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PUSH HANDS CLASS

Take a look at clips from one of our push hands classes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsXq_S9WIAU

BALANCE YIN AND YANG TO STAY YOUNG AND HEALTHY

One of the primary effects of Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice is to keep the body and mind young.  The basic principle about how this can be accomplished is the balance of Yin/Yang energy in young vs. older people.  When a baby is born, according to these principles, it is all Yang energy (expansive).  As you get older you become more Yin (compressed).  Your body shrinks and your mind becomes more rigid.

The body and mind are most powerful when the expansive energy (Yang) exactly balances the compressive energy (Yin).  As an example, if a joint gets injured and the ligaments, tendons and muscles around that joint are damaged, the body starts healing.  If you just sit around and don’t move the joint a little, the repair job will be affected by the immobility of the joint.  The repair will be compressive, which means that you will have little flexibility.  This is why physical therapy is needed, partially to stretch the muscles and connective tissues around the joint so you will maintain flexibility.  When you stretch and use the joint, your body then knows how that joint is to be used and it repairs the joint with that “in mind”.  I healed a torn knee this way, without surgery. 

Tai-chi theory explains that the body does, in fact, have a mind (Body-Mind), which is aware of what needs to be done and intelligently adapts the repair to the needs of that part of the body.  Stretching and using the joint would be considered Yang, while giving the joint adequate rest would be Yin.  You need a balance for a good repair. 

There is another factor for the repair job to come out right.  Children, as noted above, are more Yang than adults (in general).  They will run around without worrying about the possibility of injury.  They love to move and use up energy, while adults like to sit and talk (in general).  If your body is repairing an injury and you are the type of person who doesn’t do much and doesn’t have much to look forward to doing after you get better, then your injury may not heal as well.  We all know about athletes who get injured on a regular basis and have many surgeries.  They want to get back into the game as soon as possible.  This Yang attitude helps their recovery.  They can’t wait to get better.  The Yang attitude of mind helps physical recovery. 

On the other hand, if they cut their recovery short and go back to the game too soon, they can re-injure themselves.  So again, a balance of Yin and Yang attitude is essential. 

When I was a zoologist, studying animal behavior in Central America, there was a troop of spider monkeys that passed by the research station every day.  The alpha (leading) male was battle-scarred.  He had lost two fingers on one hand and three on another.  One of his eyes was missing.  I asked one of the researchers how he could be the alpha male with all those injuries.  How could he even swing through the trees with all those fingers missing.  The researcher simply explained, “Attitude.  None of the other monkeys would dare mess with him.  And his attitude helps him to hang onto the branches with the few fingers he has.” 

Somehow I don’t think that monkey spent much of his time whining about his physical condition.  I resolved back then to always remember that monkey if I ever started whining about anything. 

Another story:  A researcher had just come back from Ecuador where he met a man who kept marine iguanas as pets.  They were housed in a fenced in area in his back yard.  At that time, and even today I believe, zoos were not able to keep marine iguanas alive in captivity.  So the researcher was sent to find out this man’s secret.  What did he feed the iguanas (which normally eat algae on rocks under the water)?   He fed them scraps from his table along with scraps of vegetables he got free from the local market.  “But this is not the natural food for marine iguanas!” complained the researcher.  The man explained that he loved his iguanas and they loved him.  They were very happy.  So it didn’t matter what they ate, as long as they were happy.  Food going into a happy iguana, he explained, turns into a healthy iguana. 

The point of all this is that an iguana or a person who looks forward to and is excited by each day is in a healthy state of being.  A person who whines and worries about each day is in an unhealthy state of being.  The excitement of life adds Yang energy, which can compensate for the tendency to become more and more Yin as you get older. 

In the Tai-chi practice of Push Hands, this principle goes one step further.  (In Push Hands, two people stand facing each other and try to throw each other off balance).  There is a tendency to tense up (to condense) when trying to push the partner.  That tension makes you rigid and your partner can use your rigidity to actually push you over instead.  So you are taught to relax your back and let it sink into the ground.  This relaxation and grounding then sends energy upward and forward, pushing the partner over without needing to tense up.  You are using relaxation to generate force. 

The principle here is turning Yin energy (relaxation) into Yang energy (the release of your energy upward and forward).  You are transforming Yin into Yang.  When your partner pushes you, you take that Yang energy and sink it downward into your “root” and compressing your legs.  You have turned his Yang energy into your Yin energy (compressed legs which is potential energy).  As you are grounding his Yang energy, you are sinking your back into your root again and then pushing him with your own Yang energy plus his Yang energy which you stored in your compressed legs. 

And so Push Hands is the art of transforming Yin and Yang energy in a continuous flow of motion until one person gets the upper hand due to greater skill (not due to greater strength).  You learn to balance and use Yin and Yang so the body stays relaxed yet powerful.  This keeps both the body and mind young. 

In everyday life you can stop for a moment to assess your balance of Yin and Yang.  Do you feel your body and mind compressing or expanding too much?  You will learn to develop a balance that will keep you healthier and younger. 

You may say, “What if I don’t have anything to look forward to?”  This reminds me of an experience I had when in nursery school.  I was always happy.  A girl came over to me and asked, “Why are you so happy?”  I couldn’t figure out why I was happy, so from that time on, I wasn’t happy anymore.  My state of unhappiness led my mind to contemplate unhappy things so as to explain why I was now not happy.  It took many years to remember that turn in the road that led me in the unhappy direction. 

Tai-chi training taught me the relationship between mind and body.  That relationship is more “me” than either one alone.  Identifying with the balance of mind and body then allows you to enter into a balanced relationship with your environment.  By starting with balancing Yin and Yang energy in your life, you are led to the balance of mind and body and then to the balance of yourself with your environment.  This is truly the basis of health and keeping young.

