I can breathe again….
When i arrived at Tao Garden, my breathing was shallow. I didn’t realize how shallow it had become, because, well… i guess i forgot to breathe for the last year or so. But after just a few days of chi kung, yoga, meditation, and simply breathing mindfully, my chest is open again.
And i can move, too! Twisting and stretching in unfamiliar yet totally natural ways. “Long, hollow bones,” said the chi kung instructor, and i saw myself as Plastic Man until it occurred to me that i’d be healthier if i were made from eco-friendlier material. Now i’m an ocean plant, undulating in the waves, with my roots stretching down through the core of the earth and my fronds reaching up into the next galaxy, blowing gently in the solar wind… Or so i’m told, and i’m starting to believe it. 🙂
Take Five Diagnostic Methodologies & Call Me in the Morning
This week has turned out to be largely about balancing. I’ve had too much this and not enough that for too long, and i was starting to feel it almost everywhere that has feelers. A cross-disciplinary team of doctors from Eastern and Western medical traditions did my intake. The standard vitals were all perfect, and if this had been a conventional modern medical checkup i would’ve walked with a clean bill of health… but i knew i had issues, because i live in my body, so i wasn’t surprised that the interdisciplinary testing turned up stuff that the standard medical exam wouldn’t. Then the fancy computers and gizmos substantiate the diagnoses, from different angles. The result is, at worst, a lot of thought-provoking possibilities and, at best, a balanced and detailed picture of one’s health. If all the different doctors and machines arrive at the same conclusions, it builds a certain degree of confidence in the diagnosis and increases the motivation for treatment.
The battery of tests they did for my intake was fascinating. Amazing to see photos and charts and graphs and numbers confirming what my intuition — and that of my excellent acupuncturist, Maureen Raytis, and several other healer friends — had said about my body and its systems: basically, (a) i have more energy activity in my heart than the miraculous little muscle can handle (that’s right folks, i love and feel too much… for my relative lack of grounding, anyway), and it’s been sucking all the chi out of my kidneys, contributing to my lower back trouble, and (b) the emotional stuff has wound its way into anxiety, which has kept my nervous system on high-alert, robbing energy from my digestion, disturbing my sleep, and generally crampin’ my style. Another consensus: Mr. Computer Man spends far too much of his life in a chair, so my blood circulation and oxygenation is baaaaaad (“blood is too much sticky”), but we knew that already.
What Doesn’t Kill You…
Now treatment time: They put me on a crazy machine to circulate my blood — it’s like a stairmaster with no stairs, just a ferocious jiggler under the feet to shake the whole body. I felt like a can of paint in the shaker machine that mixes in the tints. It got my blood going, alright — so much that it blew a bunch of capillaries in my nose, and for the next two days i looked like Rudolph with a faux crackle finish. I’ll (un)stick with the trampoline from now on, thanks.
So, the exercise part is easy, but what to do with all the surplus energy in that easily overexcited SNAG heart o’ mine? Start by watching… closely… more closely than before, because whatever i’ve done before has baked me into a half pretzel…
OK, i see that, until now, my “mindfulness” practice has been focused too narrowly — too much attention fixed on the small chunk of my mind that sits in my skull and (often to a lesser extent) its downstairs neighbors in the heart and the gut. I’m pretty vigilant in monitoring my thoughts and some of the energy in my body, but i’m still sleeping through a lot of the action, with the result that my mind (or at least the aspects of it that i’m watching) is almost always tranquil, and yet my body (especially my nervous system and subtler emotional field) is quite often a mess. There’s a lot of powerful machinery in there that is doing who-knows-what, and i need to master it because, for practical purposes, it’s me.
Enter the Dragon Breathing
It had been over a decade since i’d studied chi kung (a time-tested Chinese movement-meditation-martial-art tradition offering many practices to keep the body’s vital energies flowing and balanced, for good health, longevity, and happiness), and both my practice and my understanding had atrophied (and with them, my energy systems). The kind teachers here helped me identify dozens of practices (stretches or movements combined with breathing patterns and meditations) that i can do specifically to move the energy from the parts of my body where there’s too much (e.g. heart and sacrum) to the other parts that have been starving (e.g. kidneys and digestive system).
The most helpful one for my overflowing heart is the simplest: feeling the energy in my heart and, when it gets intense, dumping it like a bucket into my belly. It’s the suddenness of the dumping that moves the energy much more effectively than the gentler and more gradual practices i’ve normally used. This grounds and relaxes my heart instantly. I’m doing it hundreds of times a day, and it’s changing my world. And after dumping the energy into my belly, at the advice of one of the therapists, i roll some back to the kidneys so they’re nice and wet and smiling, and pour a little more into my digestive tract.
[If it seems like i’m earning my New Age credentials here, consider that this stuff is actually really Old Age, as in millennia. Asia has accumulated a massive body of knowledge about the body and mind that is, in many cases, highly complementary to the data that modern science has collected in its relatively short life. Like acupuncture and other branches of traditional Chinese medicine, chi kung works, and it goes a long way toward keeping hundreds of millions of people healthy, fit, flexible, and shining even into advanced age.]
So, yes, i’m feeling big improvement in a short time… but one week isn’t gonna do it. If i go back to my old habits, i’ll be just as tweaked this time next year, but a year older and that much less resilient. I need new habits, now. My mindfulness practice must expand throughout my body and the field around it. If i can watch the whole picture as well as i’ve trained myself to watch a part of it, i’ll live to be infinity like all the cool Taoist dudes are doing. 😉 I’ll have much more to give, and i’ll enjoy it…
Will y’all please remind me when i’m back home and busy again?
Ho Chi Minh Trailhead
Speaking of gettin’ busy, tomorrow morning, after my mug of hot water and my small plate of dragon fruit with a squeeze of lime (i was never wild about dragon fruit until i discovered its lime alchemy — wow!), i’ll be pulling out of paradise to make my way to Vietnam, where the outer work of this journey begins.
But first, a sticky stopover day in Bangkok, my favorite environmentally devastated Asian supercity. Think i’ll get my teeth cleaned while i’m there: something just isn’t right when the end of the digestive tract feels cleaner than the beginning! 😉