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What is Qi Gong? by Dr. E. Chow

Qigong is one of Traditional Chinese Medicine's (TCM) principal methods of treatment. Though there are many schools, concurrent theories are these:

  • The mind, body, and spirit energies can be regulated and cultivated through the relaxation and concentration of mental and physical exercises.
  • Control of respiration plays a central role
  • Bringing the body into a state of maximum repose and self-regulation can help realize full physical potential, resist illness, recover damage caused by diseases, and balance the body's relation with the mind.
  • "Balancing the human with the sky". In traditional Chinese thought, the sky is a general term for nature. Qigong researchers maintain that the human body and nature exist as an interrelated and inseparable unity. Imbalances in this unity are a key cause of illness. Therefore, humankind should strive for the conscious awareness of our inherent coordination with nature.

Recent scientific research has begun to produce physiological evidence backing Qigong theory. For example, it has been shown that :

  • Disordered or overstimulated cells in the cerebral cortex can be returned to a relaxed state through Qigong practice
  • Positive physical changes can be traced to more efficient respiration and metabolism which in turn greatly reduces energy consumption
  • The body's strength is fostered and more prepared to fight off illness by Qigong because of an improved immune system
  • Qigong aids the generation of saliva and gastric juices thus improving digestion and absorption.

"Qigong is a discipline anyone can learn. Many people practice Qigong simply because it makes them feel good, perform better, experience higher levels of energy and stamina, and reach their level of optimal health. Qigong can improve sports performance, prevent jet lag, and supercharge the immune system. Qigong practice has been shown to super-oxygenate the cells of the body. It can reduce stress, improve bowel function, and relieve the symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders. In the area of pain control, Qigong practice can relieve acute and chronic pain, reduce the pain of childbirth, and speed recovery from sports or other injuries. In addition, Qigong can increase the effectiveness of Western medications, may reduce the side effects, and even allow the use of smaller doses.

Many scientific studies have documented that Qigong has value in the treatment of more serious problems. It can reduce healing time after surgery by 50%, normalize the blood pressure, and heal tuberculosis. It can heal gastric and duodenal ulcers chronic atrophic gastritis (stomach inflammation), and liver disease. It can relieve nearsightedness (myopia) and improve mental performance. It also has been effective in the treatment of substance abuse, obesity, respiratory conditions, asthma, and allergies.

Benefits have also been seen in a long list of serious neuromuscular conditions, such as post-stroke syndrome, paralysis from brain and spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, aphasia (loss of the power of expression of speech), Parkinson's disease, and cerebral palsy.

In more than thirty research studies, Qigong has been found to reverse the effect of aging. Qigong has improved or reversed the results of many medical tests that usually become abnormal with age. In addition, it has cured many of the diseases that are common to senior citizens.

Qigong has been shown to reduce deaths related to high blood pressure, reduce the frequency of strokes, reduce the incidence of retinopathy (deterioration of the back of the eye), improve the efficiency of the pumping action of the heart, and decrease blood viscosity ("thin" the blood). It has also improved EKG (heart) and EEG (brain) readings, normalized the level of sex hormones, and improved blood sugar levels in diabetics."

Quoted from the book "Miracle Healing from China...Qigong" by McGee and Chow

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Chow Integrated Healing System by Dr. E. Chow

Basic concepts of the Chow Integrated Healing System for initial practice are:

  • Get at least eight hugs a day
  • Get at least three Belly-Aching-Laughs-A-Day
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude
  • Maintain proper posture and breathe with the diaphragm
  • Meditate daily
  • Good nutrition, supplements, and perhaps herbs
  • Practice the Chow Qigong exercises
  • Be at peace with yourself and others
  • Live the Qi energy concept
  • Give and receive lots of love

From chapter five of "Miracle Healing from China... Qigong"


This man had difficulty walking and could not raise his leg. After 2 minutes of Qigong while on stage in front of 150 people, he was able to raise it and walked better.

Dr. Chow uses a versatile concept called the Chow Integrated Healing system, a blend of modern Western practices, ancient Eastern healing arts and Chow's own health principles linking the body, mind and spirit. While Western medicine has made great advances treating critical illnesses and infections, many feel that Eastern medicine is having more success with chronic, degenerative diseases, addictive behaviors and stress-related conditions. The Chow System helps people achieve optimal health; Dr. Chow believes that the minds and positive attitudes of her clients are the keys to good health. "Giving individuals the power to determine and manage their own health and destinies is the secret of true healing," she explains. "Their minds and bodies are the ultimate powerful instruments for self healing".

