GARDEN HEALING

Gardening is a powerful form of healing. Food that you grow is much more nutritious than what you buy in a store. You can make sure to fill the soil with rich compost and other nutrient rich ingredients. The gardening process is very meditative and gives you an excuse to be outside and get some exercise. And growing the food you eat gives you a psychological connection to the earth.

It also heals the earth itself. The food you eat does not need to be shipped to the store and this saves on gas. Large scale agriculture uses a lot of heavy equipment (which uses gas) and usually large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. It takes land that might be left in natural state and turns it into a monoculture outdoor food factory. The food is boxed and packaged and then removed from the boxes and packages. We could have a much smaller footprint on the earth if we grew our own food and just walked a few feet into the back yard to harvest our lunch.

Yes, it takes labor and that labor could have been used to work more so that you could pay more for buying lower quality, chemical-filled food or even more for food without chemicals. But at a certain point you should stop and ask yourself, “Does that make sense?”

Why are we in such a rush to avoid spending time with our green friends? Tai-chi practitioners not only learn a series of movements but a healing life-style and a more natural attitude.

As the sun warms us up this Spring, consider helping the earth and helping yourself by growing an organic garden. I have found a lot of tips on youtube to make growing food easier and more productive and I hope to soon start a cooperative to provide the extra food that I grow to others. Each neighbor may grow just a few types of vegetables and they can barter foods with each other. That would help bring the community closer together, another form of healing.

Please leave comments about the foods that you grow.

YANG STYLE WORKSHOP – FEBRUARY 2014

We explored how the plane of motion changes in the form and how to make smooth transitions into the new plane of motion within each joint. We also practiced how the hips rock in a figure “8″ motion with weight shifts in the legs, as if the hips were a piece of wood floating in the ocean. This requires mobility in the low spine, especially in the sacrum.

Then we practiced how the motions in the hips result in waves of motion up the spine, stretching and turning it. The spine then moves in a spiraling motion, both in its stretching and relaxing, where the wave of motion returns to the hips and root.

Next we explored how to keep the attention balanced through the movements by concentrating attention in the opposite direction of movement. This makes sure that we don’t bunch up (condense) our attention in only one direction and we maintain a spherical balance of attention. This balance is also maintained between the area above the ground and in an equal area in the root.

March’s workshop will be on the 30th (Sunday) 10:15am to 12:15pm. We will begin Saturday classes in Yang form in April (10:15am to 11:15am).

CAN YOU DETERMINE YOUR FUTURE?

Imagining a bright future

Imagining a bright future

Our future is becoming clearer – faster pace of life, increasing distance between people, less healthy food choices and increased stress. It’s now more important than ever to understand how choosing the future of your personal life can be different than going along with the future destined for you by our society.

Recently an Australian farmer’s crops were infected by pollen from a nearby genetically modified organism (gmo) farm. This farmer’s organic status was revoked and he went bankrupt. He is now trying to sue the gmo farm.

I watched an episode of “Dangerous Grounds” yesterday. In this reality show a coffee grower visits dangerous areas to buy gourmet types of coffee beans. In one area of Brazil the farmers have to keep 24-hour guard around their villages to protect themselves against agribusiness. The farmers claim that thugs from agribusiness keep trying to sneak into their villages to shoot them to take away their land.

In many ways our food, and the earth in general, is a battleground of people who wish to live simple, healthy lives and those who want to rape the earth. We can certainly help to protect the earth by joining ecological groups but we also must protect the earth in another way.

Our bodies are part of the earth and part of the web of life. We can protect our bodies and our minds from a sort of rape by the violent patterns within our culture. We can make sure that destructive patterns, which may have invaded us (like the gmo pollen), are rooted out and discarded. The fears that make us distance ourselves from other people and groups can be recognized and the power of those fears over our behavior, dissolved.

This is what Tai-chi and Zookinesis practice do. They give us the tools to bring our original organic consciousness back. The teacher explains what has happened to us internally and guides you back to being human. The Tai-chi Bodywork quickly melts away years of tension, fear, trauma and self-destructive patterns to free you to live a better and more enjoyable life.

