Category Archives: Yoga

Yoga is Life and Life is Yoga

Understanding Chi and its Relationship to the Mind

By Jace Lee

www.Innerverse.World

It seems there is a real lack of a true understanding of Chi and what it actually is. There is the general description that everyone touts, that it is a spiritual energy in all things. But it is much more. I think that because Chi has a programming about it that promotes growth and healing it can be used and cultivated passively. By just hold a certain state of mind while healing someone or while practicing a movement, Chi seems to promote wellness.

Cultivating and using Chi directly seems to be lost knowledge. Fourteen years ago, I discovered I could move Chi and have been practicing it as well as experimenting and exploring it as well. I did this while abstaining from any outside influence and have recently been exploring where Chi is at in the world. I am surprised to see that how I understand Chi is not that different, it is just that my experience of it is a more intimate. See for yourself.

Understanding Chi is one thing, communicating it is another. It is a tough concept to put into words. I have thought long and hard about it, and with every practice it becomes clearer. Below is an excerpt from my book Qiyoda, I try to give as detailed a description as possible. It is hard to talk about it without showing you how to feel and move it. You can see that in the video on my website home page, www.Innerverse.world.

“So far in my experience, I find there are three types of Chi. There is the Chi that runs your body. If you had no brain or were brain dead and your body remained alive, that is your life sustaining Chi. Then there is the Chi that you will learn to feel and use, I call this mind energy. I call it this because it gives a clearer idea of what it is but I will still refer to it as Chi. And then there is the Chi that is related to sexual creative energy that has an emotional texture to it, this is a deeper more powerful spiritual energy. This Chi comes from practice; strength training, strengthening the will and opening the body (physically and energetically) through spiritual and creative practices and meditation. I would consider this more as a “life force” energy than mind energy. I like to use this description because it feels powerful, like a driving force. I will talk more about this at the end of the chapter.

Mind Energy. For the moment it makes sense to call it that. When I feel an area of my body and then move that awareness around my body it feels and acts like an energy.  When I take that awareness and shape it or spin it or move it fast, I feel the difference and it feels like energy. What I think and imagine in my body, I feel. Therefore, I concluded that these sensations are Chi and that Chi is linked to the mind. I would not say it is mind, although it can be seen that way, because Chi has other aspects of its own. I see Chi as an interface between mind and body. It is a way for the mind to move awareness around the body and affect the body. This simple ability that we have to feel and use the body has so much potential that lay hidden behind the obvious all these years.

What Chi arts today don’t realize is that if we feel sensations of Chi through our nervous system and our mind moves Chi, then the sensations we feel at any time must also be Chi. Also, if Chi is affected by the mind and moved by mind and we all have Chi, then it is safe to say that our thoughts are affecting our Chi all the time. Which in turn is affecting our body. This is an extremely important concept to note. I really can’t emphasize it enough. The mind is the root of our life. Our thoughts not only affect our body, they create our actions, create other’s perception of ourselves and affects our decisions. This is why mind-body arts are so effective, they are cultivating a relaxed and focused mind and then putting their attention on their body. In effect the body follows the mind. There is more to a mind-body practice than this, but this is the main reason that mind-body practices today are so effective. Now if they understood the purpose of a mind-body practice, as a preparatory art, and how to cultivate the mind-body connection, they could be even more effective.

The strangest aspect of mind energy Chi is that it is not bound by the physical parameters of the body. It can be pushed into another person’s body with visible physical results that can be physically experienced by the receiver. It can also be projected at a distance, with the same results. This aspect of the Chi falls into the category of intuition, psychic sense and energy work. This develops naturally as a person strengthens their skill and sensitivity of Chi. It can also be projected out to gain a sense of our environment and the people in it. Which we do all the time. We see it when looking at someone and they feel it and look back at us. Like the saying goes, “Where the mind goes, Chi goes.” And what is on your mind, goes with it. Reiki is an example of an energy art that teaches people how to use energy for psychic distance healing.”

