Posts tagged ‘chi kung’

In Praise of Hardship

This weekend I attended an excellent and inspiring retreat organised by the British Taoist Association and led by Meng Zhiling, a Taoist Monk from Beijing. Among other things, Meng talked (via translators) about his time as a hermit in the mountains. As I understand it, he spent a total of 13 years there, the first five trying to locate a true practitioner of the Tao and the last eight living with the old Master that he found. His Master was the true practitioner that he was looking for.

Once he found his Master, and was accepted by him, Master Meng set about digging a cave for himself to live in. He dug it out, made furniture for himself, and started to raise vegetables to survive. The only things he bought were cooking oil and salt (his master did without either of those two items). Meng explained that in going to the mountains, he set himself hardships and difficulties. Living there was hard enough, especially in the winter, but Meng kept seeking harder and harder tasks to set himself. For example, as a monk he begged daily for food. But he limited himself to asking only 7 households for assistance. Whatever he got (if anything) from the 7 households was what he lived on for the day. If he got nothing then he went hungry. The area he lived in was remote and poor, so the people were not able to be generous in their help. His aim was to use these hardships as part of his self-cultivation – overcoming these hardships was his means of reclaiming his original nature. His aim was to follow the Tao, to achieve oneness with the Tao, and he used his hardships as a tool to accomplish this.

He was sometimes in situations where the remoteness of his travels, the harshness of the environment and the lack of food meant that he might have died, and no one would have known. Our saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies I think to what Meng was trying to achieve. Having overcome all the hardships he set himself, he knew that there were few situations that he would find himself in, in which he could not cope.

We all have hardships in our life. Most of us don’t choose these hardships as Meng did; we feel that hardships are imposed on us by life or karma. But Meng’s attitude of transforming the hardships into self-cultivation is open to anyone to accomplish. Instead of being defeated by hardships or suffering from them as an evil that cannot be avoided, we could change our attitude towards them, and use them (as he did) as tools to transform ourselves (in the Taoist sense of finding our original nature). To the Taoists the person who can transform harsh events like this is a cultivated person and one who is beaten down and defeated by hardships and is unable to overcome them is an ordinary person. Most of us are of course ordinary people, but it is still open to us to view hardships not as suffering imposed from outside (like fate) but as tools for transformation. I suppose Meng would agree with the saying that all experience is our teacher. Everything can be turned into a learning experience.

The problem is that hardships, suffering, financial problems are all stress inducing, and the effect of stress is to drain us of energy, weaken our immune system and make it harder to come back from defeats and disappointments. This is why practice is so important to Taoist cultivation. Practice means that we use other methods (also tools) to keep our body, mind and spirit in a state where we can withstand the damage of stress. Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Kung, self-massage, acupuncture and all the other arts of self cultivation can help us keep bodily strength and energy that can fight off the depression and tiredness that afflicts the spirit.

It is not enough to have the right attitude to hardship. Attitude is philosophy or view, it is how our mind conceives of the hardships. This is important, is key, but it is not enough. We are also body, and if we do not train the body to fight off stressful damage, then our attitude can be overwhelmed by depression and illness. Taoism has tools for fighting off these difficulties on all fronts-where right attitude of mind and good energy of the body help to create a strong spirit. If all these are in place, the will is powerful, and all hardships can be overcome through transformation.

October 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm 1 comment

New Ideas on Fitness and Health

I was very impressed with Michael Mosely’s Horizon programme (BBC 2 -Feb.28th) on new approaches to fitness, and I recommend you to view it on the BBC iplayer. Here is a review of the show: from the Daily Telegraph.

The most radical technique Mosely discovered was the HIT programme, standing for High Intensity Training. The scientist behind this theory and technique claims that by doing only three bursts of 20 seconds maximum intensity training, interrupted by two short periods to regain your breath, you can improve cardio-vascular fitness and insulin activity. These three bursts only need to be done 3 times a week. Mosely did this technique for just a month and he showed improvement in the insulin take-up but less improvement in cardio. However, six months seems to be the recommended period, so one assumes that Mosely’s cardio would also have improved if he had done the work for longer.

Mosely did his 20 second bursts on an exercise bike, but for those who don’t own one, or do not attend a gym, there is a chi kung stance which can be used for this activity.

The stance is called Wu Chi, and this is how Master Lam Kam Chuen describes it: Stand with your feet a shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward, feet parallel. Let your hands hang loosely by your sides, and drop your shoulders. Imagine that, like a puppet, your whole body is hanging, suspended from your head. A string holds your head from a point at the top of your skull, directly in line with the tips of your ears. Feel yourself sinking down, relaxing, as you hang from the string. Unlock your knees, look forward with ‘soft’ eyes.

The wu chi posture is shown above.

In this position, while keeping the soles of your feet on the ground,  it is possible to do a strong,  fierce shaking of the body, arms and legs, bouncing energetically on the spot. If you are used to exercise, and are fit, then this stance can be used for the 20 second bursts of High Intensity Training. However if you are not used to exercise, or have any problems with your knees, you would be wise to start more gently and work your way up to the really powerful bouncing and shaking that is needed. I did this HIT training for the first time today, and I feel that I could have added more intensity to the training, so I will push myself a little more next time I do this.

Besides the HIT training, the show also demonstrated that long bouts of walking or daily excercise helps to reduce the fat levels in the blood, which is also a key part of maintaining health.

February 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.