MELTING THE FROZEN MIND AND BODY

The nature of the mind and body is to be fluid.  Yet I see people becoming more and more rigid with each passing year as stress takes its toll.  When the mind and body are frozen, they begin to die quickly.  You lose the feeling in your body and even in your emotions and life become less fulfilling.  I have to find metaphors to teach people how to “melt” their minds and bodies to return them to their natural state.  The metaphors below come from the martial arts and, surprisingly, from a comic book.

As a student transitions from an “external” (tension-oriented) martial art to an “internal” martial art, the most difficult habit to break is freezing the body and mind.  Most martial arts students are used to tightening the body and mind at the end of a strike.  This is supposed to give you added power. 

In the internal martial arts you remain fluid, mentally and physically, at all times.  At the end of a strike, it immediately bounces back, and the bounce-back becomes the beginning of the next movement. All strikes emanate from the center of your body (the “tan-tien”) and the bounce-back returns to the center.  Your body rotates around the center so that turning to a new direction is very quick and easy. 

Freezing at the end of a strike makes it awkward to turn to a new direction.  It also prevents your full energy from leaving your body and moving into the opponent.  A lot of your energy is used in freezing rather than in striking.  At the moment you freeze, your attention is caught up in freezing rather than in what is going on around you.  This gives your opponent a chance to come in. 

The more you freeze, the less you perceive.  The more you freeze, the more time you spend away from being centered.  The more you freeze, the more you cut off the flow of energy through your body, which connects you to your surroundings.

It’s difficult enough to teach a martial arts student to stop freezing.  At least he feels the effects of his freezing when he gets hit by a student of an internal martial art, such as Tai-chi-Chuan.  The effect of freezing on the average person depletes your power just as much, but it is much harder to understand this in everyday life.   

I have taught Tai-chi and Zookinesis to thousands of people, and each discipline requires fluidity in mind and body.  I am constantly amazed at how frozen people are, and how little they realize they are frozen.  Compare the state you are in when you are surfing the web to when you are watching a sunset. 

In both cases your attention moves out.  It moves out to the computer screen or to the sunset.  But in the latter case the movement comes about because of relaxation.  In the former case it moves out because of the tightening of your attention, and usually, the tightening of the body.  The computer surfing type of attention is called, “Yang attention”.  The sunset type of attention is called, “Yin attention”. 

Our society is becoming more Yang, more tight, more wound up.  I think no one would disagree with that!  I describe this as becoming “more frozen”.  In this state, the mind separates from the body and you live more and more in your mind.  It is even hard to imagine your attention living equally in the body as in the mind. 

As described in the previous blog post, we tend to associate consciousness itself with thinking.  It is my job as a teacher of Tai-chi and Zookinesis to allow students to experience a different state of consciousness, in which your attention is evenly distributed throughout your body and not just in your head.  In this state you realize that consciousness is an inherent force in all things and not just the end result of your brain nerves at work. 

I remember a story from childhood which explains all of this very well.  It was in a “Weird Tales” comic book and struck me, even then, as a very clear and spiritual story.  It goes something like this:

A man heard that a guru in the Himalayan mountains was the wisest man in the world and lived to eight hundred years old.  The man sold all his possessions and spent weeks travelling to Tibet to visit the guru.  When he finally reached the town where the old man lived, the people were impressed that he had given up everything to meet the guru and they brought him to the cave where he lived. 

The guru, sitting on a large stone in the cave, was equally impressed and agreed to give the visitor his secrets.  Standing up, he bade the visitor to sit down on the stone.  He explained that he had been sitting on that stone for eight hundred years and that, as long as he didn’t get up, he would live forever.  But if he were to get up off that stone, he would instantly die, unless he could find someone to take his place. 

Now the man who had travelled up to this high mountain to seek wisdom had saved the guru from an eternity of misery.  The guru laughed and left.  The visitor was left to contemplate his fate.  Would he really die if he left the stone?  Had he given up everything to be trapped in this cave forever?  And that’s how the story ends. 

I would ask you, which part of the body does the stone represent?  Do you think you will die if your consciousness leaves it and rejoins the rest of the world?  What have you given up to spend the rest of your life in that cave? 

The man in the story is frozen by his fear of death.   And all he wanted was just to find out the meaning of the universe from someone who he thought had all the answers.

I hope that in this story, you will discover how you are frozen and what you need to do to melt the mind and body, so they can regain their natural fluidity.  In the fluid state your consciousness is connected to your body and to all of nature.  You feel the vibrancy of nature as her energies flow through you. 

While you may not live to be eight hundred years old, your life is fulfilling at every moment, even at times of stress.  You feel that you are part of the natural world and supported by it.  You feel nature’s consciousness and realize that your sense of that consciousness dies as long as you are trapped in that cave. 

You have truly given up everything because you have given up the connection of your consciousness to nature and your body has become just a machine.  That sense allows you to see your own spirit, the spirit of others and how we are all connected.  When you are frozen, it feels as though we are all disconnected.  It is the job of a teacher of Tai-chi and Zookinesis to return that sense to you so you can feel the world and your life passionately.

THE DYNAMICS OF CONSCIOUSNESS AND HEALING

The dynamics of how the mind can heal the body is a vital part of all ancient healing systems.  But just what are those dynamics?  I have spent most of my life studying this subject, apprenticing with traditional healers of several cultures and reading ancient manuscripts of others.  As a writer, my job is to distill that information and to express it in a way that is appropriate and understandable to modern readers. 

Firstly, I need to explain the concept of “attention”.  It is important to understand that attention does not mean thinking.  Pure attention (called, “True Yin” in Taoist Alchemy) is the state of awareness when thinking stops.  You are perfectly capable of functioning, but your intentions come from a deeper part of you than thoughts. 

The best way of explaining this very important principle, comes from Christian history.  During the first three hundred years after Jesus’ death, there was a split in Christianity.  This was at a time when Emperor Constantine chose Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.  In both versions of Christianity, the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) was used to express the basic principles of the religion.  In each version, the Father represented consciousness, the Son reason or thinking, and the Holy Ghost represented creativity (a piece of God within you). 

The “Gnostic” Christians believed that thinking was a process used by consciousness to communicate and to plan your activities, etc.  It must always be balanced with creativity so that the thinking process does not become rigid. 

