I found myself alone today. I was drawn to sit in McGolrick Park and eat my small breakfast on a park bench. The scene of dappled light coming through the tall trees mottled the sidewalks and lawns. People and animals serenely walked, sat, fed, conversed and simply were. Each appeared to me like a little planet unto themselves and their atmospheres touched my own as they passed by. The perfect temperature aided this idyllic scene, there was an infinitesimal breeze giving just enough circulation to the air. The sounds of birds, bugs, dogs, and people came and went just as the scene before me came and went. There was nothing to hold and nothing to add. The feeling was harmonious, balanced and alive. This kind of state is impossible to write about because there is nothing much to say, no story to tell. And yet, truths are revealed that .
This week I was given a unique opportunity as my schedule had been cleared of most appointments, events, and people, so I found myself being drawn (just like I was today to the Park), but to the sitting cushion. This kind of exploration is not for the idyl, the crazed or the ambitious. It must be approached with a great deal of sobriety, honesty and fearlessness. It is not about becoming a better person, but this practice does reveal something beyond words or images. And yet poetry and stories abound in the ancient traditions that can only hint at what it illumines. Often they are simple phrases suggesting a kind of paradox or a secret shared between friends.
Over the past months, I've been reading the words of the late Chinese Ch'an master Nan Huai Chin. There are only a few books translated into English from Chinese and I am now on my third. From what I have been told many of the books were complied from his extemporaneous lectures. These are records of remarkable learning and wisdom and the Cleary brothers have done a great service to have translated them into English. I am no authority, but I highly recommend these to anyone interested in the traditions of Chinese cultivation practices: Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist.
What will make us take care of what we have been given?
Qigong is a tool to help us care for the gift given to us by nature. It won’t necessarily make you look like the latest cover model, but it is clinically proven to help us toward better health. Recently I had to change doctors due to a change in health insurance. My new doctor asked me if I exercised and I said I practiced qigong and taiji. She smiled saying, “These are great forms of exercise AND clinically proven to benefit health.” I was surprised by her emphatic response.
The above question appeared after my first class in the park following the long winter. I saw that some students had been practicing and as a result their flexibility, coordination, stamina, and balance had improved tremendously. I was so happy to see them so strong! Others who slacked off during the hiatus were less able and they knew it. Why did they stop? Could they not recognize how qigong was benefiting their physical bodies?
The answer may be more complicated than sheer laziness. For certain the exercises that most people usually engage in (gym workouts, jogging or power yoga), give one an immediate physical sensation associated with the exercise. If one feels the effort, pain/discomfort, or the rush of adrenaline then it must be having a good effect, right? This is not necessarily so and in some cases I might be doing more harm than good. With qigong we don’t always experience tangible effects immediately and in some cases it seems so easy (and feels so good) that we doubt its capacity to have any impact whatsoever. Much like the effects of wind and water, it slowly but surely influences the physical organism.
So, you won’t feel the heart thumping rush of running, the burn of lifting weights, or the searing stretches of power yoga, but qigong can help heal the body if done correctly and it has a verifiable impact on the immune system. We might experience a little of each of these exercises—all gathered together with a Taoist-like balance. I have secretly toyed with the idea of advertising my class as “Exercise for Lazy People” or maybe “Exercise for the Unambitious”. It might appeal to those who hate pain and sweat. But these taglines imply a kind of uncaring attitude. So I am considering “Exercise for the Guardians of Nature's Endowment”. It sounds kind of Chinese, but to the point. Our bodies will not last forever, but the longer we live, and the healthier we are, will allow us more time to cultivate even something more precious… but that might be the subject of another post.
Yeah! Spring is finally here and I am ready to resume group classes in McGolrick Park. I can speak for many students who worked with me last year, that most enjoyed the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the park as well as learn qigong.
Springtime in Chinese medicine is the season of rejuvenation and cleansing. It is the time to eat your greens! (and specifically dandelion greens as their bitter taste relates to the liver organ). The liver is connected to the wood element and therefore it makes perfect sense that it is the organ associated to Spring. Wood flourishes during the Spring and is also the Earth's filtration system. Similarly the liver is our bodies filtration system.