The Chow System integrates acupuncture and acupressure, physical and mental exercises (stretching, deep breathing and meditation, dance and aerobics, Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong), herbal medicine, massage and body work, visualization, positive thinking, touch therapy, counseling and other techniques. Dr. Chow, a former modeling instructor, Chinese chef and competitive dancer and recreational athlete, has also blended principles of posture, nutrition and movement into her healing system.

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About Dr. Chow and the Chow System

Recipient of the "Visionary of the Year 1997" Award, Dr. Effie Poy Yew Chow has for over thirty years been working to integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine Dr. Chow(TCM) with Western Medicine. Toward this goal, she founded the East West Academy of Healing Arts (EWAHA) in 1973 in San Francisco. In 1988 an arm of that organization, The Qigong Institute, was established within EWAHA to promote research and clinical work in medical Qigong. Clients come from all parts of the world to consult with Dr. Chow. She travels internationally to see clients, give seminars and train practitioners. She has personally made presentations to over 250,000 people of all cultures, and to more than 350 corporations, including Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, health clinics and universities.

Dr. Chow has a Ph.D. in higher education, and a master's degree in behavioral sciences and communication. She is a registered public health and psychiatric nurse and Qigong Grandmaster with 35 years' experience. She is a National Diplomate (NCCA) and a California-licensed acupuncturist since 1977. Dr. Chow received her training in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qigong in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada and the United States. Her Qigong experience includes Frolic of Five Animals, White Crane, Taoist Qigong, Eight Silk Brocades, Taiji (Tai Chi), Wai Tan Kung, Shaolin, Microcosmic Orbit and other styles.

She is the only Qigong Grandmaster and acupuncturist in North America who has been active in the development of national health policies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in the field of cultural diversity, alternative and ethno-medicine. In the early development of acupuncture licensing law in California, Dr. Chow was a consultant to Senator Moscone and other legislators. For over 25 years she has been consultant with the DHHS in various areas, such as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the Minority Task Force. She has served as an appointed member of the National Advisory Council to The Secretary of DHHS on Health Professions' Education for Medicine, Osteopathy, Dentistry, Veterinary, Optometry, Pharmacy and Podiatry (MODVOPP).

Dr. Chow was recognized for her expertise in the field of alternative medicine, Qigong and TCM through an appointment to the first Ad Hoc Advisory Panel of the Congress-mandated Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (research Division of DHHS) in Bethesda, Maryland. Other recent appointments include: the Editorial Advisory Board of Rodale Press for special publications on alternative medicine; Editorial Consultant to Time/life Books; Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; and the scientific Advisory Board of the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine at Columbia University in New York; advisor to the Institute of Healing Arts and Sciences at the University of California San Francisco and a teacher to the medical students; Advisory Board of Bastyr University of Naturopathic Medicine, Seattle, WA. She received honored recognition by the Ethnic/Racial Minority Fellowship Program of the American Nurses Association.

She has made over 100 television appearances including Vision TV, CBC News, the Knowledge Network, Dini and Canada Am. Dr. Chow has been interviewed frequently on radio, and has been the subject of many news media publications in both North America and Europe. She participated in a four-part television series on alternative medicine which was shown in both England and Canada. She has received a number of awards and other recognition for her significant contributions in the field of Chinese medicine, acupuncture, Qigong, and health care. Included are:

"Visionary of the Year" Award, from the Second World Congress on Qigong, 1997.
The City and County of San Francisco proclaimed November 22nd as "Dr. Effie Poy Yew Chow Day", and November 20th-26th as "Qigong Week", 1997.
"The President's Citation Award" of the American Association for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, 1989.
Distinguished Award from the National Society of Acupuncturists of the Republic of China, 1988.
Distinguished Award from the Ministry of Health, Department of Occupational Health, Republic of China, 1988.
The American Nurses' Association Award for Women's Honors in Public Service.
Award in Entrepreneurship, given by the Human Rights and Minority Fellowship of ANA, 1988.
Outstanding Service Award towards the recognition, advancement and acceptance of the Science of Acupuncture in the United States of America, given by the National Acupuncture Association.
Listed in "Women's Who's Who of the World".
"The Woman Warrior Award" from the Pacific Asian American Women's Bay Area Coalition.

Dr. Chow is founder and president of the American Qigong Association and the World Qigong Federation. Qigong Grandmaster Effie Chow was the chairperson for the Second World Congress on Qigong. Charles T. McGee, MD and Effie Poy Yew Chow, PhD have co-authored a book "Miracle Healing From China…QIGONG" (MediPress, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, 1994).

