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Qigong

Happiness and Laughter as Medicine

By | Authentic Nature, Breathing, Intention Driven Action, Laughter, Tai Chi Chuan, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.” –Author unknown

When I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1993, I had been ill for six long years. During those six years, my husband and I had consulted with numerous doctors and I had undergone countless tests and several courses of therapy, but nothing proved conclusive or effective. Somehow, we knew there was an answer out there, we just hadn’t found it yet—and even after we received the diagnosis of Lyme disease, it would be several more years until our path led us to the healing modalities that would eventually restore my health.

My husband, Chris, and I have often been asked: how did you do it? How did you hang on through all that uncertainty? How did you survive?

The answer is simple: faith, hope and love, a positive outlook and laughter.

Though simple, the answer was not always easy. There came a point during that first year when the weight of inescapable illness, disorientation, fear and despair became overwhelming. In the face of the terrors that would one day in the distant future be categorized as Lyme disease, we came to realize that the only certainty and true freedom we possessed was our choice in how we would approach our lives, including the illness and all that came with it.

From the beginning, Chris focused as much as possible on the humor of things, one of his natural gifts. He would tell me silly jokes, sing silly songs, make ridiculous comments—just to keep us laughing.

During that first year, my mother-in-law, Charlotte, gave us a copy of Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness. This life-affirming, triumphant book details Mr. Cousins’ courage and tenacity in the face of a mysterious, crippling disease from which he was not expected to survive.

Earlier in life, Norman Cousins had battled heart disease; he had fought back with massive doses of Vitamin C and, according to him, by training himself to laugh. Cousins served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he long believed were key to human beings’ success in fighting illness.(1)  He wrote a series of successful books on illness and healing, and when he again faced the specter of life-threatening illness, he developed a recovery program that incorporated laughter induced by watching Marx Brothers films. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.” (2)

Inspired by Cousins’ words, Chris and I increased our watching of funny movies and television programs, including: Candid Camera, M.A.S.H., I Love Lucy, The Bill Cosby Show and Frasier. To this day, just thinking about our favorite Candid Camera episode, The Hungry Hand, sends us into peals of laughter.

Laughter was a means for us of holding on and fighting back; those good, old-fashioned belly laughs made us both feel so much better! The pure, simple joy of laughing out loud not only eased the painful symptoms I was experiencing, it helped us to remember what it was to be truly alive and grateful for every moment.

Years passed and, ultimately, I was led to Osteopathy and then to the miracle of Traditional Chinese Medicine. All the while we continued to laugh. I began to grow stronger; I no longer had chronic flu-like symptoms, I could walk again, I had less pain, less pressure in my brain and spinal cord, my neurological system was calmer and not so prone to seizure activity. After three years of consistent improvement, I sensed there was still something more I could be doing to restore myself to full health. I asked in prayer to be guided to the next step in the healing process, and the words Tai Chi came to me.

At the conclusion of my very first Tai Chi Chuan lesson, I knew that this was what I was meant to do for the rest of my life. I had found a path and a renewed purpose for my life.

I had the opportunity to study the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan Short Form at our local Junior College, and then a Dragon and Tiger Qigong class at our Community Center. One of my early teachers recommended that I apply for an upcoming Wu Style Tai Chi Retreat. I didn’t know if I would be able to manage a 5-day intensive, but I did well and loved every minute of it!

My brother, Tony, a life-long martial artist, recommended that I study with Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo of Rubbo Art of Energy. I met them at a World Tai Chi & Qigong Day event they were sponsoring and in the raffle I won a month of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong classes. I had found my teachers. After a few weeks, I asked about the Teacher Training program and within the space of twelve months I was on my way.

Throughout my years of study, laughter in our classes, workshops and training programs was emphasized over and over again. Sometimes, our teachers would do funny things just to make us laugh and lighten the ‘concentrated seriousness’ that can sometimes accompany the learning of new movements. I often heard them say that everyone—particularly the elderly and those suffering from illness—should have at least nine good belly laughs per day, and we would always end our Wellness classes with nine rounds of Laughing Qigong.

In addition to producing a general sense of joy and well-being, laughter has many health benefits, including:

  • Purifies the entire system and helps to flush toxins, similar to deep breathing
  • Massages the organs
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Engages and relaxes the diaphragm, increasing lung capacity and oxygenation of the blood
  • Increases healthy cell metabolism
  • Stimulates production of pain-suppressing hormones, endorphins (3)
  • Reduces certain stress hormones such as cortisol, dopac and epinephrine (4)
  • Activates the immune system by increasing the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells (5)
  • Improves alertness, creativity, and memory

The practice of Laughing Qigong is very simple and can be employed at any time, alone or in a group!

Laughing Qigong Practice:

  1. Sit or stand comfortably. Place the palms, left over right, over the lower belly, just beneath the navel.
  2. Smile inwardly, authentically and inhale deeply into your lower abdomen without strain or tension, feel the belly rise against your palms.
  3. Exhale as you make a jolly Ha, Ha, Ha, sound. Gently pressing the palms into the belly with each Ha sound. Exhale fully and allow the belly to be relaxed.
  4. Inhale and repeat a minimum of nine times. Do this every day and notice how you feel today, next month, next year!

