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A Matter of Faith!

Do you have true conviction that everything will turn out well - I wish that I did - sometimes I feel that everything is going well and other times I just feel that nothing is going right. I have to ask myself is this because of my lack of conviction that all will be well.
Here is a little story from my early years concerning my dad, a lovely man who always believed things would work out in the end.
I was 13 years old and my nan had just died - we were living in rented accommodation in Bow, East London and the house was rented under her name so the landlord decided that we had to go because he wanted to sell the place.
I can remember now as he came around with a smirk on his face telling my mum and dad that they had two weeks to find other accommodation unless of course they wanted to buy the house - a wry smile came across his lips knowing that with my dad working as a postman and my mum working as a telephonist had absolutely no chance of raising the money in time.
My mum was in tears and my dad said 'don't worry, something will turn up' I know that he believed this beyond doubt cos that was the way he was and sure enough that weekend he and his workmates won the football pools which when shared out between them left enough to buy the house!!! The look on the landlords face was classic when he found out and think that he would have liked nothing better than to turn my dad's offer down but to guys like that money is money. So that was it, we became home owners.
My dad was like that right to the end where his last words to me were 'your mother worries too much' before he passed peacefully away on to whatever adventure awaited him in the after life.
I really wish I had his faith!!!

Misconceptions!!!


I have come across several misconceptions about Tai Chi and Chi Kung over the years – Some people seem to think they are a form of Religion or Cult and some schools may actually give this impression – so much so that some churches will not actually rent their halls to practitioners for fear that it would somehow affect their congregation – or worse still send the people who attend the classes down some evil, satanic path. You may laugh but I have actually known this to happen!!! Yoga seems to be ok though for some strange reason!!! Tai Chi and Chi Kung, if anything, will enhance your beliefs as you get to know and understand yourself better as you tune into your body and clear the mind.

Another misconception about Tai Chi is that it is only for older people – again, nothing could be further from the truth – Tai Chi is a very effective martial art which unfortunately seems to have been forgotten or totally ignored by some of the teachers/schools that are around. Every move has several fighting applications and I have found through teaching them that people have a much better understanding of what they are doing otherwise the whole practice turns into some kind of dance with no meaning whatsoever – I know there will be people who will disagree and I accept that this is my opinion although I know it to be one shared by many others too. Personally I would advise older people to take up Chi Kung to begin with – you will learn techniques that can then be taken into Tai Chi if you wish to go down that path. The forms are much shorter than Tai Chi – the long 108 Step Yang Form is particularly demanding. More people drop out of classes because they cannot remember the movements than for any other reason. Some ask why they cannot just follow the group but that is not the way I teach – I like people to be able to go home and practice getting the full benefits regular practice can bring.

Chi Kung is a powerful healing system bringing a unity of mind, body and spirit but there is one thing that has to be present when practising and that is intention. Sometimes I look around the class and see that intention is totally lacking so energy will just not flow – there is an old expression that says ‘No Yi – No Chi’ and this is very true – your energy is guided by your intention and along with breath/movement coordination and a good relaxed posture (not floppy) it will flow through every muscle/sinew/bone and organ of your body giving that wonderful feeling of ‘Yeah, everything’s ok – all will be well’ – People sometimes ask if I can guarantee they will be cured of certain illnesses – of course I cannot give any guarantee and I certainly would not advise coming off any medication you may have been prescribed but go into it with an open mind and intention – What have you got to lose in ‘giving it a try’?  – I have seen some pretty remarkable recoveries or at least remissions take place over the years.

I have studied both Tai Chi and Chi Kung for many years and the benefits they have given me over the years are tremendous – those who read the blog regularly will know how I came through a serious health problem earlier in the year – It was through regular practice of both arts that pulled me through – also I find solace in them when other things in my life are not so good – the last few years haven’t been exactly great but I know that through it all I can find that place within me that says ‘it’s ok, everything will be fine.’ I can’t explain how or why it works I just know that it does!!!

P.S. I, like everyone else get overwhelmed every now and then with events and sometimes this is hard for people to understand, thinking that I should be this ever smiling, happy guru figure – If I were to give this impression without actually feeling it I would give a very false impression of who I am and what I stand for.

I seem to have digressed a little there but sometimes things have to be said.

 

A Quiet Meditatiom


A Quiet Meditation

 
Many who come along to the studio are interested in meditation; how to meditate and what meditation to practice. Well, the first thing is that Tai Chi and Chi Kung are meditation practices – Tai Chi is often referred to as ‘Meditation in Movement’ although I believe this rather over simplifies the art.

 
One of the things you hear a lot about is being in the ‘now’ - the present moment, and this is one of the hardest things for us to do because every waking moment we have thoughts going through our minds about what has passed or what is going to happen but we never actually spend any time in the present moment – so here is a meditation that I use quite frequently and one you might like to try yourself.