There you have it, there are actually a few different expressions of energy (Chi). Both the mind energy and the “life-force” Chi are moved by the mind. Mind-energy is simple, when you are feeling your body and not just what your body is sensing, this is Chi. It takes concentration to feel your body. How many people really try to feel their body? Or go further and feel every muscle to the bone and be able to move each muscle with a thought. We can have such mental control over our bodies and Chi (mind-energy) is how we connect and move the body. Now with this information, people can feel and move Chi right away, and cultivate it directly.

Today move people are taught to imagine the Chi doing something as they practice and eventually you will feel it. This is actually backwards. In my experience I feel the Chi first and as I use it and move it, the visuals of Chi start to come naturally. In my book I describe step by step how to cultivate Chi, use it to heal, release tension, move the body, and how to incorporate it into other arts like massage, Yoga and any movement practice.

How Acupuncture Needles Move Chi and How this May Have Led to the Invention of Acupuncture

By Jace Lee

About 14 years ago I discovered Chi for myself and developed it into a complete system of Chi cultivation and healing; Qiyoda. Doing this has given me insight as to how Chi arts actually function and how they may have been invented and developed. When I speak of Chi cultivation and use, I mean I cultivate and use it directly, like a tool I hold in my hand. In my years of practicing Chi and using it to heal I find that using Chi is extremely effective. I just push Chi into an effected area and tension is released and healing promoted. Since this is so effective, I couldn’t understand the use of needles and how it is that they move Chi.

When I first discovered that I could move Chi, I was practicing a meditation where I was trying to move every muscle in my body with my mind. I noticed that some muscles were hard to feel and I couldn’t move them. So, I used my finger to help bring some sensation to the area and it worked. This made me realize that it is not so much the finger that is doing the healing. It is only providing some sensation so I can get my mind into that area. I told this to my Sensei, who can see energy, and he confirmed it. This means that technically we don’t need to touch to create healing in our body, we just need to get our mind there. Unfortunately, it is not that easy and requires different techniques to aid in this. Techniques like massage, stretching and acupuncture. The main point to highlight here is the fact that the finger was only a way to get the mind/Chi to the area so it can release, relax and restore proper function and the body can heal itself. This is how acupuncture needles move Chi, it is a way for areas and points to get stimulated in a way that brings the patients mind/Chi to that area.

Being that 2,000 years ago people did not understand what modern medicine does today, about what needles do to the body. We can rule this out for reasons why acupuncture was invented. One day I asked my Sensei what the difference is between using a needle and a finger. He said in his deep gravelly voice, “You can put the needle in and walk away, ha ha ha!” It took me awhile to understand this. People only have two hands and can only employ the use of a few fingers at a time and they must be in close proximity. Which might create a need for something that can be used in place of a finger, if more points need to be stimulated at the same time. Or if someone was working on themselves, they could use the needles. Perfectly logical. My question would be, could they use something else that could just stick to the skin to provide the physical sensation? Needles are very invasive.

Some points require the use of a finger for long periods of time. Once I was helping my Sensei with some body work. He had me hold pressure on a single point on his arm for 30 minutes while he did other work in his body. This can get tiring and be time consuming. 2 and 3,000 years ago I don’t think they had many good adhesives that could hold up to gravity for a long time. Oils like mint and menthol could work but would get expensive. People needed something that would stay on and be reusable. Like a needle thin enough not to hurt but still provide the sensation that is needed to bring mind/Chi to that area seems to be the logical choice.

To me this makes sense, especially if a person is very good with using meridians and acupoints. Needles can be useful for areas of the body that are hard to reach or awkward to hold for a long period.  So, instead of having me hold a point for 30 minutes, my Sensei could have used a needle. But I still think the healing Chi of a person is still more powerful. But that is it, super simple and logical. This is probably the only theory out there right now.

When I looked up these questions all I could find is information about what modern medicine has discovered about the body’s response to the needles and information about its history. When it was invented and the possible evidence. There is no information about how it works, other than “moving Chi.” Which no one can really explain. So here is a very good and logical explanation answering both questions. I truly feel that if people understood Chi, acupressure would be more popular and integrated into acupuncture. I don’t understand why Chinese medicine schools teach massage and acupuncture separately but there are no dual programs integrating the two. I am hoping that with the understanding of Chi that Qiyoda offers, this will change.

