be answered, maybe isn't a question?
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Dos Daoists Masters in Glenwood!
Masters Tseng and Gao Han, center
edited digital by Jason
End of April teachers, students and friends of qigong from around US and Canada gathered in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to study with masters Ken Cohen and Yun Xiang Tseng. Young Wu Dang Taoist Master Tseng, now living in Ft Collins (CO), respectfully honored his elder mountain Coloradoan, Jewish-Taoist-Shaman Ken Cohen. They were a fine, complementary team. Among other things, Master Tseng announced next year's Taoist Summit with 20 Taoist priests, June 8-10. He promised psychic readings for those with "spooky hearts". He sees a Taoist monastery for Estes Park. Hold on! (Much as I love Colorado's Rockies, I hold a vision of a less high-end, more rural/remote location!)
Master Tseng shared Wudang Zhong He Gong. Very demanding, I thought, nearly completely beyond me, barely got the gist; however appreciated the emphasis on strong balls of feet, toes dug in; firm buttocks, and awakening ghost town knees. Complemented yoga well. Ha Ha Ha Xi!
Haha Xi Haha Xi!
Delighted to practice Hunyuan Gong again with Ken/Gao Han, whose teaching is more my speed. Without a local practice group or discipline, enjoy repeating familiar workshops! Can appreciate details and refinements. This time I understood, "Qigong is not no tension; it’s no excess tension!"
Both ever so fluid and articulate masters offered something for everyone. Enjoyed watching Master Tseng, listening to his extraordinary English and word pictures. Contemporary as he seemed, I appreciated his solid base when he said: “I am very sure I am not here to change ancient teachings.” Particularly enjoyed Ken's discussion of teacher attributes the last day.
Enjoyed meeting folks from around the country, a short walk with Montana healer and teacher Patty; soaking with Wendy from BC, Gail from Denver, east coaster Vicki. I'm always stunned that folks I've been with in other workshops are there to study not say hello. When will I learn qigong is serious biz! Observed our ferociously competitive group (60 different backgrounds) from the book and audio sales table. Winced at the posture, boldness and egos of so many martial and healing arts teachers. Sensed very little of the peace, balance and grace of the masters.
Hoteling it big time at Hotel Colorado was a major adventure for this econo car camper, totally out of her comfort zone. Convenient, though. Next time I'll camp with Wendy in the Glenwood canyon campground by the tracks!
Loved the vapor caves and squeezing in soaks, before their unconscionably early closing times. Of course evening class sessions were pretty much wasted on this quickly filled brain.
As always, came home keen to share qigong basics, flummoxed as to how and where. The Eagle Seniors let me know they're happy with their Richard Simmons video. Wish me luck! Meanwhile qigong inquiries come in, keeping me aware of the interest and need.
And every breathe and moment is an opportunity to qigong principles.
Under-standing STANDING 2004
((I'm) Re-inspired to "just stand". Could "it" all be coming together at long last? This year I treated myself to two workshops with Ken Cohen: last spring--Taoist meditation techniques; this fall--I Ching and bagua practice. This fall's workshop to learn how to get answers from nature was right down my alley. Lately only the softer meditative path has felt comfortable or relevant. Intellectually top heavy, I can learn no more forms--don't practice what I already have. I need no more information. Clarity and wisdom, yes; facts, probably not. Only Ken could have explained the I Ching in a way I could "grok". I loved both the I Ching intro and bagua practice. I'd "met bagua" in one of Ken's earlier workshops; remember drawing circles under riverside cottonwoods, walking around with monkey arms for months afterwards. (This fall's visualization meditations, however, were embarrassingly lost on me.)
In one of the final bagua practices this fall, at Kripalu, I dropped out of our 19 person circle when a knee tweaked painful--no messing with sharp knee messages. Back home, the other morning as I was inspired to review bagua in the traditional 8 step circle in my living room, almost immediately a knee screamed. Retreated immediately, remarkably heated from just a few circles each direction. The mandate was clear: first things first--Foundation. No bagua-ing 'til knees are in the right place (not to mention feet and legs).