This was expressed as “The Bridal Chamber”, in which the bride (creativity) and groom (thinking) were united and balanced within the larger space of the room (pure consciousness).  And so they explained that the Father “begets” the “Son” and is not the same as the “Son”. 

The “Apostolic” Christians believed that thinking is the same as consciousness – that there is no other state of consciousness than thinking.  Creativity is also thinking.  Everything is thinking.  They expressed this as the Son IS the Father or “Jesus is God”. 

Emperor Constantine called for a conference in the city of Nicaea in 323 AD to settle these differences.  The emperor set himself up as the moderator.  Now, using our thinking minds to good advantage, which version would an empire, needing to keep control over vast numbers of people of many different cultures, choose as the “correct” version of Christianity?  If thinking was the only version of consciousness considered legitimate, and the Roman Empire and the Apostolics provided a list of approved thoughts, then that inconvenient factor of creativity could be eliminated.

It is easier to control people whose minds all conform. To this day it is hard to convince people that there is another state of consciousness other than thinking.  The state of consciousness which is controlled by the thinking process is one dimensional.  Each thought follows the other, one by one. 

And yet, even while thinking, you must also at the same time, use the state of pure consciousness, even though you might not recognize it.  It is this larger state that keeps track of where the thoughts are going to wind up somewhere useful.  It is like the map that gives you the overall picture, while the thinking process is like the little dot on the map that shows you where you are at the moment.  If the “map” part of the mind weakens and you are left only with the dot (thinking), then you are lost.  And that is the state of many people today. 

And now the real secret of healing.  In modern times, we “think” of consciousness as the by-product of nerve activity in the brain.  When you get involved in any traditional healing system, you soon realize that every part of the body is conscious. 

In Tai-chi we say that the feet are the “gateway to consciousness”.  This means that how your feet are placed on the ground with each step, determines how the rest of your body has to adjust itself to the irregularities of the terrain.  Those irregularities are part of the geology and biology of that area.  In this way, each part of you becomes part of the geological and biological history of that area. 

Of course, in modern times, we pave over those nasty irregularities so that our feet don’t need to be conscious.  In many ways we create a culture which allows the consciousness of the body to die so that all of our energy can be focused on the thinking process.  And so the body is deprived of conscious energy and begins to decay and age. 

Many types of massage such as “Tai-chi Massage” are specifically used to “wake up” the consciousness of the body.  The Tai-chi “Forms”, “Chi-gung” and “Push Hands” are used for the same purpose.  When each part of the body is conscious, the body “knows” how to heal itself.  It knows without thinking. 

And so one important principle of Tai-chi (as well as other healing systems) is that “attention” should be evenly distributed throughout the body, so that you feel you are as much your feet as you are your head.  Many people feel they are just a big head, and the body’s function is just to carry the head around.  Small children in our society usually draw people as big heads with tiny arms and legs sticking out of the heads.  I wonder if they are just seeing the distribution of attention in a person, and drawing their pictures accurately from that perspective. 

In “internal” martial arts training, your attention needs to fill up the entire area around you so that you can feel your sparring partner with your attention.  The action is going by too fast to see everything.  One of the great benefits of martial arts training is that you learn to connect your attention to your surroundings, including to your sparring partner.  Gradually your attention can connect to all of your natural surroundings in a very spiritual way. 

And that “way” is as follows:  Consciousness is experienced as a natural force, permeating all things in nature.  The consciousness of each living thing is connected to all others.  In this way, the earth is a conscious being and the state of health of one part of it is vital to the state of health of all other parts.  An attack on one part of the earth is an attack on the whole.  The natural flow of consciousness through all living things is vital for the health of any one of them. 

We now live in a culture which fosters blocking ourselves off from that flow of consciousness and so, it fosters the deadening of the body.  We watch football rather than play football.  We text our friends rather than talk to our friends.  If anyone is interested in making a lot of money, I have a great idea.  Imagine a cell phone that you can talk into and it creates text, so that you don’t have to press on the letter keys.  That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?  Now imagine a cell phone that receives that text and translates it into voice, so you don’t have to look down at the phone (for example, when you’re driving).  That would be convenient, wouldn’t it?  But I think that technology may have already been invented.  It is called, “Calling someone on the phone”. 

Why do people prefer texting?  I think it is because they don’t have to actually talk to anyone.  Texting provides a separation between people, just as an addiction to thinking provides a separation from your own body. 

But thinking that emanates from the combined consciousness of the whole body and its connection to the entire world of life, is truly creative.  It is the balance of thinking and creativity that allows the body to constantly heal itself.  To heal is to be creative and to experience the creativity of others.  Art, in whatever form, is healing.  Comedy is healing.  Allow your attention to expand, relax and play, and you will stay younger and more vibrant.  Spend more time in nature and feel how you are connected to it.  This will help you to become more connected to yourself. 

Play ball and talk to people face to face, like in “the old days”.  Feel how watching the rising or setting sun can heal the body.  As the Tai-chi saying goes, “Relax (to allow attention to expand), smile (be playful) and breathe (feel your connection to nature)”.

AUTISM AND TAI-CHI

Several of my students over the years have worked with autistic children and have had great success in applying Tai-chi and Zookinesis principles.  Our discussions of their experiences have led me to an understanding of autism that I believe can benefit everybody.  I view autism and the so called “normal” state as two extremes of human consciousness. 

To understand this it is important to understand the dynamics of our attention (our consciousness) according to Tai-chi principles.  There are two types of attention – yin and yang.  And there is a biological energy called “chi” that energizes all living things.  You can think of chi as a glass of water.  You can swirl the water with a spoon but you cannot really see the water move.  Think of yang attention as a small jar of ink.  The jar restricts the ink to a certain shape.  If you hold the jar in the water you still cannot see the movement of the water. 