Solving the Mind-Body Problem and How it Relates to Chi

By Jace Lee

The Mind–Body Problem

M. Rowlands, in Encyclopedia of Consciousness, 2009

Summary

Mind-Body Problem – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics  

“The mind–body problem is really two problems. The item problem concerns the nature of mental items: are they or are they not physical? The essence problem concerns the nature of the defining essences of mental phenomena – consciousness and intentionality: can they or can they not be explained in physical terms. With regard to the item problem consensus gradually seems to be coalescing on a combination of (1) mental–physical identity at the level of tokens, (2) mental–physical supervenience at the level of types, where this supervenience is underwritten by (3) a functionalist account of the nature of mental properties.” 

-Another quote from same website-

Philosophical Puzzles Evade Empirical Evidence

I. Sarıhan, in The Human Sciences after the Decade of the Brain, 2017

Case Two: The Mind-Body Problem

“The mind-body problem is the problem of understanding what the relation between the mind and body is, or more precisely, whether mental phenomena are a subset of physical phenomena or not.”

THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM by: Matthew Van Cleave

Introduction: A pathway through this chapter, Introduction to Philosophy

The mind-body problem – Introduction to Philosophy (ucf.edu)

 “the hard problem.” For dualists, the mind-body problem manifests itself as “the interaction problem”—the problem of explaining how nonphysical mental phenomena relate to or interact with physical phenomena, such as brain processes.”

Solving the mind body problem and how it relates to Chi

This mind-body relationship view has long posed a problem for many scholars as it dictates that the mind and the body are separate and not responsible for the other. Thus, the lack of a clearly identifiable meeting point between the intangible mind and the physical body has shown to be challenging to dualism. No longer is this a Challenge.

This is a very plausible solution based on years of research, practice and direct experience. When I think about the mind-body problem it seems to be a matter of the separation of mind and body, the relationship between the two and what is the mind made of if it is not physical. Also, when there is no brain function, the mind does not seem to exist.

In my experience working with the mind to affect my body I find that there is a clear separation of the two. Even though the mind is continuously aware of the whole body, the conscious awareness of it really only falls to a small area of the body. The matter of how integrated the mind is into the body, is a matter of the individual. This can be a natural full integration or it can take work. And when it comes to what the mind is made of, I can only offer the concept of Chi. But what is Chi, exactly? This is where it gets complex because I can only describe my experience of it. I can however get others to experience Chi themselves and to experience my Chi as well.

To give Chi a name that might elicit a better idea of what it is, I would call it mind energy. This is why. When I focus on a part of my body, the size of awareness being the size of my palm, I can feel a difference in awareness from my normal awareness. I call this connected awareness because I feel much more connected to my body, where my mind is focused. In turn that area becomes more responsive to my thoughts. Where this feeling starts to feel like energy is when I move it -the awareness- around my body. Also, when I imagine that feeling moving like water or wind through an arm, I feel what I am imagining. This certainly gives the impression of energy and how energy, in a non-solid form, moves.

The real question; is Chi and mind one thing or are they separate? The Mind-energy problem? This has been the tough question for me. For one, Chi seems to be more than just mind energy. Chi is also in all things living. It has its own program to promote growth, life and healing. One explanation, from Taoism, describes the mind energy as an energy body or Chi body. Technically speaking this makes sense, if this mind energy feels like energy and it is related to my awareness, then it must be in the shape of my body because my body is filled with Chi. But by force of will I can visualize Chi to do any number of things to affect my body and others. Which technically would take it out of the body shape. So therefore, there must be some measure of Chi, or lifeforce energy that remains in the body where the direct awareness is not. Which begs the question, what Chi is mind using to feel the body and manipulate it on a physical level? This is what mind energy is. It is an energy in the body that the mind interacts with directly to affect the body. There are also other forms of Chi that can be cultivated and used. In a way Chi is a general term for spiritual energy because Chi has many aspects. When considering the mind body problem, there is a clear separation between mind and body.

The question still remains, if Chi and mind are separate then what is mind made out of?

In my experience, there is us, the root consciousness, the observer. Then there is the mind, and then there is Chi (mind energy) and the body, which has its own energy. The consciousness can observe the mind and control it. I can have two distinct thought patterns between the two. My mind can be thinking of something and I can also be thinking of something else. But I can only really focus on one or the other. Focusing on two things at once is doable but not easy. Like chanting two different mantras in my head at once. I get one going and then start the other one.

