Is Shibashi Qigong or Taiji?

The honest answer to this question is that it has elements of both. Let’s start by making sure we know the difference between taiji and qigong.

Taiji is a martial art that is recognised for its softness, slow yet powerful movements and therapeutic health building properties.  It can be described as moving meditation and sometimes shadow boxing. Students learn a series of movements known as a form, which can be a hand form or a weapon form. There are several schools, which have variations of the moves, depending on their applications and forms are often known by the number of moves e.g. Long form might have 119 moves while there are shorter 37 step forms or even 18.

Qigong is a system of, literally, energy exercises. There may only be 5 or 8 moves, as these are generally designed to work with the meridians, which work with the organs of the body. These are repeated 4, 5 or 8 times. This makes qigong moves easier to follow, to learn and to practise for those who don’t wish to make a series study or practice. It is often described as health qigong to emphasise the different purpose from the martial element of taiji. Massage and herbal medicine are also associated with qigong exercises.

Shibashi offers a bridge between the two. There are 18 moves, but as these are repeated usually 4 times and as none of them is physically difficult, it is a very accessible short taiji form, suitable for all ages.

As with all qigong forms, the exercise should leave you feeling relaxed, cleansed and energised and with a big smile on your face!

Because the qi energy will be moving through your body, bringing energy and pushing out toxins, we recommend drinking a lot of water to help eliminate the toxins.

Next workshop will be a demonstration as part of a one day retreat at Portavadie with Di Oliver.

The next full day workshop will be on Saturday 8th June.

What Shibashi Means to Me

I was first introduced to Shibashi by the late great Ronnie Robinson at a taster workshop during Tai Chi Caledonia.

“I’m not going to say anything,” he announced, waving us into a circle on the grass. “Just copy me. I’ll repeat the moves about four times. If I keep going, one of you isn’t doing it right and I’ll keep going until you do it right so pay attention.”

I was intrigued as to how I might learn something that way, but it worked. Not to the point that I could remember all the moves or the order they came in, but I could certainly follow and repeat in a meaningful way. The lack of oral instruction gave me time and space to listen to how it felt in my own body. We all finished with big smiles on our faces.

When I did my two year teacher training course, I was delighted to learn that Shibashi would be on the syllabus and that Ronnie would be teaching it. At that level, naturally, we went into things in greater depth. I have books a DVD and notes galore, but it is the simplicity of the moves that makes it accessible to everyone. I teach it weekly at our over 65s Friendship Club, where some of them regard it as ‘exercises’ and some of them ‘get it’ as qigong or taiji.

When I give a demonstration of qigong at a Women’s Group, School Health Week or whatever, Shibashi is the ideal form to present. Unlike Ronnie, who knew he was teaching people with at least the basics of qigong understanding, I go through each move once. I explain to people that when I ask them to put their hands here, I mean here and not there, because we are activating precise acupuncture points. And I also want to ensure that people don’t try too hard, making big moves. Often western people associate exercise with painful stretching and great effort, whereas eastern exercises are much more gentle and in the case of qigong and taiji, it is internal energy that is being worked.

And then we do go through the moves without instruction, because people are confident enough to follow me and the music. And they pretty well always finish with big smiles on their faces.

When is the next workshop?

There are now nine versions of Shibashi, each with eighteen moves. I shall be teaching this lovely form at Portavadie on Sunday 14th April as part of a me-time day retreat with Di Oliver. Di will be teaching Dru Yoga and when not working in the studio with us, you can enjoy lunch, a glass of bubbly and all the facilities of the Spa.

I will also be teaching a more in depth version on June 8th.

Happy Chinese New Year

According to chinese astrology , 2019 is a good year to make investments, not just in business but in friendships. It is considered an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all spheres of life. In Chinese culture, Pigs are a symbol of wealth and people born in the Year of the Pig are said to have a attractive personality and be blessed with good fortune.

