There’s a well known Chinese curse that says, ‘May you live in interesting times’. We certainly are, all of us, now affected by something that feels as though it has come right out of a science fiction novel.
We’re seeing a lot on television and social media about Chinese doctors and nurses who are practising taiji and qigong with their patients. Let’s dispel one myth straight away: this is not a cure for the coronavirus. People in China use qigong all the time to strengthen the immune system.
While Ba Duan Jin (8 Fine Treasures or 8 Pieces of Brocade) seems to be the most common, I’d like to recommend a practice that was devised by Professor Zhang Guangde at Beijing University, It’s called Yiqi Yangfei Gong, Qigong for the Respiratory System and is part of the Daoyin Yangsheng Gong system that Professor Zhang Guangde created. There’s one for the heart, one for the stomach and so on.
Qigong works through the meridians which mainly relate to the organs of the body and this particular one focuses on the lungs and the large intestine.
The lung is said to be the master of qi. It connects to the throat and to the openings of the heart and liver. It controls breathing, taking in fresh qi and eliminating stale qi. Breathing, in turn, controls the autonomous nervous system, which is why breathing is the basis for meditation and qigong and forms a bridge between the body and the mind.
Physically, the lungs sit on top of all the other organs, keeping them in check and pushing materials down into the large intestine, hence this connection between these paired yin and yang organs.
Taijiquan and Qigong teachers can no longer run face to face classes so a fair few are making videos or running classes by live streaming. Ruyi School of Taijiquan & Qigong in Aberdeenshire is one of these and Tina Faulkner Elders actually studied with Professor Zhang Guangde at Beijing University and is a graduate of the university so, rather than watch me doing it, I recommend you to Tina, a direct lineage student, as she goes through this form in detail over the next few weeks.
Here’s the link – you don’t have to be on Facebook to follow it. Facebook.com/RuyiAberdeenshire/ or search for Ruyi School of Taijiquan & Qigong Tina will be streaming her classes on Mondays from 10:00-11:00 and Wednesdays from 12:30-13:30 and I believe these will also be available to watch on YouTube: Ruyi school later. It’s completely free – but please consider that small businesses like Ruyi school teachers have lost their income stream at the moment, so if you can donate to Tina at paypal.me/TinaFaulknerElders to thank her financially, I hope you will.
I hope you’re keeping virus free, or if you do catch it that you recover quickly and don’t pass it on. By taking care of ourselves, we look after the community. By taking care of the community, we look after ourselves.
Other things you can do, I’m sure you know anyway, Eat good food, get outside every day, not just when the weather’s nice, and try to do something interesting with your extra time at home.
It was Ben Morris’s workshops that attracted me at Tai Chi Caledonia this summer. Ben is an experienced martial artist with a background in Kyushindo Judo, Xing Yi and Bagua as well as Taiji. And what makes his take on things so special is the fact that he is a lecturer in Health Psychology at Leeds Trinity University – in other words, someone who combines modern and ancient healing arts. I thought he might offer some unique insights and I wasn’t disappointed.
His called his workshops ‘Translating the tai chi classics through sensing hands’. I rarely have the opportunity to practise partner work so this was a gift not to be ignored. The workshops were carefully built up, exploring the 8 energies or 8 powers of taiji. This is like practising scales on the piano, a chance to put everything you know into something uncomplicated, thereby working without the distractions of trying to remember a form (or melody, to continue the analogy).
We learn from day one in taiji, ‘Wait until your partner moves, then move first.’ This is great advice for everything in life – don’t waste energy and effort if you don’t have to. And make sure you know as much as possible about the nature of the threat so that you can counter it efficiently.
If you watch two people engaged in sensing hands, they will appear not to be moving, not to be doing anything, just standing holding each other’s shoulders. But there is a focus. In Chinese, the character ‘ting’ used for ‘listening’ (as opposed to ‘hearing’) means ‘attending to the other person with your eyes, ears and heart’.
This act of patient and deliberate listening is seen as a sign of generosity, and an acknowledgement that you are taking the other person’s needs seriously. Here it is applied to listening to your partner to see if you can sense the point at which he or she makes the decision to move, or if you can find a small place of imbalance that you aggravate.
But you can also use it to listen to yourself.
This is where we come to the wisdom of the willow. Each morning as I practise standing meditation, the view from my window is of our wild crazy runaway willow hedge and the message is reinforced.
Yield and dance
The willow doesn’t try to fight things it can’t overcome. It moves with the wind, it bends when a bird alights on its branches. At times it seems to even enjoy the dance. I don’t think I have ever seen a willow break, not while it is rooted into the earth and drawing nourishment from the soil. Only when it becomes disconnected and dried out and brittle, might it break.
