Blog – Qigong & Daoist writings from my Daoist Practice Journals
This blog will contain entries from my books, A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me, 2013; A Daoist Practice Journal, Book 2: Circle Walking, Qigong, and Daoist Cultivation, 2016, and A Daoist Practice Journal, Book 3, Qigong, Seasonal Food Cures & Daoist Cultivation.
From Book 3, Qigong, Seasonal Food Cures & Daoist Cultivation
August 1, 2018
Today I will continue my exploration of the fascia system beginning with a few quotes from the person who started the revival of what is called the “myofascial meridians.” The author is Thomas Myers and his book is Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual & Movement Therapists. Before I start though, I must confess that this is not a beginner’s book on anatomy. And I admit the bulk of the book is way beyond my anatomy knowledge. I’ll probably give the book to my son who is studying sports medicine.
Meyers begins his introduction by talking about the traditional way in which the muscles and bones interact. Basically, this is the “isolated muscle theory.” Muscles attach to bones, which keep the bones connected. He says, “the Anatomy Trains scheme will lead to a more three-dimensional feel for musculoskeletal anatomy and an appreciation of whole-body patterns distributing compensation in daily and performance functioning” (Meyers 2014, 1). Meyers goes on to say that this new way of looking at the isolated muscle system is not negating that system but is providing an appreciation of that system as a whole. Here are a few more quotes that will help define fascia for the reader.
The unitary nature of the fascial web – this tissue will henceforth be referred to in its singular form: myofascial (5). Fascia connects the whole body in an endless web (6). Broad definition: Fascia – This term refers to the body-wide collagenous web or any section of it (301).
Okay, I am ready to say goodbye to Meyer’s book and consider other resources on the fascia and more specifically on the connection between the fascia and Chinese medicine, including Qigong practice.
Another resource that I have been exploring comes from the Qigong teacher, and group, Tevia Feng and White Tiger Qigong. Apparently, Qigong teacher Tevia Feng has had a similar interest in exploring the connection between the fascia and Qigong. In fact, in his teachings he refers to the same book written by Thomas Meyers on the myofascial meridians. In one of Tevia’s online courses and eBooks, he presents an excellent discussion on fascia. The course/eBook is 8 Trigram Organ Qigong: 8 Powerful Qigong Exercises, Fascia, Anatomy and Their Chinese Medicine Connections. From this eBook it is apparent that all of the movements that we typically do in our Qigong practices have a positive effect on the whole fascial system. Every time we stretch our arms, move them around our bodies in exercises like Swimming Dragon, Wuji Palms Facing Heaven, or Rolling The Ball, we are opening, stimulating, twisting the fascia of the body. For instance, the action of twisting the ankles at the same time as the upper body turns, twists, bends has an effect on the whole fascial network that extends to every part of the body.
One of the benefits for the body is the removal or flushing out of toxins as the fascial network is compressed and stretched. Our internal organs are surrounded, that is, contained within a sack-like fascia, which are squeezed, like a sponge. This action pushes out the old blood and allows a fresh supply of blood to enter the organ. You can also say, that as the organs are squeezed and released, there is an in and out flow of Qi to that organ.
Another important aspect of the fascia is that the pathways of the fascia have very close associations to the Chinese medicine meridian system. This was one of the discoveries that Thomas Meyers made in his early research on the fascia.
Oriental acupuncture meridians may follow intramuscular or intramuscular fascial planes. These findings, taken together, link the possible effects of acupuncture stimulation with the mechanical transduction within fascial planes of the extracellular matrix (293).
Back to Meyers book briefly to see the associations that he draws between the different fascial meridians and the Chinese medicine meridians.
Superficial Back line ………. Bladder meridian
Superficial Front line …….. Stomach meridian
Lateral line ………………… Gall Bladder meridian
Superficial Front Arm line … Pericardium meridian
Deep Front Arm line ……….. Lung meridian
Superficial Back Arm line … Triple Warmer meridian
Deep Back Arm line ………. Small Intestine meridian
Deep Front line …… Liver, Spleen, Kidney meridians
Spiral line …….……Stomach and Bladder meridians
From Meyers: pages 294 to 298.