Chow Qigong System videotapes: vol.1 "Qigong Basics and Exercises"; vol.2 "Qi Pressure", and an audio meditation tape are available.

Dr. Chow is available to present programs and consult with individual clients in your area.

"She (Dr. Chow) and Qigong can bring movement to legs that haven't walked in years, but is not a physician; can make pain disappear, but is not a magician; can help one overcome life's pressure and disappointments, but is not a psychiatrist."

Asian Week

Visit Dr. Chow's website at:

qigong classes
suitable for all ages.

FREE Introductory Session!
Ongoing classes are held at the
Classical Martial Arts Centre,
52 St. Clair Ave. East, upper level
Toronto (near Yonge/St. Clair subway)
every Monday from 12:00 noon
until 1:00 p.m.
(No classes on Statutory Holidays)
Fee: 8 classes $75.00
payable at time of enrollment.
There is no penalty for missed classes as the fee covers any block of 8 sessions.
For more information
call Jo-Ann: 905-272-8378

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What is Qi Gong
by Ken Cohen

We live in a field of qi, "vital breath" or "life energy." Yet, like a fish in water or a bird in flight, we are unaware of the medium that supports us. Qigong means "working with the qi." It is the ancient Chinese art and science of becoming aware of this life energy and learning how to control its flow through a precise choreography of posture, movement, respiratory technique, and meditation. Like biofeedback, qigong teaches psychophysiological self-regulation; the student becomes aware of bodily functions conventionally considered involuntary-- blood pressure, respiratory rate, even the flow of blood and nutrients to internal organs-- and learns to restore a healthier balance. However, unlike biofeedback, no technical devices are needed. Qigong is one of the most cost-effective self-healing methods in the world. The only investment needed is time, a half-hour to an hour each day; the dividends of better health, increased vitality, and peaceful alertness accrue daily and are cumulative.

Qigong is like a great river fed by four major tributaries: shamanism, spirituality, medicine, and martial arts:

1. Shamanism:

An ancient text, The Spring and Autumn Annals, states that in mythic times a great flood covered much of China. Stagnant waters produced widespread disease. The legendary shaman-emperor Yu cleared the land and diverted the waters into rivers by dancing a bear dance and invoking the mystical power of the Big Dipper Constellation. As the waters subsided, people reasoned that movement and exercise can similarly cause the internal rivers to flow more smoothly, clearing the meridians of obstructions to health. Qigong-like exercises are found on ancient rock art panels throughout China. Chinese shamans used these exercises and meditations to commune with nature and natural forces and to increase their powers of healing and divination.

2. Spirituality (Taoism and Buddhism):

A. Taoism. Qigong philosophy and techniques are mentioned in the classic of Taoist philosophy, the Dao De Jing, written in the fourth century B.C. "By concentrating the qi and making your body supple, can you become like a child?" Qigong was the ideal way for Taoists to realize their goal of wuji, an empty, alert, boundless state of consciousness, and xing ming shuang xiu, "spirit and body cultivated in balance." Taoists and qigong practitioners were both looking for a harmony of yin and yang: inside and outside, earthly and spiritual, stillness and activity. The majority of works on qigong are still found among the approximately 1,100 texts in the Taoist Canon.

B. Buddhism. The Buddhist emphasis on tranquillity, awareness, and diligent practice are part of qigong. Several styles of qigong were developed by Buddhists who needed an exercise and healing system to complement their lengthy seated meditations.

3. Medicine:

Chinese medicine includes acupuncture, herbalism, massage, diet, and qigong. Qigong is the preventive and self-healing aspect of Chinese medicine and was used in the past, as today, to teach patients how to improve their own health. The major early text on qigong is the Dao-yin Tu "Dao-yin Illustrations" (168 B.C.). Dao-yin is an ancient word for qigong. This work contains illustrations of forty-four qigong postures prescribed by ancient Chinese doctors to cure specific ailments. The patriarch of Chinese medicine, Hua Tuo (second century A.D.) was one of the great early qigong masters. His "Five Animal Frolics" imitate the movements of the Crane, Bear, Monkey, Deer, and Tiger and are still practiced today. Hua Tuo said that just as a door hinge will not rust if it is used, so the body will attain health by gently moving and exercising all of the limbs.

4. Martial Arts:

Qigong practice can improve performance in the martial arts or any other sport. Chinese martial artists designed or helped to improve many qigong techniques as they looked for ways to increase speed, stamina, and power, improve balance, flexibility, and coordination, and condition the body against injury. Qigong was a major influence on the development of western gymnastics, thanks to Jesuit P. M. Cibot's 1779 illustrated French translation of Taoist qigong texts: Notice du Cong-fou [Kung-fu] des Bonzes Tao-see [Taoist priests]. Cibot's descriptions inspired Per Henrik Ling (1776-1839) to create the first school of modern gymnastics in Sweden.