***

Laughter as medicine has been recognized for centuries. The following paragraph is taken from one of my favorite books, Healthforce:

“Chinese Taoist physicians say that the liver churns and exercises when we laugh. The liver circulation is quickened, the respirations are deeper and more profound, and we feel warmer all over. Mirth promotes digestion, while gloom and depression of spirits will produce dyspepsia and indigestion. He or she who is habitually joyful, calm and happy will generally possess good health. A philosopher once said that he would always trust one who whistled while working. . .Of all man’s functions that affect the body and soul together, laughter is the healthiest. Laughter aids digestion, circulation, sweating, and has a refreshing effect on the strength of all organs. Cheerfulness and gladness are not only of value in preserving health, but they are of equal service as a remedy in disease. No one should visit a hospital who is gloomy or despondent; the patient will pick up the vibrations and feel more depressed and ill. A calm, happy and positive attitude lifts the soul and body, and inspires all who come in view of such a person. The longest lived and healthiest people throughout the world are always happy and full of inspiration and good cheer.” (6)

The intentional choice of living every aspect of our lives from a place of joy and love and hope is vital, particularly for those suffering from illness. Personal experience has shown me that illness never strikes a single person; it strikes everyone who cares for that one, unique person. All individuals suffering from life-threatening illness, and their loved ones, tend to live in a contracted environment that can impede hope and the free flow of life force energy (chi). The healing power of laughter helps us break free from the physical and emotional shackles of illness and stimulates the strength, flow and function of chi; laughter is an uplifting, expansive tide that floods the body, mind and soul with hope, and brings miraculous life and health-enhancing benefit to all.

Laugh well, and laugh often!

Notes:

(1) Wikipedia article on Norman Cousins http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Cousins

(2) Ibid

(3) Findings based on the research conducted by Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California on the benefits of laughter. For additional information on their work, please consult this article on Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426113058.htm

(4) Ibid

(5) Ibid

(6) Healthforce, The Health Books’ Health Book, by Robert T. Lewanski and Robert A. Zuraw, p. 62, Taoist Publishers, Waterford, MI, 1982.

© 2011 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

World Takes A Breath Day Global Celebration — and the Importance of Deep Breathing

By | Benefits of the Internal Martial and Healing Arts, Breathing, Extraordinary Breath, Intention Driven Action, Uncategorized | One Comment

Our teachers, Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo, have founded World Takes a Breath Day with the intention of sharing the profound healing benefits of deep, diaphragmatic  breathing with the entire world.

Could it really be possible for you to automatically feel more relaxed, increase your mental power, boost your energy, strengthen your immune system and feel happier with one easy-to-learn exercise? In a word, YES!

The Extraordinary Breath practices intentionally influence the biological and chemical changes in your body and brain, and bring instant relief from stress, anxiety, depression and low oxygen intake.

Join us in celebrating the second annual World Takes a Breath Day as we breathe as one world!

On Friday, November11 at 11:11 a.m. take several Extraordinary Breaths and help us create a moment of peace, joy and healing that ripples out across our planet.

 

World Takes a Breath DayA Global Event
Date/Time:  Friday, November 11, 2011 at 11:11am.
Place:  Across the globe!

 

Why is deep, natural breathing so important?

Shallow breathing results in hyperventilation (rapid breathing), breathing out too much carbon dioxide (over-breathing), and an oxygen deficiency in the organs and tissues. Symptoms include feeling jittery, nervous, an increased heart rate, dizziness, disorientation, and a feeling of being disengaged from your life.

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing, the type of breathing we did when we were infants, will calm your nerves, slow your heart rate, reduce pain, bring clarity to your thoughts and an easing of your overwhelming emotions.

The importance of deep breathing for body, mind and spirit cannot be emphasized enough. Download the free Extraordinary Breath free eBook (translated in several languages), to begin practicing the Extraordinary Breath now!

“An extraordinary breath is when our intention and our breath are one;  with every long, deep and even breath we consciously balance mind, body and spirit.”

Click here to learn more about World Takes a Breath Day, the Extraordinary Breath practices, the benefits of deep breathing and to download the free ebook: http://extraordinarybreath.com/

The following piece chronicles my own experiences with deep breathing and is excerpted from the book, Extraordinary Breath: Making the Power of Deep Breathing Work for You, by Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo.

CREATING SACRED SPACE

“We create a sacred space within ourselves; and then all things outside ourselves can hold that sacred quality.”–Donald Rubbo

When I first heard my beloved teachers speak of creating sacred space, my heart jumped up; this is what I had longed for.

As a child, I had felt a strong connection to the divine and the immutable qualities of grace. I had been born with a sunny outlook and an even sunnier disposition, but over time and with the experience of loss, injury and illness that connection grew less tangible and my life became burdened by struggle and uncertainty.

My journey with Sifu Donald and Shirmu Cheryl Lynne Rubbo began in the spring of 2000. One of Sifu’s first instructions to me was, “Breathe!”

It seems strange to think of it now, but at the time deep breathing was a thing that was almost unnatural for me. I had been challenged with asthma for most of my life and then a long, life-altering illness further compromised my respiratory system. My situation was grave and our doctors could not be certain that I would recover; my husband and I continued to search.

In 1997 we were referred to a Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner, and under his care I began to improve; the hope in our hearts was kindled. After two years of steady improvement, I sensed there was still something more I could be doing. I asked in prayer to be shown the next step and over the course of several months the words ‘Tai Chi’ came to me. My brother, a life-long martial artist, referred me to Master Donald Rubbo.

In those early months of study, I learned the importance of the breath. Even though I had been an accomplished athlete, I had for years—forever—tried to ignore my noisy lungs and persistent cough, but Sifu helped me to see that I needed to treat my injured organs with the same love and nurturing quality that I would show a baby.

Every day I practiced the exercises and forms that he and Shirmu taught me, and before long I began to see improvements in my energy and strength. My breath became smoother, more expansive and my lungs less irritated. I was also sleeping better because the crushing weight of what I had described throughout my life as ‘the elephant sitting on my chest’ was now gone.

And there was something more, much more. . .