In the Chinese healing tradition Spring is the time for walks. So along side our usual qigong practice, and in honor of the season, we will learn the healing walk of Master Gou lin as taught to me by Sat Hon.
All classes are weather dependent so please sign-up to let me know which class you plan to attend and I will keep you informed of any changes.
As the weather is still cool, please wear appropriate clothing and shoes to move. We will warm up!
Looking forward to seeing you in the park.
April 12 at 11 am
April 19 at 11 am
April 26 at 11 am
In my last blog, I wrote about how a daily qigong practice can keep us in good health. However, regardless of the body's ability to defend against illness, one is still susceptible. No matter how well we eat, live and practice, the polluted environment we inhabit and the daily stresses of modern life still keep us deeply out of balance. These days even the animals, the plants and the weather are out of balance. Often we are under the illusion that we live in a bubble and that if our little world is put in order then we have everything under control and nothing "bad" can happen to us. But if we investigate further, we see that we are connected in ways that we do not yet recognize.
In a recent conversation with a fellow qigong practitioner, we wondered together:
Does qi accumulate?
The conclusion we came to was that it must, as we both felt that with regular correct practice our health improved. Over the summer, due to a hiatus in my own practice, I came down with a cold. It could be that I just got sick (sometimes unavoidable), but I wondered later if there was a correlation. I immediately, went back to my daily routine and my immune system seems to have improved again. My fellow practitioner and sometimes student said that with her regular practice, ailments that were once there have vanished. And another recent student said that on vacation her travel companion became ill, but she did not. The research is still underway and I am my own guinea pig.
I recently saw a short interview with a qigong master who said that his Western students love to learn new things, but they don't want to practice. It was a revealing statement. Practice is not just repetition of what I know—the same old patterns practiced over and over again. It also isn't just following a prescription by rote. Rather, I see it as a refinement of what one has learned, and a whole hearted investigation. Practice should be fun, interesting and full of life. This is Qi!
The summer Qigong sessions at McGolrick Park began to blossom into great Qi. The classes were a lot of fun for everyone (including me!) and for some, they helped to spark a regular qigong practice. As Fall is upon us, we will be heading indoors and the first venue will be Awakenings Spa in Greenpoint. Please join me for my first workshop in this beautiful location on October 4 from 11 am to 1 pm. This is the heart of up and coming Brooklyn. Let me know if you would like to take part and I will give you more details.
Cultivating Ease, Simplicity & Lightness
Qigong is often practiced to cultivate a flow of qi within the body. It works on many of the same principles as acupuncture as it helps to release knots and blockages within the energy pathways thus promoting better health and well-being. In this workshop, we will work with movement, hand gestures, and sounds to bring mind and body into a more harmonious state. The movements are simple, but subtle. Beginners as well as more experienced Qigong practitioners are welcome.
It was a beautiful day for Qigong in the park. In honor of the birds in McGolrick, I am posting some pictographs of various birds found on oracle bones of the Shang period (1600 BC to 1046 BC) from, Nature in Chinese Art drawn by Harry E. Gibson.
The birds seem to really appreciate a certain qigong movement we are doing. So if you want to find out what that is…well come and join us!
These images represent some of the earliest forms of Chinese writing and indeed one can see a visual relationship with the more recent characters (more pictographs below). Qigong's origins are ancient as well, but all the living creatures from which many of the movements are taken are still alive on Earth today.
For many of us it has been a long, cold winter and now that summer is soon to arrive it is time to unfurl our limbs and senses to take in the fresh air, light and energies of the animals, plants, earth and sky. After our first class, people expressed to me that it was such a pleasure to see the great trees of McGolrick Park as they practiced their head rotations! It was a lot of fun and it would be wonderful if you could join us.
Qigong originates from Daoist practices, and for most people it is done to develop and maintain a healthy organism. This introduction is intended for everyone. Qigong is similar to acupuncture in that it balances the body by activating the energy pathways. In this class, we will explore both moving and standing qigong forms as well as the healing sounds.
This introductory group class is designed to give a taste of Qigong. Sessions will take place outside under the shady trees of McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Both new and experienced Qigong students are welcome to join. Classes are weather dependent, so please check the website in case of cancellation.
(New to Qigong, your first class is FREE!)
Visit the home page to view the schedule and register to receive updates.
