with Nurture Through Nature
March 24th – March 31th, 2019
Celebrating 20 years of leading earth-friendly yoga retreats, Jen Deraspe, founder of Nurture Through Nature, is excited to offer this women’s health-conscious healing arts retreat in beautiful Dominican Republic.
Live and practice steps from the beach bathed by the warm trade winds and sounds of the surf.
7 nights accommodation at The Extreme Hotel Cabarete (single or double)
Twice daily Qi Gong infused mindful Hatha Yoga classes
Evening enrichment circles
All breakfasts & dinners at their Organic Beachfront Restaurant (one non-alcoholic drink included per meal and one smoothie/day included)
A Tour of their Organic Farm, with River Tubing and a Farm Fresh Meal
Free time for your own Island adventures, relaxation, reflection and excursions
The Yoga Loft is located at eXtreme Hotel. They have a strong commitment to sustainability and supporting the local Dominican community. Onsite is a restaurant, gym, pool, circus school, water sports and the hotel is literally steps from the beach!
Nearby and on-site healthy active adventure options abound:
Fitness classes- $10
Personal training- $55/session (package discount available)
Trapeze classes $40/class
Aerials (lyra, silks, corde lysse, static + duo trapeze) $25/class
Single Surf lesson – $50
Week of Surf lessons – $250/week (all equipment included)
Massage – $55/hour
Week of Kitesurfing Classes – $550/week (including gear rental, lessons and unlimited supervised practice time with an assistant instructor)
Trip to the 27 waterfalls – $85 per person (half day)
Horseback riding – $60 per person (about 2 hours)
Testimonial about the space:
“Jen, I love it there! The chef in the farm-to-table restaurant makes amazing and delicious cuisine. I have had multiple students come back for a second retreat in this same destination. The Yoga Loft is beach side and breezy, the rooms are simple and clean, the staff is super friendly, and all in a sustainable eco-friendly environment. My favorite part of the retreats at extreme is always the farm tour and river tube!!! Let me know if you have any questions, but my students and I love it on Kite Beach! Highly recommend.”
Chrissy Lefavour, Grateful Yoga Studio, Vermont
Testimonial about your facilitator, Jen Deraspe
“The retreat made me feel the best, both physically or mentally, I’ve felt in a really long time. It really helped me take a step back and open my senses, improve my awareness and change some of my mindsets
that had been stuck for so long. I feel like I am more aware and hopefully more able to make positive changes.” Angela Haiss, Maine
Facilitated by Jen Deraspe, founder of Nurture Through Nature retreat center, who has been leading retreats & teaching yoga, qi gong and meditation since 1999. She is passionate about each person finding their healing potential and offers opportunities to do so in an authentic & effective way.
The Yoga Loft is located on Kite Beach, Cabarete, on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. Cabarete is the perfect place to escape to for a yoga retreat, giving you the opportunity to unwind and be at peace in a beautiful environment.
Cabarete is famous as one of the top kitesurfing destinations in the world and one of the best kept secrets of the Caribbean is that the area also boasts world class surf breaks. If neither surfing or kiting is for you, there are other water-sports to choose from; learn windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding, or body surfing. Most instructors for the classes are Dominican locals, giving opportunity to engage with the community and learn more about the country and it’s culture, which is very social and full of passion and life.
For the past few months I’ve been practising Qi Gong (almost) every morning that I don’t have college, just before sunrise down near the beach. Qi Gong is a great way to start the day with some gentle exercise that gets your energy moving to start the day feeling more confident and grounded.
I find Qi Gong easier to practise than it’s brother Tai Chi, and you can easily follow along to a YouTube video. I bought a pair of Sony Wireless Bluetooth headphones so that I can put my iPhone on the ground a couple of metres in front of me and still hear the commentary. One of the reasons I like the videos below is because they have soothing, reassuring commentaries that sink into the subconscious after a few views.
I have often found strong emotions arising during or just after practising Qi Gong, so remember to take care of your inner child when doing this. Witness the emotions arise and let them go. If they’re particularly strong and/or persistent, find someone to talk the feelings over with.
There are heaps of Qi Gong tutorial videos on YouTube, and you can start with shorter ones and work your way up to longer routines if you’re not very fit yet. There’s plenty of variety so you don’t ever get bored with the same old routine every day. Get ready to meet your new YouTube friends Lee, Jeff and Marissa!
When you get really good, you might even be ready for this one I made:
Qi Gong comes from traditional Chinese medicine and is an ancient type of exercise that integrates the body and the mind. Qi means energy and Gong means skill or accomplishment, something that can be practiced. Qi Gong is a practice and a system of health and wellness that cultivates energy to improve and maintain health. Practitioners of Qi Gong are using an ancient health and wellness system that is today considered a complementary and alternative medical practice. Practicing Qi Gong involves learning postures and movements, breathing exercises, and mental focus.
