Why So Slow 1

When people first join my classes they often comment on how slow they are, even compared to other Tai Chi classes, punctuated as they are by regular tea breaks. There are several reasons for this deliberate lack of haste.

The first reason is obvious enough. The breaks give your nervous system time to absorb whatever we have just done. It makes it much easier for the body to retain the new information and then to integrate it. If the class just kept moving on to the next thing without any pauses, only a fraction of what was taught would be retained. It is the equivalent of the famous tea cup that, once full, overflows. There is only so much that it can hold and until it is emptied, the tea is drunk and made part of the drinker, it simply will not be able to hold any more. The least beneficial aspect of such a way of doing things is the impression left that you have learned much more than you actually have. Being in the room when something is being taught is not the same as truly learning and embodying it.

The second reason for the easy pace is to encourage us to let the mind slow down. We live in a frantic world, in a culture where everything is rushed: everything must be done instantly. We have reached the point where we get frustrated at waiting a couple of seconds for the computer to perform tasks that would have taken hours or even weeks to accomplish just a few decades ago.

These days, we rarely even stop for a cup of tea . Instead we drink it on the run, in the car or while we are working. And we view this a progress! Pausing in class for a cup of tea is the opportunity to do just that: it is a chance to become present, even if only to enjoy a cup of tea with no other demands on us.

Being present is one of the fundamentals of Daoist practice. The first step is to be in the body. The more present we become to the body, the more our minds penetrate and merge with it. This can only be achieved by slowing down the mind to the same speed as the body.

The mind can move much faster than the body. Think how quickly your mind can move even from one end of the room to the other; much faster than you could run the same distance. Your thoughts can run so far ahead of something you are saying that you fall over your words.

In order for the mind to saturate the body it must first slow down to match the speed of the body. Otherwise its attention endlessly flies off in other directions. These other directions are most often into the future or the past: thoughts about what you’ll do next or this evening, or next week or on the other hand memories of this morning, yesterday, last week, last year. These days people spend most of their lives in the past and the future and very little of it in the present. It is one of the contributing factors to our age of anxiety.

I regularly have students who want to know what’s next before they have engaged with what I have just shown them. This is the mind racing into the future and neglecting the present. Overcoming the ‘what’s next’ syndrome is part of the antidote to our lack of ease in the world. Slowing down the mind to the point where in can saturate the body with awareness brings us into the present and brings about calmness and stability.

The third reason for going slowly follows on from the first two. Once we have allowed our nervous systems to absorb the new pattern and our minds have slowed down enough to be in the body to whatever degree we are able at the moment, we can begin to integrate what we have learned. This involves making the new element that we have learned a part of the way the body works rather than something we do only when we focus our attention on it. It is of course only through practice that we are able to integrate new skills.

On a deeper level, integration (the sixteenth element of neigong) involves bringing together all of the different parts of ourselves. At first it is physical integration; aligning and connecting the limbs and torso to the point where the body works as one thing. The root meaning of the word ‘health’ is ‘whole’. Using the body as an integrated whole makes one healthy. This same principle applies to all of our other bodies: the energy body, the emotional body, the mental body etc.. As each body becomes integrated within itself and with the other bodies we move towards ever greater wholeness, balance and presence.

These are the reasons why in class we do something and then have a cup of tea and a chat. It allows our nervous system to absorb what we have just done before moving on to the next layer. It gives us the opportunity to relax into the present and over time it gives us the space to integrate the various elements of our practice and ourselves.

 

©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 & 2017.

Qigong

D&T 2
Dragon & Tiger Qigong, Movement 2

The difference between ‘Qigong’ and ‘Neigong’

‘Qi’ (or ‘Chi’) is the Chinese word for ‘energy’ or ‘life force’. It is what differentiates a living body from a dead one. The modern term ‘qigong’, meaning ‘energy work,’ is used to cover all forms of Oriental energy exercise, however there are actually two distinct forms of such exercise:

Qigong – which starts outside the body and works inwards.

Neigong – which starts inside the body and works outwards.

Although Qigong (pronounced ‘chee-gong’) is an old term, it has only come into general use over the last fifty years or so. In that time it has come to be used as the general designation for all energy practices. However, when used as a technical term (as it is on this web site) it refers to those exercises which affect the energy meridians on the surface of the body and through these affect the energy deep inside the body. Qigong uses the breath to move the qi, and activates only one or two energy lines at a time.