Over Labor Day I attended a swimming dragon form workshop at Tassajara, mainly as an excuse to return to Tassajara, although ever hopeful of inspiration. The form turned out to be completely over my head in terms of difficulty, with no resemblance to the waving swimming dragon form I'd enjoyed years ago. But I loved the warm-up qigong excellent instructor Liping Zhu shared. I was relieved her philosophy was entirely compatible with Ken's. (Not always so, I've learned.) Attempting to balancing while kicking one leg reminded me I'm not going anywhere without qigong basics. Liping understands how Americans want to move, skipping the strength developed in stillness. I've continued practicing and sharing those fine opening warm-ups back home--and, standing.
Liping patiently leads troops to dive to the bottom of the sea (??)
Just stand, Jeannie. Every workshop Ken teaches forms and techniques that soar way above my loosely connected body-mind. At some point he always shares how his first Chinese martial arts teacher read the newspaper while he, Ken, stood still, trembling, for the first months of class, building up the necessary strength to “do something". Unlike learning series and meditation practices, this teaching story is never lost on me. While standing is difficult for me, remembering a series is impossible. I don't have a Chinese master to sit nearby while I practice standing. Eventually I drift....
After feeling humiliated by yet another pilates class last week, I "got it"--gotta work foundation up, qigong style (rather than middle down, pilates style). Pilates simply isn't do-able at this time. I hear the words, but can't do/feel or apply them. Not so yoga or qigong, where I have a sense of being able to do and learn a little something at least.
And, not so meditation. Last weekend Leslie James was here from Tassajara Zen Center. To my great surprise, she spoke about posture and lessons from her left shoulder. At long last, the time seemed right to ask my long simmering question about relaxation v. holding in place, particularly in regard to my right shoulder. More and more over the months I've had the sense that relaxing my right shoulder, just letting it hang, wasn't helpful. Instead, I need to consciously draw arm into place in socket. Although I hear and subscribe to the wisdom of relaxation, if I relax, sitting or standing, it means slump to my body! For several years, I've realized I have little awareness of right shoulder compared to left. (The right was involved in a break decades back.) Years of "just relax" don't seem to have brought me closer to comfortable or correct sitting or standing. More recently I've begun experimenting with firming up and tensing, holding in place, despite warnings not to force. It was affirming to talk this over with someone who understood the subtlety of self-listening, relaxing, forcing.
This week I'm standing (qigong style), purposefully pulling right shoulder in, much as I did last weekend sitting zen style, hands held, not resting. I'm encouraged that something new may be happening rather than the same overwhelming feeling of difficulty, getting no stronger, standing no more easily. My interest is revived. Unlike what seems like everyone else, I've struggled with qigong standing for years. This was not my experience with yoga, because I had such a steady though un-quantifiable sense of getting and doing better, albeit glacially. (I also had a local teacher.) If my shoulder needs to be pulled into place, perhaps it explains why arm balances, chataranga, a number of yoga poses have been impossible, not just difficult. Also on the impossible list is the invaluable chi-lel squat!
Interestingly I always blame myself (who else could it be!) when I "can't do" things. At the same time I mention to yoga students my experience that sometimes bones simply aren't in the right place yet to do a pose! Do I listen? Shifting my right shoulder uses a whole chain of muscles differently, including the "dime between shoulder blades" set and the bicep/triceps. This causes the left shoulder to readjust; absolutely everything is changed. By the end of 15 minutes, my right arm is " neurologically involved" in a way that feels dreadful, but alive, headed towards new possibilities. Time to call chiropractor so highly recommended a few years back.
A similar change has been slowly coming about in the hips. The weight-one-leg standing posture shown in one of Ken's video's captured my interest several years ago. Through intermittent practice I've located looseness in the right hip and experimented with "tightening" it up, realigning it with the left hip, much the same way I'm now working with shoulders. It's a huge puzzlement whether to turn right knee and leg in, or out? Where is the line of strength after so many years? I truly don’t know for certain, but I’m feeling sturdier following practice sometimes.
I’m inexpressibly grateful to hordes of teachers, "great and small". This seems like a project that shouldn’t have taken a lifetime, but has. Grateful to those who tried to tell me what to do, confusing and derailing me for years at a time. Grateful to those who didn’t, couldn't, wouldn't, shouldn't or did answer questions. Grateful to many, many teachers who introduced new experiences to my body, that woke up and taught lessons along the way. I walked out of numerous classes, whined and complained, lesson after lesson. Grateful for those who put up with this difficult student.