What is Tai Chi?
Tai chi is a martial art that was developed in China in the 17th century. Like Qi Gong it is a meditative type of movement that integrates mind and body. It involves moving in slow, controlled, and specific ways, going smoothly from one posture to the next. Because this is a martial art, the postures can be used for self-defense. Most people today, though, use Tai Chi as a meditative type of exercise. It can help improve strength, balance, flexibility, and mental focus.
Comparing Tai Chi and Qi Gong
These two spiritual and physical practices from China are very similar, but there are also some key differences. According to the National Qi Gong Association, Tai Chi is a type of Qi Gong. Qi Gong can be practiced spiritually, medically, or martially. The Association describes Tai Chi as a soft and more internal type of Qi Gong (as compared to Kung Fu, another type of Qi Gong) and is considered a martial art. That means that the movements used are combative in nature, although they are done slowly and smoothly. Tai Chi is also newer than Qi Gong; it was developed only in the late 1600s, while Qi Gong has ancient origins.
Whether Tai Chi is a type of Qi Gong or not, they are both similar in that they both place an emphasis on postures, which may be stationary or moving, breathing, and mental focus. Both can be described as moving meditation because of the combination of positioning the body in different, specific ways, while also being mindful and focused. Because Tai Chi is a martial art, the movements and postures are usually more complex than those done in Qi Gong. Tai Chi also has a more specific progression from one posture to the next, while Qi Gong is not so strictly defined and the movements and postures can be done in any order. Qi Gong is more adaptive and focused on wellness, rather than martial arts.
The health benefits of both Qi Gong and Tai Chi are well documented. Qi Gong was developed as a system for health and wellness, but modern researchers have been able to prove several ways in which it benefits good health. Tai Chi is also known to benefit both mental and physical health. Although the movements are slow, the practice is a beneficial type of exercise.
Tai Chi, for instance is proven to be a good type of exercise for anyone at any age or skill or fitness level. It can especially help older patients or patients who have physical limitations because of illness, like cancer, regain muscle strength, balance, flexibility, and even aerobic conditioning. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are both known to help reduce pain, including fibromyalgia pain and arthritis.
Benefits for Cancer and Mesothelioma Patients
While there are known health benefits of both Qi Gong and Tai Chi for anyone, there have also been studies that investigated and proved that there are specific benefits for cancer patients. One study included a group of cancer patients that were led in medical Qi Gong and a control group that only received traditional medical care. The Qi Gong group saw reduced inflammation in the body—inflammation can cause pain. They also experienced reduced side effects from treatment and an improved overall quality of life.
For older patients, Tai Chi has been proven to be effective for improving stability and balance and reducing the number of falls. Many patients with mesothelioma are older and may have lost the ability to maintain stability. Tai Chi can not only help reduce falls, but can help patients feel safer and live with less fear about falling and getting hurt.
For mesothelioma patients of any age, stress, anxiety and other negative feelings can greatly diminish quality of life. Studies have shown that practicing Qi Gong or Tai Chi can reduce stress significantly. They may also improve cognitive function. Other studies have shown that, in cancer patients, Tai Chi practice can reduce anxiety, relieve pain, and boost the immune system. Some studies also found that Tai Chi reduced fatigue in patients with breast cancer.
Risks or Potential Complications
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are both generally considered to be safe for most people. There are almost no risks for someone in good health following the guidance of a trained instructor. For a cancer patients there may be a few risks, but these are minimal and for most are outweighed by the potential benefits. Anyone with certain musculoskeletal problems may not be able to practice Tai Chi safely. This may include joint problems, fractures, or back pain, but it depends on the individual. For a cancer patient with physical limitations, Qi Gong may be a better place to start, as it is more focused on wellness and is easy to adapt to individual needs and limitations. If you are living with mesothelioma, get your medical team’s advice before trying one of these types of exercise.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are both types of meditative exercise that are different in some ways but also have much in common. They are both ways of integrating the mind and the body for the purpose of healing, balancing and restoring energy, and for physical and mental wellness. For mesothelioma patients, either of these practices can be great for relieving side effects of treatment, regaining physical fitness, and general improving quality of life.
Lee Holden jumped into the air to smash a soccer ball with his head.
Before the young varsity athlete from UC Berkeley could make contact, another player swept his legs out from under him. Lee missed the ball and crashed down painfully on his tailbone.
For a week, he could hardly walk, stand, sit, or lie down without horrible pain. His doctor said he was done playing for the season, and Lee refused to give up. He remembered an old martial arts teacher, a man who once broke through 15 stacked bricks in one mighty blow, and suffered no injury.
If there was some ancient healing wisdom from the East that could prevent this master’s hand from becoming injured, maybe it could cure his lower back, he thought.