You can see why it is hard to find a simple definition for such a comprehensive system of mental and physical development. Qigong is a spiritual practice with roots in shamanism and Taoism. It is a powerful method of self-healing and a warm-up for any sport. It includes both exercise and meditation.

Qigong is practiced by more than 80 million Chinese people and probably by tens of thousands in the United States and Europe. Qigong has been rigorously tested in controlled scientific experiments and clinical trials and is often used as an adjunct to conventional allopathic medical treatment. Hypertensive patients who take medication and practice qigong fare better than controls who only take the medication. Similarly, there is solid evidence that qigong can improve immune function and mental health, and prevent disabilities that come with age. Qigong acts like Vitamin C, increasing the activity of an enzyme that helps to deactivate free radicals, highly reactive chemicals that promote tissue degeneration and loss of memory. In 1995 the Journal of the American Medical Association published evidence that Taiji Quan, a form of qigong, is effective at preventing loss of balance and falling injuries among the elderly. Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine confirm that Taiji Quan works like aerobics at reducing high blood pressure.

There are thousands of styles of qigong. Some are designed for general health and well-being and may be practiced every day for a lifetime. Others are therapeutic and targeted to cure specific problems. Qigong techniques are suitable for men and women, young and old, athletes and sedentary, and for the disabled. All styles are based on similar principles: relaxed, rooted posture; straight, supple spine; diaphragmatic respiration-- the abdomen expanding on inhalation, retracting on exhalation; fluid movements without excess effort; and tranquil awareness.

Quality is more important than quantity. Students are advised to learn one or two qigong styles that are enjoyable and effective. Finding a qigong lao-shi, qigong teacher, is not an easy task. Although qigong is popular, the training is not standardized-- I do not believe that it can or should be-- and both quality and qualifications can vary immensely from teacher to teacher. There are unfortunately too many con-artists, charlatans, and magicians among our ranks, trying to impress the public with stunts of allegedly supernatural qi-power such as pushing objects without touching them. Students should apply the same standards of professional excellence to qigong teachers that they would apply to teachers of any other subject. A qigong lao-shi should be humble and compassionate and open to questioning and dialogue. He or she has not arrived at a final goal, but is rather on a never-ending quest for expanded potential and deeper understanding.

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Benefits of Qi Gong
by Ken Cohen

Benefits of Self-Healing Qigong

Experimental evidence suggests the following healing effects of qigong exercises and meditations.

Cardiovascular: lower resting heart rate; normalized EKG, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels

Respiratory: slower respiratory rate, improves gaseous exchange, significant benefits for asthma & bronchitis

Immune System: better targeting of antigens, significant anti-cancer effect

Circulation: improves microcirculation, prevents vascular spasms, very helpful for angina, migraine, and Reynaud's Syndrome (cold hands & feet)

Brain: improves cerebral blood flow, less incidence of stroke; reduction in frequency and intensity of seizure disorders; slow, high amplitude brainwaves suggest relaxed and integrated state of consciousness

Musculoskeletal: improves posture, balance, strength, stamina, flexibility

Chronic Pain: significant pain reduction from all causes, including injury, surgery, arthritis, fibromyalgia

Mental Health: decreases: stress response, Type A, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, depression. Improves memory and interpersonal sensitivity

Longevity: improves: blood pressure, vital capacity, cholesterol and hormone levels, kidney function, mental acuity, vision and hearing, skin elasticity, bone density, immune function, digestion, balance, flexibility, strength, libido. Destroys free radicals (major cause of tissue degeneration) by stimulating activity of superoxide dismutase

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by Ken Cohen

Ken Cohen's Personal Thoughts About Qigong & World Peace

Qigong was originally called yang sheng, "nurturing life." Acts of violence are the opposite of qigong. A qigong practitioner should ask him or herself about the wider implications of qigong. "How can I live in a way that more fully nurtures life?" Let's put our minds and hearts together to make the world a better place for our children.

All of the qigong masters advise focusing on yi, not on qi. Yi means intent, mindfulness, and awareness. If a person does qigong mechanically, repeating movements without awareness, the movements have little benefit. They might exercise the muscles, but they won't cultivate qi. Yi leads qi. Yi is also essential for inner peace and interpersonal peace. A person who is aware looks within before pointing a finger (or a gun) at anyone else. When you point a finger at someone, look where the other fingers are pointing!