When working with the fascia, it is important to have the feeling of going deep in the body. This is true even if you are not totally clear on the location of the fascial lines, or even the Chinese medicine meridians. The goal is to bring your attention into the depths of the body and feel the wholeness of the body as it moves. We know from our Qigong principles, and especially, the principles of the Qigong State, that we must be completely relaxed as we allow our mind to penetrate deep inside. Accompanying the process of going deep, we are releasing and letting go of all the distractions of the mind, the senses, and the external distractions. And when I say to bring your attention deep inside, I also mean to feel your movements deep inside. Move your body, as a whole is one way of perceiving yourself. For instance, in twisting to the side, feel the movement of the internal cavity, and the surface of the skin, moving to the side. Have the same feeling; regardless of the direction you are moving. This brings up another point. Twist, bend, and rotate in all possible directions. The fascia and muscles cover the entire surface of the body, including the insides, and so in order to reap the benefits of working with the fascia, it’s vitally necessary to move in all possible directions.
Moving on, it’s time to ask, what are some of the practical things I can be aware of as I practice Qigong? To start, and what I was saying previously, is to relax deeply with keen alertness as you perform the movements. The fascia is intimately connected to the nervous system, including all the sensory organs. One of the experts on fascia, Dr. Robert Schleip says to maintain, “a proprioceptive awareness of the body, the more involved the mind is in the movement, and the more effective fascial work will be” (Land 2017). To clarify the above, I would add that the proprioceptive sense of body position and movement are enhanced when the mind is in a focused but relaxed state of being. For any experienced Qigong or Taichi practitioner, this state of being is well recognized.
The next focus should be on whole body movements. The fascia forms a full body matrix of connective tissue support. There are no separate parts of the body, just as we talk about the Daoist unity of all things, the Not Two separate things in all the universe, the body is truly a unity of underlying fascial web connecting all parts. When you practice Swimming Dragon, the whole body turns to the side, and then back to the other side. This includes everything from the feet up through the torso, up to the head turning and even the eyes looking as far back as possible. In many other Qigong movements, the same guidelines are applied.
To keep the fascial network strong, the body needs to be stressed in different ways. Some of these ways include not doing the same practices exactly the same way each time. The fascial properties require variation to evoke growth. This means to stretch, bend, twist in different directions, and at varying speeds, and also with different loads. This last point is important to note as I have been stressing the value of using light hand weights while circle walking. We do all of these things in my regular Qigong classes, except the weights. It is interesting that of all the classes I teach, it is only the senior classes that we actually spend 15 minutes each class working out with 1 and 2 lb. weights.
An often-overlooked aspect of exercise is to get enough rest. Even the fascia needs adequate rest to fully recover between workouts. The need for rest is related to the proper hydration. When the body exercises, it exerts a certain internal pressure which releases its internal hydration. The important thing is to allow the body to take it easy in between vigorous workouts. The other negative effect is if the body is under constant stress, it will produce cortisol, and that will decrease the body’s healing mechanisms. Not taking these precautions the person will end up with a weakened immune system and weaker fascial strength.
Unlike muscle training, which can produce results in a relatively short time, fascial training is a much slower process. Fascia tissue is primarily composed of collagen, which takes from 6 months to 2 years to produce the full capacity of strength and elasticity. The key is to be patient with fascia training. The good news is that these results last for a very long time, in contrast, to muscle strength training, which fades as soon as one stops weight training.
Thanks to a wonderful article in Yoga Journal magazine for these points on working with the fascia. The article by Rachel Land, March 27, 2017, How “Fit” is your Fascia? Found at yogajournal.com
Spring Equinox, March 20, 2018
March 20, 2018
Today is the Spring Equinox. It is the balance of the Yin and Yang of the entire year. The Autumn Equinox shares this same privilege. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that the Yang energy is slowly becoming more dominant. It also doesn’t negate the fact that there will still be more days of ups and downs in weather and temperatures. For example, nearby to where I live in Northern California some of our mountainous regions have just had some major snowstorms.
During this seasonal node, Dr. McCann continues to emphasize the need to nourish the Liver. He says to make sure “our Qi is freely coursing (one of the main functions of Liver is to ensure normal coursing of Qi)” (McCann 2018, 25). One of the consistent ways to ensure this normal movement of Qi is to get regular exercise, and especially exercise while outside. It can be any forms of exercise, not extreme though, including gardening.
March 27, 2018
In this entry, I will continue writing about the Spring Equinox. In fact, this morning I spent a couple of hours working in the garden. Last weekend, I made my final additions to my garden soil, and with the arrival of real spring weather, that is, sunny and warm in the 70’s; it is time for planting. And this activity feels right. What I mean by “feeling right” is that this activity feels like what it means to be in harmony with the seasons. Another thing Dr. McCann suggests during the mid-spring season is to avoid the extremes of the emotions. This is the time to relax into things of the outdoors. Gardening is one activity but there are a ton more of things to do outside. If you are a parent of little kids, now is the time to spend more time with them, doing things they want to do, and even want you to do with them. Every parent knows what I am talking about.