Desperate to get back on the field, Lee tried Qi Gong, a series of breathing and movement exercises. His injury healed quickly, he made it back into the season, and he was so impressed with the results that he continued studying Qi Gong for the rest of his life. Now he teaches it to others, on PBS specials, on DVDs, and through online video courses.
“There is a lot more to Qi Gong than meets the eye. Like an iceberg, what you can see and witness in a Qi Gong practice is only the surface of a much deeper and potent internal power. Qi Gong is simple: it requires no equipment, little space, and can be practiced in a short amount of time. Yet simple as it seems, Qi Gong brings an incredible amount of healing power to the practitioner.
– Lee Holden
Qi Gong is the best exercise for busy Dads.
Every year, our joints become more delicate, our bodies don’t heal as fast, and the sports of our youth may not even be good for us anymore.
I’m a good case in point: Parkour is a young man’s sport. I discovered Parkour when I was nearly 30, and today, I’m often twice the age of the kids I run with. They can do tricks easily that require my full dedication and training – I’ve got to work really hard just to match an 18-year-old PK rookie.
As much as I love Parkour, I know that I have to retire soon. My joints need to last for decades, so I can hike into the hills with my progeny. I owe it to them to take good care of my body. I owe it to them to stay fit.
When I first tried one of Lee Holden’s videos, I was surprised at how much clearer I felt in my own body. The tension that I always carried in my neck and shoulders was gone. I felt more centered and balanced throughout the day, especially at bedtime – the kids would be exhausted and grumpy, and I could stay calm and even because I felt relaxed in my body and calm in my mind.
Qi Gong has been called “the Art of Effortless Power.” I think that’s one of the reasons I like it so much; as an athlete, I’m so used to pushing, straining, and exerting effort in order to get results. Qi Gong is a wonderful counterpoint to this, because the more you relax, the more energy and vitality you get from the practice.
The slower you move your body, the more you can relax.
Best of all, the exercises were so simple and easy to learn, it was as easy as pushing play and standing up.
Parents Don’t Learn Very Well
Right now, Dads, you’ve got more obligations than at any other point in your life. Time is your most expensive commodity. If it takes time to learn something, it’s easier to do without it.
Learning new things sucks when you’re a parent, because you don’t have any free time. The learning curve is much too scenic for the get-there-now-before-somebody-cries speed of parenting. Learning a new type of exercise now, at a time when it’s really hard to prioritize our bodies or education, means it’s got to be super easy.
Qi Gong Is Easy To Learn Online
Thirty years ago, if you wanted to learn Qi Gong, you had to go find a teacher and study with them in person to learn the practice. Three hundred years ago, you may have had to journey across a significant portion of the globe (which was not very easy at the time) just to find someone who could teach this to you.
Today, in the Internet age, you can learn Qi Gong at your desk. Type in a few keywords and you can get a world-renowned master teaching you whenever you like.
The practice of Qi Gong isn’t very difficult – it’s just a series of simple movements and patterns that anyone with even modest mobility can follow.
It’s easy to learn, and doesn’t require much time or equipment or exertion. You can learn this online just by watching a video, standing up and moving around.
The benefits of doing this practice become more apparent over time. Like acupuncture, a related form of Chinese medical wisdom, greater benefits can be seen with regular, ongoing treatment.
I was shocked at how well Qi Gong worked for my aging dad body – but only after I dedicated a few weeks of short, regular practices every day.
Spending 7 minutes doing Qi Gong every day for a month has a much greater effect than taking a weekend workshop intensive for six hours. Or, as Warren Buffet says, “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
Try Qi Gong and see what it does for you
Like pickles, cayenne pepper, or My Little Pony, you’ll never really know if you like Qi Gong until you try it.
I recommend trying it for 30 days, and see for yourself if you experience any of the benefits.
You will know if this is right for you. Your body will tell you.
Practicing 30 days of Qi Gong AM/PM transformed my life. It was just 2 DVDs, one for AM, and one for PM. They are both about 45 minutes long, which is a big commitment for a dad; but since I was able to be completely flexible on when I devoted these 45 minutes to Qi Gong, I would simply watch for the opportunity, and pounce whenever it arrived.
For 30 days, I tried to do one of the routines every day. If I missed the morning workout, I tried extra hard to make time for an evening workout. I think I probably got to 27 or 28 of those 30 days . It’s not important to practice every. single. day. Because, seriously, there’s no gold stars over here. Instead of aiming for perfect attendance, I just practiced regularly for a month, and found that I handled stressful situations much better, felt more relaxed throughout the day, and was generally calm and happy most of the time.
This is a type of exercise that works exceptionally well for dads, because we’re getting older, our bodies are deteriorating, and we don’t have a lot of extra time. The reason you see so many old dudes doing Qi Gong is because it becomes more valuable to your creaky joints as you age.
