As stated in the post, Using our Bubbling Spring, I’ve added a fictional collaboration to my manuscript where various characters come together in a tai chi class to create the book Managing the Business of You. The concepts in the book are derived from quality and business management principles but are born out of my work in the internal martial arts. Here’s another except from the manuscript I’m attempting to discover an agent who connects with the ideas therein.
After the retreat our collaborators went out for dinner together. They talked of their experiences. They shared how their bodies felt after a weekend retreat. They related how their thinking had changed through the course of the weekend. Emmet agreed and indicated he could see it in the faces and bodies of most of the participants during the final meditation session. “The stillness was palpable. People’s bodies were relaxed and there was a spirit in their eyes that was not so evident when we started a couple of days ago. There was something under the surface so to speak that helped people maintain upright postures and a relaxed nature even with the two ambulances roared past during the sitting sessions. “I think if the ambulances had come by when we started, people would not have been able to stay centered.” Sarah was smiling. “As you were describing our retreat, I had the image of an iceberg come to mind.” Connie loved these random associations. They showed active imagination and free association she tried so hard to get people in her practice to let happen. “Icebergs are amazing symbols. They are so stable amidst both calm and rough seas. They emerge out of the great ice floes at the poles and float out into the oceans shedding material and adding their pent up water to the environment.” Emmet followed the flow of meaning developing. “That’s a good image of the class but not necessarily the icy coldness of an iceberg.” Connie immediately added, “symbols are not perfect just like life itself.” Emmet continued, “the class was very stable like an iceberg despite the agitating nature of the ambulances and other distractions.” Felicia had an odd look on her face. “I don’t know if I follow the whole iceberg analogy, but I definitely felt the connect we had as a group. Everyone was working better together after the meditation sessions. Our movements felt more alive and expressive as well.” Ricky and Ronda Roots said at the same time, “We were connecting.”
The group was amused as usual when Ricky and Ronda spoke at the same time with the same or similar words. The completed each other’s sentences and did not regret the interruption. The Roots have a connection that few relationships do. They integrated so much of their lives it was like they were of one mind. Although no one had asked, most wondered what their sex life was as connected as they appear to be. The collaborators enjoyed this even if it was a little threatening to the feeling of loneliness within us all. Felicia added to the dialog, “We were connected, having fun and just allowing ourselves to be who we are.” Emmet was enjoying the fact that his instructions had a positive impact on people’s lives outside of class. “We were practicing stillness.”
Breathing sustains life. Breathing in particular ways can enhance and even prolong life. In the Taoist arts there are different breathing techniques. There’s nostril breathing, mouth and nostril, mouth, natural abdominal, reverse abdominal, perineal, tortoise, fetal and entire body breathing. Dr. Eliott Kravitz a medical advisor to Master Moy once quipped to a small class, “Just don’t stop.” This last one is probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about breathing.
During some movements like the Dan-yu, if you can breath in and out timed with each cycle of down and up the effects are amazing. One can continue practicing with ease and energy is circulated readily throughout the movement. Breathing can better connect the movements of our forms. There’s regulating the breathe which is breathing without conscious awareness allowing bodily movements to affect our breathing. This is perhaps one of the primary benefits of a well-timed internal martial art. When we move in a regular rhythmic manner our breathing follows. This regulated breathing over time has significant health benefits. On the other hand directed breathing is where we consciously manipulate our breath to control movement and the rate of our breathing. To achieve benefit from directed breathing it is wise to seek guidance from someone with experience. A beneficial approach but fairly benign is the directed breathing technique where you attempt to breath as deeply as you can slowly without stopping. In the middle of stressful situations, this directed breathing can help one relax and recover emotional balance.
What does this have to do with our daily affairs? Our breath is an indicator of our state of mind and body. Many people breath in shallow manners not taking in energy for various reasons like stress or emotional difficulties. This is restricting the exchange of energy with the environment. When we are injured in sparing or other physical activities we hold our breath. The thing is if we can breath deep and allow ourselves to relax, the injury and pain can more readily subside. The same holds true in our stressful lives. Simply being aware of our breathing when confronted with a difficult situation or person can significantly alter our perspective and interaction with our environment.
Breath is life. It is one of the primary ways we exchange energy with our environment. The first step in working with our breath is to be aware of it. Awareness of our breath can enhance our connection with ourselves and what’s happening around us. The second step is to allow our breath to follow the movements in our lives whether we are practicing Tai Chi, a hard form, exercising, having fun with our significant other or just going for a walk. We need not pursue this so directly. Simply being aware and loosening our body to allow our breathing to proceed naturally without interruption is the key to the second step. The third step is to explore how our breathing changes as our movement and emotions change. This is where guidance is beneficial.
No matter what you do, just don’t stop breathing.
For descriptions of different types of Taoist breathing techniques refer to The Shambala Guide to Taoism, A complete introduction to the history, philosophy, and practice of an ancient Chinese spiritual traditions by Eva Wong.
The Taoist Arts and more specifically Tai Chi and Lok Hup may be practiced within a group setting or solo. Each practice has benefits and detriments. Often people connect with a group more readily than finding the connections going solo.
In a group you can:
let go of need to know next move,
learn different perspectives as people share their experiences,
be carried by the dynamic of the group into experiences difficult when solo,
Receive external feedback from an instructor or compare yourself to others.
By one’s self you can:
Let go of any performance anxiety
listen to your own experience without getting drowned by other perspectives,
learn to follow our own intention using our awareness,
find the flow of your own energy without reference to others.