Unfortunately, the mind can also control the observer. But by what means does the consciousness observe the body. We know that we have our senses but we need a way to interact with it and move it. The nervous system. Through chemical and electrical impulses, we can feel and move the body via awareness and however our consciousness desires. These impulses can be voluntarily manipulated because our body is wired to reflect the will of the observer.  

Here is the thing, when we merge mind and observer, this is described as focused and can be classified as meditation. Then when these are merged with the body, not necessarily as a whole, this can be considered the melding of mind, body and spirit. This is the very noticeable feeling I described as connected awareness.

There is the question, if a person is brain dead, there is no evidence of mind. I think of it like this, let’s say you are driving your car. As you are driving the cars computer stops working. Suddenly the car is no longer responsive to the driver’s input. The driver is fine but the car can no longer function. You manage to stop and get out but the car can still keep running because it still has fuel but it won’t shut down because the computer is broken. Since the brain is broken, it can no longer function and the conscious observer’s input no longer works. The scary question is, when the brain can no longer respond to the consciousness, did the observer manage to get out?

This leads to the question, is the mind relegated to only existing in the brain? Spiritual practice and experience say no. In meditation while concentrating on connecting to an area in my body in order to release tension, I had the experience of my mind/awareness moving. Suddenly, as I focused, I felt as if I was much closer to area of my focus. Now, was my mind still inside my head? Technically yes, but it seemed as if I had moved to a realm past the physical. It was kind of like being in a room then turning the lights off, there was no more sensory input to tell me where the walls ended. In the Yoga tradition, meditation is meant to lead to samadhi, this is when observer and observed become one. This can give the experience that the individual’s consciousness has moved into the object or person of their focus. Then there is the matter of out of body experience. I have met a few people with this ability. So, it seems that the conscious observer can move out of the head and out of the body. This certainly raises a couple of questions. Does the mind come with the observer? Or is the mind separate of the observer? Well, we know that when the individual is focused, mind and observer are one, and going out of body takes focus. So, in theory, mind and observer are one. They can become detached in the same manner as people from their body.

I think it boils down to voluntary and involuntary functions of the body. Our bodies can function without the mind. But with the mind these functions can be taken over. This ability that we have to be aware of and control the body is the key. The body is built to respond to the mind and the mind to the observer. I see Chi as a bridge between mind and body, like an interface. Like the saying goes, “mind moves Chi and Chi moves the body.”

This is a good explanation but does it solve the mind-body problem? We have a clear separation of observer, mind, Chi and the body. But at the same time, we can merge them all into one experience. But the question that remains is what are Chi and mind made of? I can only posit that mind is made of Chi. If we can move that awareness around the body and observe it somehow by mechanical means then this could be a breakthrough. But even if we could identify what is happening in the body chemically when Chi is moved, this is just the observation of an effect the Chi is having and not the Chi itself.

Electricity is still an unknown substance. We know how it exists and how to cultivate it and harness it, we can experience it but yet it is different from the particles that exist with it. At least with Chi/mind-energy, we can do the same.

Mind, body and Chi can function on their own, it is the observer that can control them. Maybe we should be asking, what is the observer made out of? That is another article, but there is one thing about Chi that is going to probably create more questions. My next question is, if it is an immaterial substance, how is it that I can move it into another person and they can sense it physically and there are visible physical effects in the body? This means that my mind can affect anything that has Chi.

There we are, the mind and body are separate or at least appear to be. It just takes a lot of concentration to move it from the head center of the body. The reality is that we can postulate all we want but as we can see Chi is a substance that is experienced by everyone physically through our awareness of ourselves and our ability to manipulate our body on a conscious willful level. What we need to be aware of most of all is the existence of and relationship between the three. In a way this proves the connection between mind and Chi and how the conscious observer affects all three. It is funny, the saying of connecting mind, body and spirit. Mind and spirit are already connected, it is mostly about melding mind, body and observer. This is part of the path to mastery. Becoming aware of all three, integrating them with total awareness and with only a thought, they all react as one.