Standing strong is a project that holds my interest; I like what’s happening this year. I'm motivated to stand and walk stronger after decades of misalignment and weakness: I promised to hike Idaho high country to scatter Joe's ashes. He's younger; I promised anyhow.
CONNECTING HEAVEN AND EARTH
From: Pangaia, Friend of the QI, (9/8/02 11:00 pm)
"I have been spending a lot of time stabilizing my body while I practice Qigong and Internal Martial Arts. For years my teacher has told me that I should learn to balance my body a lot better but as it is in these arts there are always a million others things to work on. A few years ago I met a master who constantly told students “zhong ding” which essentially means find your center of balance. This master managed to create in my mind a new definition balance. The precision in balance he demanded was mind boggling. To hold the head, shoulder, hips, knees or ankles out by a quarter of an inch is to be off by a mile. It seemed like an impossible task just to have the level of awareness and sensitivity required to know when your body is so balance little alone to be able to dial it in yourself. However, after years of dedication I was able to greatly improve my balance.
There seems to be some kind of magic that arises when a person is able to find an extremely precise posture of balance. The sense of connectedness and flow of Qi is dramatically increased. One of the concepts that I have been holding in my mind while trying to achieve such precision of balance is connecting “Heaven and Earth”. For me connecting Heaven and Earth means relaxing squarely on the feet so gravity is pulling the body straight down to Earth while at the same time pulling the head up high and vectoring it straight up to the infinity of Heaven. I imagine two rods; one is connected from my center all the way to the center of the Earth and the other is connected from my center extending straight up to infinity. Holding this concept in my mind seems to have a very spiritual effect on the body that does not exists from the mechanics alone."
The crazier life, the higher the swells, the more I rely on Ken Cohen's wisdom. No one explains hurry sickness (or posture, or integrating brain hemispheres, or tells stories...) like Ken. His teachings are my anchor in rough Idaho seas. Every few years I yearn to strengthen that anchor, reconnect with Ken's presence and integrity. Fine teachers everywhere, but for me no one has Ken's unique blend of East /West experience and teaching ability. He speaks to my every interest--qigong and nature, religion and yoga. Above all, his heart and authenticity recharge my spirit.
Ken's combination of degrees, languages, and cross cultural experience put him in an especially fortuitous role to educate educators, dialog with physicians and other professionals. Each year he also teaches All Levels workshops around the country. This not particularly educated student first crossed the country to hear Ken in 1997 and immediately recognized what she'd been looking for. Ken assures classes we'll learn enough to practice qigong without another workshop. Some who come to workshops go right off and start or continue teaching, others become part of Ken's teachers program! Although I want to share the good news of qigong, and occasionally make attempts, I don't seem to have the memory or commitment to do so well, which is the only way I would honor my teacher. Instead like the cat, I keep coming back to hear the same teachings, and more! Ken's (reluctant) web presence (my only lifeline to his schedule) listed the "right" workshop at Kripalu this September (right subject, right length to go cross country). Buddhist Qigong: the Legacy of Bodhidharma promised Bone Marrow and Tendon qigong (two of my favorites), along with meditation. Yum. Got the green light from Kripalu last summer that the workshop was a go, registered and bought ticket on Northwest. What if, what if, the world's biggest worrier said, but the universe conspired to get me across the country! A rental Suzuki waited and cousins welcomed me "East".
An ancient Chinese method of exercise, breathing and meditation, qigong increases the body’s supply of qi, healing energy.
Scientific research shows that qigong can promote vitality and prevent illness. Because of qigong’s effect on balance, strength and coordination, it can also enhance performance in any sport.
We’ll learn the healing, conditioning and meditative techniques attributed to Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, including:
* Bone Marrow Cleansing. Twelve gentle postures that drive pure energy through the bones, an ancient preventative medicine for osteoporosis
* Yi Jin Jing (transforming the muscles and tendons). From China’s Shaolin Monastery, these dynamic exercises greatly increase physical strength and the health of muscles, tendons and
* Iron Body. Conditioning and resistance exercises to strengthen the bones, muscles and skin
* Buddhist Qigong Meditation. Techniques to promote awareness and inner peace
* Qigong Philosophy and Science. Principles of diet, posture, breathing and exercise.