Learning and practicing these exercises is just as important to protecting the earth as working politically. They teach you to control your own personal future so you can better contribute to a better future for everyone.

LESSONS FROM OUR JANUARY YANG FORM WORKSHOP

1. The tan-tien should feel as if it is a marble moving within the pelvic bowl. The Tan-tien is a spot about one and a half inches below the navel in the center of the body. Once it pops up above the pelvic bowl, you are disconnected from your root. If it moves beyond the pelvic bowl you are off balance.

2. As you move, each part of the body rotates, sending a wave upward and outward. The next movement begins from the ground, not from the spot the wave moved into. In this way each change of movement creates a new wave. When the wave reaches its furthermost point, let it go. Don’t let the wave pull your body out of its root.

3. The center of the body (hips, abdominal area and low back) is like a ball that can rotate in many planes of movement. In the form, these planes are changing from one movement to the next. The form takes place in this central “ball” with the movements of the arms, legs and head a result of the ball’s movement. Each action of the ball is like a pebble, dropping into a still lake that sends out ripples into the surrounding water.

4. Some Tai-chi teachers tell you to let your eyes follow your hands. This is just an exercise to allow your head to move along with the momentum of the body. You don’t really watch your hands in your form. If your neck is stiff and your head doesn’t flow, then your form will be stiff.

5. One problem students may have is that they may only use the horizontal plane of movement or only the vertical. Each movement of each joint should have a balance of vertical and horizontal movement.

6. Turn by using the hip. Don’t turn from the shoulders. The hip goes first and the rest of the joints follow in turn. Turning from the shoulders means that your attention is in your head. It should be evenly distributed throughout your body. The steps are naturally carried by the movement of the hips. You do not use the muscles of the leg to step.

DANCING CLOWNS

I teach sitting zookinesis exercises to a group of Alzheimer’s residents in a nursing home. Yesterday the television behind them had been left on and was showing a scene from an old black and white movie. Two clowns were dancing with each other in exaggerated movements. The sound was off so I couldn’t tell what was going on.

As I sat facing the residents it was hard not to be distracted by the dancing clowns. The residents were trying to participate in the exercises as best as they could and certainly some were trying to figure out what this guy was doing moving around in strange ways.

I realized that this was a great metaphore for how I see the world. Our minds struggle to figure out what is going on in the world and how to participate in it. Our Body-Minds (the natural consciousness of the body) understands that the world we humans live in is, to a large extent, just a bunch of dancing clowns, moving about in exaggerated ways.

Suddenly the movie scene changed to a man and woman interacting in a very serious way until they finally embraced and kissed. In the midst of this confusing, clownish world, the thing we depend on most is the love for each other.

RELAXATION IS POWER IN PUSH HANDS

Push Hands

When I do push hands with new people I often find that the fear of losing causes them to tense their muscles and lock their joints in an effort to present a strong, solid front. They lose their ability to move and connect. It becomes all about muscle.

To be able to let go of the tension and joint locking allows you to connect with the push hands partner so that you can interact in a deeper way. This two-person exercise teaches you that your well-being depends on becoming part of the interaction rather than resisting the interaction. It teaches you that paying attention to what is going on and adapting to it is more powerful than isolating yourself from what is going on and paying attention only to your resistance.

At first the student fears that if he puts down the armor of tension he will lose the push hands volley and get pushed. He will remain loose only up to the point where his partner has him at a disadvantage and then will tense every muscle in his body to avoid getting pushed. That of course, doesn’t make mechanical sense. If you are tense, you are more likely to get pushed because you can’t react properly. But tensing is a habitual reaction.

To be able to remain loose, connected to the ground (“root”) and to flow exactly with the partner’s movements requires years of practice. It requires that you are aware of the activity of every muscle and joint in the body, your balance and alignment and the way your fears interfere with your proper mechanics – both within your own body and that of the partner.