The question of what consciousness is and what is it made of can only be answered by the turning off of the senses and thought. What is consciousness without the internal dialogue and imagery and physical/sensory awareness? Is there still awareness and if there is what is it like?

Tai Chi Principles

By Jace Lee

When it comes to training, not just in the martial arts but with any art or sport involving movement, practicing movements slowly is crucial to refining movement and creating indelible strength and coordination through the movement. By moving slowly and relaxed, all the muscles involved have an easier time coordinating and remaining balanced. This also programs the entire movement into the brain, so when it is performed fast, it is perfect. Being relaxed through movement makes sure that muscles that aren’t involved in the movement remain relaxed. In a martial arts situation, when punching, the arm is completely relaxed until contact is made. This is so that there is no interference in the movement, tension will slow down the punch and power will be lost.

Relaxation, a very underrated practice, is crucial to everything, not just Tai Chi and martial arts. To remain relaxed through movements means increased stamina, less effort exerted, faster movement and more joy moving through life in general. There is a Tai Chi term called Sung, it means sinking. When it is experienced, it literally feels as if your body is sinking or melting. This is accompanied by a feeling of stillness and relief. Once you experience it you can use it to reach stillness. Experiencing Shung is not difficult, but it can be tricky. You have to imagine and try to feel what you imagine, your body sinking. Also, through practicing relaxation, it can just happen. Once you have it, then stillness must be cultivated. Through Shung you should work to be able to call stillness up whenever you want.  Just to note, this alone can be life changing. Relaxation doesn’t have to stop here, it can get down right euphoric. Relaxation is also a crucial part of feeling and moving Chi and releasing tension.

Once you find stillness it is time to stand. It is through standing that we start to meld mind and body. At first standing is practiced to strengthen our foundation but mostly to scan the body, release tension and find proper alignment. This scanning the body is the same as the technique I use to get people to feel their Chi, increase the feeling and increase the mind-body connection. Once you can feel stillness while standing and you start to feel as if you are floating and it seems effortless to hold up your arms; this is where you start to see how Chi moves the body.

You see, being relaxed cultivates Chi by increasing sensitivity to it and allowing a greater flow. But when it comes to cultivating Chi and making it stronger, we must use it. When cultivating Chi through movement, first the Chi must be felt and some level of movement must be achieved because one must be able to move Chi before being able to move the body with Chi. This is one of the reasons why Tai Chi is performed slowly, it takes a lot of though, visualization and concentration to move an entire body using only Chi. So, at first, the mind moves very slow. But most people never really make it to this point. I really can’t think of anyone else teaching how to move the body using Chi. I think I may be one of the few. I also teach how to use Chi as strength. This adds great power to any physical activity and cultivates Chi majorly. Tai Chi also cultivates Chi by coordinating movement with the breath. Then eventually that breath will drive the Chi and move the body.

Tai Chi is relatively simple in theory and principle. Relaxation, slow coordinated movements alone can have a huge impact on a person. By strengthening balance and coordination, moving through life becomes much easier. Tension and pain is also released. All this gives the practitioner a sense of peace and tranquility. It is this state of mind that truly is the main cause of these benefits are. The mind is the root of our lives, if negative thoughts can destroy our bodies and our lives then positive thoughts can have a reverse effect. The practice of Tai Chi and also Qigong and meditation, is that they are cultivating a relaxed and peaceful mind, the body and your life are reflections of your mind.

There you have it! These are the core foundational principles that make Tai Chi such an effective and beneficial art form. With relaxation, slow refined movement and fast, Chi cultivation and mind-body connection cultivation, how can you go wrong. Well, it depends on the goal. Now, I want you to look at those principle’s and forget you know Tai Chi. These principles can be any movement, that is, any properly aligned movement. My point is, it is not so much Tai Chi that is so beneficial, it is the way it is practiced. I am not trying to get people to forget about Tai Chi, I am trying to get people to see how Tai Chi, Qigong, etc., doesn’t end when your form does. Every step and every move become Tai Chi or Qigong. These principles can also be applied to any sport or physical art or dance. When it comes to mastery one must strive for perfection in every millimeter of movement.