Qigong practice helps people make better decisions. It enhances creativity and intuition. It also reduces greed and selfishness and helps people appreciate what they share with the rest of humanity.

Pollution and aggression start in the mind. The outer world is a reflection of the inner world. As author and shaman Sandra Ingerman shows in her book Medicine for the Earth, when a person feels empowered and at one with both nature and the Divine, his or her mind can actually affect physical reality. People can use their spiritual awareness, love, and power to change the acid or base levels in a cup of water. However, when this "remote healing influence" was tested under laboratory conditions, it only worked when a group of healers tried to influence the water. A single "influencer" was ineffective. We need each other to heal and to survive.

We cannot avoid stress, but we can use qigong to lessen the harmful effects of stress. Did qigong practitioners cry when they saw the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01? I hope so. I certainly did. However, when practitioners are faced with tragedy, they do not have heart attacks, develop anxiety disorders, or become vindictive.

Try to correct injustice through education, counseling, negotiation, and, when necessary, shaming a person in front of family and peers to re-establish accountability. Punishment must always be the last resort. Yet we should not hesitate to use force when necessary in self-defense. Qigong does not advocate "no force," but, rather, intelligent and ethical use of force and the least effort necessary to accomplish a goal.

Ancient Taoist hermits withdrew from society and "quit the world's dust." This is no longer a possibility. Even a recluse in a cave has to deal with noise pollution from overhead jets and water contaminated by agriculture, overpopulation, and industry. Do not use qigong as an excuse to avoid involvement with life, including peaceful political action. Vote!

Qigong integrates techniques from all of China's great spiritual traditions. Daoism is the root of qigong and the source of the oldest literature and techniques. Confucianism emphasized using qigong to cultivate character and virtue. Buddhism added a strong meditative component and emphasized the importance of compassion. The Muslim Hui minority created some of the so-called "Shaolin" martial arts such as Cha Quan and Tan Tui. Other Muslim masters furthered the evolution of internal martial arts (especially Xing Yi Quan) and their associated qigong. Qigong is an example of the importance of all spiritual traditions. We can all learn from each other.

A Spiritual Renaissance: Reflections On A Qigong Life

It is hard to believe that I ever began Qigong-- it is so much a part of my life. Nor can I conceive of a time when the practice will end or-- God forbid-- when the learning will stop. I was first exposed to Chinese culture through a "mistake." In 1968, a friend recommended a book called Sound and Symbol by a German musicologist. As I rode home on the subway that afternoon, I realized that in my haste I had mistakenly purchased another book of the same title but by a different author. Instead of a book about music, I found myself reading one of the rarest and finest introductions to the Chinese language, Sound and Symbol by Bernhard Karlgren. Before the subway ride was ended, I was hooked. I realized that by studying a truly foreign language I could learn how language and concept influence one's perception of reality. Perhaps I could, in the process, free myself of the preconceptions hidden in my own language, English, and learn to perceive the world silently and thus, more truly. Within a few months, I began to study the Chinese language and, not long thereafter, Qigong.

As I reflect on this story, I realize that it explains not only how I began Qigong but why I have continued. Foreign language study can clear the mind of culture-bound assumptions. Similarly, Qigong liberates the student from preconceptions held in the body: the immature and inappropriate strategies for living embodied in posture and breathing. To stand straight is to give up the burden of insecurity. To breathe slowly is to take life as it comes, without allowing memory or expectation to interfere. As the body becomes quiet, the mind becomes quiet. The qi flows not only within the body, but between oneself and Nature. In breathing, the external world becomes you. Yet you do not own it, you let it go and return breath to its source-- what Chinese people call the Tao.

I had another beginning, a renaissance of Qi, several years later. I was teaching my first seminar at a growth center in Amherst, Massachusetts. One evening, during a break, I decided to take a walk outside; snow was falling and hanging heavy on the pine trees. Wouldn't it be wonderful to practice Qigong in this setting? As I began practicing, something very odd happened. Normally, I experienced Qigong movements as arising from deep within, seemingly generated by the breath and by the slow shifting of the weight. But this time I disappeared; I felt that I was not doing Qigong. Rather, the falling snow, the trees, the air, the ground itself were unfolding through the various postures. I became a sphere of energy whose center was everywhere. This was a kind of spiritual rebirth in Qigong; I learned that mind and body could become truly empty, that inside and outside could become a unified field of awareness. I cannot claim the experience as my own, because the experience was without "I". But I do know that Qigong has never been the same. Thus, another key to my motivation and, I hope, to your motivation: practice qigong to learn that you are part of Nature. When you breathe, it is the wisdom of nature that breathes you!