That first Sunday night about 20 of us met with Ken for introductions (nothing like the 50 some often in Ken's classes). Expected to recognize folks from prior workshops but didn't. We were the usual assortment of therapists, physicians, folks in physical crisis, martial arts students and "just curious". Ken explained he'd chosen the workshop date because it was World Peace Day, near and dear to his heart, and his hopes for the UN. As I lay in my adopted dorm bed that night, my left shoulder "shivered", reminding me of a release that once followed a rolfing experience (in the right shoulder of the arm I broke decades before). Hmm.
First thing mornings we learned and practiced Buddhist meditation techniques--chants, visualizations, etc. Ken shared meditation posture principles, recommending we sit tall, but letting us be. I sat self righteously upright on double cushions rather than slumping into the sling-back floor chairs provided by the center. (I'm still making up for years of heavy duty slumping.) I learn much from observing how Ken models teaching. The martial arts students were particularly miserable attempting to sit cross-legged. It's always music to my ears when Ken recommends yoga as an unparalleled system for working with joints. (Maybe I'm lucky not to have local qigong community, to practice yoga instead!) In no time at all, I understood more about Bodhidharma and Buddhist meditation than an entire Buddhist retreat a few weeks before! Ah, Ken and his former lives!
Good to review Bone Marrow Cleanse, the very first system I heard Ken teach. (first things into my mind often stay longest). Also good to review/finish learning Yi Jin Jing, the tendon system, again, which I didn't quite learn a few years later. Like that system a lot; feel it helps that formerly broken arm set more squarely in shoulder, among other things. My mind knows qigong is good for me, even though I don't have the energetic awareness most folks seem to. To put it another way--intellectually I understand; physically and energetically I'm still rather out of touch. (Hence yoga practice has been essential.)
Enjoyed Thursday afternoon particularly. Broke into small groups and attempted Chinese style group poems. Ken introduced and prepared us for this exercise earlier in the week. Roared with laughter as the 5 or so of us, looked confused each time one of us offered a line. "What about snow?", one woman asked, when another brought up mist. I was keen on these poems, since I've previously practiced lines while listening to Ken's tape on the subject. Had my four lines ready. Out of desperation we ended up using several. I was most pleased that the group accepted my rainy day wasp observation from the dining room, "as is", despite my requests for assistance refining:
Raindrops hit window
Wasp wants out
While we struggled long and hard to agree on 4 lines (the wasp was a "bonus") one prolific group whipped out 11 lines! Enjoyed laughing with these strangers enormously.
Looking back, over a month later, at the few notes I jotted on the fly I see with alarm we also practiced a section from 18 Laohan; Tibetan Crane and Deer; as well as Iron Body! Ken urges us to trust our body to remember. Alas, Laohan is only a pleasant memory. I'd know it if I saw it again, but I don't seem to remember so much as one part to practice on my own! Something about prayer hands, turning palms out and reaching up slowly. Also recall rolling head from side to side with fists like a deer antlers, but just how that went also seems missing from body and psyche. Fragments of the first crane move remain--slap with back of the hand, let arm drop and return forward. I practice a bit of body slapping now and then (seen that before). I miss the old days of taking voluminous notes. Used to go home with enough on paper to reconstruct much of the workshop. Looks like my body and mind are still strangers! Here I am in Idaho, inspired but frustrated, as always yearning for a local practice group, the nearest known fellow practitioner states away.
From time to time Ken shrugs an "I don't know"; much of traditional qigong was taught from master to student, without explanation. Unless Ken is certain, he doesn't guess. Naturally, the reason for hissing in the tendon series came up. At the end of the workshop a woman announced an answer--she sensed an association between sound and kidney-1 point. People nodded. I don't have that kind of energetic awareness. As I hissed away one morning back in Idaho, hands in fists, I realized sound was helping focus on--could it be--the infamous, elusive, dan tien? Perhaps? Although I soak up the information Ken presents, perhaps even more welcome is the way he gentle challenges each to find the wholeness and freedom that come from discipline and practice. Since no one is on a pedestal, I feel safe and empowered. Within the wisdom of sages, I learn to listen for my own. I may be life times behind, but I'm back on the path, bumping along, thanks to this fall's recharge with Gao Han!