Yin attention is attention that is released.  If you pour the little jar of ink into the swirling water you will see the ink swirled about by the swirling water.  By inference you can see how the water moves.  When you allow beautiful music to “move you”, your attention is yin.  When you are reading a book you concentrate your attention from word to word.  That is yang (controlled and directed) attention.

Most of us are in the yang attention mode almost all the time.  We can move our attention around and manipulate it.  We can be clever with concepts.  But we don’t really feel as much as we could because our attention doesn’t seep into the world around us and make the energy (chi) in our world visible to us.

I believe the autistic child’s attention is almost all yin.  His behavior is controlled by his connection to the world around him and to the experiences of his body but he has trouble focusing his attention to a specific goal.  When you focus your attention you cut off its yin quality because you are containing and manipulating it rather than letting it go to flow as it pleases.  This flowing yin quality is very fulfilling but doesn’t allow you to be goal oriented. 

The predominate approach to dealing with autistic children who are at one extreme of the quality of attention is to force them into the opposite extreme which we are most comfortable with.  My students take a different approach.  They have spent many years learning how to blend yin and yang attention in balance so they can feel and be aware and yet can direct their activities.  So they are not at the extremes of the qualities of attention anymore but are somewhere in the middle.  They “meet” the child from this centered, balanced quality of attention and in a non-verbal way, ask the child to meet them there.  By understanding the situation of the child’s attention, they can participate in that quality to begin with and then gradually move him towards the center.

The students tell me that sometimes parents of an autistic child have gone through three or four counselors over several years but with no success.  The Tai-chi trained counselor can meet the child and have a great deal of success even the first day.  When the parents ask how the counselor how he could effect such a change in such a short time, my students cannot really explain themselves because the parents don’t understand Tai-chi principles.  The students themselves understand the process very well but their methodology is not the “accepted” methodology so they have to just say nothing.

By understanding the extremes of the qualities of attention it is easier to understand the middle.  Both yin and yang attention are important and need to be blended in the right proportions.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis training is based on that principle.

TECHNIQUES TO REVERSE AGING

Tai-chi approaches to health and healing is based on preventing and reversing the aging process.  It is based on understanding the underlying causes of the deterioration of body and mind and providing simple exercises to stay young and active.  The principle of Yin/Yang describes how babies have mainly “Yang” energy which is expansive and growing. 

As you get older, this energy becomes more “Yin” or contractive.  The connective tissue surrounding all your body cavities, bones, muscles and organs, shrinks and loses its elasticity.  Your mind becomes less free flowing and creative and hangs onto fixed ideas and patterns of behavior.  Even the bones condense and lose their flexibility.

Exercises such as the Zookinesis Age Reversal Exercises and Tai-chi Forms directly affect the underlying energy of body and mind, which is called “chi” or “internal energy”.  They maintain the balance of yin and yang of the chi energy so that it can expand or condense when needed.  The result is that you maintain a state of vibrancy and health.

The idea that an underlying energy creates or affects the physical world is common among many ancient cultures. The Tai-chi and Zookinesis exercises are designed to keep chi energy even throughout the body.  As we age there is a tendency to condense this energy unevenly and that distorts the posture and shape of the body.  It can also affect our emotional state and dull our senses. 

A student of these exercises is taught to perceive the pattern of chi in his body, to understand how it has become distorted and to use the exercises to return the energy to an even state throughout the body.  The result is fewer aches and pains, less tension and a more positive, relaxed attitude.  Your body can feel more and you can appreciate every moment of life more. 

The improved state of health gives you a better quality of life and can actually help you live longer. 

So the next time you feel bad, ask yourself, “Is my chi too condensed or uneven?”  Relax your back so that the chi flows behind you.  Relax your hips so the chi flows through your center.  Relax your legs, your head and shoulders so that the chi can flow up and down through the body.  In this way you can become more alive.

Try this exercise the next time you feel bad or tired:  Imagine chi energy flowing through your chest and neck area towards the area in front of you at an upward angle of twenty degrees.  This energy comes from behind you, flows through you, upward and forward at a fast pace.  After a few minutes of this imagery exercise, notice how you feel. 

Both mental and physical exercises can have a profound effect on our health.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis are storehouses of such powerful techniques.

BATTLE OF THE TIGER AND DRAGON

The battle of the dragon and tiger is a common theme of Chinese art.  Hidden within these drawings is the secret of how to access power unknown in the modern world, especially the power to heal, to find great joy in every moment of life and to free yourself from control by other people. 

The tiger represents external (Yang) power such as physical tension and force over other people.  It is like the angry response to the actions of another person.  Unbalanced anger and tension can affect you by raising your blood pressure and freezing the movements of your body.  Yet a tiger in reality is very flexible and relaxed, even when fighting.  I can attest to the fluidity and relaxation of wild cats due to my many years of experience importing and working with wild animals. 

The tiger is not completely external in its power.  It blends the external, physical force with internal fluidity and relaxation, which is Yin power.  Yin or internal power is represented by the dragon.  Its very depiction in drawings is of a long, swirling, graceful body yet you can see that it has great power. 

The dragon is the power of internal awareness.  When your attention is completely connected to your body, when you are fully aware of the dynamics of your emotions and thinking mind and can keep them in balance, you possess a power that is unstoppable.  If you are acutely aware of what is going on inside of you, then it is easier to understand what is going on inside of other people.  You can see their internal dynamics clearly and thereby be able to avoid being controlled by them.

In martial arts, fluidity allows you to explode your force from your root in the ground (the weight of the body sinking through the legs), up through the hips and out your striking fist or foot.  Your force is explosive, penetrating the outer layer of the opponent (their skin, bones and external muscles) and explodes within their body cavity.

If you are a healer, you can extend your own attention and internal energy (“chi”) into the person receiving your massage, for example, and take control over their behavior of tensing up their muscles.  This allows you to be more aware of and have more of an effect on their bodies than the patient has of his own body.  You can then teach the patient how to become more aware of his body and gain control over his own healing.

Yet if you become too relaxed and your mind becomes too unfocused, you can become “wishy washy”.  You might become too easily controlled by others.  The tension of the patient might cause you yourself to tense up.  You might lose your drive in life.  So even the dragon needs some “tiger energy”. 