Hope that you can join Sat Hon, myself and others for the Qi Festival on April 26 & 27 in NYC.
"Qi Festival is a celebration of the ancient Taoist healing path of alchemy. The book of alchemical wisdom is written not with words, but with movement. These deeply healing and transformative practices, passed down to us from the Neolithic shaman are still alive today, hidden in plain sight within the moving forms cherished by modern day Taoist alchemists. In a society that has utterly lost its link with the sacred, these ancient arts give us the possibility to rediscover this connection. This festival is a rare opportunity for students and newcomers to explore the wisdom of sacred moving arts and Qigong."
Saturday, April 26 10 AM–4 PM & Sunday, April 27 11 AM–3 PM
Ripley-Grier Studios 520 8th Ave FL16
New York, NY 10018-4177
Fee $175.00 for 2 days or $100 for 1 day
Pre-register online at www.qigongtherapy.com.
Sponsored by Ancient Taoist Practice Society, Inc. a non-profit Educational Incorporation.
And if you want a taste of the Qi Festival join us for the Prequel at 8-9 pm
Katonah Yoga 267 WEST 17TH ST | 2ND FL. NEW YORK, NY | Fee $10
I am in constant movement. I arise in the morning, make breakfast, brush my teeth, put on my coat, walk down the street, gesture to the cafe owner while ordering coffee, stand waiting for the bus or subway etc, etc, etc. Even when sitting or standing, I continue to move. My heart beats, I breath and my blood pumps incessantly through me. My cells, my organs, my mind are constantly shifting and in continuous flux; they too make their own specific movements and sounds. There are larger movements and smaller movements, automatic movements, habitual movements, autonomic movements (not the same as automatic) and sometimes, in fact very rarely, am I aware of "how I move", or perhaps, more succinctly said, "how I am moved". What is it that moves me? The most simple questions are often the most unfathomable, leading us to unforeseen discoveries if I am willing to suspend the notion that I already know.
Qigong can guide us towards investigating this question. It not only incorporates movements of the musculoskeletal system, but can also bring us in touch with our organs, the fluids—the blood and endocrine system—and, of course, the breath. Chinese medicine connects the organs to emotional states, colors, sounds, tastes, direction, animals and the channels that are the pathways for Qi. Within this traditional medical system, each organ carries a specific quality and, like western medicine, plays a role within the whole, like a community of living creatures that makes up the organism that I call "my body". With this view our bodies become connected as opposed to dissected. Through the movements, sounds and our awareness, we begin to experience our physical bodies as less foreign and perhaps even part of the larger living system of nature. One could say that Chinese medicine was one of the first wholistic approaches to healing and it still remains effective for many of today's ailments.
I recall my first introduction to this aspect of qi gong, and at first I was very skeptical, wondering how all this related to the movements we made, but I continued on, really not knowing what I would find. The sounds are not just sounds, but vibrations or micro movements; the directions we face or move towards are not just arbitrary, as each direction has a quality to incorporate. How often in our lives do we know which direction we are facing? I think of sea turtles or birds being able to navigate vast distances by the capacity to sense magnetic fields to find their way. They know direction in a way that I do not, but perhaps that capacity is within our reach?
So returning to the question: What is it that moves me? If I am honest, I must admit that I do not know. But, by asking the question, I begin to face a gigantic field of study encompassing all of me and more. The awareness: my ability to perceive— sense, taste, see—is still very limited. I might think I am aware, but there is more to take in that at present might seem unimaginable, but I can open to more.
I am reminded of a quote from The Secret of the Golden Flower:
“One moves and forgets the movement;
If action arises from stimulation
Then it is but reflexive.
Ah, but when one moves without will
nor impulse, then truly is this
moving heaven & earth.”
--The Secret of the Golden Flower,
Excerpt, Translated by Sat Chuen Hon
has studied qigong and taiji with Sat Chuen Hon, a Taoist and native of China for several years. Mr. Hon has asked her to carry on this Taoist healing tradition to help benefit others. Ms. Fox received her MFA in painting from Yale University in 1997. Her studio practice, writing as well as her study of dance and movement have been woven together over many years into a rich exploration and inner search. She is a published poet and has recently helped prepare and edit Sat Hon's writings on Qigong and Taoist stories for publication.