Start now, and by the time you’re a grandfather, you’ll be that cool old dude that gets all mystical with his body every day.
Qi means “life force” and Gong means “practice,” as in a daily practice. By working with Qi Gong you are mastering your own life force energy.
A class of twenty completed the Medical Qi Gong certification program led by Suzannah Stason LAc, CMQ this past summer. The program included six modules spanning over the length of a year. With the momentum of the resounding success of this graduating class, the program is being offered again, beginning with module one on September 16-17, 2017.
The practice of Medical Qi Gong is one of the original branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the West, we often think of just acupuncture but when we look at Traditional Chinese medicine as a whole system, we see the many aspects that it addresses from the internal medicine that herbal formulas provides, the qi cultivation and regulation that qi gong provides and the balancing aspects of acupuncture.
Medical qi gong is another tool practitioner’s have in their toolbox to address a patient’s pattern of imbalance that causes disease. Like every other aspect of healing through the lens of Chinese medicine it works to support the body’s internal resources, to support our organs and our organ functions, to clear stagnation and create harmony that is at the root of everything in health.
At AIMC Berkeley, our students and our teachers recognize the importance of providing this amazing tool to our growing practitioners. The philosophies and techniques of qi gong are invaluable as we learn to become contributors to our field and effective practitioners. Many practitioners have a qi gong practice that helps them stay centered while treating others. It provides a path back to our own source of inspiration, wonder of the mysteries of the world and a deep sense of peace within the rhythms of our own lives. The gift is being able to share this with patients as well.
The Medical Qi gong certificate program, which was reinvigorated last Fall 2016, is a six-weekend series that provides students and practitioners from across healing disciplines the opportunity for deep self-inquiry and qi cultivation, in-depth understanding of Chinese medicine theory and experiential mastery of Medical Qigong therapeutic diagnostic and treatment techniques.
The six weekends provide a total of 90 hours of class time with additional 60 hours of required clinical practice hours to earn a 150-hour certificate in Medical Qigong Therapy. Each weekend includes group qigong practice, meditation instruction, lectures, individual and partner work, written assignments and discussions. The work is always incredibly rejuvenating and rewarding.
Karen Villaneuva a senior intern in the AIMC Berkeley clinic shared her experience of the program, “I started the Medical Qigong Certificate Program in 2013, and I had the honor and privilege of studying with Suzanne Friedman for a short time. I miss her terribly and am so grateful for the teachings and learnings she transmitted before her passing. She has helped shape me into a more kind, compassionate, and competent practitioner. Suzannah Stason has picked up where Suzanne left off, and she does an excellent job of honoring the way Suzanne taught, while bringing forth her own unique way of sharing. I’ve been able to utilize my medical qigong training in the clinical setting with great success, and I have these two Teachers to thank for that.”
There is the moving form of qi gong for self-cultivation and there is the therapeutic role of medical qi gong, used by a practitioner to treat a patient. Medical qigong puts us in touch with the way in which we each desire to live. In school, we learn acupuncture points and we learn the Chinese pharmacopeia but the intention, the awareness and the presence that we need to bring to these tools to life are taught in qigong. Cultivating qi, directing qi, dispersing qi, working with these energies in a way that provides deep effects within our patients and within ourselves must be done with the clear intentions.
To experience a medical qi gong treatment, book an appointment with a practitioner who has completed the program. A list of practitioners is kept at the front desk. To learn medical qi gong, sign-up for the upcoming series beginning in September 2017 or reach out to the administration for upcoming program dates.
To begin your practice now, take a look at books and offerings from Suzanne Friedman, our late great master qi gong whose teaching lineage is continuing to be passed down through this program.
What’s the difference between a dead body and a living, vibrant human being? It’s the life force, the energy that flows through all of us. It is what animates us and enables us to move through our day.
This life force is known by many different names around the world. In China, it is called Qi (pronounced “chee”). In India, it is referred to as Prana; in Hebrew, Ruach; Polynesia, Mana; and in Japan, Ki. Everything that lives contains this life force including plants, animals, and people.
Qi helps to animate the body and protect it from illness, pain, and disease. A person’s health is influenced by the quality, quantity, and balance of their Qi. We acquire it from breathing, eating, and standing in sunlight. We deplete it by eating a nutrient-poor diet or by not getting enough exercise, rest, or fresh air.
Flow of Energy
Qi can be thought of as a current that runs through our bodies, keeping our systems in good working order. It is circulated through specific pathways, called meridians, which transport life-giving Qi to nourish and energize every cell, organ, gland, tissue, and muscle. There are 14 main meridian pathways throughout the body, and each is connected to specific organs and glands.