If you were to use tensing and locking as your main mechanics (as in “competition push hands”) you would never be able to achieve the awareness described above. And so a student has to decide if he is practicing push hands to improve his life, health and awareness or to better be able to push people off balance. If it is the former, then you have to sacrifice your tension and your fear. Making that sacrifice is very difficult for most people yet it allows you to change to such an extent that the world around you seems to change as well.

There is a Taoist saying that “the inside and outside reflect each other”. When you change the world inside of you, the reactions of other people to you change as well. Your mind is clear enough to see new opportunities. You feel more enthusiastic about your life, have more energy and participate more in the world around you. You are happier.

It is typical of Tai-chi that the greatest changes in your life result from the simplest acts. Nothing could be simpler than relaxing, yet it is so hard to relax. So much of our behavior and attitudes are tied to tensing. One act of relaxing begins the path of profound change to a healthier and more powerful life. This is why we say that “relaxation is power”.

THE KEY TO SKILL

Any student of movement struggles to make their skills automatic, so they don’t have to “think their way” through their activity. While long hours of practice are essential to develop skill, another factor is necessary for high levels of achievement and that is what this post is about.

We each have a “vantage point” – a place where we feel we exist. Usually this vantage point is in the head because that is where our eyes, ears, nose and mouth are located. We see and hear from the vantage point of the head.

In Zen training there is a saying that the five senses are like five thieves that rob us of the ability to use other senses. In pre-modern cultures other senses are recognized, so that Tai-chi speaks of sensing “chi” and other cultures speak in similar ways.

In Tai-chi training we are taught to “center our attention” in the center of our bodies, like a spider lying at the center of its web. From this vantage point we can perceive in a different way because the strength of the senses on the head are no longer predominant.

The difficulty is that we are so programmed to believe that we have no other senses that we resist even the idea that we do. Yet we learn from practicing Tai-chi that we have a proprioceptive sense – the sense of momentum flowing through our bodies and how the parts of our body line up with each other. As we practice the push hands exercise (a two person interaction), we learn that we can sense the state of balance within our partner and even how his body prepares to carry out an intention to push even though our eyes are closed.

And so it becomes easier to accept that we also have a “sense of chi”, that is, the intelligent communication among all the cells and organs of the body that keeps everything running effectively. We find that our “head-oriented” vantage point battles against the “body-oriented” awareness.

This is because the head-oriented awareness works in one dimension. It is aware of one thing at a time. The body-oriented awareness is aware of everything that is going on at the same time. It is three dimensional.

In order to achieve great skill the student must develop a harmony between these two types of awareness. You can think of it like a map of a mall. The map shows where all the stores are located and also shows where you are in that map. You need to know both in order to get to your store.

We have become a society of “where we are” awareness but have lost our awareness of the “map”. Our schools don’t teach labor history, womens’ history, art history, the history of the human mind (cultural anthropology), financial history, etc., and so we don’t know where we came from. The history of religion and its interaction with science would be too controversial to teach in schools.

We certainly don’t learn how we humans have become so stiff, so sick, so angry, so stressed, so anxious, etc. But when we practice Tai-chi we have to delve into these issues and recognize the patterns of behavior and tension that have been programmed into us. We have to recognize how they have power over us and by doing so, we learn who “we” really are.

We have to learn how the dreams we had as children have become co-opted by the agendas of those who control our society. The path to achieving great things is to let go of the ropes that bind us to the their agendas and allow your dreams to empower your life.

This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job. It means understanding your own behavior. Which behaviors are a reaction to your fears and which emanate from your creativity and your joy?

This is true even when practicing your Tai-chi form. Are you pushing yourself through it to feel you have accomplished something or is the form organically emerging from inside of you and expressing itself? In the latter case, the thinking mind has to sit back as the audience and allow the play to take place without interference.

In many cases it is NOT the lack of skill that holds you back from a beautifully performed form but the unwillingness of the vantage point of the thinking mind to yield its one dimensional control.