As human beings, we can be resilient and strong and kind in our responses to all manner of kindnesses and injustices that we receive for as long as we are rooted in a nourishing environment. When we don’t have that, and we feel threatened, we are weakened in energy, in strength, in confidence, in our ability to think before we speak or act. Therefore the ability to sense that something is happening is something we should all cultivate.
Buddhists call this mindfulness. It’s an early awareness that something is happening and we should sharpen our senses so as not to miss the point at which that something requires us to act.
Giving the Finger
One of Ben’s exercises was to simply use one finger to apply pressure to the partner’s chest. At first the pressure was not a problem but, as it increased, it became irritating, then painful, then dangerous, as the receiver lost balance and fell. As Ben pointed out, this might apply in a work situation, when under stress. A little stress might be exhilarating but there comes a point at which you can lose your balance and it’s good to be able to recognise that.
Your reaction may be to ask the other person to stop or you might choose to step away but all too often people don’t like to be seen not to be coping and so they keep going and keep going until they fall over.
If we can train ourselves to be like the willow and to enjoy the dance of interaction with the elements of life, we might be better placed to recognise the times when we need to say Enough. Even if we don’t feel we can simply walk out of the situation, or desert the people we care about, we can still ask for help, or time, or space before we lose touch with our roots and our ability to care for ourselves and others.
3 weeks on Wundangshan, the holiest of mountains, home of Taiji, home of Daoism, studying at the school of Master Chen Li Sheng, really can not be summed up with a blyth “great, thanks.” But that’s really all I tend to say.
When people asked me why I was going, I had two answers. One was “to find a quiet mind.” And the other was because I had always wondered what it would be like to have absolutely nothing to do but taiji. The luxury of total immersion in details of form, hand or sword, of practising bagua until I wore away the floor, of having time to go through all the qigong forms I’ve learnt is virtually impossible for any length of time at home. Bookending all this with a bit of meditation at the beginning and end of the day in an inspiring setting was to be the cream on the cake.
So how was China?
Anyone who has travelled to a country where the alphabet is so different that you look at a word and see abstract art instead of text, where everyone has black hair and dark brown eyes and where hardly anyone can make the slightest attempt at your language, will understand how much one needs to adjust to survive. The air is different, the food is different, the toilets are different…
I went with a group from Master Gordon Faulkner’s and Tina Faulkner Elders’ schools in Inverness and Aberdeen. Having met and trained with Master Chen during his visits to Scotland I was happy that the work would be interesting. I was also glad that the three weeks on the mountain were not to be interrupted by sightseeing and that I could go for the total immersion approach in order to reset my habits and focus.
Two groups took part, six of us forming the first group and another eight who came for just one week at the end. Although we didn’t all know each other we quickly gelled into a self supporting unit, helped by some previous experience from three of the group.
The school itself catered for 8 or so semi-permanent residential students, boys of school age who fitted a normal-ish school curriculum around gongfu training and girls who undertook office work in exchange for board, lodging and some training. In addition there was our group and other groups or individuals who could ‘book in’ for a weekend or up to 6 months.
Wudangshan is a World Heritage Site, a place of great beauty and cultural history. To protect it from pollution, only electric buses are allowed on the mountain, on two roads that go to either Nanyan or Qiongtai, from where a cable car ascends to the Golden Summit temple, home of the God Zhenwu, protector of Wudang and of the whole of China.
Master Chen has the use of the third floor of one of the hotels at Qiongtai. He also has a kitchen above the row of shops where visitors bought incense and souvenirs. The boys ate there all the time but we ate in the hotel cafeteria for breakfast and evening meal to give us more variety.
Training began with standing meditation at 6.30 a.m. During the winter timetable, which we caught the end of, this took place in the hotel corridor. Although our rooms were heated comfortably, the corridor was cold, so we wore jackets, hats and gloves. At the end of the hour, Master Chen’s alarm would go off and a lovely piece of music, which we later enquired about and copied, was used for a warm-down. Not everyone managed the full hour and various alarms would go off from time to time. Workmen and cleaners tramped up and down. This was mainly a period of strength training, building up qi and expelling stagnant qi (or, as you and I would say, farting!).
After breakfast we returned to our rooms to clean and tidy them before going up to the school for practice. Our first week consisted of an hour of sitting meditation and an hour of walking meditation before lunch. We could also go up early and do our own practice, running through forms we had learnt previously, or bagua.
After lunch there was time to rest or wander about and a favourite walk was to the local temple, still lived in by Daoist monks. One of these is a master flute player so Andrew bought a flute and took lessons. When I say bought a flute, his teacher cuts down bamboo to make flutes and sell them. He is a famous player who is in demand in all the temples on the mountain. If you went to visit while Andrew was having his lesson, no end of tea had to be drunk, often sweetened with red dates and accompanied by water melon seeds. (The monks were given the offerings left by visitors. Nothing is wasted in this climate.)