When Qi flows freely throughout the body, a person enjoys physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Qi, can become depleted or stuck from emotional imbalances, repression, or frequently expressing emotions like anger or even over-the-top joy. Other ways that Qi can become obstructed is through injury, physical abnormalities (such as growths) in the body, or lifestyle habits that restrict the flow of Qi (such as not getting enough movement and exercise). An obstruction of Qi anywhere in the body is like a dam, backing up the flow in one area and restricting it in another. This blockage can hinder the distribution of the nourishment that the body requires to function optimally.
The body’s energy also has a proper direction of flow. For example, did you ever get angry and feel Qi rising to your head (maybe you got warm or red in the face)? In this case, the stuck Qi built up and needed to be released. Too much Qi to the head can cause migraines, tension headaches, and high blood pressure. As another example, stomach Qi should move down; if it moves up instead, you can develop acid reflux.
Balance of Energy
The flow of Qi is optimal when a person’s energy is in balance. In Asian philosophy, balance is understood using the concept of Yin and Yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, and passive aspects of a person, while Yang represents hot, excited, or active aspects.
Yin and Yang are opposites and are therefore interconnected and interdependent. They can only exist in relation to one another. For example: stillness/movement, happiness/sadness, awake/asleep, darkness/light. Each aspect gives rise to the other, and the two constantly ebb and flow with one another.
According to Asian philosophy, wellness can only be achieved through balance in life. Disease is a symptom of an internal imbalance of Yin and Yang which, in turn, restricts the healthy flow of Qi.
Keep It Moving
There are many ways to keep our Qi moving and create balance in our lives. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and balancing activity with relaxation are essential. Trying modalities like Acupuncture, Reiki (pronounced Ray Key), Tai Chi, Shiatsu, Ayurveda, and others can also help our body’s energy be more abundant and free-flowing.
Acupuncture, for example, is a system of balancing the body’s energy through the insertion of hair-thin needles into acupoints on the meridians. Tui na (pronounced Twee na) and shiatsu use massage to affect the acupuncture points. Tai Chi and Qigong use specific movements and exercises to strengthen the body’s Qi. Tui Na is a form of acupuncture that uses either very thin or no needles to affect the energy through the acupoints.
These modalities have been used for centuries, some dating back more than 5,000 years, as a system of preventative wellness and longevity. A practitioner of energy medicine may be able to detect and resolve disruptions in the flow of Qi before you have symptoms. Systems like Acupuncture and Reiki are practiced by masters in their field who are skilled at building, moving, and releasing the body’s energy. Other practices, like Tai Chi and Qigong, once learned can be done at home or in groups to keep the flow of energy moving in the body.
If you’d like to feel healthy and energized in mind, body, and spirit, work to create balance in your life and explore ways to improve your flow of Qi. After all, who couldn’t use a little more energy?
Michelle Gellis, LAc, MAc, DiplAc, is a licensed, board-certified acupuncturist. She is a faculty member and clinic supervisor at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. Michelle also teaches Facial Acupuncture Classes Nationally to acupuncturists. She can be reached at 443-980-5047 or Michelle@GellisAcupuncture.com.
There is an opportunity that happens 4 times a
year that will give you more power to make your
life work better, It’s when the seasons change.
Every summer, winter fall and spring we have a big
opportunity to move forward with our plans and
accomplish our goals much easer. Soon we will be
coming up to the spring equinox where the yin and
yang of the planet is in balance, that date is
March 20th, but you want to get prepared Now.
The vernal (or spring) equinox takes place on the
March 20th. and signals the start of spring in the
Northern Hemisphere. Fall in the Southern
Hemisphere during the equinox, the amount of
daylight and darkness is nearly the same in
At that time we will enter the sign Aries the
first sign of the Zodiac. The Equinoxes are
celebrated as the start of the true New Year.
(The New Year on the 1st of January is just the
changing of the year) After a long winters rest
new life is about to bloom again. The theme of
resurrection is taking place.
The word Equinox literally means, “equal night.”
Here in the Northern part of the world the Spring
Equinox, day and night is the same length.
Aries the first sign of the zodiac definitely has
the power to lead and manifest what you want.
That’s why spring is the best time to move forward
in your goals and begin some new. No matter where
you are on planet earth at the time of the spring
or fall Equinoxes the day is equal to the night
this is the time that the yin (female) and yang
(male) are balanced. It is the best time to place
your attention on what you want to create. Take
advantage of this natural life force that arises
with the spring and fall Equinox and begin to
manifest your dreams.
Your intentions are like seeds that if planted in
fertile soil and taken care of, will grow over the
next season, to bloom at the time of the Summer
Solstice in June.
This is the time for growth, new things and
What should you do during the Spring Equinox
1.Put all your goals and wishes on paper. Yes get
it out of your head and write them down. This is
where the magic square workshop
will come in as a valuable tool for your growth
and give you directions you will need to balance
all aspects of your life.