The reason I mentioned the importance of understanding our many histories is that all of them contributed to the behavior patterns that we think of as being who we are. In order to achieve an “escape velocity” to become independent of those patterns, I have to believe that there is a “me” that is more creative, more connected to feeling and connected to the world around me in a more powerful way our present society allows.

That awareness is what is achieved through the sense of chi. The world experienced through that sense is described by many pre-modern cultures in many different ways. If you have the experience then you can hear each of those ways and understand that they are describing the same thing – the world as perceived without the coercion of the prejudice of your society’s training.

It is the “you” who is part of that world who does the form, or plays music, or lives one’s life. And the form or the music or the way one lives one’s life is the path to experiencing that world. Each of these art forms is also the way of showing others that there is another way of being. So when you see someone performing a Tai-chi form you should ask, “Is he just going through the movements or is this an expression of something greater?”

Tai-chi practice is more than martial arts, more than a performance art, and more than stress reduction. It is a path to liberating the full potential of your health and creativity. It allows you to become aware of the intelligent “dance of biology” within your body and how you are connected to the rest of the “dance of life” around you. We no longer “exist” just in our heads – in our minds. We exist in the full continuum of life.

TAI-CHI HEALING WITH THE ELEMENTS

The modern idea of healing is to cure a disease or injury when it occurs. Tai-chi represents an older, more traditional approach to healing and that is to keep the body healthy so that it can resist disease and injury.

The idea that your body must deteriorate as you age is a modern idea. Those who practice Tai-chi know that you continue to strengthen as you have more years to practice Tai-chi. It is common to see people practicing extreme Tai-chi forms well into their ‘90s.

Tai-chi Tiger Form

If you read this blog you know that Tai-chi training consists of a variety of exercises (forms, chi-gung and push hands) and healing practices (massage, herbal medicine and acupuncture). There are simple principles to all of these practices and they are expressed in the teaching of “the elements”. This set of principles is common throughout the world. A version of “the elements” can be found in Native American, ancient European and other cultures.

There is great variety in how the elements are explained but in the following description I hope to specifically convey the principles of healing.

Earth
Earth is the physical world. It represents how we need to make sense of the world around us by trying to create a coherent story of who we are and what is going on around us. Our society provides this story to us. Within that story we can find ideas that limit us and ideas that free us. The social movements throughout human history are an effort to change the story of the society about who we are and where we came from. They attempt to fashion a story that frees our creativity and allows us to fulfill our potential as human beings.

Earth also represents simplicity. We are encumbered by fears, patterns of habits and tensions, regrets as well as by “stuff” (junk that we buy and don’t need). By simplifying our lives we can remove the ball and chains we are dragging behind us. We can also learn to let go of negative people who are pulling us down and have no intention of really helping themselves to heal.

Earth is also the food that we put inside of our bodies. That food is sacred. When we shovel pre-made, chemically infused who-knows-what into our bodies, we not only injure our health but break the bond between us and the earth. Simply growing some food that you eat repairs that bond. Eating organically, healthy food helps to repair your body.

Earth is the center as our bodies are the center of our consciousness.

We could go on much further about earth, but let us continue to metal.

Metal
Metal is transformation. It is creativity, the ability to allow yourself to change and to see things differently. We take base ore and melt it in heat to extract the metal. In the same way, you (base ore) go through the fire of life and of your training to become the shining pure gold that you are capable of becoming.

And then this metal is turned into useful implements, swords for example. Do you just live your life to take up space or is your life being used to help the world around you? To help heal our world, you must first become transformed in the smelting process and then become fashioned into a healer of some sort. Simply by having been healed, your presence, by example, can help to heal those around you.

Metal is also the element of “animal consciousness”, or the natural “body-mind”. This mind is contrasted to the “clever mind” of modern times. Not that there’s anything wrong with the clever mind – it has produced technology. But the natural mind is the common sense and sensitivity to the natural world that lies at the base of our consciousness. It becomes aware of imbalances in our lives and pushes our behavior to correct those imbalances. In contrast, the “modern mind” seeks the extremes.