The Importance of Centering and Alignment

To feel centered is what my Sensei called absolute joy.  Even though that may be a bit overstated, it is a joy.  When you can feel relaxed and comfortable in your body and as if you can move in any direction at any time, it gives you a feeling of strength and power, like you are a kung fu master that can take on 10 men or dance with a man or woman like they never knew possible.  For me, that puts a smile on my face. Also, there are times when I find the right alignment and centering, and it just clicks. When this happens, there is a feeling of emptiness and stillness, my body becomes totally relaxed and I don’t ever want to move. This is certainly a cause for joy.

Well, that is not the only benefit to being centered.  It’s about moving through life comfortably, feeling like you can take on anything and not having to worry about injury.  When it comes to the mind and how it affects the body feeling centered is definitely a symbiotic relationship between mind and body.  When they are both centered the outward expression of each is increased 10-fold.

Now combine that with being strong and flexible within proper alignment of the body and you have a recipe for a cocktail I like to call, the Jackie Chan. Being able to move through life overcoming and accomplishing anything with light-hearted humor. Every martial artist needs to be centered, strong and flexible in order to be fast, move through any position and not worry about injury.  For me I want to be like this in life, without the fighting. Sometimes life is enough of a fight. Or it’s good for keeping up with your kids.

Either way, being centered and strong in alignment and add being relaxed and you have yourself a recipe for a long awesome life.  And when you are in a place like that, the body uses less energy because when all your muscles are working together, they work less, and this also gives you more power to your movements.  Your whole body will feel more relaxed and pain free because you won’t be putting any unnecessary stress on any part of the body.  Now if you incorporate some Chi work and connecting mind to the body, then you will be able to move with the lightness of a mere thought.

Just know this, you don’t have to get to that perfection of centered and aligned to feel centered like a kung fu master. Once you find your center and feel it, then it becomes an evolving journey of deepening that sense of centeredness.  Meaning that you can have that feeling while working to perfect it.  Awesome!  So, keep practicing and get to that center and alignment, enjoy your joy and kick ass everyday!

Goals of Yoga, Don’t Just Practice, Practice to Mastery

 

The goals of Yoga might be an easy question to answer but with the many forms of yoga we have today it might be tougher to answer.  Truly it all depends on what you want to achieve.  In the pursuit of mastery, personal growth, health and wellness and even enlightenment anything you do can be considered a yogic practice.  You may hate me for saying that because it adds so many other arts to the already long list of variations, approaches and pathways that are possible with Yoga.  I say this because I want to expand your perspective horizons of what yoga is and can be.  By doing this you can add more possibilities to reaching your goals.

You may ask, why not put yoga into any other categories?  Well a lot of other arts are very specialized and although somewhat similar, don’t have the wide range of possibilities refined over thousands of years that yoga has.  To be straight forward the main goal of yoga is enlightenment and meditation is necessary to achieve that.  There are so many aspects of yoga because we are complicated beings and only one approach is not enough especially when dealing with cultivating the body, mind and spirit.  Everyone is different, living different lives with different experiences and with different bodies, so the same yoga is not the best for everyone.  So how do you know what to practice?  Lucky for you that is easy, your body and your life are your guides.  You are your own guru, following your heart and intuition to know what to practice next.

Using your body as a guide to practice is a process of getting in touch with your body and figuring out what you need to do to get to a place of centeredness, proper alignment, opening the body, increasing strength and flexibility.  These are all goals to work towards on a physical level.  Standing is a great way to see what is out of balance in your body and what is impeding you from holding a relaxed, balanced and comfortable stance; this is a form of standing meditation -an important foundation for yoga and internal martial arts.  This is the first step of letting your body guide you.  Then as you progress into other poses and stretches you find other muscles and areas that either need stretching or strengthening.  In order to lengthen muscles and open areas you may need to use alternative methods other than yoga.  Massage is very helpful; it increases circulation and expedites the time it takes to stretch a muscle.  And there is movement, movement also increases circulation and strengthens on a greater range of motion than yoga.  I prefer to use dance for my movements.