Think of the dragon hiding in his lair – a deep cave within a mountain.  It is a vast, empty cave yet you can smell and feel the presence of a dragon within it.  While the dragon is hidden in emptiness you dare not disturb it. 

The tiger’s home is the forest itself.  He wanders about and when tired, just lays down and sleeps right there.  The tiger’s power is “in your face” while the dragon’s power is hidden. 

Yet to be a whole, powerful person you need to blend the two kinds of power.  The teachings of Tai-chi and Zookinesis use movement to train you to blend external and internal power, not only physically, but in relationships, in business and in your approach to life. 

Using relationships as an example, the external power would be how you view the other person using your senses.  How do they look, how do they talk, how do they feel, etc.?  Yet we all know that there is an invisible connection between people which we call “chemistry” and it is not only sexual.  It is a connection among all people.  Much of how we react to someone is a result of the feeling we get through this connection. 

This would be the “internal” connection that is not obvious.  It is the job of proper training to make this connection as obvious and clear as the other senses.  You will then discover a whole new world of dynamic activity of “chi” which is the energy connecting all living things.  Once you understand this energy and how it relates to the “external senses” such as sight, life becomes a lot easier and more effective.

So the battle of the tiger and dragon is not really a battle but a constant dynamic blending of our external awareness of the world and the internal awareness that is missing in modern cultures. 

In the articles below you will find much information about how to develop this awareness but of course, a competent teacher is also necessary.

You may already realize that your personality is more Yin or more Yang.  You may pay more attention to what is going on inside of you or more attention to external activity.  You may be more passive or more aggressive. 

Your power as a human being is at its maximum when the internal and external power is most balanced.  A person who is mainly external wears himself out.  A person who is mostly internal has a hard time organizing himself to actually get anything done.

In the drawings, the tiger’s and dragon’s eyes are both wide open as they stare at each other and you can feel the energy flowing between them.  It is this magnified energy, flowing between Yin and Yang, that we can tap to become powerful. 

Rather than a battle, it is a dance – the dance of life itself – the dance that empowers life.  Ancient art encoded great principles of ancient teachings even before there was written language.  A teacher who is part of a direct lineage of training understands the principles behind the outer appearance of the training. 

Tai-chi forms, for example, are not just a question of memorizing a sequence of movements.  Each movement is a deep reserve of layer upon layer of meaning.  These exercises are the ancient libraries, but you have to know how to read them.

And so Tai-chi and Zookinesis exercises are like the dance of the tiger and dragon.  They are right there in the open but their true significance and power lay hidden.

HOW CHI-GUNG WORKS

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-Gung is a type of Tai-chi exercise that heals the body by strengthening the flow of internal energy (“chi”).  It is important to appreciate the way chi-gung works in order to practice it properly.  We see examples of the energizing force of nature when we see flowers turn to and reach towards the sun as the morning warms up.  The flower “knows” that the sun is its source of energy.  “Reaching” for the sun is a large part of what allows it to grow.  We know of course that reaching for the sun is a chemical process and can be explained on that level.

We can use this example of a flower to better understand the training of chi-gung.  Your mind (attention, consciousness) can be likened to the sun.  Your body can be likened to the flower, let’s say a tulip.  When we see a bunch of tulips, all opening up and reaching for the sun in the morning, we can imagine each tulip as a part of the body.

When you pay attention to a part of your body in your practice, that part will naturally “reach” for your attention.  Attention and the physical body are naturally attracted towards each other.  In a natural state they are completely integrated with each other but in our modern world our minds are focused on our thinking mechanism.  This is so much the case that the terms “mind” and “thinking” are synonymous.  We can hardly imagine the mind doing anything other than thinking.   

We have withdrawn our attention from the body so that almost all of it can be used in the thinking process.  But the body longs for attention, which is a form of energy, just as the tulip “longs” for the sun.  Without the sun the tulip will wither and die.  Without the energy of attention the body will degenerate.  When we practice any form of chi-gung you are called upon to pay attention to each part of the body, to release any excess tension there and to allow the body to expand with the in-breath and relax with the out-breath. 

Your attention is not fixed in the head or in the thinking process but rises and fills the body with the in-breath and settles into the ground and condenses with the out-breath, creating an ebb and flow like the tides of the oceans.  This releases your attention (your mind) from a fixed position in the body (your head) and from a fixed process (thinking).  Now attention becomes fluid, functional and connected to all parts of the body. 

At the point when your attention meets a part of the body you breathe in, that part opens and stretches, just like the tulip, and the body receives the energy of attention.  When you breathe out, that part of the body relaxes.

There are yet greater sources of energy than your own attention.  There is the chi of the whole flow of nature.  As each part of the body reaches for your attention, it also reaches for this greater flow of energy.

In the chi-gung practice of Zookinesis we are taught that when the body opens up to your own attention, this also allows the body to receive the greater flow of energy from nature.  You are breathing in, expanding the part or parts of the body you are working with and bringing your attention to that part of the body.  When your attention is no longer locked up in your head, but releases and flows to that part of the body, you will feel a greater source of energy that comes flowing in and energizes both your body and mind.  You then feel connected to all of nature. 

This is not a mysterious process but a natural, biological process.  It is our natural, healthy state. 

When your mind and body are connected and the chi energy of nature is allowed to flow, your mind and body start to heal on all levels.  It will heal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

You may have heard that practicing chi-gung by yourself or with an inexperienced teacher can actually lead to internal damage.  The main reason for this is the apparent lack of understanding of the dynamics of attention.

There are two basic modes of your attention – yin and yang attention.  Yang attention happens when you forcefully push your attention towards part of the body.  In yin attention you allow your attention to settle and to be absorbed by that part of the body.  This is an important distinction though it often takes many years of practice to fully appreciate the difference. 

In our culture we almost exclusively use yang attention, except perhaps, when we listen to music.  We allow music to take our attention away.  We willingly let our attention travel on the magic carpet ride of music because we know how good it makes us feel. 