Now, time for adult talk. I frequently read about the winter season as the time of year to cut down on the frequency of sexual activities. The rationale is to conserve one’s vital energies, notably the Jing essence during the cold, stressful months of winter. However, this same precaution flows over into the early spring months. I said earlier that March is just the beginning of the rising Yang energy. So it is important to not all of a sudden engage in excessive sexual behaviors. (Sex is a Yang activity) Give the Yang energy a chance to build up, both in nature, and in your body. This applies to men and women. I may be out of my area of expertise, but according to the principles of Yin and Yang which I just breezed through. It may be best to wait another few months when the Yang is approaching the Summer Solstice, and thus its peak strength, to consider the ideal time for getting pregnant. (June 21, 2018)
April 1, 2018
Easter Day. Lately I have been focusing on the experience of light, both in meditation and Qigong practice. In yesterday’s Qigong class, my underlying theme was the transformation into the body of light. We practiced the Chong Mai Qigong set. I emphasized expanding and dissolving away into the universe. It was a pretty deep experience for me and honestly, I don’t know how many of the students really understood what was going on. Sometimes, as a teacher, you just have to go for the deepest level of experience for yourself and hope the students are getting something worthwhile according to their own levels of achievement. Everyone gets what they need is another way of saying this.
This morning I reviewed what Master Wu Jyh Cherng says in Daoist Meditation about the ultimate stages of cultivation. Basically he is saying that the transformation of the body involves the changing of a physical and energy substance into a spiritual substance. This final transformation is actually the creation of the light body. It is interesting, on this day of Easter, that the transformed body of light can manifest itself on the physical plane or not, according to its consciousness. Isn’t that the message of Easter? “The Spirit Man takes any form that his consciousness determines because he is simply light” (Cherng 2015, 257).
April 5, 2018
Today is the beginning of the next spring phase, the Clear and Bright seasonal node. This node is marked by dramatic ups and downs in the weather. How true. All you have to do is listen to the national weather reports and you’ll see that some parts of the US are still having snowstorms while other parts are warming up nicely. So the key advice is to pay attention to your body. If it’s colder than you think it should be, continue to dress warmly. The old classics say that “if we don’t take care in spring, then cold disease will arise in the summer that follows” (McCann 2018, 26).
Another thing that is recommended during this seasonal node, as long as it is not snowing outdoors, is to take advantage of the growing Yang energy, and get outside and exercise. As the Yang energy expands, so should we move. This could be working in the garden. Digging in the soil to prepare for the planting of the vegetable seeds and starter plants. Or, practicing one’s Taichi or Qigong circle walking, which is my favorite outdoor Qigong exercise. Moving one’s body like I’ve mentioned has a strong effect on our internal movement of Qi throughout the Liver/Gallbladder meridians. As a matter of fact, I always remind my local Qigong students that the Liver energy likes to move free and easy throughout the body. This is also another reason why I like circle walking so much.
January 12, 2018
I missed writing on the first day of the next winter node, that of, Minor Cold, which started on January 5th. but don’t let the name of this node trick you. This year, 2018, the East Coast of the US was hit with a deep cold that set records for the lowest temperatures. Even my daughter, Ashley who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia had temperatures in the single numbers and had to deal with broken water pipes throughout her house. One of my priest students who lives in Ontario, Canada, put on Facebook pictures of himself and others jumping into a frozen lake that had a hole cut out of the ice. The temperature there was -30 degrees F. So, while it may be called a Minor Cold node, it was nothing less than a major freeze.
The guidelines for this node are the same as the previous Winter Solstice node: keep the Kidney system warm; protect the Spleen and Stomach from getting cold, and store as much Qi as possible. One practice to continue is to get extra sleep, just like the hibernating bear. Eat foods that are easy to digest and perhaps decrease heavy meats. For those people who are having a difficult time because of the extra cold, or have an underlying Yang deficiency (feeling cold, fatigue, heaviness of limbs, edema of the limbs, pale or frequent urination, craving extra sleep) they need to take additional precautions. Take in Yang-warming foods, like cinnamon, some alcohol, and avoid cooling foods like mint, milk, yogurts, and even cold-damp foods of the citrus family – oranges and orange juice, other tropical fruits and cut way back on refined sugars. How many of us were guilty of these violations during the holiday celebrations? I know I was.