 
Firstly, either sit or lie in a comfortable position – it isn’t necessary to sit cross legged because you will find you quickly become uncomfortably if you are not used to that posture. Take a few deep breaths and with every exhalation find yourself relaxing more and more, concentrate on your breath. Next open your eyes and concentrate on what you can see at this present moment (some find it helpful to have a candle or Crystal to concentrate on here). Find yourself completely in the moment and take in all the things that you see; the flickering of the flame or the colours in the Crystal, allow any outside thoughts to just drift straight on through. After spending some time observing move your concentration to what you can hear – once again you will find that you hear many things that you may ordinarily take for granted – a bird song, the rustle of leaves blowing in the wind, you may even hear things that you have never even realised were around before. After a few minutes move on to the sense of taste, touch and smell in exactly the same way lingering in the moment and taking in all the sensations you feel.

 
At the end of the meditation gently rub your hands together and then gently rub your face and slowly open the eyes and come back to the room. You should feel refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

 

You may find that you prefer to concentrate on one or two senses rather than go through them all. My preference is to start with a visual and then relax and listen. Often flashes of inspiration can occur during meditation so it is also good to have a notebook at hand so you can jot down anything that may come to you.

 

Good Break In Wells-Next-The-Sea!

Not really Tai Chi or Chi Kung related although I did manage to get a session in while away in Norfolk for a few days.
Wells-Next-The-Sea is on the North Norfolk coast and I stayed on a ship moored in the harbour called the Albatross - Now it isn't exactly the height of luxury but it is great for a break if you don't mind things being a little rough around the edges. Ton, the Captain and owner of the ship ensures that a good friendly crew make your stay enjoyable and live music is also provided (sometimes by me) on Friday/Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon - I always enjoy my stay there. You can check out more if you go to his website.
What never ceases to amaze me is that people tend to stay in one place and not go that little bit further to find the real treasure of the area. People seem to congregate around the main areas when a short walk along the North Norfolk Coastal Path towards Holkham you can enjoy the pleasure of a beautiful pine forest - I found a really secluded spot - found myself a nice bunch of trees - did some Chi Kung and shared my lunch with the wildlife. It then occurred to me that people tend to do the same thing when looking for classes - be it Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Pilates or Yoga. They will look and probably go to the nearest one to them which isn't necessarily the best (sometimes it might be but not very often!) when a little further down the road, in another village or town they may find the jewel in the crown - I rest my case!!!!

Wu Ji (Stillness)


We start each session of Chi Kung with the exercise of Wu Ji – this is literally stillness or emptiness – clearing the mind and getting in touch with our bodies before we start moving bringing into being the opposites of Yin and Yang.

 The easy way to find Wu Ji is to stand, feet shoulder width apart and parallel, weight evenly distributed. Stand upright, as if you are a soldier standing to attention – Chest out, shoulders back and stomach in (the exact opposite of Wu Ji!!!)

 From here release a sigh while at the same time releasing all tension in your body, but keep the spine straight – do no slump. This drops you into perfect Wu Ji.

 For a more detailed explanation please read on.

 Wu Ji.

Stand with feet shoulder width apart and parallel.

Be aware of the feet being completely on the ground with the majority of weight going through the Kidney 1 spot. Make sure that the weight is evenly distributed over both feet – do not favour one side or the other or compensate for any aches or pains you may have.

 Relax the calf and thigh muscles while at the same time releasing the knees.

Allow you tailbone (Coccyx) to drop so that the base of your spine points to the floor (without tension) and pull back the chin so that your head feels it is being suspended from above – you should now feel a slight stretch in the spine as well as feeling a strong connection to the ground through you perineum and kidney 1 spots.

 Release any tension in your abdomen – slightly sink the chest and relax the shoulders – this will allow your breath to sink and make abdominal breathing easier.

Let the head settle on the shoulders – the spine needs to be upright and in line and you should not be leaning back or forward.

 Once you feel relaxed take your muscles out of the equation and feel your body as more skeletal and feel the sensations as your body starts to align itself naturally. This is a very enjoyable experience especially if you have never encountered the feeling before.

 Hold Wu Ji for at least 5 minutes and then slowly walk around and note any further sensations you may find.

 Once you know how to drop into Wu Ji easily it can be used at anytime in stressful situations – try it and see – what have you got to lose!

Are You a Seeker?


In one of my ‘moments’ the other day I was thinking about the sort of people I would like to attract to the studio and how they would benefit from classes. The word ‘Seekers’ came to mind immediately and I wondered how I have overlooked this before.

‘Seekers’ are people who are looking for that little something they know is missing or hiding away deep inside of them. They know that there is something more inside of them but just can’t put their hands on it or know how to start looking. I believe that Chi Kung is a perfect catalyst for this journey of self discovery but like all journeys to actually arrive anywhere you have to ‘get on the bus’!!!

The first realisation on the journey is how little you know about your body – how unaware you are of its role in helping you emotionally as well as physically – through meditation, standing postures, moving forms and coordinating movement with breathe we start to understand how miraculous our bodies are.