Finally, I have continued practicing because of the dramatic effect Qigong has had on my own health. I was a weak and sickly child and a victim of the poor medical practices of the time. Antibiotics were prescribed for every cold and scratchy throat, leading to a downward spiral of poorer and poorer health. Qigong cured my chronic bronchitis, weak immune system, poor sleep, and low energy. I look for ways to bring these same benefits to my students.

I applaud the scientists who are looking for the mechanism of Qigong-- how it works-- and who are designing experiments to validate Qigong's efficacy as a form of complementary medicine. Science has already demonstrated Qigong's powerful healing effects on cancer, heart disease, and chronic pain. However, people who practice Qigong with an open mind do not need proof to know that it works. They experience it. Science has yet to prove that the sun exists. Yet this does not prevent us from enjoying its light and warmth. Yes, trust science. But trust yourself even more.

Taiji Quan
The Wisdom of Water

An earlier version of this essay was published in T'ai Chi: The International Magazine of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, September 1997 ⌐ 1999 Kenneth S. Cohen

All natural things curl, swirl, twist, and flow in patterns like flowing water. Thus we sense something similar in clouds, smoke, streams, the wind-blown waves of sand on the beach, the pattern of branches against the sky, the shape of summer grasses, the markings on rocks, the movement of animals. Even solid bones have lines of flow on their exterior and in their spongy interior. Spiders build their webs, caterpillars their cocoons in water-like spirals. The rings in an exposed log look like a whirlpool. And looking up in the night sky we can see a river of stars. Alan Watts once remarked to me, "In nature, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line, but a wiggle." One need only follow a deer through the woods to verify this; animal trails meander like dried stream beds.

The Chinese call this water-like pattern which is everywhere different, yet everywhere the same, li. Li originally meant the natural markings on jade. By extension, the Chinese character came to mean the asymmetrical pattern and order of nature, an order that grows from the inside-out, the way a tree grows from a seed. Artistic creations may also express li-- for instance a sculpture that incorporates the natural shape and texture of stone or a hand shaped pottery bowl on which the glaze has dripped into beautiful random patterns. The opposite of li is zi, the rigid order of logic or of things that are clearly the result of human manipulation, such as an automobile. A perfectly round bowl with a symmetrical design along its circumference demonstrates zi and soon bores the eye.

I learned about the difference between li and zi the first time I tried to draw a bamboo with a Chinese brush. My teacher gazed at my work and frowned, "This is not a bamboo, but a lamp-post! Have you ever seen a bamboo straight up and down or with exactly the same number of leaves on each side?" The teacher took my brush and dipped it in the inkwell. Then he lifted the brush and immediately pressed it onto the rice paper. He asked himself, "What is it? Ah, I think it is a sparrow." Adding a few brush strokes the "splotch" turned into a marvelous sparrow, ready to fly off the paper! My teacher remarked, "The mind must be natural!"

Human beings are part of nature and are thus capable of manifesting the natural beauty of li. The philosopher Lao Zi (fourth century B.C.) says, "People follow the earth; earth follows heaven, heaven follows Tao, Tao follows its own nature." Li is inborn; zi is acquired -- unfortunately it is too easily acquired in a society that urges us to follow clocks rather than the cycles of nature. Rushing about from one place to the next, spending more time reading or thinking about life than living it, we lose the grace of our animal-nature. "Slowness is beauty," declared the artist, Rodin.

The flowing, graceful exercises of Taiji Quan help us to slow down and pay attention, to recapture and express that part of ourselves that we share with the animals and the rest of nature. Even the mind becomes supple and more alive. Flowing internal energy creates flowing consciousness, the mind freed of ruts.

River Flow

Taiji Quan has been compared to a great river because each posture flows smoothly into the next without break. More precisely, Yang and Wu Style Taiji Quan are like a river or stream, but the ancient Chen Style is like the ocean, with changing rhythm and power, like crashing waves and slow retreating tides. Confucius said, "Could one but go on and on like this, never stopping day or night!" Rivers are the veins of the earth, carrying nutrients from one place to the next, dissolving and reforming the elements of nature. Similarly, as long as our inner streams -- veins that carry blood, meridians that carry qi -- remain open and flowing, we enjoy vibrant health.