Neigong (pronounced ‘nay-gong’), meaning ‘internal work’, is an ancient term (over three thousand years old) for those practices that are the original source of all exercises that are today covered by the general term qigong. It focuses on the deepest energy channels, which then open and strengthen all the meridians of the body. In neigong the qi is moved directly by the mind and many energy channels are activated simultaneously. In total there are 16 components of neigong.

Strictly speaking, everything we teach is neigong, with the exception of Dragon & Tiger which is a meridian qigong system.

Both qigong and neigong work differently to Western forms of exercise.

Practice principles

Wu Style Taiji, Single Whip

 

The teacher leads to the door,
The practice is for the individual.

The Golden Mean: Strain is not gain

The most important principle in the internal arts is the Golden Mean. This means that you should not do anything to the point of straining yourself physically, energetically, emotionally or mentally. When you begin to feel any kind of tension, strain or pain you have gone beyond your comfortable range. Whenever you reach this point you have gone too far, next time do less. Going slowly allows you to notice when you are nearing the end of your comfortable range so that you can change direction before moving into strain.

Staying within your comfortable range will allow your body to release open. As it does so your range will grow. The golden mean is about being like an energy efficient light bulb: producing the most light (maximum flow/power) for the least possible expenditure of energy.

Not demanding perfection

It is quite common for people not to practise because they feel that they will get it wrong. This is a one of the largest barriers to improvement. Practise whatever you can remember, even if you know that you are not doing it quite right. As long as your knees are not hurting whatever you do will benefit you.

If you practise what you know regularly you will quickly have something to work on and improve. Whenever you come to class you will learn or be reminded of another piece of the puzzle. This will allow you to correct what you have been practising at home. You will soon find that you remember more each time and can practise more accurately.

Remember you do not have to do these postures and movements perfectly to get a great deal of benefit. In fact no one has ever done Tai Chi, Neigong or Qigong perfectly. It is working slowly and gently in a certain direction (towards the ideal of balance, openness and connected flow etc) that will make our journey smoother, happier and healthier.

The best time to practise

The simple answer is any time is better than never. Traditionally two hours before dawn is considered best. Whatever time you choose, try to do it at about the same time each day. Find what works best for you. Usually it is better not to practise just after eating.

Practising before bed

Some people find that if they practise too close to the time they go to bed that they cannot sleep. This can be anywhere from five minutes to two hours or more. Others find that it can help them get to sleep. The only way to find out is by trial and error.

How long to practise

At first it is easiest to get into the habit of regular practise by doing a few minutes each day. Do it when you are waiting for the kettle to boil or when the ads come on when you are watching TV. Over time as you find that the body likes it, gradually build up the time according to your comfortable range. A little every day is much better than a lot once a week.

Why Tai Chi Fundamentals?

A complete health and healing system in its own right, Tai Chi Fundamentals (TCF) is the easiest and most effective way to learn all of the essential alignment and movement principles of Tai Chi, making it much easier to learn a Tai Chi form. Learning TCF first will save you from many of the bad habits that people develop when they only learn the Tai Chi Form. It will also help you protect your knees and spine. If you have already learned a form, TCF will help you to stabilise your alignments and to embody many of the more subtle aspects of the form that often elude many people.

Special note for women

Tai Chi, Qigong and Neigong increase blood circulation. You may find that practising while you are menstruating increases the flow. If so it is better not to practice during your period.

Making the most of relaxation

The internal arts are some of the most effective relaxation methods available. Many people have told us that they have never felt as relaxed as after one of our classes. This is the power of letting go.

Relaxation brings innumerable benefits including increased circulation, stress reduction and strongly enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself.

To make the most of these benefits, especially when something significant happens, we recommend that you take things very gently for the rest of the day. Allow your system to adjust to and deeply absorb its new level of openness. If you give yourself the time early on, and practise what you learned for the next few days you will greatly increase the likelihood of making the change permanent.

If, however, you take your new body and use it to do something very strenuous (work or play) you will use up what you have newly acquired and you will end up where you started. This is a very short term approach, which will prevent you from gaining the profound benefit you could have had. Worse still you may injure yourself since you have opened up your system and then put great strain on it before it could stabilise itself at its new level.

Releases

As your system opens up, things that have been stuck can begin to move. As the tissues of the body open, parts of the body may involuntarily twitch or shake. This is similar to water starting to move through a blocked pipe that is beginning to clear.

