Posts Tagged ‘ancient cultures’


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We have withdrawn our attention from the body so that almost all of it can be used in the thinking process.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.


Do you feel that work and the responsibilities of life are tearing you apart?  Are you exhausted, more due to aggravation and worry than physical work?  Tai-chi and Zookinesis explains why this is so and what you can do to avoid getting torn apart.

One day I went to a lake at a nearby park, armed with a bag of healthy, whole wheat bread for the ducks and geese.  I got there early and was apparently the first person to feed them.  At least 75 ducks, geese and swans surrounded me, demanding bread and I soon had nothing left.  They kept coming at me, biting my hands, hoping to at least get a crumb.  I had to leave in a hurry to get more bread.  At one point I thought my life might end by getting pecked while surrounded by white feathers. 

When I returned to work, there were calls from customers, calls to suppliers, computer work to do, video editing, packing orders etc., etc.  I felt that I was still being pecked to death but this time by my work (video production and distribution).  But I had one advantage.

My training in Tai-chi and Zookinesis helped me to stay centered and calm and just do what I could.  I didn’t rush or get aggravated.  I thought, “What about people who do not have this training?  They must feel like they’re really getting pecked to death!”  I understood why, in these frantic times, Tai-chi and Zookinesis training is especially important.  If you can devote fifteen minutes a day to a Tai-chi form or a series of Zookinesis exercises, you can remain centered throughout the hectic day.

In most ancient cultures, the purpose of the culture was to help people enjoy and understand life.  Children went through initiation rituals to help ease them into each new stage of life.  Ceremonies, timed to the changes of the seasons, became the binding force of life of the community, helping people to live in harmony with nature.

In our culture the purpose is to work hard in order to buy things.  As we enter into this season of ceremonies (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Kwanza and the rest) we have time to reflect on some of the important things in our lives that we often neglect – family and community.

On a smaller scale, our Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice is a daily custom that reminds us that our health, mental and physical, and our connection to nature is so important, that if we neglect these things, we will be miserable. 

Remember that people and circumstances around us are always ready to take from us – whether our money or energy.  Most people are frantic and unbalanced because of the effects of our hectic culture.  Without a means of protection and renewal of our inner strength, they will surely tear us apart.

These practices connect your mind and body so you are aware of how each situation affects you on all levels.  By remaining centered and relaxed you not only prevent your own deterioration but become more effective in your work.  Much of what goes on in the workplace is politics, rather than actual useful work.  These politics are the result of a lack of self awareness, self esteem and the lack of a path in life.  Most people just frantically try to grab for as much as they can get before they die.

By practicing your exercises each day, you remind yourself of the principles behind the exercises – self awareness, living in harmony with your surroundings, staying calm and healthy.  You realize that the behavior of another person is their behavior and not yours.  You don’t have to play into their patterns. 

You cannot gain this awareness just through the mind.  While each of us may know these ideas are true, putting them into practice is another matter.  The exercise of Push Hands, for example, teaches you to deal with another person’s aggression without tensing up but just letting the force flow by.  Yet it may take a couple of years of practice to be willing not to tense up when pushed.  Tensing is such an automatic reaction that it is hard to break.  You know that tensing is exactly what you should NOT do, but you just can’t help yourself.

The teacher explains, in excruciating detail, how each part of your body has reacted and how your mind and your attention have reacted to the push.  He explains exactly why you are reacting in this way – what concepts in your thinking, drive your body to react ineptly.  He explains the proper way to react in order to neutralize the force.  Yet you seem to have no control over your own body.

It is the same way in everyday life.  You say to yourself, “Why did I just do that?”  It is as if you have no control over some aspects of your life.

Zookinesis teaches students that the reason we have no control is that we don’t have training of the attention as part of children’s education.  We teach children to memorize and to calculate.  We do not teach them to be intricately aware of each part of their bodies and how they work.  We do not learn to pay attention to many things at once, as you do in Push Hands, so your attention can be more efficient.  We certainly do not teach them to remain centered and relaxed as threatening situations surround them.  And they don’t learn the importance of proper breathing.

When you are properly trained you can really see “inside” the other person.  You are aware of the dynamics of their attention and what is driving them to their behavior.  This allows you to see their behavior in proper perspective. 

The strange thing is that when you react to another person’s frantic behavior, with your own centeredness and relaxation, they can feel how you are in control of yourself.  They come to think of you as someone who cannot be fazed and who can be trusted to take care of situations.  They feel safe around you and trust you.  It improves your relationships.

Luckily you can just learn a simple series of movements (such as the Zookinesis “Laughing Dragon Exercises”, the Tai-chi Yang Short Form as in the “Tai-chi for Beginners” program, or the “Spirit Breathing Workouts”) and practice these a few minutes a day.  With these simple exercises your life can be turned around.  Imagine if you were no longer “torn apart”, if you no longer got aggravated but just dealt with each situation as best as you could.  Imagine if you didn’t even come down hard on yourself for not being a superman in every situation. 