The next stop is connecting to the internal energy in our body – that force that keeps us alive and well – we begin to feel when there is stagnation or blockages in our energy flow and learn what may be the causes (usually a buried emotion) and once again through meditation and working with the 5 Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn to acknowledge and work with our bodies and emotions etc.

At this time, we also connect to the external energy around us which is prevalent in nature – a matrix of energy that we can merge with bringing a balance that was previously missing from life. Artists, musicians and writers usually find this a place of great inspiration and their chosen art forms take on new dimensions. A time of real creation from deep within.

Now I know that this all sounds a bit ‘airy fairy’ but that is far from the case – those that know me well will vouch that I am about as far from ‘airy fairy’ you can get! When you come along to a class your feet are still firmly on the ground and we definitely don’t do any crazy stuff – so why not come along – get on the bus – enjoy the journey – I’ll save you a ticket!!!

don't underestimate what Chi Kung can do for you

The benefits of chi kung has many layers - just like an onion, as you remove one layer a deeper layer presents itself.
At a basic level chi kung greatly improves your body awareness, breathing, posture and opens up the joints, relaxes muscles and relieves stress and aids digestion. These 'advantages' are great and felt very quickly and because of this people think that is it!
But, as you continue with your practice you find a much deeper effect happening - You become more aware of your internal energy and start to feel any blockages or problems with your body. I know several people who have realised they have something wrong and got medical attention quickly. Yes, medical attention is sometimes needed and when used along with chi kung practice a quick recovery is often possible. Obviously, this isn't always the case - sometimes your time is up!!!
Beyond this stage you find a more spiritual meaning behind your practice and you find yourself living much more in the flow of things (the Tao) - intuition often improves and you feel that harmony between mind, body and spirit often referred to as the 'three treasures' - Jing, Chi and Shen.
So don't just settle for the obvious benefits that come from practice - never stop searching and looking for the deeper mysteries that lie within Chi Kung.

Don't Get Hung Up On Learning Forms!

Lots of people who take up Tai Chi and Chi Kung get obsessed with learning forms without understanding the basic principles and concepts behind the forms they have already learned. This is why sometimes a form looks like a dance with absolutely no intention or energy behind it.
I like to make sure that everyone at least knows the basic principles and concepts behind what they are learning and hopefully put these into the form they are practising. Sword form particularly needs this understanding or it just looks like someone waving a piece of wood (if you are using a practise sword) around.
Chi Kung is the same - you must have intention (Yi) in the movements so that your energy (Chi) can flow (no Yi no Chi!!!) - yes, you have to be relaxed but also the intention behind the movement has to be there (a bit of a paradox really).
I was once told by a teacher that when you see someone practising Tai Chi it should look like a spiritual person who shouldn't be messed with - I think this sums it up quite well!!!

Can You Learn From A Book?

People often ask if it is possible to learn Tai Chi or Chi Kung through a book or DVD. Well, you could probably learn the moves but it is impossible to feel or understand the moves without proper tuition. I once had someone come along who had learnt the whole Yang Long Form from a Video and to be fair she hadn't done a bad job of it but at the end of the day they were just moves with no substance or intention. This is something that cannot be conveyed to you via a book or DVD. Billy Joel once summed it up in one of his songs saying 'There's a new band in town but you can't get the sound from a story in a magazine'.
You do need someone who understands the principles and concepts of Tai Chi or Chi Kung to make any real progress so don't be afraid to ask for your teachers credentials - who have they trained with? how long have they practised themselves? I have practised both arts for over 25 years with various masters and teachers, all of whom have been absolutely brilliant and if I am honest I would say there are probably other master/teachers out there who can take me even further along the path. That is one of the things I love about Tai Chi and Chi Kung it is a never ending journey - never a dull moment!!!

Support Cycle of 5 Element Chi Kung

When you come along to the studio I like to work on the theory as well as practical side of Chi Kung - I find that if a student has a basic understanding of the concepts behind the movements they are being taught then the easier it is to visualise what is happening with your energy.
Elemental Chi Kung works on the five element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire). Each of these elements have their own characteristics and feed into each other as a mother would feed her child to bring about balance to our energy system.
The support cycle is Earth supports Metal, Metal supports Water, Water supports Wood, Wood supports Fire and Fire supports Earth. When all of these elements are balanced and supporting each other we have a healthy body, mind and spirit.
Each Element also has a direction, season, emotion, colour, taste and animal (and other characteristics) - The list is long but the good thing is that if you look the chart up on the net it doesn't really vary so you can get a good idea of what is element achieves.
At the studio we work on the support cycle mainly because we are looking to achieve balance - When one element gets out of line then the Control cycle comes into play but a deficiency or lack in one element is not always easy to diagnose so we work on keeping the elements balanced which usually means things even out over a period of time.
We also work on the balance between Yin and Yang and explore the extremes of the elements - Metal and Water being the Yin elements and Wood and Fire being the Yang elements - Earth is central and  helps balance the extremes.
Chi Kung is a fascinating journey into ourselves and like Tai Chi there are many styles but all look towards the same outcome - a balance between Mind, Body and Spirit.
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