The Extraordinary Breath practice helped me to penetrate the physical and emotional distress of asthma and chronic bronchitis, and gain entrance to a calm and luminous place at the core of my being. It was in this luminous place that I could rest in the sacred, beyond the constraints of fear or pain or illness. The more I rested in this sacred space, the more my everyday life took on that same luminous quality.

Sifu had shown me that the sacred space within is just a breath away.

The Creative Process

By | Authentic Nature, Intention Driven Action, Practices, Qigong, Tai Chi Chuan, The Five Elements, Uncategorized | No Comments

As Tai Chi players, each time we enter the sacred space of the practice court we have the opportunity to mindfully engage in the creative process and renew ourselves from the inside out.

The creative process in the internal arts of Tai Chi and Qigong is about renewing, expanding, liberating and it is also about manifesting.

Throughout my years of study, my teachers have impressed upon me the vital importance of individual practice and investigation–the art of completely penetrating a Tai Chi or Qigong movement and becoming one with all aspects of it.  This is the heart of the creative process, and it is through the creative process that we continue to refine in body, mind and spirit.

From the very beginning, this is one of the aspects of Tai Chi that enthralled me so completely:  I had found an activity that was challenging and engaging on all levels; it was an art I could spend the rest of my life investigating and refining.  While the angle of investigation may be unique to each Tai Chi player, the aspiration is the same: to be Tai Chi.

What does it mean to be Tai Chi?  To truly live in the present moment, awake, aware and free; to truly be the unique, authentic human being we were created to be.

My Sifu, Master Donald Rubbo, says:  “Our thoughts determine our reality.  There is no difference when speaking of penetrating a movement, in becoming the movement, or in becoming Tai Chi.  As long as the perception exists that I haven’t acquired it yet, that is how it will remain.  Also, the desire of being it pushes it into the future to some time that may or may not manifest it.  If we keep pushing something into the future every day, how can we ever create the reality, or view, in the present moment?

“Look at it another way–there is no practice in being a good human being, we just are good human beings.  This is how we are in the world.  We may encounter obstacles along the way, but we continue to grow, we continue to refine ourselves.  So, stop practicing ‘Strike Palms’ and be ‘Strike Palms.’  Stop trying to be healthy. . .be healthy!  Be happy!  Be fulfilled!”

(Note:  The name of the opening movement in the Guang Ping Yang Tai Chi Chuan set is ‘Strike Palms To Ask Buddha.’  This is not a religious acknowledgment, rather ‘Buddha’ is synonymous with ‘enlightened’ or ‘awakened.’)

“In Tai Chi we are working with infinite qualities, limitless potentials.   We need to move away from the idea that we are separate from the potentials of radiant health and happiness.  Instead, we should recognize that we are health, we are happiness, and we are fulfillment in this present moment.”

“Follow your heart-mind and be true to your authentic self.  Don’t be persuaded to be something you are not—that’s garbage!   We understand potent energy because we are sensitive, but to what end?  Do we tap into it and become more authentically our own true nature?  Or, do we sacrifice our authentic nature to appease another?”

We are faced with choices all the time: there are actions taken, and actions not taken.  I would argue that even an action not taken is in itself an action taken.  Neutrality will ultimately find us losing ground.  Change is constant, change is unchanging, and the nature of change does not permit a permanent, comfortable footing.

Sifu has spoken about how ‘habits’ continually bring us back to unhealthy and uncomfortable patterns.  Thankfully, we can choose to free ourselves of these uncomfortable patterns through the creative process of transformation.

While the idea of transformation is extremely appealing, the actual process of transformation often brings us to a point of discomfort–sometimes extreme discomfort.  With patience, persistence and compassion this discomfort ultimately gives way to liberation and undiluted freedom.

How do we help our students understand this?  Some students have faith when we tell them this discomfort will come to an end, some don’t.  Sifu says to keep on with the practices and hold the image of your healthy, happy, fulfilled self in the here and now.  See it now!  Live it now!  Be it now!

Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong and Meditation are vehicles to help each individual be present in the moment, and the present moment is a very special destination indeed.

When we truly inhabit our unique, authentic nature, the potential is limitless.  Sifu asks:  How many seeds are in an apple?  How many apples are in a seed?

Who can tell the limitless potential of an individual seed, or a precious human being?

“We must understand the result of perhaps achieving, and perhaps not achieving. . .after a few years, or less, you give up because you haven’t accomplished your goal.  And this is what leads to the “regrets and sighings” as spoken about in A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements.”

Because our thoughts determine our reality, one should notice as interesting, and then put aside, thoughts like:

I’ll never get to that level.

I’m not good at this.

I’ll never be happy.

Sifu says, “Thoughts and energies have the ability to manifest in the moment—why not make those thoughts and energies positive ones!”

This is where our mind should be during our practice: welcoming in the limitless potentials of health, joy, compassion, wisdom, internal power, and more.  Why?  Because it is here, in unity with limitless potential, that we can effortlessly create the most meaningful life possible for ourselves, not just on the practice court, but in all aspects of life.  In this way, too, we can positively affect our family, friends and broader community.

Where do we start?  How do we begin?

“There are many practices that can be of assistance.  Cultivating the Five Elements Practice is particularly helpful and a good place to start.  Understanding the nature, forces and qualities of each element, understanding that they are not separate from us, and we are not separate from them.  These elements don’t just exist outside us, they exist inside us, too.  We truly are made of stardust.”

To begin, consider the Five Elements and their qualities/forces:

  1. Wood—expansion—outward in all directions.  Associated with the liver and gallbladder and the season of spring.
  2. Fire—ascending energy—rising energy.  Associated with the heart and small intestine and the season of summer.
  3. Earth—stabilizing, foundational, lubricating energy.  Associated with the spleen and stomach and the change of season, particularly the transition between summer and autumn.
  4. Metal—absorbing, magnetic, drawing inward from all directions.  Associated with the lungs and large intestine and the season of autumn.
  5. Water—downward, heavy, accumulating, flowing kind of quality.  Associated with the kidneys and bladder and the season of winter.