As for mental goals for yoga, this is simple.  You want to create a strong and focused mind that is clear of chatter; peaceful.  This is one of the benefits of mediation and that alone can change your life and your body.  A relaxed mind is a relaxed body.  Meditation doesn’t necessarily mean sitting meditation.  Meditation is simply the practice of concentrating the mind on a task to increase mental strength and focus.  I find that the best beginning meditations are focusing on relaxation and the breath, eventually one becomes both.  These you can do anytime or while you practice yoga, this is incredibly beneficial, I can’t stress that enough.  The more relaxed you are the faster your muscles can release and the faster your progress.  Before you start to practice anything you want to be relaxed, breathing, centered, the whatever you do will be easier and you will learn incredibly fast.

Spiritual goals, well, usually this means practicing to be a good person.  I like to uphold love and truth as my pillars of practicing wisdom to gain wisdom.  But when I think of a spiritual practice I think of it in a more literal sense, actually practicing spirit.  Once you can feel and practice Chi/Prana and understand its relationship to the mind then you are truly practicing your spirit for they are connected.  You the observer use the mind to control Chi with imagination and visualization.  It is really that simple, if you can think you are moving spirit.  So be careful what you think about and how often.  When using it in and on the body or to move the body or to heal the body, then you are practicing mind, body and spirit as one.  This is a spiritual goal.  To make this into your every move and every moment, is a great achievement of mastery.

Remember this, the mind and spirit are one.  They are made of the same material.  Your mind whatever you think becomes your meditation, your practice; so be careful what you think about and how often. If you think angry thoughts it will be detrimental.  Think good thoughts and feel good.  This because the mind affects your body and your life.

Chi can easily be used to expedite your path to your center, proper alignment and the opening of the body.  When focusing on using your Chi with visualization to affect change in the body you are meditating.  What better meditation than to focus on cultivating spirit and healing yourself.

First goal of yoga, get centered, build awareness in the body, work towards proper alignment and strengthening it until it becomes relaxed and natural.  When it comes to mastering anything, there are techniques to practice to proficiency and parfection before moving on.  Start simple and build upon and gently pushing the boundaries of your limits.

Today we mostly just practice yoga and sometimes some breathing exercises (pranayamas) are incorporated or a gimmicky concept.  There is no real progression, starting simple and working towards more difficult techniques.  Take note, just because you learned a difficult technique doesn’t mean it is bringing you closer to mastery.  The thing is that there are a lot of techniques and they all have specific purposes, make sure that the techniques you learn are something that you need for your evolving practice.  As you progress you may not need certain techniques and new ones will come along.

For example, a lot of yoga schools teach fancy pranayamas that seem cool and make you feel like you are practicing yoga but what is it really doing for you in the moment and the long term.  Always start simple and build upon that, like mastering the yogi complete breath and yogi rhythmic breathing before jumping into more advanced breathing techniques.  Also working to get the breath to become natural on a simple level will help you greatly in feeling more relaxed and alert throughout your life when you are not on the mat and in everything you practice.

So don’t just practice yoga, work towards your ultimate self, centered and aligned, focused and relaxed, mind body spirit connected.  Then you can move on to deepen your yoga practice or practice and master other arts or live a good long healthy life.  Get in touch with your body, figure out what it needs, figure out what you want and practice.

 

Strengthening a Pose to the Absolute and Infinite Core

 

Is a pulling in of the muscles and mind to the core centers of the body and an expansion out in all directions.   In each pose we should strive to have every muscle activated equally together, all at once, while also relaxed and without effort. Think of the body as one big muscle pulling ourselves into the alignment of the pose.  Here we can feel and strengthen the core and inner spirals of the body, connecting our bodies to the mind and breath.  Then we expand the mind outward and inward to the infinite universe.

First to keep in mind are the Bandhas.  The Mula at the perineum, Uddiyana at the lower belly and the Jalandhara at the front of the neck; these performed together make the Maha Bandha.  Bandha; meaning “lock” is a locking of the core and the energy centers.  It is mostly considered an energy lock, holding in of Prana (Chi).  What we are doing here with the Bandhas is not only strengthening our bodies to the core but using them to guide us into perfect alignment of the pose and ourselves from the core out.  We should seek to keep these, more active than locked throughout your whole class or sequence practice; although you can squeeze them intensely to build greater strength, depending on the pose.