When we pay attention to a part of the body in our chi-gung practice we need to use yin attention. As the body opens on the in-breath it will pull on energy within your body, trying to absorb it.  This will create a movement of energy towards that part of the body.  Allow your attention to settle into that flow of energy, merge with it and be pulled into the body. 

At first the student hears these instructions but can’t make sense of them.  He or she has to be led step by step through a series of internal experiences.  This gradually builds up a feeling “picture” of what is going inside the body.  The teacher explains the principles of chi-gung and what these inner body feelings are according to those principles.  A whole new world opens up for the student as he realizes that the quality of his internal world directly affects how he interacts with the external world.  In this way, chi-gung can greatly improve his everyday life.

Students often fear the fluidity of the attention.  They feel it is like a loss of control of their fixed-pointed minds.  This is why chi-gung practice is slow and gradual and connected with physical movement.  The movement exercises allow you to retain the feeling of control while allowing your attention to become fluid. 

There is also a fear of the greater flow of the chi energy of nature. You may fear losing control when you experience a force greater than yourself. When you realize that this energy is healing in nature, that it connects you with the flow of all life on this planet, you can lose your fear. 

This greater connection to life is physically felt in a very concrete way.  When you feel it you immediately remember having experienced this state of being, even if it has been many years since you felt it last (perhaps as an infant). 

You must then end the conflict between the fixed-pointed, thinking mind and the mind that is connected to the body.  These are not really two separate minds but are two ways in which the mind can work.  Your body obviously continues to work while you are thinking.  The blood doesn’t suddenly stop flowing.  Yet your thoughts can influence the health of your body.  In many disciplines the emphasis is on thinking the “right” thoughts to keep you healthy such as in the many “positive thinking” teachings.

With chi-gung, the emphasis is on allowing the thinking mind to think and allowing the rest of the mind (the “Body-Mind”) to work properly.  We can allow our attention to completely fill the body while at the same time allow it to fill the thinking process.  If the attention is fluid it can operate in many ways at the same time.  If it is fixed-pointed it can only operate well in one mode.  It is only the fixed-pointed mind that hurts the body by pulling the energy of attention away from the body.

When the body is filled with the energy of your attention and of chi from nature, it grows strong and healthy.  You feel that you are part of the whole world and no longer isolated.  Your body is no longer a big lump “down there”, carrying around your brain, but it feels like a vibrant, energized, alive being which it truly is.

LIFE AS GRAPPLING

The way the martial art of Tai-chi approaches grappling is very applicable to daily life.  The pressures we face on a psychological, emotional and spiritual level are the way life grapples with us.  When common sense is applied to grappling we can easily deal with the strongest opponent.  Rather than fight back against the pressures we examine the nature of those pressures and neutralize them. 

In one technique we can imagine the pressure as a line drawn through the body.  The line starts at the opponent’s hand or arm, where he is applying the pressure and then continues in the direction of the pressure.  Each of his hands or arms is exerting a pressure and each has a line.  You imagine where those two lines will meet within your body and then relax that point.  You only need to relax about one inch of muscle. 

When the point at which the pressures meet relaxes, the opponent’s force is neutralized.  The skill is to relax just that exact point and to not relax more than about an inch of muscular area.  Once the opponent is neutralized, you can do what you want with him.

The meeting point of the pressures shows you how you resist the force of the opponent with your own tension.  You are then more easily able to let go of the resistance.  The opponent depends on your resistance to control you. 

Yet the remaining muscles of the body maintain their firmness to keep the body’s structure intact.  You do not simply collapse your body but strategically relax only the meeting point of the lines.

In our everyday lives we are faced with many pressures – financial, emotional, etc. The meeting point of those pressures show how we fight against the pressure.  If we imagine ourselves as victims in a world battling against us we will wear ourselves out.  We can just as easily ask ourselves, “What is this pressure telling me?  Why am I battling against the pressure?” 

I have found that the reason most people feel pressured in life is that they are unwilling to change as they go through life.  Perhaps they feel they are entitled to a certain high standard of life and resent having to control their spending.  “The other guy can buy these things so why shouldn’t I be entitled to do the same?”

Perhaps you demand certain patterns of behavior from other people.  After all, you are entitled to be treated in the manner to which you would like to become accustomed.   You want the world to conform to your expectations and it usually doesn’t. 

The Tai-chi solution is to make changes from the inside out.  Gain control over your lifestyle before trying to gain control over the rest of the world.  If you can improve your health and your knowledge, your relationship to the world will change.  If you become more aware of your body and end the isolation of the mind and body characteristic of our culture, you will become more powerful.  If you understand how the advertising industry affects your emotions and how other institutions of our society try to control your behavior, you will be freed from their pressures. 

When you notice your frustration, your anger, your sadness, you can then more easily see how these pressures control how you feel about yourself.  Anyone basing their feeling of self worth on the pressures of others who want to control them, is “building their house on sand” which we actually do here on Long Island.  That’s why the wealthy homes on Dune Road get washed into the sea every few years.  When those homeowners expect the taxpayer to rebuild their homes for them or to re-build Dune Road, they are not following the principles of Tai-chi.

There was a time when cultures were based on the warmth, closeness and sharing of small communities.   The world most of us live in seems cold and isolated.  We do seem like victims thrown into a world foreign to our basic natures. 

We could turn cold and accept that the rest of our lives will be a miserable battle.  Or we could build a small community of people – friends and family – and create the kind of culture we would like to live in.  We can do this by starting with ourselves and imagining our own selves as a community.  There is the emotional part of us, the mind, the body and all its individual parts, the will, the internal energy, our memories, our habits and other parts.  Each of these is energized and actively participates in our every action. 

Ancient cultures provided a teaching called “The Elements” which helped people to develop a harmony among all these parts.  We don’t have this teaching in our modern world.  By participating in training such as Tai-chi, Zookinesis and Yoga, which are based on the teaching of the elements, we can create this harmony within ourselves.  That can serve as the basis of a more harmonious attitude and pattern of behavior in our circle of friends and family. 