Goal: to develop awareness and felt sensation of these energies, and internal power, abilities and wisdom.

“From stillness comes awareness, from stillness and awareness comes sensitivity, from the integration of stillness, awareness and sensitivity, wisdom arises.”

These are not simply words on paper–they are also seeds of thought.  Cultivating and nurturing these thoughts brings them into action.  This is all part of the alchemical, creative process.

Practice:  Cultivating the Five Elements

  1. Begin in Wuji
  2. Gather and wash/purify the body nine times: 3 x for physical body, 3 for emotional body and 3 for energetic body
  3. Stand in ‘Holding the Ball’ with hands at height of solar plexus or Lower Tantian.  Place your awareness in the Lower Tantian and breathe into the area of the Lower Tantian without force or strain, and allow the breath to be long, slow, smoothe and even.
  4. Now–Become the Wood element-expansive in all directions, and rest in this awareness for several minutes
  5. Become Fire element—rising energy, rest in the awareness
  6. Become Earth element—stabilizing energy, rest in the awareness
  7. Become  Metal element—inward, attracting energy, rest in the awareness
  8. Become Water element—downward flowing, accumulating, heavy energy, rest in the awareness
  9. Become all five elements at once and rest in this awareness with closed eyes
  10. Now, stand in the vast, inner sky of limitless potential.  Call on the ultimate aspect of limitless potential right away, in this moment.
  11. The Five Elements are manifest in this moment, and we are not separate from them; we are one with the limitless potential of the Five Elements, not separate, not different.
  12. Gather, wash and bring all to the lower Tantian to conclude the practice.

“This intention-driven-action is not what is familiarly recognized as Tai Chi, but is this not Tai Chi?”

Is this sacred space of unity and limitless potential resident on the practice court alone?

Not at all.

Sacredness is everywhere, in everything and in everyone, not simply in a sacred building or practice space.  As Tai Chi players, we can bring the sacred mindfulness of our practice everywhere, to everything we do and to everyone we meet.  Ultimately, this sacred awareness encompasses every life activity from the mundane to the sublime.

To truly live in the present moment, awake, aware and free; to truly inhabit the unique, authentic human being we were created to be.  This is Tai Chi!

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

Why Eternal Strength?

By | Authentic Nature, Intention Driven Action, Tai Chi Chuan, Uncategorized | One Comment

What’s in a name?

When Josefina and I were beginning to think about a name for our Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong school, we immediately turned to A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements for inspiration.  The Mnemonic is an ancient poetic treatise that speaks of the profound art of Tai Chi Chuan.  From the beginning of our studies, our teachers, Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo, had encouraged us to make a study of the Mnemonic, impressing upon us the importance of every syllable.  Their teacher, Sifu Kuo Lien-Ying, had recited it every morning before his own practice.  The Mnemonic continues to be a daily part of our ongoing investigations, and it is something that we share with each of our own students, as well.

Near the conclusion of A Mnemonic of Thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Movements is the phrase:  “The end purpose of these exercises is to prolong life and endow it with the youth of eternal spring.”

The youth of eternal spring.  That phrase had always been pure magic for us.

Eternal Spring!  How about Eternal Spring Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong for the name of our school?

We looked the name up on Google, and learned with disappointment it was already being used by another school.

Back to the drawing board.

A few days later I was meeting with Cheryl Lynne, and she asked me how the search for a name was going.  I told her about our first thought and the outcome.  She nodded, paused for a moment, and then told me about a video memoir she had just seen created by their tai chi brother, Randy Fung.  This beautiful film is centered around Randy’s personal odyssey in the martial arts, and more specifically, his time at Portsmouth Square with their legendary teacher, Sifu Kuo Lien-Ying.

Cheryl Lynne described a particular section of the movie featuring archive footage from the 1970’s.  A local television host was interviewing Sifu Kuo and he was speaking about Tai Chi Chuan and the cultivation of internal strength.  Cheryl Lynne told me how later in this same footage Sifu Kuo describes The Universal Post Standing Practice, one of the pillars of our lineage, as the way to cultivating eternal strength.

“I think you should use the name Eternal Strength,” Cheryl Lynne said.

I thought about this conversation as I drove home from our meeting, remembering another quote from Sifu Kuo that our own beloved Sifu had often shared with us over the years:

“Before you can be of help to others, you must first be strong within yourself.”

Arriving home, I was immediately drawn to The Ancient Poem of the Universal Post that is contained in The Tai Chi Boxing Chronicle, compiled and edited by Kuo Lien-Ying, and translated by Guttman.

I had read this poem many times, but I was seeing it now with new eyes.

     “The universal post is a mystical form of martial arts
     We can never fully understand the way it is done 
     It seems like an embrace with a smiling face
     You use your strength from within
     You are relaxed and use no force
     It is like clouds floating in the wind from all directions
     You use forces from the universe to substantiate
          your strength
     Your strength comes from your breathing
     You do not hold fast, leaving a lot of room to move
     You do not bend to greater strength
     So smoothly you move and so naturally
     Your breathing and your limb movements should not
          be impeded
     It is like moving in space
     In and out of the highest peaks and clouds
     Gliding through air and clouds
     Floating along with the winds
     Graceful yet composed
     Always contain calmness and peace
     Head upheld high with pride
     You embrace the world below you
     As clear and pure as an underground brook
     Like lead turning into silver spinning to the moon
     Looking into an antique mirror to look deep into
         your soul 
     Your cup is filled to the brim
     Absolutely free of restraint and free of self
     You could fly as though you had wings
     Head towards the limitless horizon
     Like throwing a pebble into water
     The circles get larger and larger
     With your hands you push open the limits of the
          universe
     You embrace from within
     Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things
          capture your thoughts
     The eyes look outside with determination
     Up and down your strength flows
     You push and you embrace continuously
     Your thoughts should be pure
     This should clear your mind
     This should curb all illness
     You always return to the center
     You can attack or defend at will
     You must have a will of iron
     The principle of this is to strengthen
     To go for happiness and health
     Your body will benefit from this
     This has been handed down from the ancients
     This form of exercise can help you without limits” 
 
 
The words settled in my heart and condensed into my bones.
 