2. List: What are your top 3 goals are for you in
the next 3 months.
3. List the Number 1 goal for this year
4. Start something new It can be a new workout
routine, a new diet, write a book or what ever you
want. Just start it!
Spring is filled with raw energy bursting out of
the ground, blossoming on the trees let that
energy move you forward in all aspects of your
I wish you the best in your Health, Wealth and
The guiding principle of Qi Gong, is the coordination of the eyes with the body movements.
The literal translation of qi gong is “energy work.” It is an Asian form of yoga that has been around for thousands of years. Much of it is performed while , though there are a number of seated sets as well. There are hundreds of systems of qi gong that have come from various lineages, and many of them focus on different fields.Many are health oriented, while a separate group comes through the martial arts lineages.
These systems act to harness willpower, to focus, and to help practitioners channel their energy through their palms. There are also a number of systems from the temples and monasteries that are more focused on spiritual cultivation and depth of . Some involve moving, and others are visualization based. Almost all of them involve specialized breathing, which is coordinated with the activity at hand. The guiding principle of all these practices, however, is the coordination of the eyes with the body movements, the focus of the mind, and the breath, especially for the moving practices. For the more passive, non- movement exercises, we focus the vision inward and explore the inner realms as we guide the breath to various inner chambers.
Let’s take a moment to look at this formula again to see if we can dissect it a bit more. We are looking for the coordination of all (not just a couple) of the following to take place in order for our qi gong to be effective:
The Eyes in Qi Gong
In the West, the eyes are considered the gateway to the soul and, in Taoist theory, are believed to guide the shen, or the spirit. It is said that the qi (energy) follows the shen (spirit), and the blood and body fluids, in turn, then follow the qi.
Therefore, the eyes become the “command center” for the spirit to control and guide the movement of the energy in the body. Later on, we will use the same system to direct energies outside of our body to effectuate healing and exert our influence on the environment around us.
Body Movements in Qi Gong
These are the actual sequenced movements of the qi gong exercises. Many of these follow the pathways of the energy meridians that run through the body. They also often trace the outer edges of our energy fields, smoothing and caressing the potency of the energy flow in our Light Body. These movements often involve various degrees of exertion, and depending on the system you are training in, they can actually be quite rigorous.
Recall the story of Bodhidharma and the Shaolin temple. He created a routine (called the Famous Tamo’s Eighteen Hands of the Lohan) that fully mixed kung fu with qi gong with relatively high levels of exertion. This aspect is very much like the physical yoga systems in the Indian traditions. Some hold static postures, while others emphasize more dynamic flow and continuity of motion.
Mental Focus in Qi Gong
This is a critical aspect of the practice and is the one that students most often overlook. Paying attention is a critical component to any energy work, as it engages the fire energy of the heart and ties the spirit in with the actions at hand. The ancients say the linking of attention and intention creates mastery in life. Here, we are asked to focus on the action at hand and to stay engaged in the body movements, tracking them with the eyes. Doing so demands our mental focus and presence, and the reward is immense. This aspect also draws on the yi, or shen, of the earth element.
Breath in Qi Gong
It is the vital breath that is said to circulate through the various meridians, and it is the energy from the air, if you recall, that mixes with the qi to create the functional energy of our body. The coordination of breath with body movements and attention drives energy through the designated pathways and opens blockages. We use breath not only to open these pathways but also to gather and store the breath and energy in specific reservoirs (called dantiens) in the body. An adept student learns to extract vital energy from the air through breathwork.
As simple as it seems, it is this framework that sets the precedent for all the magic to occur in qi gong. Now, there is much to be said about the specific movements and the deep understanding of the energy path- ways and how they affect us, but even if we were just to take this level of focus and coordinated thought and breathing into our day-to-day lives, we’d be far ahead of the game.
The good news is that we are about to learn about these pathways, and we are going to unlock and understand the mechanisms of action here. We will engage the intellect (yi) and the attention (shen) with the intention (zhi). Once this “vertical axis” of fire-earth-water has been activated, we’ll have finally unlocked the first hints of our tremendous potential, and a number of powerful changes will start to happen.
This vertical axis gives us the mental and spiritual alignment we need in order to connect all aspects of our being into our body while in our . The connection of all the various aspects of ourselves through the practice really begins to snap us out of our trances. Once we correct the flow of energy and divert it away from all the wasteful patterns of our past, we can start to gather and accumulate power in our reservoir and use this as a buffer against disease, fatigue, or simply falling back into a sleepy trance. When we speak of accumulating power or storing energy, we are speaking of creating places where we condense and refine the quality of the energy that is moving through us. We condense it to nourish our essence, and we refine it to illuminate our spirit.