With a bow in Idaho
When I learned this summer that Ken's Sept workshop (on my calendar for almost a year) had been canceled, automatically I thought, "This or something better." Acutely aware of my "hurry" sickness and lack of discipline this past year, I'd been desperate for a qigong recharge to inspire me. In my face was the unmistakable painful, healthy truth: do it yourself! "Rats", the co-dependent-save-me howled, full well knowing better. A few days later my eye caught the cover Qi magazine at the co-op:
The Passing of Master:
A True Person of No Rank
This could only be by Ken. Bought a copy, knowing it contained the refresher I craved. Savored every word of Ken's article, a perfect reminder how to recharge inner batteries. The tribute to Ken's early beloved teacher about whom he's spoken many times contained all the wisdom I'd ever need to hear about health and qigong, told again, with Ken's impeccable simplicity: STAND. Amen.
Qigong is so simple! Why in the world don't I/won't I/can't I practice!! (Wanna group, wanna group, I whine...)
To my astonishment, I've resumed standing! Not at the recommended crack of dawn energy gate, but standing each morning. Every time I hear the truth stated so simply I'm inspired to return to practice.
Mind you, it's only been a couple weeks, but I claim success. Body and mind are hungry.
This time my return to practice is inspired by not only fear of becoming a doddering old person long before my time--My life is filled with examples of folks who forgot to stand, or breath, or laugh. And I'm one of them! This time I'm also inspired by anger! I'm tired of being humiliated by youth in (mainly yoga) classes, where I topple or skip poses. I'll show 'em: I'll practice qigong! I'll be strong as an oak, supple as a willow! I'll stand like a post/tree to become so.
And so I am. I imagine legendary B.P. Chan sitting nearby reading the Chinese newspaper while I squirm, the way Ken reported Chan did during his (Ken's) first months of classes. A minimum of 20 minutes Ken says if you're working with others. Inside my recurrent image of a John Deere caterpillar is in gear. (I'm from Illinois cornfields.) The image of powerful tracks, crawling and moving skin down my back, bringing tailbone closer to earth, opening compressed areas of spine; balancing pelvic bowl, then crawling up belly, lifting sternum, allowing shoulders to open, neck and head to release skyward, has been with me several years. After years of practice I know it's gonna take a John Deere to make the changes I need. John Deere/Allis Chalmers/Caterpillar, not fluffy angels. Not millimeter shifts, but inches of compression and over-stretching, multi-degrees of rotation, decades of imbalanced habits and compensation. I've gone nuts wondering why and where I slipped out of balance. Forget it. Maybe it's hundreds of thousands of miles with right leg on accelerator pedal. Could be. The point of power, however, is now, with standing and listening.
Legs and hips are waking, revealing where energy has been blocked. After understanding concepts mentally, I'm shifting to physical awareness: feeling, opening, changing, strengthening and balancing. It's one thing to realize weight is unevenly distributed, another to learn how to change that. Snake standing has been especially helpful to awaken and realign severely rotated pelvis. So rotated no teacher has dared broach the subject. (Even the rolfer?)
After two weeks, one afternoon I sensed deep change in the right hip (i.e. major pain). Stabilizing this new pattern is my next challenge. Not to mention carrying on life! For 5 days, sleeping, standing up and sitting down, getting in and out of car, eating and bathroom, were all I could handle. By the 4th day, small shifts were happening. On the 5th, more "gave way" and I was able to work deeply with my hips, while laying on my back (holed up in my tent bombared by hornets), breathing, moving slowly. A few days later I was walking "normally" with a whole new set of changes to adjust to: feet, belly and shoulders. The phrase "Gradually Lengthening" keeps coming to mind (apologies to Stephen Levine's "Gradually Awakening" title).
Four weeks after starting, I'm still standing, awakening, thanks to masters of qigong.
Eager for a qigong refresher and recharge after more than a year on my own, in July I headed across the Cascades when I learned Ken [Cohen] would be in Seattle. Via email Quan-Cheng Sun and staff of the Institute of Qigong & Internal Alternative Medicine welcomed me warmly.