Josefina and I later agreed that the name Eternal Strength conveyed the very essence of what we wished to impart to our students:
 
Eternal Strength signifies for us the everlasting depth and breadth of spirit that resides in each of us–that which connects the limitless potential of our authentic nature to the Divine.  It is through cultivating the eternal strength within that we can fully awaken to the present moment and be in harmony with the matrix of the universe; it is here that we can be truly at home, comfortable, joyful and fulfilled; it is here that we can truly inhabit life.”
 
And so, with deepest gratitude to our teachers and to the lineage, the name of our school, Eternal Strength Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, came into being.
 
And the bamboo designs that appear on both our website and weblog?  We chose bamboo because it signifies strength and resiliency.  In the storms of life, the bamboo bends, but does not break; when the storms pass, the bamboo resumes its upright posture.  Always resilient.
 

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved. Links are appreciated, but copying or distributing any portion of this article without written consent is prohibited.

Healing Your Knees

By | Healing, Intention Driven Action, Practices, Qigong, Tai Chi Chuan, Uncategorized | No Comments

In Tai Chi, we learn that the joints of the knees and all the supportive connective tissues and fluids can be seen as a contained, pressurized system through which the energies of heaven and earth flow. If there is a ‘leak’ in the system, brought about through acute injury or chronic misalignments, that contained hydraulic system will begin to lose its tone and resiliency, the energies will be blocked from flowing smoothly and the clear communication of Heaven and Earth will be obstructed. The principles of maintaining or regaining health in the knees apply not only to Tai Chi players, but to anyone interested in maintaining their health and joy in life.

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What is Qigong?

By | Benefits of the Internal Martial and Healing Arts | No Comments

Qi (Chi)  =  “vitality, energy, life force.”

Gong  =  “time and effort spent perfecting a skill.”

Qigong can be understood as mindfully cultivating, developing and refining through practice one’s life force energy (vitality, health) and joy in life.

Qigong is an ancient system of health from China and one of the four pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine, along with Acupuncture, Massage and Herbal Medicines. 

Qigong is most often described as systems of exercises that use meditation, gentle movements and breathing to cultivate internal energy, and integrate and balance the body, mind and spirit.  But, Qigong is so much more than that!  It is a way of living in the world with mindful awareness, using the power of your intention to change your own personal paradigm, to master and liberate your inner world and bring yourself into balance with the natural order of the universe in every moment. 

Qigong is one of the most powerful self-healing traditions developed in human history.  Those who use Qigong faithfully tend to need less medication, less acupuncture and heal faster.  The primary mechanism that is activated by one’s practice of Qigong is a spontaneous balancing and enhancing of the natural healing resources in the human system.  Over thousands of years, millions of people have received the benefit of these practices, believing that improving the flow and function of the qi (chi) reverses the effects of aging and empowers you to reclaim health and joy in your life.

The most important component of Qigong is your mind.  By directing the internal systems of your body with your focused intention and listening inward with all your senses, you are cultivating the ability to bring health, resilience, stability and freedom to your body, mind, emotions and spirit.

While Qigong has strong roots into mystical and philosophical ground, the practical healing and stress management applications are the most popular aspects of the tradition in China today.  Both the health and spiritual applications are rapidly gaining in popularity in the Western world as people realize that disease and stress are relieved by peace of mind.

From Stillness, comes Awareness. From Stillness and Awareness, comes Sensitivity. From the integration of Stillness, Awareness and Sensitivity, Wisdom arises.” –Donald Rubbo 

The Benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong in the Battle Against Cancer

By | Authentic Nature, Benefits of the Internal Martial and Healing Arts, Intention Driven Action, Tai Chi Chuan | No Comments

“Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, for those fighting cancer, can be of great benefit, because your mind is engaged in the movement, and directing the energy. Exercise – which oxygenates the blood – combined with Intention-Driven-Action will boost mood, immune system and fighting spirit!”  –from Masters Donald and Cheryl Lynne Rubbo’s Facebook Page

At Eternal Strength Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong, we teach a variety of practices that are of great benefit to those battling and recovering from cancer and other acute and chronic illnesses.

One of these practices is:  Balancing the Five Elements Qigong

Balancing the Five Elements Qigong is a powerful system that quickly brings body/mind/spirit into harmony.  Practicing this method of healing daily will positively transform your health and your life.

The philosophy of the Five Elements comes to us from the Taoist traditions of ancient China.  More than 5,000 years ago, Taoist sages recognized that the elemental forces of wood, fire, earth, metal and water were present both in nature and in human beings.

This philosophy became the foundation for Traditional Chinese medicine and the health systems of Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong.

The Five Elements reflect the very rhythms of nature; each element has a corresponding direction and season of the year, a representative color, sound and organs in the body, and both positive and negative emotions associated with them.

We are all made of the same radiant stuff as the stars, and while we share this common bond, we are each of us irreplaceable individuals with unique experiences that shape our lives and the way we move through the world.  In order for us to be happy, healthy and fulfilled, the Five Elements must be in balance.