However, we want to be careful to not think of it in capitalistic terms. This is critical in our understanding of qi gong—or life, for that matter. There is actually no need for more energy at all because there is an infinite amount of energy available to us right here and right now. In fact, all the power that ever was or ever will be is here and now.
So, it is important to not get into the “acquisition” game of energy and to instead realize where it comes from. There is no outside source from which we draw energy, like water from a well. The entire force of the universe is flowing through us at all times and in all places. Therefore, it is the impedance or the blockages we create to the free flow of this energy that makes us feel a sense of lack. We channel much of this energy subconsciously to our shadow, and we simply close our minds to the limitless flow of it because it would simply break our ego’s definition of ourselves. We keep our foot on the brake and then wonder why we’re exhausted all the time.
What is the goal of Qi Gong?
The goal of qi gong isn’t an addition process; it is more a subtraction process. The more we can get out of our own way, the more we can let the universal flow of energy move through us. We become an agent of its goodwill, and we take our rightful place in eternity. This is not in some far-off heaven but here and now. Qi gong helps us wake up to the living, breathing moment in which we can finally take part. An important aspect in “getting out of the way” is reconciling the stuck energies in the “horizontal axis” of grief, anger, and frustration. This horizontal soul axis of emotions is intimately involved in the rising and falling trends of our mental and emotional upheavals. It is simultaneously tied to the cycle of life and all the trials and tribulations of the soul. It is important to not be deferential about this and to be engaged in the process of reconciling imbalances on this axis.
It is at this point in the process that most people get stuck because this is where they store the majority of the repressed charge in their shadows. Our desires for addition (wood) and our reluctance to let go (metal) lead to a great deal of clinging and suffering. In playing this game, we get out of balance and unconsciously pour more and more energy into creating “monsters” here.
In Chinese medicine, the represent the metal element, which descends energy naturally, while the liver represents the wood energy, which naturally rises. The lungs sit above the in our body, and it is the dynamic tension of trying to maintain this inverted energetic flow that is the essence of life. One pushes up from underneath as the other pushes down. Upon death, the shen of the liver, the hun, ascends to heaven, and the shen of the lungs, the po, descends into the earth. We need them to check each other in dynamic tension; otherwise, they will separate, and we will perish.
Bringing harmony to the proper flow of the horizontal axis is what keeps our lives running smoothly and plugs us into the power of the vertical axis. The proper alignment of attention and intention requires a healthy understanding of the human condition; far from running from it, we are to be engaged, aware, and awake moment by moment.
Much like the Indian system of chakras that represent different aspects of the light as it expresses through our physical body (see figure 1.2), the Taoist system uses three main energy reservoirs, called the dantiens (see figure 6.3). There is a lower dantien, which is located approximately three inches below the navel between the front of the torso and the spine; a middle dantien, which is centered in the sternum (at the center of the chest and level with the heart); and an upper dantien, which is housed slightly above eye level in the forehead (the third eye).
The lower and middle dantiens range in size but can be approximately the size of a small bowling ball, whereas the size of the upper dantien depends on the level of attainment of the individual—usually any- where from a golf ball to a tennis ball in most people.
The lower dantien is the area where we first learn to direct our breath. It is the foundation of the energy body system. The Taoists believe that it is important to start with the heaviest and densest forms of energy in our cultivation and to work up from there.
Again, yin and yang have differentiated, and the heavier and more yin aspects are located lower in the body. In fact, hui yin, which is the first point of the conception vessel (energy meridian), is located in the perineum and is considered to be the most yin aspect of our anatomy. It is the base of our torso’s energy field and is the point from which the lower dantien energy emerges and returns to. Anchoring the breath and the shen (which is more yang in nature) down to this region brings the first level of balance to our system.
Think of it like a construction job; a solid foundation below gives us a steady structure above. What we want to do in qi gong is systematically go through and balance the energies of our body from base to crown and only move forward once we have done so successfully. We want to concentrate our energy into the lower dantien and then allow ourselves to draw upon this “core” region for every movement. We want all the body’s energy currents to run through here in order to nourish the original qi and post-heaven essence.
The more energy we can release to these systems, the more efficiently we can metabolize foods and run our day-to-day processes. The more we do this, the more trapped or blocked energies we’ll be able to free and the more positive energy, in turn, we’ll have to work with every day of our lives. As we optimize the flow of clean energy through our energy fields, we will be faced with blockages that carry with them mental and emotional content that is deemed “undesirable”—things we’ve stuffed into our shadow.