Moving and opening the internal organs can cause toxins that have built up in them to be released and you may feel a bit nauseous. If this happens, rest and drink plenty of water to flush the toxins from your system. Blocked emotions can also be released and you may suddenly feel waves of anger, fear, grief, anxiety or even joy. These are emotional memories that have been trapped in your body. Allowing them to play themselves out, without getting caught up in them again, will free you of them.

Drinking Bird

When learning the “Drinking Bird” exercise in the Tai Chi Fundamentals classes it is relatively common for people to experience extremely vivid dreams. If this occurs reduce the number you do (which should never be more than three in a day) and the degree to which you do it. The dreams are a form of clearing and releasing and do not tend to last for many nights.

More about emotional releases

It is quite common for these practices to bring up old feelings from your past. Emotions, at the end of the day are a specific type of energy and the internal arts free up the energy of many different layers of your being. The good news is that if you keep practising and letting these feelings go, they will be cleared from your system and you will be free of them. The bad news is that while you clear them you will feel them – good, bad and indifferent.

While this work is not particularly comfortable, it might make it easier if you think of these feelings as emotional memories (which they are). You felt these things a long time ago and they got stuck inside you, just as an old injury can get stuck inside you. When someone feels an old injury release they don’t tend to confuse it with a present injury, since there is usually a wound that they can see and touch. But it is a bit trickier with emotional blockages as they are harder to distinguish from something that is happening right now, but it is possible to make this distinction. Over time you can get to a place where you can watch (and feel) the emotions release without being caught up in them. Remember, you are not your emotions, just as the sky is not the clouds.

Do your best not to act on, or speak from, these emotions, you do not want to practise them, as that would strengthen them and embed them deeper into your system. Also try not to blame anyone for how you are feeling, even yourself. That is just a distraction that will keep you from letting go of what is coming out. These are very good opportunities for practising compassion with yourself and then with others.

Longevity Breathing

Breath is the measure of life, learn to use it well.

The Benefits of Longevity Breathing:

  • Increases breathing capacity
  • Relaxes the nervous system
  • Improves mental concentration and physical stamina
  • Calms the emotions
  • Massages, cleanses and strengthens the internal organs
  • Releases open the spine

Healthy breathing is the foundation of a healthy life. The Daoists consider any breath less than 20 seconds in length (10 seconds inhale and 10 seconds exhale) to be stunted and detrimental to health.

“The strength or weakness of the breath is a major factor in determining the mind’s clarity and the body’s health and vitality.”

B.K. Frantzis, Relaxing Into Your Being, p.38.

On this course you will learn how to:

  • maintain the method of circular breathing in daily life, even in difficult circumstances when you need it the most
  • considerably increase the length of your breath without straining your system
  • smooth out the irregularities in your breathing
  • massage your internal organs with your breath
  • relax and release your nervous system
  • perceive the relationship between what your breath is doing and your emotional state

Daoist Longevity Breathing is especially useful to those with:

  • cardio-pulmonary problems
  • asthma and other breathing problems
  • high levels of stress or anxiety
  • chronic pain
  • poor sleep

Breathing methods, from the simple to the complex, constitute, one of the sixteen components of the complete Daoist neigong system.

No prior experience is needed for this course.

 

Recommended Reading

Frantzis, B.K., Relaxing Into Your Being (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002). ISBN: 1556434073

Frantzis, B.K., Chapter 5 ‘Breath & Chi’ of Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, 2nd edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2006). ISBN 1-58394-146-0.

Frantzis, B.K., Tao of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2009). ISBN: 978-1-55643-808-0

Immortals Cloud Playing

Advanced Neigong

Immortal Cloud Play, more commonly known as Gods Playing in the Clouds is the oldest of the neigong sets. It is said to have come out of the Kunlun mountains 5000 years ago.

It is a set of six movements, each of which is repeated twenty times before seamlessly flowing into the next one. While the movements seem to be relatively simple they actually contain all sixteen components of Daoist Neigong and form the bridge between neigong and Daoist meditation (or shen gong).

This course is taught with the expectation that you are familiar with the material from Tai Chi Fundamentals, Heaven & Earth and Longevity Breathing.

Dragon & Tiger

Our Qigong set

Dragon and Tiger is a 1500 year old traditional Chinese medical Qigong system consisting of seven movements that are performed as a sequence. As it does not require precise body alignments, Dragon & Tiger is relatively easy to learn.

The Benefits of Dragon & Tiger Qigong

  • It quickly gives you a recognizable feeling of qi in your body.
  • It increases your energy levels and vitality
  • It opens and clears the majority of your body’s energy meridians.
  • It increases your defence against invasion from viruses, the elements and negative qi.