I shouldn't have been concerned about a workshop of nearly 100 (nor of finding Bastyr College's new campus)! I always seem to feel at home in the Northwest; as the weekend went on several familiar faces came into focus. Through my soft eyes, Ken absolutely shone as he shared with this respectful group. His teaching is clearer and clearer. I'd taken the curriculum before--EQH, External Qigong Healing. Because I rarely feel qi, it's the most challenging workshop I've had with Ken; only with Ken do I feel sufficiently safe to be in a workshop that emphasizes assessment and sensing. I attended, not so much in search of knowledge, but clarity; to savor Ken's incomparable teaching and to be affirmed of the basics. I love watching how this master engages "beginners", long time practitionera, professionals of any walk, students of all ages and phsical condition; how he asserts that the ability to tap and develop life force/qi is natural to all of us--indigenous cultures all over the world support this. In a world where the latest, ultimate health program--even qigong form--is promoted at every turn, in every catalog and brochure, I yearn to be reminded of the power of basics energy work via the ancient art of qigong.
Sometimes I teeter from all the advice I hear, read and receive about health and teaching (yoga). (I "teach" yoga at a fitness club that keeps pace with "trends in the industry"; I subscribe to yoga magazines filled with training updates and superlatives, models in outrageous poses and outfits.) I think I'll go mad! I just want to practice and share the basics both my masters teach, but folks are plugged into, not only the medical system, but The Media, while I don't even watch tv! Recently a tai chi fellow told me it was too bad qigong had such a bad reputation. I looked at him clue less. Qigong's been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It will survive much more than western impatience and opinion and so will I! Humpf.
I remember Ken crediting Charlotte Selver with teaching how to teach. I've since read about her. Ken's patience, gentle humor and teaching stories, clear presentation of information combined with physical practice, repetition and ample question and answer sessions are a joy. His ability to empower is extraordinary. He doesn't spend time correcting us; instead he explains the basics of posture and breathing, then let's us explore. When students ask how soon they will see results, he replies, "You can see results right from the beginning". Following physical practice, Ken explains clearly that having one's own personal practice and stilling one's mind are essential to maintaining personal health and to assessing imbalance in others.
The way Ken empowers by teaching the basics of posture, breathing and listening reminds me of Rachel Naomi Remen's simple conviction that silence and listening are often our greatest healing gifts, to ourselves, and others. (Remen's My Grandfather's Blessing is my book of the summer.)
One of my favorite moments during the weekend occured while Ken was explaining the Chinese word picture for qi. Bastyr College is now on the beautiful wooded grounds of former St. Edwards seminary, by Lake Washington. Evidently, on weekends, the chapel is much in demand for weddings. Like Las Vegas, all weekend, one wedding after another took place. Just as Ken began drawing the contemporary symbol for qi on the blackboard, strains of "Here Comes the Bride" drifted across the courtyard from the chapel. I was delighted with the moment.
After completing the curriculum, Ken ended the weekend with stories (by now familiar to me). One addressed the power of standing practice (introduced briefly at the beginning), and another shared a Chinese elder's four health secrets: simplicity, acceptance, adaptability and the wisdom of childhood. For this I came. In a world where learning more and more is often competitive and technical, I'm inexpressible relieved to be reminded that the power of many martial artists and healthy elders is developed through the "simple" practices of standing meditation, right living and stillness! How I need to hear that! My qigong practice remains erratic; however, the principles of correct standing posture become more and more real as I stand, rooting more solidly during both qigong and yoga. I sigh, reassured that flexibility includes mind and spirit.
Once again, thank you, Gao Han!
This new year I began visiting tai chi classes (ever hopeful of finding a class compatible with my "foreign"--nonlocal--background in qigong as well as group practice). Several times I stopped in the senior center to try to practice with that welcoming group (originally based at the YWCA) which has practiced together for some 19 years! As best I can trace this Boise lineage, Bonnie McGinnis Bryant (recently moved from Boise) began studying Tai Chi Chuan with Master Mary Chow in LA (student of Master Tung Ying Chieh, Dong style?) in 1974. Bonnie taught many in this area, including, if I understand it right, seniors leader Jo, and Jeff Vik (now OR). A number of others, including a now very elderly Tawainese general, have taught tai chi in the Boise area over the years.