You could actually enjoy your life! 

The winter is a great time for asking yourself, “What am I doing with my life?”  Set aside a portion of your life to learn a centering exercise and to practice it every day.  You can have fun by learning different exercises.  One of my favorites is “Chair Exercises for Seniors” (even though I don’t consider myself a senior) because it is easy to do while sitting at work.  I can do a single exercise for two minutes here and there and stay flexible.  Even if I do that only four times a day, by the end of the day I don’t feel drained. 

What could be worse than, once you finally get some time off, being too tired to enjoy it?  We all deserve to enjoy our lives.  Devote a few minutes a day to yourself!


The Zookinesis “art of soaring” is one of its most powerful teachings.  A student learns to merge his system of internal energy (chi) and even his consciousness with those of other animals.  The effect is to radically transform the student to be able to “enter” the body of a patient, if he is a healer, and examine that patient from the inside.  In this way he can effect a much finer healing.  I have worked with several of my students to be able to do this and they are always astounded by the improvements in their healing ability.

Perhaps even more importantly, the training of soaring allows you to perceive a part of this world we live in, that remains hidden to most people.  We usually don’t realize that our chi and our consciousness (which I call “attention”) is constantly being captured and affected by forces around us. 

The student of Zookinesis or other Taoist practices perceives a world filled with attention, flowing in dynamic activity.  His own consciousness is completely connected to all others and it is easy to move the focal point of his attention anywhere along the “continuum of consciousness”.

Zookinesis shares this awareness with many other ancient training systems around the world.  The goal of these systems is to allow the student to experience this level of perception.  In working with live animals, Zookinesis is similar to some South American Indian spiritual systems in which you “journey” with an animal.  This means that you place your consciousness inside an animal and let it take your consciousness with it as it travels.

While this may seem a bizarre and primitive mythological belief, it is everyday reality when you perceive on this level.  We modern people may look down on this way of experiencing the world around us and pride ourselves in our isolation from nature.  But that isolation has led to the deterioration of the body and mind and the lack of inner peace in our times. 

The idea that only one way of perceiving the world around us is “correct” is itself, I believe, a very primitive and shallow belief. It deprives us of the fullness of human experience and of the biological vitality which is our birthright as biological beings.  It also blinds us to the very real dynamics of attention and the dynamics of internal energy.  Our inability to perceive these dynamics makes it impossible to organize our lives to maintain the health of these energy systems.

Our consciousness and chi are pulled, twisted, depleted and damaged every day without our knowing and then we wonder why we are tired at the end of the day. 

Many teachers of the modern versions of ancient training are completely unaware of the original purpose of those trainings, that is, to teach students to become aware of this level of perception.  That level of perception has been lost for the most part and only the shell of the teachings remain. 

Some of those teachers have privately admitted to me that they don’t even understand what they are teaching but they do it to earn a living.  I’m afraid that genuine teaching, in all of these systems, is in danger of dying out.  The main reason for this is that these teachings have become a form of entertainment.  Teachers have to become showmen and emphasize the hype and glitter in order to gain students. 

Without advanced students to practice with, their own abilities, which originally may have been genuine, gradually fade away.  In each generation, the students put in less and less effort to learn until the teachers have no real abilities or awareness. 

The culture stops valuing this awareness, this connection to nature.  Yet within each of us beats the heart of our original biological awareness, our original vitality, witnessing its own gradual death.  The place this awareness lives within us is a place of despair.  At every moment, it calls out to us like a prayer to God. But we don’t answer because we don’t understand what is going on.  Our culture denies the existence of our true nature and values us only as pieces of the great machine of the economy. 

When we wonder if we have the time or the energy to get involved in a practice that brings us back to ourselves, our dying vitality ask, “Why do you even have to ask?” 

We live in a rich world of life, filled with conscious energy.  Yet when we look at the world the only things we notice are the speeding cars and the exciting television screen.  We have lost the ability to see conscious life itself. 

I saw a comedian on television who complained that his children wanted a “3D” television.  He told them, “Go outside.  Everything is in 3D.”

We humans are designed to soar, in our own way, as the eagles above us.  The choice we have as individuals and as a culture is, what does it mean to be human.  You can decide that for your own life.