We were invariably stared at as the only westerners with white, brown, red or blonde hair and people wanted to be photographed with us as though we were celebrities. As long as we wore our suits when we walked round the shops, we were relatively safe from the shop keepers’ attentions. They would let us go, knowing we were not just there for the day.
After lunch we had an hour of standing meditation and another hour of walking before evening meal. Practice finished with a final hour of standing meditation in the corridor at 7.00 p.m.
So our day did not offer quite the variety of movement that I had anticipated. It was what Master Chen called Basic Training. If I was a little disappointed it wasn’t for long. I came to love that opportunity to recover from the journey, adjust our body clocks and find the stillness.
The second week, basic training progressed to the beginning of the 18 step Form which we would learn when the others arrived, but only in place of walking. For these two weeks, our teacher was Shaohai (not sure how to spell that, sorry) a quiet, modest, ever smiling mature student who seemed to be at the beck and call not only of Master Chen but of any other student who needed to know something. On the higher terrace the boys were taught by another senior student who scowled and scolded them through their energetic drills.
Occasionally we would be marched down the street to the temple to train. If there was a service we could listen to the music. There was a lovely atmosphere and it offered a bit of publicity for the school. The boys would carry cushions and warm meditation cloaks for us.
The third week saw the arrival of the rest of our party and Master Chen himself took over, with the help of Tina and her student Matthew. Shaohai was assigned to another group. There wasn’t room for us all now on the terraces of the school, so for anything other than meditation, we would go down to the terrace outside the hotel or the large square outside the access to the cable car. This of course attracted the curious Chinese, who had no qualms about squeezing in to copy us and get themselves photographed in the process. Master Chen chased them away when he wanted Shaohai to take photographs and videos for his website, but otherwise he welcomed them with a smile and even taught them as much as they wanted.
A highlight of the trip was Tina’s birthday. It proved to be a very special occasion which was a great honour to attend. Everyone attending the school was invited. We crammed in to the classroom, where cushions were placed round the room behind tables with fruit, seeds and packets of nuts. At a special table in the middle Tina and her father Gordon sat. I should explain that Gordon is of the same lineage as Master Chen, a 15th Generation Disciple of Wudang Xuanwu and student of Master You Xuande. Tina had studied with various teachers throughout her career but if there was any expectation of where she would go next it was probably as her father’s successor. Nevertheless, after respectful discussions, it was announced that she was to become Master Chen’s 16th generation disciple. It was a very emotional moment for a very proud father as Tina accepted the scroll with her new Chinese name.
Several people played instruments or sang songs, a huge birthday cake was cut and we finished with a Wudang wave. This took several attempts before everyone caught on when it was their turn but it was the best fun ever and Master Chen sat and giggled merrily as he joined in. I wonder if it will become a ‘thing’ for them.
Those of us who had been there for three weeks were particularly sorry to leave. We had got used to climbing up and down stairs to class, to meals, to practice, to meditation, passing the boys scurrying between their lessons, their meals and their practice, with sabres, cushions, food bowls or whatever was required. By the third week we had progressed to smiling and saying Nǐ hǎo , while they would grin and say Hel lo, a brave attempt at cultural exchange. I have no idea what they made of us weird westerners. They seemed very happily dedicated but we couldn’t speak with them to ask how long they were staying, whether they had asked to come or been sent by their parents. Some of the girls could manage a few words and there was of course Ellie, who had come as translator while we were there.
Wudangshan is a quite magical place. Twice, members of the group got up at 3 a.m. to walk up the path to the Golden Summit temple to see the sun rise. (I confess I preferred to go at my own pace and during daylight.)
Standing on the terrace looking across the valley towards the mountain, riddled with caves, was an amazing experience. During the last week, it was mild enough to do our final meditation out of doors. For two evenings, we stood around in the dark after we had finished, watching a light, clearly a torch of some kind, on the mountainside. The first night it was away to our left, the second night it was almost straight in front of us. Master Chen said there were still monks who lived in the caves for periods of time. He himself had stayed for 2 months in one on the other side of the mountain. This must have been someone on his way to the big cave along the valley. We never saw it again so assume whoever it was arrived safely.
We were also treated to displays of shooting stars and on two occasions, thunder and lightning that rolled and flashed around the mountain.
When I arrived, I had barely attempted any standing meditation. Now it is part of my daily routine. I rise at 6 and begin at 6.30, sometimes imagining myself lined up in the hotel corridor, with Shaohai knocking on the doors of those who hadn’t appeared then checking our posture before Master Chen emerged from his room to inspect us. Sometimes picturing our group members in their homes, also trying to maintain an important new structure to their day. Sometimes just doing it.
Did I find the quiet mind that I hoped for? It wasn’t hard. It was always there. What has surprised me is that I found a stronger mind and that was probably what I meant.
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!
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.