One Monday morning, in Jo's absence, I was startled to find the seniors following a long form from a tape in Chinese!! How the same region that produced Helen Chenoweth could have seniors blithely waiving arms, following spoken Chinese, is a mystery me! Always embarrassed that I don't follow tai chi well (any series of movements i.e. dance, for that matter), even when surrounded by experienced practitioners, I was wondering just what I was looking for and why I didn't feel as though I fit in, when a small piece of the puzzle fell into place: the group was exercising mind over body. Arms moved, unrelated to bodies; feet shifted, without relationship to earth. Afterwards several seniors commented (referring to me), "She's done tai chi before; did you see her feet?" Hmm. I like this group! Qigong before, not so much tai chi, but I didn't argue.
Last I knew I felt hopeless at tai chi. Could my erratic qigong practice the last few years, focused mainly on standing, posture, and always on learning to soften feet, listen to the earth, be slowly rooting? Could the simple teachings of my master be seeping down to my feet? Could active and passive be coming part of me? While fellow qigong students move into teaching qigong professionally, I still wrestle with the basics, regular practice, relaxing mind and body. If this is my arm, why not relax this shoulder!!
The Chinese are known for heroic feats of discipline, including memorization--parroting back English without clue as to meaning. So too, perhaps, Idaho seniors memorized long sequences of tai chi movements. Recalling dozens and dozens of moves in order--over a hundred-- seems more like heroic mental gymnastics than physical practice to me. (In the absence of a leader within eye sight, I can't do so much as the first two moves!) However, their practice works; the group is dedicated, successful, enduring and supportive.
As I shop for "tai chi like" classes around the area, I've noticed an absence of warm ups or preparations and only a minimum amount of focus on education. No warming up the golf swing, swimming a few laps first. Just do it! I admire that determination and confidence. One evening I visited yet another group, an informal class/club where the leader is ordinary, patient, grounded; the pace slow and repetitive, and, lo!, the form resembles my training! Good enough! I invited myself into the back row.
My path to qigong started with exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has included reading, lecture/discussion and meditation, along with doing. After a few enjoyable evenings with the good enough group, I worked up nerve to inquire about warmups, confessing I practice standing. "Oh, those," responded a glamorous blond who could have been on the cover of an aerobics magazine. She had tried to help me (not realizing my near paralysis when faced with series of movements). "My husband and I like to move." Of course.
It's a Doing world, not Being. Perhaps I'll come early, stand, coil a little silk, do some walking.
Especially in Idaho, China seems like a very long ways off.
STANDING with the MASTER
As I turned into Flicker Forest just after noon on a delicious, sunny fall day, my eye caught the blue gray of a heron, pointing upstream. S/he stood on a shallow bar, formed where a branch slows the stream, long legs looking much like the branches that framed it's distinctive profile.
Stopped still in my tracks, fully expecting it to fly off, as heron almost always do, usually long before intruders arrive. But it didn't! My eyes grew big in amazement. Its concentration remained fixed on fishing. As I stood, it stabbed the water without result.
Wanted to observe as long as possible; also wanted to practice my own standing! Slowly I walked forward in a zigzag, not looking directly at the bird. In slow motion, hung my pack on the overhead limb as always, awaiting the inevitable flap of wings and sharp squawk. To my surprise, the heron stayed! Stepping slowly, crane like, to my accustomed flat spot, near stream and heron, began my own standing--drop tailbone, relax shoulders—acutely aware of being in the presence of a master teacher of stillness.
Standing with cranes, I thought ecstatically! After several years of practicing by the river, this was the first time I’d literally stood with such a master! The long neck folded into hunkered position, top of head slightly higher than sunlit back. I continued to root feet and center, suddenly realizing that the motionless heron was on one leg all this time!
When the heron stepped forward onto slightly higher ground, it unfolded its neck and lifted big, beautiful wings, awkwardly through branches, before settling back down on two legs. It seemed to be thinking about whether to fold a leg back under—I watched to see which one—but it remained on two. Now and then, the bill opened slightly, as though muttering or cheering on fish or crayfish.
When fishing looked better behind, the body stayed motionless, neck turned. Its remarkable long “chest” feathers could be seen clearly. Another stab into the water yielded another "air" fish.
