Why West Coast Wuji?

When you launch a business or a school or simply an event, you require a meaningful name or title. It should also be catchy but without losing sight of the serious underlying purpose of the business/school/event. So why West Coast Wuji, apart from the obvious fact that I live and practice on the west coast of Scotland?

Doesn’t wuji mean ‘nothing?’ Why would I want to do or practise or become nothing?

Etymology!
Wuji (pinyin) or Wu Chi (Wade-Giles) actually refers to the unmanifest aspect of Dao (pinyin) or Tao (Wade-Giles): It is Dao-in-stillness. It is the undifferentiated timelessness which, in the Taijitu Shuo(a traditional Taoist diagram) is represented by an empty circle.

According to Daoism, Wuji refers to a state of non-distinction prior to the differentiation into the Yin and Yang. This is followed by the ba gua, the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching and finally the ten-thousand-things – all the phenomena of the manifest world that we concern ourselves with and worry about.

Wuji can therefore be seen as a point of potential for movement, which is taiji (pinyin) or tai chi (Wade-Giles). Hence, before we begin our taiji or qigong exercises, we adopt wuji stance.

In most workshops, we begin with 10 minutes sitting or standing meditation for this very reason. Our workshops give you time to do something which will be of real benefit. In order to achieve this, you need to be able to concentrate on the job in hand and not be constantly worrying about the birthday card you have to buy or the iron you might have left switched on. All these things are dealt with (not ignored) leaving you free to make the most of the session.

To practise Daoism, or to follow the Dao, – not that we are necessarily doing this during the workshops – I mention it as an explanation of the choice of word – one takes the “path of return” on which one leaves behind the material possessions and concerns of the world and returns to wuji. (Many of the world’s religions and belief systems follow a similar philosophy but using different language.)

Peace and Harmony
Daoism recognises that things are not fixed but constantly changing so it talks about the constant cycling between Dao-in-stillness and Dao-in-movement: between the unmanifest Wuji and the manifest Taiji, with its flow between yin and yang. Polarised phenomena (yin and yang) come from Wuji and then return to it, via taiji. The qigong and taiji exercises that we practise are simply part of this search for peace and harmony at every level.

Reconnecting with Nature through the Six Healing Sounds

There is a fascinating world of new (and old) research into the world of sounds and the effects of sound vibration on everything. Sound therapy is an ancient method of healing.
Tibetan monks, for example, have used a method of “overtone chanting” for thousands of years for treating illness. The theory is that since everything in the universe is in a constant state of vibration, including the human body, even the smallest change in frequency can affect the internal organs.

Modern sound therapists consider a natural resonance or “note” that is in harmony for each part of the human body, and for each individual. Therefore, by directing specific sound waves to specific areas, they can affect the frequency of which that part is vibrating and thereby restore it to balance and therefore health.

Shawn Picarsic has been producing beautiful pictures showing the effects of sound on a bowl of water, for example. These aren’t just pretty gimics. Given that the human body is largely composed of water, imagine the effect on a human being of different sounds. 

“One has only one way for inhalation but six for exhalation”
Tau Hongjing of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 – 589)

How Qigong Comes Into It
Qi is often described as the vibratory nature of the Universe. The Six Healing Sounds Qigong uses the exhalation of breath to cause vibrations which regulate and control the rise and fall of Qi (vital energy) inside the body through six different sounds. These affect the five organs, the liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys and the triple heater, which balances all the energy systems. 

These are all related to the Five Elements which will also be part of the Wild Heart Singing Weekend, I shall be using the Six Healing Sounds Qigong to enhance the total experience. Accompanied by simple movements, accompanied by birdsong and tinkling water, we will be able to explore the vibrationary nature of the elements in the beautiful surroundings of Comriach, near Kilmartin.

Booking
In this joint workshop with SueKali during the Wild Heart Singing weekend of 23rd and 24th June 2018, we will have a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in Nature and experience many aspects of the Five Elements and the Six Healing Sounds.

This will be a weekend of songs, chants, silence, movement, nature-nourishment – experiencing the exhilaration of our senses being enlivened, our voices resonating with water, earth, rock, trees, birds, sky, sun and wind.

An early bird rate of £100 for the full weekend applies until 30th May and Sue also provides accommodation should this be helpful.

