By Bill Douglas
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2000.
T’ai chi and qigong remind us that we are energy by immersing our mind and body in the experience of it each day. This constant immersion reminds us how closely we are linked to all things. This isn’t an illusion. The illusion is that we think we are separate from the world. The rainforest and ocean are the earth’s lungs and thermostats. Without them we perish. So, to feel ‘connected’ to the world is to become real. T’ai chi and qigong help us to become more and more real.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi & Qigong
Last November I had the opportunity to do a qigong workshop with inmates at the California State Maximum Security Prison known as “Folsom.” I arrived with some trepidation. I had spent the weekend preparing by doing my own intensive energy work, and this internal preparation came in handy when I arrived. Folsom is an ancient, foreboding structure with daunting iron gates and rows of tiny cramped cells. As prepared as I was internally, the endless corridors and heavy steel bars became disconcerting.
That all changed once I entered the sanctum of the chapel where, with the help of t’ai chi chih instructor Judy Tretheway and several inmate qigong instructors, a therapeutic program had been underway for two years. Here, in the midst of razor wire, gun towers and massive stone walls, these qigong students had created a place of calm and safety.
We began the workshop and the result was powerfully moving. This group of men in this intense situation had found for themselves a real “center” within the chaos. They had found a pathway to peace even through the barbed, twisting tunnels of their past and current lives.
After the workshop, we discussed the power of energy medicine for healing the pain of pasts. We discussed how these tools can provide a “newness,” a possibility to become more than we ever were before, to become less an affliction to those around us and to find our flow as a healing force within our world, even when that world is within the iron and stone walls of a life sentence with no parole.
I was moved by the way qigong helped to empower and transform, enabling these men to find a lifeline to their higher nature, and creating men who were determined to heal, to become and to grow into a manifestation of the life force. I was also moved by how this qigong project had brought together men of many races and religions, and in fact, had been the only program to bring men of opposing gangs together in Folsom. This project showed me the power of what these tools have to offer. The inmate leader of the project informed me there had been a dramatic reduction of violent incidents at Folsom since the program began two years earlier. For some inmates, there was a 70 percent reduction of incidents.
If t’ai chi can bring mortal enemies together in peace and mutual healing, what can it do for the world?
Stress is Killing Us
For more than 20 years I have studied the ancient arts of t’ai chi and qigong, and my life has been transformed by them. In the last few years I have witnessed a tremendous growing hunger for these tools throughout society, coupled with endless waves of emerging Western medical research that validates and feeds the desire for these ancient tools. This coming together of ancient Eastern wisdom and validating Western scientific research portends the making of a worldwide revolution in health, business, environment and social structures.
Looking at the Chinese character for crisis, we see it is made up of two other characters — one for “danger,” one for “opportunity.” The modern world is facing an unprecedented danger as millions die annually due to an epidemic of stress-induced illness. The United Nation’s World Health Organization warns of a global epidemic of depression, largely due to the stress of rapid change. “Future shock” is suffered by billions around the globe as the result of a world changing at ever-increasing intensity. Ironically, this danger may propel us toward a renaissance unlike the world has ever seen, as we are forced to consider, evaluate and eventually incorporate the 2,000-year-old mental, physical and spiritual health science of qigong into our modern lives.
Already 20 percent of the world’s population practices t’ai chi and its growth is exponential. Around the globe these tools are now being taught by some of the world’s largest corporations to executives, clients and employees. Why? Because 70 percent of all illness is due to unmanaged stress and U.S. business losses are estimated at more than $300 billion per year due to stress ($7,500 per employee per year).
Why is modern life so dangerous? It’s not actually, but our “old” responses to modern life are making us ill, reducing our mental capacity, and too often killing us. Heart disease, largely caused by chronic high blood pressure, is the No. 1 cause of death, and studies show that stress actually shrinks parts of our brain, limiting our cognitive abilities and creativity. We seem doomed to an unhealthy future because we can’t let go of the past. Our cells have a genetic programming to respond to the challenges we face. Today’s challenges involve adapting to changing technology, world social structures and environmental needs. However, our genetic programming causes us to respond to these modern challenges the same way our ancestors faced the challenge of an approaching saber-toothed tiger or other natural enemies. So, when we are driving our car or trying to learn a new version of computer software, our fear mechanisms take over and cause our breathing to get shallow and quiet so the “tiger” won’t hear us. At the same time, our muscles get tense and tight in anticipation of a bolting retreat or launching attack. The damage this “cellular programming” causes is the No. 1 danger to modern man. We are our own worst enemy, and also our own potential saviors.
The Simplicity of T’ai Chi
T’ai chi and qigong’s ancient human technology is a simple, yet incredibly sophisticated program for teaching the mind and physical cells of the body to let go of fear, obsession, prejudice, everything. What happens when we let go of everything? We become new and fresh, able to assimilate new data, and see new possibilities for our future.
Other benefits occur as we learn this art of letting go. We become increasingly aware of our energetic and spiritual nature. How? The Chinese word qi, as in qigong, means “life energy.” As modern, Western science has recently realized, we and all things are made only of energy, the same energy as the oceans, mountains, moon and stars. Therefore, a daily practice of t’ai chi or qigong (which is what medical research indicates is an optimum dosage of this exercise), leaves us more connected to our spiritual nature. Furthermore, this awareness of our connection to the world makes us immediately aware we are a part of this planet, and not a detached passenger.
As our schools begin to teach children t’ai chi and qigong to stimulate creativity, enhance health and decrease the need for drug abuse (since much drug abuse is an ineffective form of stress management), students will also begin to cultivate a deep sense of connectedness to the world around them. By learning how to become clearer personally, they will become better stewards of the physical world and society around them.
As corporate and government employees learn to manage their stress, reduce absenteeism and increase work productivity using t’ai chi and qigong, they too become clearer individuals. As a by-product of their increasing clarity they become more nurturing to their peers, families and the world around them.
Hospitals teaching t’ai chi and qigong to their clients, and court systems teaching these tools through rehabilitation programs, are inadvertently creating more spiritual people.
The demand for t’ai chi and qigong is growing at a stunning rate. Medical research will continue to propel the popularity of these ancient tools forward. We are in the midst of a world crisis, and yet simultaneously are on the verge of a renaissance of unimaginable proportions.
Last year, tens of thousands of t’ai chi practitioners launched the first ever World T’ai Chi Day to educate the world to the profound potential of t’ai chi and qigong uses. Joining 700 people in Hong Kong, 400 in Tel Aviv and 500 in Los Angeles, were thousands of other participants from six continents and 26 countries who conducted mass t’ai chi exhibitions in public parks and town squares. This historic event was covered by print, radio and television worldwide. On April 8, 2000, the second annual World T’ai Chi & QiGong Day will again span the globe, in a gentle, healing revolution of world health.
Only by loosening our minds, hearts and bodies can we accommodate the limitless potential we are here to manifest in these trying and magnificent times of crisis. And this is where t’ai chi and qigong come in, as they are about letting go. T’ai chi and qigong are technologies of personal expansion. By teaching us to continually let go of our tight mental, physical and emotional grip on the past, these tools enable us to expand endlessly into future possibilities. Our reality is created moment by moment. By learning how to become “here and now” every moment, we become more reality-based. T’ai chi and qigong have come of age and are our prescription for the future.