An excess or lack of a particular element will result in an imbalance in the other elements.  We see this in nature—if there is too much rain, for instance, it can result in flood or mud slides that have the potential to create great upheaval and disharmony.

We human beings are the same, if one of our organs is out of balance through excess or lack, it throws the others out of balance as well and our inner world falls into disharmony.  The presence of disharmony can lead to disease and emotional instability, whereas a harmonious communication between the organs leads to resilient health and well-being.

Please look for the following article from CNN Online in the Blogroll at right:  Cancer?  More exercise, not less, may be best.

And please visit our website at www.EternalStrengthTaiChi.com for more information.

The WuJi Posture and Structural Integrity

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The following teaching on The WuJi Posture and Structural Integrity comes from a workshop that Master Donald Rubbo taught on The Universal Post Standing Meditation:

As students arrive for the workshop, Sifu is singing songs of realization. . .

“. . .We are also going to be speaking about The Mnemonic of the Thirteen Movements of Tai Chi Chuan and how they relate to stillness practice, because even though you are still doesn’t mean there is no movement.  There is movement in stillness, and stillness in movement.  Remember, even the movement of the chi is perfectly pure.  It’s not strong, it’s not non-existent, it’s not existent.  So, don’t seek to have something.  Allow what is occurring to happen and then you will gradually develop awareness. . .Mindfulness will develop and eventually wisdom will arise. . .

“Many years ago, Bing Gong was teaching one of my younger kung fu brothers the Universal Post Standing Meditation.  My younger kung fu brother was eager and listened very closely to Bing’s words:

“If you stand, you will attain enlightenment by doing this posture.”

“About two years ago, my younger kung fu brother came to visit me and he was quite upset about Bing having given him this teaching, and said, “Bing told me if I stood, I would become enlightened.”

“So, he had doubt in his teacher and he had doubt in the art.   He stood for years with a distracted mind, and then he gave up and didn’t practice any more.

“Well, he was looking for enlightenment, but you are not going to achieve enlightenment in a day, unless you have the karma to achieve it in a day.  Most of us are not born with that kind of blessing, and if we are born with that kind of blessing we probably don’t need the Standing meditation to acquire that level of realization.  .  .

“Unfortunately, he missed the whole point, and I thought it was a beautiful teaching that he came and gave me about the impatience of a student.  It’s not the inadequacies of the teacher—the teacher gave the student what would give him the skills. . .if the student is diligent and practices, he will gain the fruits of the practice.  If, however, he approaches the practice with doubt about the practice, or doubt about the transmitter of the practice, then the student cuts off the root.  No teacher; no root.  So always keep your teacher close.   This does not fulfill my ego as a teacher; it helps you.  If you keep that kind of heart, it doesn’t matter the distance or where you are in the world—your mind and your teacher’s mind are one.

“Now we are going to transition into the Universal Post Practice.  . . I’m going to give you the actual transmission of this form, then I’m going to talk about structural integrity.  We talked about this at class this morning–it is an important teaching on how to overcome obstacles in one’s life.  I’m not going to go too deeply into that, but for those who weren’t there, I’m going to give a little bit–there is no separation between that practice and this . . .

“Standing meditation came out of the Hsing Yi tradition.  This practice that you are going to learn today came out of Hsing Yi; the root is in Hsing Yi.  Hsing Yi Chuan – Yi Chuan.  Mind/Body Boxing – Mind Boxing—no body.  The body is perfectly pure.

“The Universal Post practice is before Yi Chuan.  Hsing Yi is very old, a very old tradition: older than Tai Chi, older than Bagua.  Hsing Yi came out of the tradition of Five Element Theory and Taoist Arts–Taoist wisdom–and it came out of the Twelve Animals that make up the twelve months of the Cosmology (Chinese calendar). . . This has to do with directions, just like Primordial Qigong. . .so keep these things in mind. . .

“So now, STRUCTURE.

“We always want to start in WuJi.  From this very basic stance, if I can find my structural integrity, I can do anything.

(Sifu moves into the Wuji posture)  “So, if I am observing my body and I can feel—as good as this posture is right now—I can feel all kinds of tension that should not be present.  If I can feel my cervical region and my chin is a little elevated, this small amount [of being out of alignment] leads to other things that will have tension.  So, I have to have awareness first.  If I start off trying to find my posture and my mind is too busy seeking, and asking: what am I looking for?  I won’t be able to find it.  So, I need to be still and breathe.  Quiet my mind; observe my body; feel where the weight is; feel where there’s tension; feel where there’s collapse; feel where there’s excess.

“Then I make minor adjustments along the way.  I’m going to start at the top because it’s easier to start at the top and work down.  I notice that my head is off: so I’m going to draw my chin in and raise the crown of my head up, as if the crown were suspended from above—just doing that corrected four other issues.  So I don’t have to spend a lot of time correcting them, because that one little thing adjusted me.  But I want to be mindful that the adjustments are appropriate and not too much, not too little.  You see how this is affecting not only my physical body, but if you look in my eyes you see the shen or spirit.  The eyes are the windows to the soul.  See how much more alert they are?  I’m not making this happen, I’m not trying to show myself more alert; this is just from the subtle adjustments.  (Sifu adjusts his posture)  “This is: I’m asleep.  This is: I have awakened.  Simple.”

“Now, I know that I want to give my body a little space, because my armpits are a little crowded.  So, I’m just going to expand them out a little bit, but not so I wind up like a gunslinger.  Not that big, I just want to give myself a little space so I open my armpits slightly.  Now, I want to be aware if there’s tension in my shoulders.  A lot of people hold tension in their shoulders and a sense of constriction. . . release that constriction and open.  Now, I want you to go down to the thoracic region and chest.  If my arms are opened appropriately, my shoulders are sinking down, my shoulder blades are opened up (out from the spine)—they won’t be pinching back.  If they’re pinching back, my chest is going to bow forward.  So I have to have this slightly-rounded softness in the chest, and the sense that it is sinking down.  This is all information most of you have received.