When you wake up in the forest and breathe in the beautiful scents, your natural awareness is awakened. Metal is associated with the lungs in Chinese medicine.

Wood
Wood is the element of life itself. It is the way nature unfolds and provides energy to all its creatures to promote the consciousness of metal. It is wood that provides the fuel to transform the metal ore.

Wood is the tree whose branches and leaves reach towards the sun to absorb energy and whose roots reach deep into the soil to absorb water and nutrients. It is an example of the balance of “heaven and earth”.

If you are not rooted well, the events of your life will throw you over easily. To be rooted in an understanding of your personal history and the history of humankind is essential to really know who you are. To be rooted in a love of the natural world and therefore a love of your own health will strengthen your body and soul. To be rooted in your family and community will balance and empower you.

“Heaven” does not refer to the mythological place we go to when we die (if we are good). It refers to yielding to the forces of nature around you so that your life can be lived in harmony with the promotion of the living world. It means accepting that you can become greater than you are now and yielding to teachings of all kinds so you can continue to grow (towards sources of “light” which means knowledge). Wood allows you to become transformed for the better (as it is burned to transform metal ore) while remaining rooted in the real world (earth) so you don’t become an air-head.

A tree provides a home for birds, monkeys, insects and others. It provides food for everyone. It provides the raw material for homes and furniture. It holds the soil to prevent erosion. Wood takes care of the basic needs of life to make our lives easier. Is your life like a tree?

Fire
Fire is the energy of enthusiasm. When you let go of the encumbrances of life, the bitterness, resentments, self-righteousness and anger and learn to appreciate the simple, sacred beauty of the world around you (natural and human), they you can be enthusiastic about life. That enthusiasm goes a long way to healing you and it can be considered to be the result of healing.

Fire is what gets you up in the morning because you love your life and want to live it. It is the heat in relationships that makes you want to interact with other people. Yet it is earth that moderates that heat so you don’t become too aggressive. In this way the elements balance each other and the job of the healer is to find out which element is too strong or too weak. It is the balance that leads to health.

Fire gets you involved in practices like Tai-chi because you appreciate the beauty of the teaching. In this way it transforms you as fire transforms metal ore. Fire is the movement of the exercises, like the dancing flames of the campfire or fireplace.

Fire is the energy flowing through your body when you release the blockages to the flow of chi or when you let go of sorrow. When your muscles let go of their tension through Tai-chi Massage, you feel energy flowing through your body. While you feel very relaxed, you also feel cleansed and energized. Fire has burned up the fear stored in the muscles and released the energy.

Water
Water connects. It is love and compassion. It is the end of the feeling of isolation so that your spirit can “enter the world” and become part of it. Yet it is balanced with earth, which establishes clear distinctions and boundaries, so that we don’t lose our individual identity.

In any relationship there is the fear of losing oneself, yet the desire to lose oneself in the relationship. The balance of water and earth allows both to happen.

Water cleanses. When you release sorrow or physical tension and feel a rush of energy through your body, the element of water then cleans out the debris (like tears cleaning out sorrow). The body is mostly made of water. The lymph cleans out lactic acid and carbon dioxide from cellular metabolism. The intercellular fluid transfers nutrients and oxygen from the blood vessels to the cells.

Yet these fluids have no pump other than the movements of the body. Each muscle of the body must be used, in fluid movement, in order to move the lymph and intercellular fluid. Otherwise the nutrients and oxygen won’t get to the cells to be metabolized and the cells will be bathed in waste. Your food will wind up as fat and you will be tired because your cells are not metabolizing well.

Water conforms to the shape of the container. It is what allows us to be “invisible” during push hands or fighting because we flow with the movements of our partner. It is the principle of not opposing force but flowing around it to continue to come in and accomplish our task.

Water is strategy as it is so adaptable. It allows us to “shed” our fixed patterns and become more creative. This is called “shape shifting” in some cultures. We identify more with our creativity than with our fixed patterns of behavior and thought.