For those of my readers who do have actual winters, unlike those of us here in northern California where we feel desperately cold whenever a frost is predicted for overnight. I suggest some extra tonifying winter congees or soups. I suggest adding plenty of warming ingredients, like chicken, black pepper, ginger, carrots, shitake mushrooms, chestnuts, and a little salt. Feel free to vary the ingredients with all of the warming foods I’ve mentioned so far. There is only one more winter node to follow before we enter a new seasonal cycle on Chinese New Year in February. Hopefully, the East Coast of the US will be spared another harsh winter freeze. Who knows, anything is possible with the unpredictable weather patterns created by the Global Warming crisis.
January 12, 2018
The following entry is from an email exchange between one of my new Qigong Certification students, and myself. My student was telling me of an experience she had while meditating on her Lower Dantian, and then shifting to her Middle Dantian. This was part of her studies on the different stages of the Qigong State.
Those experiences all sound good, but they are just steps. In the final stages of the Qigong State, like in Authentic Zuowang, there are no focal points. Everything dissolves away. Did you get to page 37 (my Qigong Certification manual) in the manual? It mentions what I just said. I’m not trying to discourage you but to advise you to not get attached to even the blissful moments of Qi experience. There is always more to come.
Pursue the goal – It’s like being on a train ride to a specific destination. You don’t get off at one of the rest stops thinking that is your destination – you get back on the train when the whistle blows, despite how pretty the scenery is.
January 20, 2018
Okay, we made it to the last of the winter seasonal nodes, Major Cold. Most of the US is still deep in their winter cold and some areas, like our Sierra Mountains of northern California are just beginning to get their first winter snowstorms. Here in Sonoma County, we are getting some cooler temperatures in the low 30 degrees.
According to Dr. McCann (Winter issue of Qi Journal, 2017) during this last phase of winter, we should concentrate on eating light and easy to digest foods. He explains that the organs easily weakened at this time are the digestive organs, like the Spleen and Stomach systems. These organs are supposed to begin their Yang transformations at this time, despite the frigid temperatures. But if we are eating overly greasy or sweet foods, the job of transformation is damaged. Some foods that are recommended are rice, yams, peanuts, clear soups like chicken soup, and cooked vegetables. It’s also a good time to make some rice congee with chicken and ginger. And of course, the warning to avoid raw vegetables, cooling fruits, greasy meats and very sweet deserts is still in effect.
The other precaution to take during this cold and snowy seasonal node is to guard against becoming dry. The natural moisture in the air is bound up in snow and ice, making the air very dry. The dryness affects both the lungs and the skin. What can we do about this? Dr. McCann suggests things like using a home humidifier and drinking more herbal teas. He recommends a simple herbal formula of Goji Berries and small red dates combined with boiled water, and steeped for a few minutes. This will tonify the Kidney and Liver and strengthen the Spleen. (Again, thanks to Henry McCann for giving me permission to quote from his article in the Qi Journal, Winter issue, 2017-2018, 18-29.)
We are almost at the end of the winter season. The next seasonal node will be the beginning of the spring season on the Chinese New Year. The Yin and Yang continue to evolve as the year progresses. I often wonder how the talk of global warming will impact these ancient ways of interpreting the seasons. I recently heard of a report on global warming that the past few years have been the hottest in recorded weather science. Accompanying hotter summer temperatures are colder winter temperatures. Perhaps the extremes of the Yin and Yang seasonal energies will be the new normal. Who knows?
I recently purchased a used book from Amazon.com that I came across in a retreat center library. I thought I should have it in my own library since its main subject matter is on silence and solitude. It’s not a particularly spiritual book but it highlights that aspect of solitude that is appealing to the sensitive type of person who craves a simple life. The book is Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton. She varies her time between living in a simple cottage in New Hampshire and living in New York City. She passed away in 1995 in her 80’s. Even though she led a full life as a writer, her love of solitude was expressed throughout her life. From her journal writings, she says, “The value of solitude – one of its values – is, of course, that there is nothing to cushion against attacks from within, just as there is nothing to help balance at times of particular stress or depression” (Sarton 1973, 16). She also connects her love of solitude with her mental states, which were sometimes marked by depression and even suicide. “Later on in the night I reached a quite different level of being. I was thinking about solitude, its supreme value. Here in Nelson I have been close to suicide more than once, and more than once have been close to a mystical experience of unity with the universe” (1973, 57). I have often said to others when they ask me about my own experiences in solitude, that the solitary experience reveals to the person who they really are. There is no one to play games (that is, psychological ego games) with, and you just have yourself to confront. You can be totally honest with yourself, or you can be self-deceptive. In either case, you’ll know which of these is your real self.