The Pig is the twelfth and last of the Chinese zodiac animals. Jade Emperor held a party and decreed that the order of the animals in the zodiac would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. According to one myth, the Pig was late because he overslept. Another version says that a wolf destroyed his house and he had to rebuild his home before he could leave. Whichever you wish to believe, Pig was the last of the twelve to arrive.

As well as a twelve year cycle of animals, the Chinese zodiac also cycles through the five elements of nature and yin and yang. Paired with the Celestial Stems, this gives a 60-year calendrical cycle.
In 2019, the pig is yin and earth and earth is brown. Yin Earth is wet soil, flatland or farmland, so 2019 is also called the year of Muddy Pig. The transition from Yang Earth Dog of 2018 to Yin Earth Pig of 2019 can see mountains being washed away. It can be a dangerous time for large organisations or countries.

Personality and characteristics

Pigs might not put themselves in the limelight but they want power and responsibility in order to obtain what they want.
Even when given a humdrum job they tackle it energetically and enthusiastically. They aren’t extravagant or greedy but they enjoy the material things of life and are seen as successful by others.
Being able to hold solid objects in their hands gives them security.
These Pigs make friends from all walks of life but if they have any fault, they can be too trusting. If people do take advantage of them, their wide circle of friends will help out.

Training for Training

People often ask me how much practise I do a day or a week. I remember my first teacher telling us that if you practise every day in between class, that’s ideal but not everyone can manage it. If you don’t practise for one day, you’ll know, but probably no-one else will notice. If you don’t practise for two or three days, your teacher will notice. If you don’t practise at all, everyone will notice.

But what is Training and what is Practise? 

One difference is the newness of what you are doing. Training might involve learning something new in a class or workshop which may take a few hours to get into your memory. But then you go home and practise. The desire to reach a good standard may require hours of practise, daily, for years.  This applies equally to learning a routine series of moves and practising in order to remember it and learning a technique that you then practise in order to improve.

And then there’s cross-training.

This is where you employ other activities to benefit your practise. A runner who wants to improve doesn’t just run. He or she has to cover strength, speed and endurance, so will use specific exercises for each of these attributes. Swimming, for example, is often used to improve cardiovascular fitness without constantly hammering on the joints.

Most classes and workshops will begin with a warm-up to prepare the body for the work that it’s going to be doing. This consists of a combination of literally warming up the muscles and joints and encouraging flexibility. This could be termed training for training. 

Training for Training?

If you are going to do any longer workshops, for example  a full weekend, or even a month, should you do any additional training for the extra work you’re going to be asking from yourself? It would almost be silly not to wouldn’t it? In the same way as someone stepping up from running 10 km road races to 26 mile marathons  needs to build up to that, you’ll enjoy the experience better, be less likely to overreach and  injure yourself and be more able to benefit from the experience if you make sure you are at a good level of readiness. (This is often as much about the ability to concentrate as about physical fitness.)

I hope I’m listening to myself! Next Spring I shall be going to China for three weeks training at Wudangshan. At this point in time, I don’t know much about the workload or the activities but I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve a lot more than my normal level. For a start I’ve been told there will be 4 hours of meditation a day. 

So to answer the original question, my normal day involves 20 minutes to half an hour of meditation, and one or two qigong sets in the morning. At night taiji or bagua and another 20 minutes to half an hour of meditation. If I have just learnt a new routine, I’ll work more on that. What you learn at the weekend is a dance routine. Only practise turns it into qigong. Similarly if I’m teaching a workshop I’ll do extra preparation on that.  And because I’m a gardener I have a tendency to develop a range of peculiar injuries and sore bits and frequently have to do a number of stretching activities to sort myself out. 

Quality not Quantity

With a view to making the most of next Spring’s wonderful training trip to Wudangshan, everything is gradually being stepped up and focused. I’m training quality not quantity, being more of a perfectionist  and paying attention to the basic details because, as we all know, you can get away with a slightly out of kilter knee once or twice but not a thousand times. I’m trying to find and fix any sloppy habits now!

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?

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.

Therapy 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. 

The next half day workshop on this topic will be held on Saturday November 10th at Whitehouse.  Early bird discount until 2nd November.

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.

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!