Whenever you feel a “point of pressure”, use that as an opportunity to shift and adjust something in your life so as to make that pressure irrelevant. 

Before we are about to attempt anything, the attention assesses the body, mind, will – all the “elements” – to see if you are prepared to accomplish the mission.  If your attention feels that you are not ready, it will cause you to hesitate or stop trying.  By building your inner strength you feel more prepared and are more willing to try new things.  You no longer consider a new challenge with fear.  Your attention assesses your elements and finds them strong and ready.  This creates an entirely new attitude which leads to success.

Even though we may be dealing with a mental or emotional challenge, the attention assesses the body’s physical condition to determine if you are ready to deal with the challenge. Is each part of our body flexible and strong and is it filled with our awareness?  Our intellectual way of interacting with each other in modern society is a more modern form of behavior.  Our biology still works on a physical “flight or fight response” mode.  So in order to feel confident to tackle a modern type of interaction, we still instinctually assess our physical readiness. 

When we are grappling, we also need to assess the partner’s readiness.  We need to use our attention to assess his body. His grappling behaviors will come from his own sense of physical readiness.  We need to be more aware of his readiness than he is of his own.  This is the skill that push hands provides to us. 

We can also block the ability of his attention to assess the readiness of his body.  This can easily be done by constantly shifting the meeting point of your two lines of force on his body.  His attention may be able to assess if he is ready to deal with any particular pattern of pressure but if that pattern shifts slightly and regularly, his attention will be worn out quickly.  You don’t want to shift it enough to throw your own body off – the smaller the shifts the better.  As you practice this you will begin to vividly feel how his attention panics and his body tenses when you shift the pressure and how his attention tries to re-assess the situation.  The grappling game is then played on the basis of attacking his attention rather than his body.

Another important principle in grappling is “Let Yang be Yang and Yin be Yin”.  This is an expression from Zookinesis training.  It means that the Yang energy, which is expansive and energizing, should be allowed to fully express itself.  The Yin energy, which is grounding, should be allowed to fully express itself.  Imagine walking a dog on a leash.  The dog pulls you forward and you tug back on the leash to control the dog.  If you let the leash go, the dog would run as fast as he could and feel very free and happy.  You would be able to relax.  Letting go of the leash is “letting Yang be Yang”.  Relaxing is “letting Yin be Yin”. 

Don’t pit yin against yang as when you are holding the dog back.  If you do that throughout your life, one day your Yang energy will give out and your Yin energy will implode within you causing death.  Rather, allow each energy its full expression and in that, seek balance.

Grappling is different than the dog on the leash situation because the grappler’s force presses inward.  In this case, seek balance by your yang force filling the yin areas of the opponent’s body.  This balance evens out the opponent’s superior physical strength.

Allow your Yin force to be grounded by his physical force, bringing him into your foundation.  This is “letting Yin be Yin”.  Allow your response to originate in your foundation to destabilize his alignment. 

His Yang energy is now in your foundation so you can upset his whole body from there.  Let him feel the pressure of the volcano in your foundation as Yang energy builds, and the endless depth and power of the magma about to erupt.  His force will be burned with only scattered cinders remaining and you will be in control.  Then allow your Yang energy to be Yang.  It will erupt by itself.  You don’t need to force it.

The mistake many grapplers make is to turn Yang energy into tension.  In this case your Yang energy jumps within your own body, hardening it.  Rather, allow your Yang energy only to jump within the opponent’s body, leaving your body as relaxed as possible while still maintaining its structure.  You will need very little physical movement.

Remember also that expanding Yang requires an in-breath into the lower part of the lungs.  You should not breathe out or bring the breath upward when Yang leaps out. 

All of this requires a great deal of training of course.  But the result is that when you are faced with everyday life you respond the way you are trained.  You don’t get rattled.  You simply assess your own balance of energy, the other person’s balance and make the most advantageous response which is usually the simplest.  You let the other person fill their bodies, minds and emotions with Yang energy while you remain balanced.  And you don’t wear yourself out by pitting Yin against Yang.  This keeps you young and energized.

THE PUSH HANDS PARTY

During our “Push Hands” party this Saturday, many issues came up.  A new student wondered about the “magic” of the use of chi (internal energy).  Several asked why we breathe in when we strike in the martial aspect of Tai-chi while other martial arts styles breathe out when they strike.  This brought to mind what my chi-gung teachers taught me when I mentioned that some chi-gung teachers teach you to move the chi in the “microcosmic” and “macrocosmic” orbit in the body. 

They asked me if I thought I was God.  They explained that the body itself knows how to channel the chi properly and the only thing I could do was mess up that flow.  They said that what they were teaching me was to stop messing up the flow of chi and then the chi would flow just fine.  They explained their view that in the West we love to push and shove things around to fix them.  This was true of even Chinese teachers in modern times. 

But what good does it do to shove your chi in what you are told is the “correct” movement when you are still filled with habits of pushing chi around in improper ways.  You would just be creating a conflict between your different habits of shoving, some supposedly good and some bad.  Just stop shoving the chi around, they suggested.

The student who wondered about the “magic” of chi wanted to be able to knock someone down at a distance by holding up his hand.  There are several ways to approach this issue.  The main point is, why do you want to be able to knock someone down?  What are the inadequacies in yourself that cause you to want to be able to knock other people down? 

The second point is that these teachings require very detailed, long term study.  The mechanics of chi are very exacting and specific.  The relationship between chi and the physical body takes years of study and practice to understand, feel and master. 

When the term “magic” is used, it generally means, “How can I do this without any effort on my part?”  It is a sign of laziness.  You just want to be able to use a magic word, for example, and not put in the years of study. So a real student would need to examine his tendency toward laziness.  Magic is only magic when you don’t understand the mechanisms behind the result.