Meaning of the Elements
This is just a hint of the levels of meaning of the elements, their interactions and use in Chinese Traditional Medical Theory. It is a holistic approach in that it considers the body, mind and spirit and the relationship of all aspects of our lives. Each element is associated with a season, a direction, a color, an organ-system, etc.

And so you can discuss the elements in diagnosing an ailment as well as in how you live your life. It is a set of principles based on balance that is useful in every aspect of your life. The way that most people start to learn this system is through Tai-chi practice. The teacher explains how the elements are used to explain aspects of the movements of your Tai-chi form, chi-gung exercises, push hands, massage and, if you go further, the self defense.

This training strengthens each individual from the inside out. It strengthens not only their bodies but their lives as well, allowing them to live full, productive, long and fulfilling lives.

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FIGHTING YOUR SHADOW

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #3

[caption id="attachment_583" align="alignright" width="216" caption="Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #1"][/caption]

Tai-chi-Chuan Sparring #2

Tai-chi-Chuan is a strange mix of health exercises, meditation and fighting. While most people practice Tai-chi strictly for health and exercise, the “Chuan” in the name reminds you that it is a martial art. Yet there is no blocking and the movements are relaxed and fluid.

The basic principle of Tai-chi-Chuan is to shadow your opponent. Where he strikes, you move away from his strike but into an unprotected area of his body. Where he moves away, you follow him so that you are like wet clothes he is trying to get off. You exhaust him and undermine his power.

You don’t allow him one second to recover from his series of strikes. We train to sustain our attention so that we don’t need that second to evaluate the effect of our actions. We act and perceive at the same time so that at every moment we can change and adapt. If our strike is blocked, the arm just circles around and still comes in. Since the power doesn’t come from the arm, but from the whole body, the strike still has power. We remain calm and centered throughout the sparring due to our training in forms, chi-gung and push hands.

This training of sustaining the attention, adapting at every moment, being aware of the effects of our actions as they happen and the ability to remain calm and centered in the midst of being attacked, helps us in our everyday lives. It teaches us that we can’t control the actions of others or the circumstances of the world we live in, but we can control how we react to all that.

The principle is that we let the attacker move as he wants to. We don’t interfere with his actions. But we control the relationship between us. If he wants to strike our head, we move our head and go to a spot he is not protecting with our own strike. He does what he wants; we do what we want and we are both happy (except that he gets hit).

We become his shadow and our strikes come out from his actions. Which gets me to another subject – Monsanto. This company is copyrighting patents on genetically engineered food and getting the large “factory farms” to use their seeds. Since they own the seeds the farmers are not allowed to keep seeds to replant. They have to buy their seeds from Monsanto every year. The attempt is to copyright organisms and own them.

Many people think this is outrageous. If a farmer is using natural seeds and Monsanto pollen enters his fields through the wind, then Monsanto automatically owns the rights to his crops and he can no longer save his seeds to plant.

This is why I think that we all need to become farmers. Even if we just plant a few tomatoes or peas in a plant pot we are helping prevent a company from owning life itself. We also are assured of healthy, tasty tomatoes and peas.

I see Monsanto’s “ownership” of life as a sort of strike against humanity. They are trying to become God. While we certainly need to fight against that through legislation, simply planting food plants is a way of undermining Monsanto. It is a shadow form of farming that makes them less powerful. Let they try to investigate everyone who has peas growing in a pot in their window to see if it is one of their copyrighted peas. Let them exhaust themselves. Let them fight the shadow farming.

Remember to save some peas or tomato seeds for next year. Keep them dry and in a dark place. Use paper envelopes – not plastic bags – to store them.

My garden is so prolific that I weed hundreds of tomato plants each year. The tomatoes fall on the ground and the next year they grow like grass. I compost with kitchen waste, grass clippings, dead leaves (not oak!) and ashes from my wood stove. If you have a rabbit or hamsters (or a horse or cow of course), you can use their waste in the compost as well.

Let’s all be shadow fighters in the fight for the right to grow our food. It is one of the most fundamental rights of humanity.