Reconnecting With Nature through the Five Elements

The Five Elements are crucial to any understanding of Chinese thinking, medicine, and culture in general. They are slightly different from the Four Elements in Western Nature, being Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.

Each element is characterised by a Season, a Colour, an Internal Organ, an Orifice, Negative Emotions, Positive Emotions, a Direction, a Planet and a Process. As this is Summer, we are under the influence of the Fire element but of course all the others still exist! We just need to be aware of how they operate at this time and the effect they have on each other. The object of the exercise is to bring every aspect into harmony.

In the above cycle, the elements support each other, however, by using them in a different order, they can be destructive. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. We use the destructive order when we practise Qigong because our intention is to eliminate toxic influences or excesses.

In addition to the Five Element workshop I shall also be using the Six Healing Sounds Qigong to enhance the total experience. There is a fascinating world of new (and old) research into the world of sound and the effects of sound vibration on everything.

Booking
In the Five Elements workshop which will be taking place at the beautiful Comriach Sanctuary, during the Wild Heart Singing weekend of 23rd and 24th June 2018, we will have a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in Nature and experience many aspects of the Five Elements.

This will be a weekend of songs, chants, silence, movement, nature-nourishment – experiencing the exhilaration of our senses being enlivened, our voices resonating with water, earth, rock, trees, birds, sky, sun and wind.

An early bird rate of £100 for the full weekend applies until 3oth May and Sue also provides accommodation should this be helpful.

Trying Something New

When you get to a certain age, it becomes harder to keep pace with things in this fast moving world. I remember my aunt commenting on this and saying that she made it a rule to keep up to date with developments in her field of work/interest but just left the rest to someone else.

I think it’s good advice. Limiting how much information to attempt to absorb can be liberating. We’re constantly exposed to ‘news’ via social media and often it has been taken from elsewhere, adapted into a meme or simply not fully researched.

However, when you do have a field of work or interest that you are passionate about, then you should be an expert and you should be open to new thinking and new developments.

So, a couple of weeks ago, in the interests of broadening my knowledge about healthy bodies, I went to trigger point pilates with Jacqui Barker for the first time. Jacqui is a local fitness instructor who covers a wide range of activities. I’ve been intrigued by pilates for a while, as I believe it works on the core muscles, much like qigong  and taiji. It certainly did!

Many of the moves were similar to those recommended by various physios over the years to help with various sore bits. But these were done lying on the floor, with soft and prickly coloured balls and a giant coloured elastic band. There was a lot to take in, we seemed to rush from one move to the next but it was a good workout. I went back last Friday and found that, with familiarity, things were not so rushed and there was more time to explore the movements.

And another thing
That evening, I was really on a roll with the trying new things idea. In June I’ll be sharing a workshop with Suekali from the Cromriach Natural Sanctuary at Kilmichael. Sue combines singing with a spiritual slant at her Wild Heart Singing  weekends and I shall be complementing the elemental side with qigong exercises (The Five Elements and the 6 Healing Sounds). On Friday evenings she offers a couple of hours of chanting, so I went to see how this works in with taiji and qigong.

There were four of us and Sue led the chants in her lovely (gaelic choir) singing voice. She has studied raga, which is an Indian form of singing that uses the breath in a special way so that singing becomes effortless, with no long term effects on the throat or vocal chords. She and her partner have been approached by professional singers to help them and no wonder.

Buddhist ceremonies involve some chanting but that was the limit of my experience (we won’t mention the Giffnock Primary School choir back in the nineteenfifties). Could I sit on the floor and sing/chant for two hours without wriggling, going off key, or falling asleep?

Well amazingly I could! Each chant was very different and accompanied by a different musical instrument – what a collection! When time permits I’ll go back and as the nights get milder and longer these sessions will be held out of doors, weather permitting!

The third dose of something new came that Sunday when I went to a Tina Faulkner Elders workshop in Kinross. I admire Tina greatly. Her taiji and qigong are beautiful to watch in the way that energy radiates from her perfect movements and her smile illuminates the world around her. She trained with her father, Master Gordon Faulkner then attended Beijing University and trained with a number of masters, currently Chen Lisheng, before setting up her own school in Stonehaven.