I met a couple of teachers who claimed that they could knock someone over at a distance.  They even demonstrated it on their own students.  But onlookers insisted that he do the same with them.  The teachers did not want to demonstrate their skills on anyone but their own students.  After much insistence these teachers did try to demonstrate this “chi at a distance” on others but failed. 

The point is that this chi at a distance is a training exercise.  The student must be very sensitive to the teacher’s chi.  When the student feels this chi, he allows his body to move according to the characteristics of the chi he feels.  The chi doesn’t knock him over but the student cooperates via his reaction to the chi.

There is great magic in chi training.  It is NOT the magic of seeing great things and not knowing how they happened.  It is the magic of being able to see simple things and KNOW how they happened. 

When an experienced teacher practices his form the onlooker will see the slightest movements with barely any effort.  A beginner at learning a tai-chi form will use exaggerated movements and seem to use a lot of effort and tension.  Most onlookers will think the beginner’s tai-chi is spectacular because it is big and “loud”.  The experienced teacher barely looks as though he is doing anything and is not very exciting. 

Magic in this case would consist of being able to see the incredible control of internal movement (within the body) resulting in such slight external movement (movement of the body in space) of the experienced teacher.  Magic is the ability to see the great in the insignificant.  It is the ability to let go of all the habits of tension, mental patterns and chi blockage to arrive at the simple, natural state of being. Magic, in the real sense, should not be a compensation for feelings of inadequacy that appeal to your laziness. 

Another discussion later in the day centered around this question:  Should you lead the student on by promising great magic (in the sense that the student understands it) in the hope that he will eventually get and appreciate the real training?  There was a story told by the Buddha.  A man came home to find his house burning with his three little girls inside.  He called out to them, “Come here at once.  I have wonderful presents for you.”  When they came out they were upset that there were no presents.  But the father just wanted to save his children.

For my part, I cannot play games like that.  I have to tell the students the bare truth.  My feeling is, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  The result is that I have few students but they are wonderful students.  It may take them a long time to “get” things but they understand that I am not playing games with them.  I don’t give them any room to hide in fantasies.  There is nothing wrong with fantasies but I prefer to leave that to Hollywood. 

Another point that was brought up dealt with acupuncture points.  I was taught that every point on and within the body is an acupuncture point.  Every cell and even every part of every cell is a center for the transformation of energy.  The acupuncture points that you see on the charts are just useful points for healing purposes.  If you work a specific point it will have a specific result.  But this doesn’t mean that only those spots marked on the charts are acupuncture points. 

I believe that in any good Oriental healing school this point is brought out.  But the students often fail to appreciate or even to hear it.  Many such students think that chi only runs through the meridians and not everywhere throughout the whole body.  My teachers emphasized that chi must flow through every organ and cell of the body. 

I showed a chart I had made to bring out what I felt was an essential point to understand the principles of tai-chi and of chi-gung.  If you truly understand the chart, a lot of the tai-chi principles will make more sense.

The chart basically explained that there are two substances in the world and two forces (according to these principles).  The two substances are matter and consciousness.  These substances are part of everything in the universe.  This means that consciousness flows through all matter and is not just a by-product of chemical reactions of the human brain.

Consciousness expresses itself differently depending on what it is flowing through.  Yet the consciousness within a plant is the same “stuff” as our own.

The two forces in the universe are the yin force, pulling towards the center (gravity) and the yang force, flowing outward from the center.   Both forces work on both substances.  When we speak of the yang force in terms of matter, we use the term, “chi”.  When we speak of the yang force in terms of consciousness, we use the term, “creativity”. 

In its most fundamental state, matter and consciousness are one and the same.  But the two forces “play” at creating an apparent separation between the two (the yang force separates matter and consciousness).  The variation of influence of the yin and yang forces on the two substances at any particular moment is one meaning of the yin/yang symbol.

This is the same as an artist who steps away from his canvas to get a better overall view of his painting.  When matter and consciousness appear to be separate, we have a stronger feeling of self or individuality.  When they merge, when the force of gravity takes over, the two blend together.  Your consciousness (which I call attention) and the world around you merge and you loose track of time and even of yourself. 

When you relax, the force of gravity allows your body to sink to its center (the tan-tien).  Since the earth is so large and exerts such a large gravitational force, our center then sinks to the center of the earth.  This is called, “sung”.  It is translated as “sinking” but more specifically it is the sinking of every point in the body into its center (tan-tien) and also the sinking of the center of the body to the center of the earth.   It is yielding to the gravity of both the body itself and of the earth. 

In this way when you yield to gravity you seem to merge, not only with the earth but with your body and with all the natural surroundings.  I learned these principles while learning Zookinesis and that made learning tai-chi much easier to understand.

So now let’s get to the issue of breathing in and out.  When you breathe in, this corresponds to drawing energy upward from the earth and expanding.  Breathing in is yang and expansive.  Breathing out corresponds to yielding to gravity and sinking into the earth.  When you expand, energy flows outward which results in the punch or kick or push.  When you sink you absorb the opponent’s force and ground it or circle it around back to him. 

At the moment of impact your fist “feels” the alignment of the opponent’s body.  This creates a trained effect in your body to line up all your joints in such a way that the upward, expansive force is directly aimed at the opponent and the opponent’s resistance is absorbed by your body.  This re-alignment of the joints takes just a fraction of a second and takes a lot of training to accomplish.  But it allows us to use the ground as our “floor”, to expand upward from the ground. 

In hard style martial arts, their own body tension is used as the ground from which the punch issues.  So their body tension fights against the strike and only a fraction of their potential force is released.  The only tension used in tai-chi fighting is in our movements and just enough so that the arm (or leg or elbow etc.) doesn’t collapse when we strike.  We want an exponential explosion of force shooting into the opponent.  This can only be done when the body is as relaxed as possible.  Hard styles breathe out and then hold their breath when they strike to achieve the maximum tension of the body.  That’s why they’re called “hard styles”.

These are the types of issues we go over at the push hands parties at the Long Island School of Tai-chi-Chuan.  We show how Taoist principles apply to our Tai-chi practice.