You will learn

  • to feel and work with the qi in your aura and acupuncture meridian lines
  • to project qi from your hands for healing and/or physical power
  • to stretch and move your joints, release tension, stress and pain
  • to release stagnant qi from, and then draw fresh energy from the environment back into your system
  • to stimulate the protective layer of qi on the body’s surface
  • To pull and push qi

For health

In China, Dragon & Tiger is known for its powerful preventative and healing effects for cancer, and for mitigating the effects of radiation and chemotherapy. More generally it protects against and speeds up the recovery time from many illnesses.

For Healers

Techniques from this highly effective qigong system have been applied in Qigong Tui Na bodywork for centuries in China to heal others energetically by clearing blockages in the energy aura.

For those in the medical and healing professions Dragon & Tiger is an excellent way to understand how medical qigong works, and it is especially beneficial to their own health because of its protective and clearing effects.

For Everyone

Ideal for any age or fitness level, B.K.Frantzis recommends Dragon & Tiger (along with ‘Tai Chi Fundementals‘) as the best introduction to his system.

Why this Qigong?

The most complete qigong systems have hundreds of movements that take over an hour to perform (this is one of the differences with neigong, which focuses on few movements with a great deal of content). Dragon & Tiger will give you the vast majority of the health benefits of the best qigong systems in a much simpler and shorter format.

“Of the hundreds of qigong systems, which I have personally studied or researched, in my opinion Dragon & Tiger is the easiest complete system to rapidly learn and gain great benefit from. Even when done imperfectly and by people who have limited range of motion or are wheelchair bound, the exercise is immensely beneficial.”   (B.K.Frantzis, Dragon & Tiger Instructor’s Manual, 2003. p.ii).

Recommended Reading

Frantzis, B.K., Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong: Develop Health and Energy in Seven Simple Movements (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010).

Frantzis, B.K., Dragon and Tiger Medical Qigong Volume 2: Qi Cultivation Principles and Exercises (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2014).

Image copyright ©Matthew Brewer, 2019

Different to regular exercise

Wu Style Tai Chi, Cloud Hands

How Qigong and Neigong differ from Western forms of exercise

The internal arts of qigong and neigong develop the ability to use the mind to control and enhance the flow of your life force. Unlike western exercises, qigong and neigong do not focus primarily on muscles. They are much more concerned with the nerves and blood flow.

The Nervous System:

The nerves are one of the main links between the body and the mind and they are one of the main conduits of energy in the body. The soft continuous movements of qigong and neigong gently release the nervous system. This is even quite different from yoga which uses strong stretches to lengthen body tissue. Such strong stretching does not release the nervous system. You can have a strong, flexible body and still be tense.

By releasing the nervous system the body can let go of its habitual tension. The more the body is free of tension the easier it is for blood, lymph and energy to move around the body, and the more the joints and cavities of the body can open up. Most joint pain comes from a lack of space in the joints. Releasing the nervous system also improves your coordination and reflexes, and helps to calm the mind.

The Circulatory System:

Along with the nerves, the fluids of the body are the other primary conduit of energy in the body. The stronger your fluid flow is (including blood, lymph, sinovial, interstitial and cerebral spinal fluid), the stronger your energy and vitality.

The western view of the circulatory system tends to focus on the heart. This involves raising the heart-rate during exercise in order to keep the heart strong. In the internal arts the focus is on the entire circulatory system. Their gentle twisting and pulsing movements are designed to keep all of the blood vessels soft, springy and open, which allows the blood to flow more easily. Twisting the tissues and opening and closing actions (of the joints, cavities, blood vessels etc) move the body fluids through the vessels. This means that the heart does not have to do all of the work and does not have to strain. The heart along with all the other internal organs and the spine are also kept healthy by the gentle massage they get from Longevity Breathing techniques.

Each of the 16 neigong components enhances your circulation in different ways.

Mindfulness:

Another characteristic of the internal arts is that they fully involve the mind. They are about ‘making the body conscious’. This could not be further from the mindlessness of western exercise, consider the joggers you see wired into i-pods, or people on a treadmill watching television. One of the main benefits of being mindful of what you are doing is that it is much more interesting. The more you do qigong and neigong the more you find, and the more subtle your awareness of your body and mind becomes. People rarely stop qigong and neigong because they find them boring. The ability to go into your body makes it much less likely that you will hurt yourself, as you will be able to listen more carefully to your body during any activity or exercise. This ability also gives you an early warning system if something does begin to go wrong inside. The earlier you catch something the less of a problem it is.