The title of the workshop was 3 Circles and 5 Bows. It turned out to be not an esoteric new qigong routine but more pilates! Well, not exactly. We were standing up for a start. But the circles consisted of the spine, shoulders and hip and the bows are the spine, two arms and two legs. So there were lots of exercises designed to strengthen our core and keep our joints flexible. These are foundation exercises that work underneath the muscle and bone directly into the soft tissue. This finer level of releasing and connecting into the soft tissue is what underpins the development and transformation of the ‘Qi body’ so we can move and guide our qi more effectively.

In between, of course, on the Saturday, I had fun in Whitehouse with the ladies who came to go over Ba Duan Jin and learn The Healing Promise of Qi.

Something old and something new. Good for me and good for you!

 

Drop in Qigong

The last session this year will be a bit of a mix. It could be chaotic or it could be enlightening!

If you aren’t very sure about coming for a whole day, you can ‘drop in’ and try an hour long session (or 2!). If you have attended previous workshops, you can ‘drop in’ and revise a form you want to brush up on – or just practise in a group again.

I can’t cover all the workshops we’ve done, so I’ve listed 5 options. If you want to request a different one, let me know and maybe I can substitute. Or if it’s just one aspect you want to ask about, I’m sure we can fit it in somewhere. Or if you want to come in the afternoon but the workshop you’re interested in is in the morning, maybe I can rearrange the times.

Of course you’re welcome to come for the whole day! However, although the event is free, I do urge you to book in with the options you want, for the above reason. Things might change!

Here’s how it could work
At the moment I’m planning to start with

The Healing Promise of Qi. This is an easy set of 9 exercises (repeated 3 times each) devised by Roger Jahnke OMD to gather and focus qi energy.

Daoyin Baojian Gong is a set of 8 exercises devised by Professor Zhang Guande for General Health.

Ba Duan Jin is also known as the 8 Fine Treasures or 8 Pieces of Brocade. Again there are 8 exercises, which we repeat 8 times for General Health.

Shibashi is known as the 18 step taiji qigong. As the name suggests, it includes 18 simple exercises which we repeat 4 or 5 times.

We’ll finish with the bodyscan from the Mindfulness workshop. This needs silence, so please be on time if you want to take part.

I need your feedback in order to adapt this day to make it work for you. Please Book here to request the workshops that interest you.

Qigong in a Glasgow Garden

During the Merchant City Festival this summer, we discovered a gem of a garden just off the High Street in Glasgow. It’s Greyfriars Community Garden, run by and for local residents, who grow the most amazing things in 2 tonne containers that Jewson and the like deliver sand and stone in. The gardens are like mini allotments for people who live in nearby flats and tenements.

Unfortunately the land is owned by developers who will soon be wanting to realise their investment by building flats but, in the meantime, it’s not sitting derelict and unloved, it’s been transformed into a haven of peace in this busy corner of Glasgow. The wild flower garden in particular is like a meadow, full of wild flowers – you could be anywhere but in the city.

It seemed to me that it would be a lovely spot to practise taiji or qigong so I offered to run a couple of free sessions the next time the garden is open to the public. That time will be Doors Open Day, which runs from Wednesday 13th to Sunday 17th October.

I’ll be doing two sessions, Shibashi and Daoyin Baojian Gong, on the Saturday and Sunday.

Please keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain!

Qigong, Chi Kong, Tai Chi, Taiji Chuan – Whaaaat?

I’ve written elsewhere about qi, energy, and gong, work, but we still see many variations in the spelling of the words. I appreciate that it’s confusing and that people who have seen the words chi kong or tai chi may wonder if we’re talking about the same thing.

We are, and we aren’t.

Imagine if you will, early travellers in China who had no means of reading or pronouncing Chinese, and Chinese speakers (with their own dialects and pronounciations) who had no means of explaining their language to Westerners. In order to enable Westerners to read and pronounce Chinese words, they first had to be identified, sounded out phonetically and romanised.

History
One of the first people to attempt to do this was the British ambassador in China, Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century. Herbert A. Giles completed his work and published “A Chinese-English Dictionary” in 1892. This became known as the Wade-Giles system.

It lasted for most of the twentieth century, until the Chinese themselves decided to make an official system. They wanted to make it easy to use the Chinese language through standard typewriters and, more recently, computer keyboards. In October 1949, the Association for Reforming the Chinese Written Language was established.