The principle of yin/yang can be applied to the dynamics of attention. A large part of the training of Zookinesis is to learn that attention itself has dynamics. There is a physics to the energy of attention. Each aspect of attention (its strength, agility, resolution, etc.) can be developed.
Zookinesis recognizes two ways in which attention can be used. In modern times, we use Yang attention. Our attention grabs onto things, whether objects we see or thoughts in our minds. It is an aggressive attention as if the attention was hands grabbing out through the eyes to get things.
Yin attention is different. It is like what happens to attention when you rest. Your attention just drifts and expands. Yin attention is associated with relaxation while Yang attention is associated with agitation and aggression. Both are necessary in balance. When you have too much Yang attention, you may have high blood pressure and people say you are “wound up” or “wired”. If you have too much yin attention, you may be lazy and careless and people say you are “flaky”.
You can imagine yin attention as if your eyes were the edge of a waterfall. The water is like all the things you see, and they come pouring in through the eyes and fall down into the tan-tien (an area just below the navel inside the body. This is the geographical center of the body – the balance point). You “absorb” the world around you with your attention.
Yang attention is associated with action and Yin attention with feeling and awareness. One of the problems in teaching Taoist arts is that people find it difficult to perceive and to act at the same time. Since our attention is single pointed (able to focus on only one thing at a time), we can either perceive or we can react.
There is no biological reason for this. It is just cultural. Zookinesis and Tai-chi-Chuan teach us to use all the dynamics of attention at the same time, to be able to perceive and react simultaneously. In this way you can constantly adjust to the situation. The expression “release your attention” means that you stop holding onto the attention and you let your awareness expand all around you. It feels as if your inner feelings become connected to the world around you.
This is the natural state of a human being. Being disconnected is not natural. Yet if I were to ask you if you were connected to the world around you, you might say you were. There is a difference between being connected because you can see things around you and being connected because your attention is “released” to expand into the environment. This can only be understood through training, or through extensive time spent in nature.
We get a glimpse of it when we are in love because then something flows between you and your loved one and connects you together. For many, it is difficult to experience attention separate from what you are paying attention to. Attention is not the same as thinking and it is not the computer monitor you are looking at.
At the point you do experience this, you have made great progress in your practice. Then you can begin to develop your attention. You will realize that all living things are connected to each other through the energy of attention.


This practice is essential for progress in Tai-chi and Zookinesis. Each of us feels “we” are located somewhere in space. This location may be the head, the entire body, just the thoughts within our head, just our emotions or some combination of these things.

I would say that most people feel they are in their heads. This makes the rest of the body feel somewhat foreign. As I have written before, if I ask someone to pay attention to their feet, their attention will go from their head to their feet.

The passive observer training is very difficult to understand, but I will try to describe it simply. In Zookinesis it is called “living in the dragon’s cave”. The dragon’s cave is empty space. Yet within that cave lies the dragon which represents inner power and creativity. The dragon’s cave (or the “center of the world” as it is known in other cultures) is not located in space. It is the world beyond ordinary human experience. Your feeling of where you are located must be in the dragon’s cave.

To explain this better, realize that when you see the whole space around you, you are actually “seeing” two spots of light, one on each retina of the eye. The area of visual acuity is 1/8 of an inch in diameter. From these two tiny spots of light, you envision an entire scene. You compare the tiny bit of light with your memory of walking through such a “space”, you compare the light on one retina with that of the other for stereoscopic vision and do other calculations to come up with the scene.

Much (if not most) of the scene is your way of creating something out of very little information. Yet out of this tiny amount of data we get the immense world before us. In Zookinesis we have access to other perceptions – the sense of internal energy and the sense of the dynamics of attention. We can use the same inner gymnastics to put together a “scene” using these senses. This scene can give access to what is going on within our bodies.

The passive observer does not get caught up in these inner gymnastics. It watches the gymnastics to understand how we are constantly building our worlds out of our senses, our memories and our imaginations. It observes the mechanics behind the world that most of us see. The passive observer is powerful in its non-involvement with the gymnastics. Since it does not get caught up in “the action”, it can appreciate “the action”.

You, as the student, can be aware of the perspective of the passive observer and of the poor little student caught up in all the emotions and mental activities and body awkwardness. (You are both of these.) You can observe the constituent parts of your awkwardness (mental, emotional even spiritual as well as the tensions and improper use of the body).

You do not feel bad about your awkwardness because feeling bad is simply one of the constituent parts. The passive observer does not feel bad. It just observes the dynamics of feeling bad without comment. Some people feel that this practice may turn you into a cold, unfeeling person. Rather, it frees you from the prison of patterns of emotions and thinking and allows the emotions and thinking to flow from your creativity.

When you live in the dragon’s cave, this frees the dragon to emerge from its cave and live in the world. (Remember that the dragon is creativity). The greatest power of the dragon is that it can smack with its tail. When you feel bad (let’s say about not doing the Tai-chi form well), the dragon just laughs at your emotional gymnastics because they are so silly. Laughter is the dragon’s tail smacking you to wake up!

There is an extensive mythology based on animal behavior in the Zookinesis training such as the dragon described above. To put it simply, you can laugh at yourself when you can see yourself from another perspective. Comedians do this all the time. They take a situation we take for granted and describe it from another point of view that reveals the absurdity of the situation. The passive observer is that other point of view where we don’t just take things for granted. Developing the passive observer is built into every aspect of Zookinesis training and proper Tai-chi training.