Never had I been so inspired to stand still, just "be" (observing, of course)! Slowly moved arms from position to position, all the while gazing, (hopefully) soft eyed, on the beautiful scene, incredulous at the gift before me. Like a teacher, the heron stood close, within 30 feet, without indication it was distracted by me or scampering squirrels. Its focus, of course, was that of a master.
Perhaps since fishing was poor, the master shifted to maintenance: scratched left “ear” with left foot, then scratched head. It began preening, long bill reaching down long neck to straighten feathers. What a bill! Like a knife! Looked to me like it scratched its neck by reaching and rubbing down its back; however, maybe that was a back scratch! It picked at the feathers at the base of its seldom seen tail, lifted the right wing and scratched at the hinge of the wing and beneath. So much for hunting and fishing.
Ever concerned that I might not recall each precious detail, I walked slowly to my bag for pen and paper. Ended up writing on a plastic sack! Opportunity to exercise memory, I reminded myself. The day was glorious; the stream barely moved. The heron stood; I went back to standing, jotting plastic notes.
At last the heron flew a short distance downstream, closer to the trail, where it didn’t stay long. What magic! I floated home, awed with the grace of having stood with Master Great Blue Heron!
TALKING QI - 5 ELEMENTS in the Voice
Each time I attend one of Ken's workshops I return with new insight which I mull over in the following months. This past spring Ken's seemingly offhand comment about our voices containing all 5 elements of traditional Chinese medicine (metal, water, wood, earth, fire) caught my attention. Not only does voice strength or weakness reflect health of qi, the quality of one's voice is a blend of the elements! I'd never considered that—however I immediately understood that was why the minute I'd heard Ken's voice on an audio tape I sensed his balance.
I've always thought quality of voice told much, been acutely aware of the ability of voice to soothe, irritate, hypnotize, enchant and reveal, all on top of what was being said by words and in between words! Time and again I've had to get past my initial gut reaction to voice quality in order to hear a speaker's message. Now I'm beginning to understand something of the elements I've been hearing without identifying. I enjoy flow in a voice, but if it's too watery, I'll drift off. I'm jolted and repelled if there's a metal edge that's too sharp. I respond to fire, but not if it's roaring! As of this writing, I'm not clear about listening for the quality of wood in voice, which the Chinese link to the liver, anger and kindness. Perhaps it is the quality of life in a voice. Earth, I think I intuitively recognize and tend to warm to--if it's not muddy! I've a new delight-- reading qi via voice!
Recently a new acquaintance stunned me by saying while I was away at Ken's workshop and she was sick, she phoned my answering machine to listen to my voice! Why is that, she asked? Seizing the podium with my newly emerging understanding, I offered the idea of being able to sense elements in a voice. Perhaps while she was ill, she was listening for a "missing" element?!
In June Master Yueng honored the Tian Shan Qi Gong class by visiting, teaching and answering questions. He emphasized that thinking too much or visualizations can really obstruct qi flow. "It's best to soften and feel, don't think!" He warned about methods that focus on controlling qi flow or channeling it to certain areas.
from wwww.wuji.com Jul-Aug 2000 newsletter
MASTER YUENG'S VISIT
Unless you're very well aware of all your own blockages this can cause damage and many problems. Healing takes its time and can't be forced. Focusing on a specific qi flow pattern in the body can cause you to force the qi [orig: to enforce] into [ed.] blockages or force them open before it's appropriate causing more health, energetic or emotional problems. If you practice your qi gong and movements softly and gently the energy will flow where it should NATURALLY. It will flow through, [orig: and] strengthen and [ed.] open areas, flush sick areas, and gently penetrate blockages when appropriate. The mind and body has certain defensive mechanisms that will protect you until you're ready. Re: [Orig: Take] emotional traumas hidden within our muscles and energy fields. As we practice and get stronger the qi will gently loosen these areas until we're able to let go or face them. Forcing them to open before we're ready or strong enough does deeper damage. Most qi gong teachers see this fairly often with students too eager to [ed.] [and] practice everything they read from some of the qi gong books on the market. The secret Master Yueng taught that night . . .
Natural, everything must be done gently and naturally.
A LITTLE HUMOR, courtesy of TAO OF POOH Website
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