The Taiji Quan master may not have large muscles. His or her strength is concealed within, like a steel bar wrapped in cotton. Suppleness is necessary to develop strength. The more relaxed you are, the stronger you can become. Tension constricts the blood vessels and qi meridians, resulting in impeded circulation, malnourished tissues, and weakness. Lao Zi says, "People are supple and soft while alive, but hard and stiff when dead. Grass and trees are supple and pliant while alive, but dried and withered when dead." A living tree has sap and water flowing through it. Similarly, a living person has blood and vital breath (qi) flowing through the body.

Taiji Quan cultivates "internal strength" (nei jing), the supple power of flowing water. When attacked, the martial artist moves out of the way, "neutralizing" the opponent, like water flowing around a rock. The attacker is frustrated as he discovers that the object of his attack has disappeared. His strike lands on empty space. But when the Taiji Quan fighter counters, his power is amassed like a tidal wave. His whole body strikes as one unit, his fist hitting like the end of a battering ram. If his punch is blocked, he slips around the block, again like flowing water, and strikes again.

Water has no fixed shape of its own, but rather takes the shape of the terrain over which it flows or of the container that holds it. It adapts itself to both season and place: freezing in winter, dissolving in summer, becoming mist and dew in the heavens, springs and lakes on the earth. Similarly, the Taiji Quan student is flexible and adaptable. Her mind is empty of preconceptions and able to understand without the filter of belief systems. She greets life without rehearsal or fixed strategy.

While practicing Yang Style Taiji Quan, the body moves on a plane, with little up or down motion. Hips, shoulders and eyes are level, as though the pelvis is a basin of water filled to the brim -- any inclining or bobbing up and down would spill the water. Level movement stills the waves of the mind. The mind becomes like a quiet pond, the surface reflecting things just as they are, without prejudice or partiality.

Water is also a symbol of humility. It seeks the lowest ground, following the path of least resistance. There is a Chinese saying, "Going with gravity is wisdom." Thus, while practicing Taiji Quan every part of the body should relax (song) and sink (chen), seeking its lowest level, like water flowing down hill. It is important to note, however, that sinking does not mean collapsing or slouching. Rather, the body should feel like a tall, graceful tree with deep roots. The shoulders are dropped, the chest relaxed with the ribs just hanging effortlessly; the lower abdomen is allowed to protrude naturally; the knees are bent so that the weight of the body can be felt dropping down through the legs; the feet adhere to the ground. Even the breath feels as though it is "sitting" in the lower abdomen. As you inhale, the lower abdomen and lower back expand gently; as you exhale, they contract naturally. This way of breathing massages the internal organs and allows more efficient gaseous exchange. The breathing rate slows down, and the heart beat becomes more regular.

Quality, Not Quantity

Taiji Quan emphasizes quality rather than quantity. How can you move more intelligently, with less wasted effort? Where can you let go? How do you feel? Rather than: how far can you stretch, how many repetitions can you perform, how quickly can you move? Not that speed, flexibility, and power are unimportant for a martial artist! A boxer who can deliver two punches in a second is superior to one who is only halfway to the target in the same period of time. However, the primary way to achieve quantitative improvement is by paying attention to small qualitative factors. The rule in Taiji Quan is wu wei, "non-striving, no unnecessary force." The practice of Taiji Quan teaches you to tense only those muscles needed for any given task, and with only the exact amount of tension required. If four ounces of force is required, do not use five! That one extra ounce is stress, resulting in loss of fluidity, impaired coordination and reaction time, and a break in your defenses that can be taken advantage of by a sparring partner.

The Power of the Circle

Taiji Quan movements imitate the circular and coiling shapes found in ponds, clouds, dewdrops, and meandering streams. The circle conserves and circulates energy within the body. Because of circular movement, the Taiji Quan student feels more energized after practice than before.

The circle is also the strongest shape, the most resistant to external force. Hold your arm in front of your chest, with the elbow bent at a 90 degree angle. If someone pushes against your bent arm, he can easily topple you. But if your arm is held in a circle in front of your body--as though embracing a sphere--it is difficult to push. This is called peng jing, resilient or buoyant force. Qi fills a rounded shape and creates peng jing, like water flowing through a rounded hose. If the hose is sharply bent, the "energy" become blocked.

If you push against someone who has mastered peng jing, you rebound with doubled force, as though hitting a tightly inflated basketball, or as though buoyed up by a deep well of qi. The fuller the body's supply of qi, the more weight it can float, that is, the more powerful an incoming force it can repel. Peng jing is one of the secrets behind the ability of Taiji Quan masters to withstand injury from falls, flying objects, or fists! Peng jing prevents or lessens the likelihood of injury during the practice of any sport.