The development of the new system was a complex process, which had to respect the many dialects spoken in China etc. etc. The committee which had to develop this system got nowhere and  eventually everything went on hold during the Cultural Revolution. It was 1982 before they finally agreed on and launched International Standard Hanyu Pinyin.

By this time, however, we in the west had adopted chinese health systems and martial arts using the Wade-Giles system. Wade-Giles uses an apostrophe to distinguish aspirated consonants and unaspirated consonants, such as pʻa and pa respectively, rather than using separate letters as in Pīnyīn (pa and ba). Unfortunately, many people omitted the apostrophe, assuming that it wasn’t important.

Chee
Now this is where it gets relevant for us. If the apostrophe is omitted from the four sounds represented in Pīnyīn by j, q, zh, and ch, they all become ch

Thus, the words for energy work (qi gong) were pronounced just like the words for the supreme absolute martial art (taiji chuan). Inevitably this led to some confusion of the meaning, but since taiji  chuan contains energy work, no one got terribly upset. (Actually, I have seen a few rants on this topic so some people do!) However, we might as well get it right, so, since Pīnyīn was introduced, we have tried to popularise the correct spelling of qigong and taiji chuan to represent their correct pronounciation and to reflect their  different meanings.

So, yes, chi kong and qigong are the same thing. And tai chi and taiji are the same thing. But chi kong and tai chi are not the same.

You can find much more detailed explanations of Chinese linguistics elsewhere, but I hope this helps to explain our little world of j, q, zh and ch!

What is this thing called Qi?

The next workshop is called The Healing Promise of Qi and is based on Roger Jahnke’s book of that name. However, in order to use qi as a healing tool it helps to understand a little bit about it.

What is Qi?

We can think of qi as a life force – an energy, the vibratory nature of phenomena. You can’t touch it but you can feel it. It is working continuously at molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels and is recognised by many ancient cultures under different names, such as ‘prana’ or ‘Great Spirit’.

The Three Treasures

Qi is one of the Three Treasures (San Bao) along with Jing, or Essence and Shen, which is similar to what we call the Mind and Spirit. The Mind-Spirit is a combination of Jing and Qi, so we can see the reason for the maxim ‘A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body.’

Where is Qi?

Like the song, qi is all around us, in heaven and earth, trees, flowers and water, as well as the meridians in our bodies. Thus there are different kinds of qi. We are born with Yuan Qi, which is inherited from our ancestors. Then we absorb postnatal qi from food, water and the environment. There is wei qi, which is protective qi that flows at the surface of the body and each organ has its own qi. According to daoist cosmology, the two most fundamental forms are yin qi and yang qi, the primordial feminine and masculine energies.

How does it work?

“Contemporary biophysics and new era cell biology are confirming much of what the ancients Daoist investigators of Qi seemed to intuit. We know that the universe is alive and dynamic with various forces including gravity, cosmic rays and the energetic frequencies of the sun. In qigong theory  a profound force enters the human system from the universe – heaven energy – and an equally potent and subtle force enters the human body from the earth, which we know is a huge magnet – earth energy…. The resources of heaven gather in the qi reservoir of the head and influence particularly the upper body. The resources of earth gather in the lower belly reservoir and influence the lower body.

“The heaven and earth link together through what is called the Central Taiji Channel… The connection of heaven and earth in the human system, through the Central Taiji Channel, parallels the vertebral column and the central flow of blood, lymph, cerebrospinal fluid and neurological activity.”1

Qi naturally flows through the meridians, nourishing and balancing. Like water in a pipe, if it becomes blocked, qi becomes stagnant and leads to swelling, pain and ill health: or, if there is insufficient supply, the body becomes weak and open to attack by bacteria and viruses.

Like a feng shui practitioner, we can recognise when something is not working smoothly and try to remedy it. This can be accomplished through acupuncture points using needles, cups or hand pressure but we can also use simple specific exercises to work on these points and to ensure a good nourishing flow of healthy qi. You can practise these qi gong exercises or energy work exercises at any time for health maintenance. You don’t have to wait until you’re ill!

The first part of the exercises associated with Roger’s Qigong form involve finding qi in our own bodies, becoming aware of the qi in the environment and gathering heaven and earth qi to send through the body.

The Healing Promise of Qi by Roger Jahnke.