Qigong and neigong also develop the ability to focus your attention inside and outside of yourself for long periods of time without becoming tired or distracted. An important aspect of longevity practices, from the Daoist point of view, is that they keep your mind clear and present right up to your last day. Living well is much more important than simply living a long time.

What to look for:

There are literally thousands of different internal practices, many of which were designed for specific purposes. Most of them are safe, some are dangerous. The safest, and often the most beneficial, focus on the downward flow of energy in the body for the first few years, as we do in Tai Chi Fundamentals. It is the downward flow that opens and heals the body and releases blocked energy. When choosing a qigong or neigong the best are those that have been tested over a very long period of time. Be sure to ask what it was designed to do, whether it is a complete system and how long it has been around (several centuries is traditionally considered the acceptable minimum). There are many people teaching partial systems and these can destabilise your body, energy and mind. A complete system will strengthen and balance all of the major energy flows in the body.

Deal & Folkestone

Deal – live from 2 September 2020

Tai Chi for Relaxation & Health

Day: Wednesday

Time: 1.30-2.30pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: The Landmark Centre, 129 the High St, Deal CT14 6BB.

Folkestone – staying online September – December 2020

Tai Chi Fundamentals and Qigong

Day: Thursday

Time: 1.00-2.00pm

Starting: Join any time

Location: Bar Invicta, Cheriton Road, Folkestone, CT19 5JU.

Instructor: Dave Willis

Term dates

Charges

What to wear

Canterbury, Faversham & Whitstable

All of the classes below are running, but online via Zoom (video conferencing) rather than at the venues.

If you wish to join these classes please contact me.

Canterbury

Special Topic: Circularity in the internal arts

Day: Thursday

Time: 6.30 – 7.45pm

(from 3 Sept 2020)

Details:

We’ll be looking at circularity through exercises taken from many of our neigong, qigong and Tai Chi sets. The idea is that you won’t have to learn a new form/set. Once we get circles working, we will look at how to apply them to the form(s) that you already know.

Prerequisites: (Ideally) familiarity with Tai Chi Fundamentals or any of the other neigong/qigong sets.

[Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.]

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Thursday

Time: 8.00-9.00pm

(from 3 Sept 2020)

Join any time

Location: The Friends Meeting House, 6 The Friars, Canterbury CT1 2AS.

Faversham

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Saturday

Time: 10.00-11.30am [online time: 10.15 – 11.15am]

(from 1 Feb 2020)

Join any time

Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.

Wu Style Tai Chi Medium Form

Day: Saturday

Time: 11.45 – 1.15pm

(from 5 Sept 2020)

Details: New cycle begins 5 Sept 2020

One cycle takes 18-20 months.

Prerequisites: none

Location: Fleur de Lis Hall, Gatefield Lane, Off Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS.

Whitstable

Tai Chi Fundamentals

Day: Wednesday

Time: 6.30 – 7.30pm

(from 8 Jan 2020)

Join any time (there’s no need to book, just show up)

Location: St Peter’s Church House, 154 Cromwell Rd, Whitstable CT5 1NA.

Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form

Day: Wednesday

Time: 7.45 – 9.00pm

Presently closed. Not suitable for beginners.

Recommended Prerequisites: Three cycles of the Short Form.

Please contact Matthew if you wish to attend.

Location: St Peter’s Church House, 154 Cromwell Rd, Whitstable CT5 1NA.

Instructor: Dr Matthew Brewer

Term dates

Charges

Pay for classes (Paypal)

Gift Certificates

What to wear

Articles & Interviews in PDF

Articles

For those who like properly formatted articles, here are all of the articles from the blog (and some that have not yet made it there) in PDF format.

Embodied Philosophy

Being Way Oriented

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

Making Use of the Middle

Nurturing Life

Rounding Off the Corners

Study not Studying

Taiji and the Procrustean Bed

Tailoring Change

Why So Slow 1

Why So Slow 2

Seasons

Autumn

Winter

Spring

Summer

Long Summer

Bibliographies

Laozi (Daodejing, Tao Te Ching)

Interview

with Master Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics.
Reproduced from Tai Chi Chuan & Oriental Arts, Vol. 35, Autumn 2010,
with kind permission from the editor.
Bruce Frantzis on the Tai Chi Classics

Chronic Pain

This article is written for teachers who are interested in this aspect of Tai Chi for health preservation and rehabilitation.

Teaching Tai Chi for Chronic Pain