Cultivating the Spirit

Water is the most impressionable natural element. Throw a pebble in a lake and watch the ripples. A slight breeze will send a wave of vibration through even a puddle. Water is sensitive to heavenly energy as well. The heat and light of the sun cause fluids to rise and fall in trees, creating the seasonal changes. We all know that the moon determines the ocean's tides. Lumberjacks find it difficult to control logs on a river during the full moon, as the logs tend to get washed ashore. However, during the new moon, logs flow towards the middle of the river. Similarly, the moon controls the tides of blood in the human body, causing menstruation to synchronize with a particular phase of the moon and affecting the thinking and dreaming of both men and women.

This impressionable quality of water allows us to see and know the world. Water forms a transparent film through which light enters the eyes. It transmits sounds through the inner ear. As mucous and saliva, it allows smell and taste. Without water to help carry messages across the synapses, there would be no sense of touch. When the whole body moves like water, as in the practice of Taiji Quan, we cultivate sensitivity and permeability to the qi of heaven and earth. We becomes aware of what the Lakota Indians call the wochangi, "the spiritual influences of nature."

To move like water is to return to the source of being. Mankind evolved from a watery environment. The human embryo looks like a fish during its early development. The first crawling movement of an infant is an undulation, like a tadpole learning to swim. According to most religious traditions, water is the first element (in both importance and order of creation). "God breathed over the face of the waters." Brahma, the world creator, floats on a lotus in Vishnu's abdomen. In the Buddhist Lankavatara Sutra, the "universal mind" (alaya-vijnana) is compared to a great ocean.

Perhaps the most important message of water is change itself. "Everything flows," said Heraclitus, "You can't step twice into the same river." The human body, like the body of the earth, consists mostly of water and is therefore in a state of constant flux. The intellect creates an illusion of permanence; we freeze the changing processes of life into concepts. But for health of body and mind, we must learn to flow with life, to ride the currents. We discover that the Buddhist principle of "impermanence" presents not a reason for despair but an opportunity for more sensitive and intelligent living. Taiji Quan can help us to, in the words of the Diamond Sutra, "Awaken the mind without fixing it anywhere." Through Taiji Quan practice we discover that "Go with the flow" is more than a metaphor. It is a spiritual practice and a way of life.

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About Kenneth S. Cohen

Ken Cohen (Gao Han) is the Executive Director and founder of the Qigong Research & Practice Center. He is a world renowned health educator, China scholar, and Qigong Master with more than thirty years experience. A former collaborator with Alan Watts, he is the author of the internationally acclaimed book The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing (Ballantine), best-selling self-healing audio and video courses (Sounds True), and more than 150 journal articles.

His work has been translated into Chinese and numerous European languages. Professor Cohen received his Teaching Certificate from the William C.C. Chen School of T'ai Chi Ch'uan in 1974 and completed graduate studies in Taoism and Chinese language at Queens College, the New School for Social Research, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Ken Cohen's teachers have included some of the most highly respected masters and Grandmasters in the world, including William C.C. Chen (Yang Style Taiji Quan), B.P. Chan (Chen Style Taiji Quan, Bagua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan, Qigong), Madame Gao Fu (Chen Style Taiji Quan and Primordial Qigong), Share K. Lew (Taoist External Qi Healing), Sunyata (Vedanta in the lineage of Ramana Maharshi), Swami Venkatesananda (Sivananda Yoga), and others. Professor Cohen was the principle apprentice to Dr. K. S. Wong, acupuncturist and Taoist Abbot from China's sacred mountains. To advance his study of both Taoism and Comparative Religion, Professor Cohen attended the New Seminary and was ordained as an interfaith minister (M.S.C.) with a graduate degree in pastoral counseling (M.S.Th.). He also holds an M.A. in Holistic Psychology and other academic honors.

Professor Cohen is a leader in the dialogue between ancient wisdom and modern science. He was able to demonstrate unusual physiological control as one of 9 "exceptional healers" studied in the Menninger Clinic's Copper Wall Project. He has lectured at medical schools, scientific conferences, and numerous universities and is an Adjunct Professor at Union Institute Graduate School. His sponsors have included the American Cancer Society, the Association of Asian Research Scholars, the Canadian Ministry of Health, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, and the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine. He has been called "the preeminent Qigong Master of the West" and was probably the first Qigong Master in the West to treat physician-referred patients. In 1994, Professor Cohen was chosen as keynote and sole representative of Chinese medicine at the World Congress on Energy Healing in Switzerland. His work has been featured in USA Today, Newsweek, Time, Bottom Line, and National Public Radio. He has taught more than 30,000 students.

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