The more light and awareness we bring, the more our shadows will become illuminated, which leaves less space and power available to hidden subconscious processes. This can be a bit unsettling to face, but remember that we now have increased energy and awareness to deal with what’s there. This is where the middle dantien comes into play. We use the energy of the heart to forgive these events and memories. We learn to disengage from our typical response of empowering these blockages by running and pumping energy into a polarized “solution.” We use the lower dantien to bring up the power (almost like activating a battery and plugging into it); then we use the middle dantien to transform what’s been trapped in our shadows, which we now finally have the strength and ability to deal with.
From here, the new energy is released and refined in the upper dantien, where it becomes pure, undifferentiated light of awareness. The more self-aware we become, the easier this process gets. Alchemy is actually quite fun once the “engine” gets going. There’s always something to clean—always energy to access and things to unlock. Once you get this, there will never be a dull moment in life.
There is a yin and a yang aspect to everything, including the actual energetic practice. We studied the various types of energy earlier. Now, some of that information will come to light a bit more. The nutritive qi and the defensive qi are the main types of energy running through our body. They tend to our cells and service our myriad physiological needs. For these types of qi, there are practices designed to emphasize one or the other. In fact, there are also practices designed to enhance shen, or spirit, as well as other internal practices designed to cultivate and refine essence and awaken the spirit within. Here are the designations of the various qi gong practices:
This practice concentrates on the exterior energy (wei qi), which is responsible for health, immunity, and the defense of the system against pathogens and disease. It is designed to route energy to these external “force fields” and to create an energetic barrier that protects the internal organs from outside invasion.
This is a general term for the practices that bolster the nutritive qi and that also support the defensive qi. It increases flow to the different systems and provides the body with the necessary boost it needs to nourish and heal itself. Qi gong is the most balanced approach; however, it needs to be modified depending on the circumstances of the individual or for progressing into deeper work.
This is considered the higher alchemical practice that is taught in the temples; it involves a great deal of dedication. Nei gong emphasizes the cultivation and preservation of essence (sexual abstinence mixed with specific practices) so that it can be further condensed and refined to qi and shen. Nei gong leads to the formation of the Light Body and is what has been passed down by the famous Taoist “immortals.” It takes many months of qi gong practice with mental and emotional reconciliation before nei gong is considered safe.
This practice applies to the cultivation of the attention and, specifically, the cultivation of the psychic senses that help us perceive energetic rhythms universally. It aids in clairvoyance, clairaudience, long-distance healing, astral travel, and psionics/mind control. This is obviously high-level stuff, but this practice should not be considered the most important. As far as I’m concerned, this stuff is “cute,” but the real gold is in the nei gong, which effectuates personal transformation. Shen gong is often taught to priests who need to intervene in crises, heal ailments, and perform exorcisms. It is an important part of the knowledge of the Tao, but the danger in the West is in how people glorify the “powers,” which can then serve as a dangerous ego trap.
Just like the emphasis we put on getting the physical body healthy and fit, it is important to start here with the foundations of qi gong and work our way up. This means working diligently on our stance, which will help ground our energy and give us “roots.” Stances develop the lower dantien and strengthen the wei (or defensive) qi. Once we build a strong foundation, we can really begin to reap the powerful benefits of this practice. From here, we learn about the mysteries of the Tao and become more self-aware.
Words of Caution about Qi Gong
We need wax for a candle to be a candle and to serve its purpose. Thus, the practice begins with foundational work that will strengthen our muscles, bones, energy flow, and resolve. We are blessed to have these systems available to us, and it is truly fortunate that the air of secrecy that originally surrounded these arts has changed in our age. That being said, though, there is work to do, and shortcuts are dangerous.
Taoism is about maintaining balance and harmonizing the polarity consciousness that has infected the minds of our culture. Just like you can’t “power nap” each night for an hour instead of getting a full night’s sleep, you can’t not do the work. Sure, you can get away with those power naps for a few days or weeks (likely with the help of stimulants and drugs), but you’ll quickly burn out.
Again, look at this behavior bathed in the full light of what we have learned about aversions and cravings. Look at how some people will do anything to avoid feeling their past and the nonsense they will resort to in order to run from themselves. This is not healthy behavior, and we are here to correct it. The way is the training.
I have been practicing and teaching in Southern California for decades now, and I have encountered a great many “hungry ghosts.” These spiritual shoppers are looking for a quick fix and will do something that is convenient, but they are not willing to put in any real work. This is especially true if the work challenges them to face the content in their shadows. I find it very telling to see how a student engages in a practice and with what level of commitment. When someone is given a specific diet that avoids foods that they are allergic to (validated by testing) and they fail to comply because it is “too hard,” then that is a telling characteristic of a zombie—someone who is completely powerless to face him- or herself. I see much of the same with people who want the “fuzzy” stuff with the qi gong but are unwilling to do the foundation-building work. They are impatient and will get nowhere. I’m here to help, but I can’t do the work for you. I will point you in the right direction, though. So, take a deep breath, and let’s get into the training!