Having talked to multiple people who have returned to a group practice after a long time on their own, the experiences vary from mind-blowing to not much different. Everyone connects in different ways and has different levels of awareness. One thing I find is an increased level of trust in the form itself. Often people experience something more within a group. There’s additional energy to align with and follow in a group setting. Without many years of practice, going alone can lead to going astray and fabricating movements not grounded in the fundamentals of stepping, sitting and keeping things simple. It’s easy to let ones sensations exaggerate little things in the movements. This expression is what One advanced instructs called getting “flowery,” and can lead to distortion. There’s another side of practicing solo. It can feel luxurious to immerse one’s self in the group. It’s comfortable to forget the need to remember what move is coming next. In the height of life where our responsibilities peak, simply having time to practice can feel like a luxury.
The comfort and flow may be found solo after years of practice when the body remembers without conscious deliberation. There’s a sense of letting the energy flow without thought and conscious direction. The form becomes a moving meditation. This aligning with the energies within is just as mind-bending as returning to the fold of the group dynamic. The more we practice in this way allows to understand the difference between our own energies and those external to us. This is immensely beneficial and amplifies what we can learn in group practice.
To be clear, I am of the mind both group and solo practice have their place and are beneficial. The thing is we have to align with the forces in our lives and practice in an appropriate way for where we are on or own path. No matter where we are it is imperative to have fun with it and keep things simple.
Master Moy used to say, “Trust the form.” The form is more than the movements, it is a tool we can use to learn without being told what to learn (reference the page: The Form). Trust is composed of character and competence. Our character is made up of our integrity and our intent whereas competence is comprised of our capability and results. Thus to trust the form is to apply our care and openness to honestly practice day after while being truthful in our observations of our posture and movements. It is continually expanding our knowledge, skills and experience while establishing our credibility through not only maintaining but achieving increased levels of health.
Trusting the form does not require external guidance. Rather it requires humility in the recognition of what our capabilities truly are. It requires us to keep our practice simple and aligned with the basic principles of the forms. And, it requires compassion for ourselves so we may find the connections within our own movements. Certainly, feedback from an any instructor can help us along our path, but it is ultimately up to us to find our own direction, internal feedback and align that with the principle of continuous improvement based on factual decisions regarding our physiology and physics.
I recently discovered my manuscript I’m working on needed some contextual story or background to help readers connect with it. Having had a couple Tai Chi folk read it and not give feedback, I thought I should relate it to my background in the Taoist Arts. Thus, I’ve added some fictional characters to collaborate within a setting of a Tai Chi class with the result of writing a standard of living based on business called, “Managing the Business of You.” Some of the information from the manuscript is at http://www.bizofyou.com. Here’s an excerpt:
On one particular evening in class Emmet focused on using the same intention in every move. He first explained the acupuncture point called the “Bubbling Spring.” “It’s a point on the Kidney meridian on the center of the sole of the foot, at the base of the ball of the foot, between the pads. Although acupuncture calls it a point, it’s more of an area. When you place your weight in the area that’s one-third of the total foot length from the tip of your toes, the bubbling spring is stimulated.” Emmet went on to show how to use intention to place your weight in a specific area of the foot. He used the squatting type exercise where the practitioner opens the pelvis, bends the knees and lets the center of gravity drop in a straight line that points to a place between the feet. The line where the center of gravity drops can be adjusted. When the weight is spread throughout the feet, the practitioners feel their weight in the bubbling spring throughout the movement. Much of what Emmet showed was non-verbal. He showed it many times as each student sees different things and often has to see movement from many angles in order to learn what is expected of them.
Emmet had the class practice the exercise until most of the students had increased circulation evidenced by breathing deeply, flush faces or perspiration. Emmet is continually amazed at how simple movements can get energies moving. He let them take a break and started explaining how the same intention may be used in more than the 108 movements of the tai chi set. Starting with the bow before the movements he showed moving slowly allows one to focus their center so their weight spreads throughout the foot but remains localized around the bubbling springs. He allowed his spine to curve over like a fishing pole keeping his knees unbending. His hips had to move back as his spine went forward to counterbalance one another all the while keeping the weight centered in the foot. After his hands touched the floor, he reversed the process to return to a standing position. He turned his feet to start the first move of the set while keeping his weight centered appropriately in each foot. He kept going in the second move allowing his spine to stretch easily out. His weight moved from one foot to another as he stepped between moves. With any contact with the floor, his weight was centered around the bubbling spring. He repeated the movements a few times and explained a few key and critical points along the way like dropping the tail bone and maintaining balance between the push from the feet and the expression out through the spine, arms and hand movements.
The intent of the fictional story is to relate the principles of tai chi to our daily activities and principles of managing the business of you. It’s a work in progress so who knows how it will end up after the agents, editors and publisher get a hold of it.
The bubbling spring is an area on the soles of our feet that connects us with the earth. For my own practice of the Taoist Arts, connecting with the bubbling spring has become a major indicator of whether I’m moving in an integrated manner or not. This is true in our foundation exercises, Tai Chi, Lok Hup, or Hsing-I forms. It is also true when I’m walking around at home or at work.
There are specific sensations when our movements are properly integrated and connected with the bubbling spring points on the soles of our feet. We will feel the weight evenly distributed when we are standing. We will feel the tendons of the foot gently stretched. When we are walking or moving in the forms, we will feel the weight glide throughout the foot depending on our stepping motion. The foot will feel like we are rolling through all of its structures when we walk or do weight shifting movements.
Most of the time we are unaware of this sensations. Here is the key. If we can direct our attention to the bubbling springs as we move, our movements will be more integrated. Out directed attention allows us to connect our movements with our intention which we will talk about later.