 

Taiji and Qigong Coming Soon to a Calendar Near You

I’ve been trying to plan my taiji and qigong year for the past couple of months. Naturally I don’t want to clash my workshops with anyone else’s but I had to go to a number of sources to find out what’s going on and when. It took ages. There are already some unfortunate clashes. But the result is …..drumroll….. a taiji calendar of events in Scotland.

I hope it will be useful not only to students wanting to see what’s on but also to organisers so that they can avoid clashes.

We’re kind of making it up as we go along. What information do people need? And of course it’s not definitive. Some workshops are only circulated by email or facebook page to people who already follow that school, because, for example, students of Yang style taiji will not be interested in going to a Chen style workshop. That’s fair enough.

Then again, some teachers are a bit mysterious – they don’t mean to be – they are used to the same people turning up every year, usually members of their weekly classes, who know what to expect. Or they don’t mention the cost of the workshop, or the times, which means that people have to ask, wait for an answer and then discover that, by the time you’ve booked travel and accommodation, what seemed a reasonably priced workshop has used up a large chunk of the annual budget.

However, there are a lot of workshops, particularly Qigong workshops,  that are of interest to a wide range of people, so here is a start. I tried to find a plug in for the website but all the calendars I came across required me to write an article about it, which will be too time consuming. In the end I went for a Google calendar. It still needs me to fill it in to start it off, but I believe that it is editable, thus enabling organisers themselves to add more information as it comes to hand. If you can suggest a better one, please let me know.

If you’re organising an event and would like it to be included here, please provide as much information as possible. I think what we need to know is:

  • Date
  • Place (General and postcode for satnav)
  • Times (Can I get there in time or do I need accommodation?)
  • Teacher and style
  • Particular topic (Have I done this before or is it new? Is it suitable for beginners, or do you have to be able to stand on one leg? )
  • Cost (including how and when to pay and whether a deposit is required)
  • Are refreshments or meals provided or available?

At the moment I’m just covering Scotland but if anyone can point me to a better calendar with a way of searching by area, it could be rolled out nationwide or even international.

All feedback welcome!

 

 

 

 

Enhancing Qigong with Mindfulness

Why Mindfulness? you may ask. It’s the latest thing. Are you just jumping on a bandwagon?

Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out myself. I first came across the term in relation to buddhist studies many years ago, probably as part of yoga. It wasn’t something I ever thought of as a subject on its own. Yet I’ve been intrigued to discover recently that many of my Taiji and Qigong friends and colleagues have qualifications in or teach or practise mindfulness, sorry Mindfulness, since it has now clearly become something in its own right.

I don’t believe it is possible to practise Taiji or Qigong without being mindful – at least as I understand the term – focused and aware of the consequences of one’s actions. Yet if so many people I respect are offering Mindfulness as something of value to clients who are looking for a way of dealing with stress, and getting more out of life, then I have something to learn.

Too many choices?

We have many choices available to us these days in terms of therapies and self-healing practices so how do you choose which one is going to see you through? Do you try them all or concentrate on one?

It partly depends on whether you want something to enhance your lifestyle and ability to get things done well, rather than just survive, or whether you have developed a condition of some kind, say, depression, which needs to be supported. I suspect all these options are beneficial. The choice will be down to the teacher, the availability of classes, and, most significantly, your own self discipline, because, let’s face it, unless you’re going to practise at home, you’re asking an awful lot of an hourly session once a week. So find something you enjoy.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with dabbling until you find something that works for you, but when you do find that something, the benefits of practising in depth and thoroughly, are manifest. For this reason, I am looking forward to finding out how Mindfulness can help my Taiji and Qigong practise and have invited practitioner Karen Fenna to come to Tarbert and show me.

karenKaren’s Mindfulness workshop, on the 12th of November, will show new ways of relating to our experience that enable us to handle thoughts and feelings differently. Instead of either becoming sucked into problems, or trying to avoid them at all costs, we learn to break free from habitual patterns and see things from a different perspective.
We will learn greater awareness of feelings, sensations and thoughts that are normally out of the ordinary field of awareness.
There’s more information here. A generous part of the workshop will include physiological topics such as breathing and posture, walking and (yes!) qigong exercise. I hope that you too will be interested in coming and finding out a bit more.