“Now, my abdomen.  In the Mnemonic they talk about having an abdomen that is free of obstructions/impurities.  For instance: Belching lets go of any impurities.

“I then want to relax the abdomen.  When I relax it, all of a sudden my chi has moved down where it is supposed to be.  So the abdomen has to be free of obstruction.  Obstructions can be physical tension; obstructions can be caused by bad food, impurities, emotions–these are all forms of congestion. . .

“Now I’m going to talk about the lower back.  The sacral lumbar region has a natural curve—which is good—but what we want to do is access the channel of energy that comes up and down the spine.  The Governing channel ascends chi up the spine and the chi circulates all the way from the perineum to the roof of the mouth.  So, in order for me to create the optimum condition for chi to flow I have to release any tension.  This natural curve that we have actually slows down the flow of chi. This natural curve can be considered like a regulator: if I turn the faucet on a little bit, there’s a little bit of energy or water, and if I turn the faucet on all the way, there is a larger amount.  So this pelvic tuck activates a pump that makes not only the chi ascend through the governing channel, but actually makes the cerebral spinal fluid ascend.  When the brain is being nourished by fresh cerebral spinal fluid, one has a real sense of well-being.  When it is diminished, we have clouded senses and we can’t concentrate.  Our mind is darting about from thought to thought and we don’t feel centered.  So, we want to use this physical structure to help acquire a stable mind.  There are multiple purposes, but this is the main one.

“Now, I roll my pelvis slightly forward to activate that cerebral pump as well as the natural flow of chi up the governing channel.  The abdomen is soft and free of obstructions, the back is flat and the pelvis is rolled under, the armpits are gently open.  Now, the legs: I want to have my thighs not completely engaged.  So, if I’m straight legged, I am going to be engaged in places I don’t want to be engaged.  This straight-legged posture actually will create muscular tension and then the chi cannot flow through these channels.  So, I want to soften my knees—I don’t want to sit down here (bent)—I just want to soften my knees.  Then relax the quadriceps and the hamstrings.  The gluteus maximus I want to be relaxed, not tense, not engaged.  The lower orifices should be sealed.  Sealed does not mean plucked up.  Plucked up changes the nature.  Seal is so the chi will not flow out.  The writings say: Seal the anus if you are a man.  Seal the vaginal area and the anus if you are a woman.

“So, I have freed my legs; there are no obstructions, they’re relaxed.  My knees are not collapsed.  This is very important: this is the next big joint in the body where we have to be conscious of not losing energy—it is a contained hydraulic system.  But if there is a leak due to injury or lack of awareness, the structure can make things collapse.  (Sifu demonstrates)  Let’s say my thighs rotate in just a small amount—can you see what happens?  What is collapsed and what is excessive?  Can you tell me?  So this side has become collapsed and therefore has become excessive and is bearing too much weight.  And it has to perform more than the other side.  So, I lose consciousness of the outer and am hyper-aware of the inner.  I want inner-outer to be even–if I can do this and be mindful of the back of the knee being open.

“Don’t misunderstand.  Do not stand with collapsed knees.  You will see people do standing like this (Sifu demonstrates collapsed knees—like a car tire that is deflated), and I guarantee you if they continue in this way they will ruin their knees.  It’s just a matter of time.  We need the fluid pressure. We need the space.  Think about gardening: if I plant seeds way too close together, nothing’s going to flourish and grow.  If I give each seed enough space, the potential is there for each to mature and grow to it’s full potential.  The same thing is true for the space within the knees.  The ankles also have to have this awareness.

A student asks a question:  “I guess I’m not understanding what you mean by “space” when you’re putting pressure on it.”

“We have a ball—think about a ball.  If the ball has air in it and we press on it, it doesn’t collapse.  It has springiness, right?  So, think of a round ball of energy between your joints—now we’re getting into the spiraling energy body—but there is a ball of energy like that.  Inside the ball there are fluids.  The body has these natural fluids between the joints and hopefully they’re not leaking out.  They start leaking out due to all kinds of issues: structural alignment, disease setting into the joints due to misalignment for a long period of time—wearing down of the joints.  (Sifu demonstrates again) Now I have a leak.  It’s no longer a contained vessel anymore.  Now there’s a space, and the pressure that is inside pushes out this little hole—like the slow leak in a tire.  So, the longer I stand with this loss of integrity of structure, the more I collapse. . .the more I collapse. . .the more I collapse, etc.

“This is not mindful practice.  This is only the awareness of that bodily sensation, and it is also bearing too much pressure on the mind.

“So, when we practice, we want both the mind to be perfectly pure and expansive, and the body standing with integrity of form and structure.  Then, we can stand for an hour and there’s nothing that will distract us.  No distracting sensations will get in the way because my structure is supported.  There is no discomfort when you do this properly.

“The issue is: how to learn to do this properly.  We always tend to use too much physical effort to try to achieve something.  Over-efforting is not going to help you achieve this,  but we let beginners do over-efforting because there is a stage when the student gives up:  “Why is he having me do this?”  “I’m so uncomfortable!”  The student actually becomes enraged that the teacher is not letting him put his arms down.  “Keep them up,” the teacher says.  After a while, you’re really mad and ready to curse.  Well now your mind is so fixated on the bodily sensations that they are no longer perfectly pure.  You exhaust yourself.

“So, there’s a point where you just can’t bear it anymore and you give up the struggle.  You move from the tension of the rage and struggle to the relaxation of tension, (Sifu demonstrates the release of tension into a relaxed posture) and you say, “Oh, that’s easy.  I was struggling.  Not with my teacher, actually, but with myself.”

“Hopefully this is a stage of awakening when this happens, and you are not still fixated upon the struggle and directing it at the teacher, unlike my kung fu brother who acquired no skill after many years of practice.  So, he made me smile really big when he told me the story.  Not out of joy that he didn’t get the skill—I felt bad that he didn’t learn—he made me smile because he gave me a teaching that without the proper method of practice, it doesn’t matter how diligent, you will get nothing.  Many people go out and stand for hours and get nothing.  My job as a good teacher is to teach you how to do it properly, with the right motivation, the right intention, the right energy, and the right structure.  If you put all these ingredients together, you will gain the result.  You’ll get it and it won’t take you years to acquire skill.  Then you’ll have years of joy in practice, because you’ll be attaining a high level of realization. . .”

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

The Bright Smile of Spontaneously Present Joy

By | Authentic Nature, Breathing, Healing, Intention Driven Action, Meditation, Practices, Qigong | No Comments

We begin every class and every practice session with the radiant awareness described below.  This gentle, profound practice helps lift us out of the stresses of life into wholeness and limitless potential and positively supercharges our health, our outlook and every activity in our lives, both on and off the practice court.  We recommend incorporating this practice daily, and then notice what changes have taken place over the course of a week, a month, a year!

  1. Begin by sitting in a chair, feet shoulder width apart and parallel, palms resting on the tops of your thighs, arms relaxed.  If your back is strong, sit more forward on the chair, if not, scoot your body to the back of the chair and use the backrest for support.  Feel the feet connected to the earth.
  2. Become aware of the fold in the body where the hip meets the thigh, the inguinal curve, or kwa.  Feel the bottom of the torso, the perineum, where it contacts the chair.  Gently press the feet into the floor and the perineum into the chair without strain or tension, and lift up through the midriff, allowing the chest and shoulders to remain relaxed and full.  This helps to release any strain/compression from the lower spine.
  3. Allow the crown of your head to gently lift upwards, creating an elongation in the torso.  Align the crown of the head over the perineum, and notice the gentle fullness and integrity of the central energy channel in the body.  The head is aligned with the centerline of the body.  The chin is gently drawn in towards the neck and remains parallel to the floor (not tilted up or down.)  The eyes are softly on the horizon.  Maintain this gently full, upright posture throughout the practice.
  4. Now focus on the breath.  Gently breathe into the lower abdomen: long, slow, even, smooth and continuous.  Notice the diaphragm gently sinks on the inhalation.  Then exhale in the same slow, even manner and notice the diaphragm gently rises.  Allow your gently-focused mind to follow the breath in and out.  You want the belly to rise and fall gently without strain or tension, and you never want to force the breath.  This is known as diaphragmatic breathing or natural breathing.  (We will cover more on breath in future posts.)  Breathe in this manner for several minutes, and build up the time you spend in this gentle breathing practice—the more time you spend in this deep breathing, the better for your body, mind and spirit.  This is the way babies breathe!  As we age and are exposed to the stresses of life, illness and injury our breath becomes shallower, the respiratory apparatus becomes tense, restricted, and consequently we have less available oxygen.  The daily practice of deep, natural breathing has far-reaching benefits for health and peace of mind.  Ultimately, your practice will naturally deepen and expand, constrictions and tensions will be released and this will become your way of breathing.   “When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a tender babe.”  —Tao De Ching, J. Legge, Trans.
  5. Now, focus on the heart center and imagine a very bright seed of purest light in the core of the heart center.  This seed of light is so bright–as bright as 10,000 suns and moons–this light is divine, luminous joy.  (One can liken this joy to the quality we feel when we see a much beloved family member or friend from whom we have been separated for a long time.)  Allow this seed of luminous joy to expand in size and spread throughout the heart center.  See it.  Feel it.  Look for a felt-sense experience of the radiance of divine, limitless joy.  Then allow the light to move throughout the body, bathing every cell and particle in the body, mind and spirit with luminous joy.  Notice that the lips cannot help but turn up in a gentle smile; feel the same gentle smile in the eyes and throughout the body.  Gratitude permeates every cell and you have become a beacon of joy.  Continue deep, slow, even breathing and rest for as long as you wish in this joyful, limitless awareness.

Begin and end the day with this practice, and call upon it at anytime.  The idea is to cultivate this limitless, joyful awareness so that we are never separate from it.  This simple, yet profound practice creates a healing atmosphere and inner/outer unity that is filled with divine potential and helps us reconnect with our authentic nature.  This practice is known as “The Bright Smile of Spontaneously Present Joy.”

© 2010 Elizabeth Meloney—All rights reserved.

What do we mean by Eternal Strength?

By | Authentic Nature, Benefits of the Internal Martial and Healing Arts, Breathing, Extraordinary Breath, Intention Driven Action, Tai Chi Chuan | 3 Comments

To be physically resilient, powerful, peaceful and radiant with health are a few of the many benefits that accrue to practitioners of the internal martial and healing arts.  However, our conventional understanding of ‘strength’ can also connote a kind of internal tension, holding, efforting or attachment to ego that is not conducive to the pure cultivation of chi or qi (life force energy) and the realization of accomplishment in Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong.  Rather, it is by mastering the landscape of our inner world and releasing the internal tensions, attachments and discomforts of body, mind and spirit that we can open up, expand and liberate the space within.

Eternal Strength signifies for us the everlasting depth and breadth of spirit that resides in each of us–that which connects the limitless potential of our authentic nature to the Divine.  It is through cultivating the eternal strength within that we can fully awaken to the present moment and be in harmony with the matrix of the universe; it is here that we can be truly at home, comfortable, joyful and fulfilled; it is here that we can truly inhabit life.