The inner spirals are the lines along the body that we can feel activating as we engage all the muscle together in proper alignment.   For example, in mountain pose we are pulling up from the arches of the feet rotating the shins in, pushing the thighs outward, bringing the front of the pelvic bones and then moving the energy up through the perineum towards the base of the skull.

When relaxing, don’t collapse out of the pose, continue to hold the pose or depending on the pose continue reaching and relax into it.  Once we are able to hold every muscle of the pose strongly and without strain we are able to relax into it even more and hold it longer and/or move deeper into the pose.  Then from here we are creating stamina and physical power by connecting every muscle together to the centers of the body.  You see as the muscles work together, they all don’t have to work so hard.  They work more efficiently.  Now that’s team work!  An after effect of this would be a more naturally strong and aligned body when relaxed, such as a standing pose or life in general.

As for breathing, the “in” breath is the empty breath, as I like to call it.  This is where we bring in energy and hold our position and the energy we have already brought in.  Here we draw from all directions or through a single or many limbs to the Bandhas.

The “out” breath is the solid breath, where we push the energy into the body and condense it down using the muscles and mind.  So as we exhale we can either: exhale through a single limb, many limbs, expand out in all directions or create strength by squeezing the muscles more; little by little as we breathe.  As with any of these we must remain relaxed or use the exhale to relax more, into the stretch and into the strengthen.

On an energetic note, with the Bandhas locked, linking the breath to the expansion and contraction of the body and mind we are able to store Prana (chi).   And to help with visualization we can color the Prana.

Whatever pose it is you are in, feel the wholeness and find the balance of the body and then hold onto it.  Use your Bandhas and spine as a guide as a guide, locking your Bandhas and hugging the spine.  And as you move the breath through the body, seek to feel it.  Sometimes we may not be able to engage all the muscles at once or when we do we get shaking, don’t worry, just continue to reach for the center, engage and strengthen.

Tension

Tension can come in many forms and not result in pain.  It can also have many causes; stress, an over active mind, a state of mind or misalignment of the body.  The result being that the muscles are contracting constantly or unnecessarily.  For example, people’s shoulders being lifted because they are constantly in a state of fear or worry or stress.  When it comes to misalignment it means that you have been using specific muscles to support the body instead of all of them together.  This can create pain in other parts of the body or just impede range of motion.

There are a few approaches to fixing this type of tension.  There is massage, practicing relaxation, stretching (yoga) and finding the cause of the stress.  They key to all of these is letting go.  If you are hanging by your hands and want to get down you must let go of your grip.  If you have been hanging on for a long time then it might take a bit of work.  Remember your three foundations of relaxation, breathing and form/posture.  For now breathing and relaxation are your key ingredients to alleviating tension.

When approaching tension or a practice session start with connecting to the breath.  Take 5 deep and slow breaths and relax with each one.  Relaxing more and more with each exhale.  Holding the exhale without using any muscles really helps to relax.  Then start with massage, if you can move chi then use it to connect.   If not then start with a gentle massage and increase pressure of needed.  Depending on the nature and severity of the tension soreness might result.  In this case it is good to wait until the soreness is gone and come back to it then.  You may need to repeat a few times until the soreness stops.  This can also be said for stretching tight muscles.

Once the soreness no longer results from massage then continue massage but then add a stretch.  Also remember to start with breathing and relaxation and continue it through your massage and stretch.  When relaxing, use your breath and focus on the tension and really try to feel it and let it go. You can even tell it to relax and let go.  This is also to be practiced in your stretch.  Once it starts to let go the next time will be easier and soon it will start to lengthen and remain relaxed.

During the time you are not working on your tension, throughout your day continually bring awareness to your body and your tension and breathe, relax and find your posture.  If you find your arms are lifted, then put them down.  This is something to always be aware of.   Also you must also try to find the source of the tension.  When working on it you may feel particular emotions associated with them, just breathe, experience, release and let go.  If it is something in your life then ty to find a way to create that happiness you desire.

On the other side, emotions like fear, anger, worry and anxiety are almost overwhelming.  In my experience when dealing with these emotions you must choose to stay positive as hard as it may be.  If these emotions and thoughts associated with them dominate your mind then this can become extremely detrimental.  Just think of the chemical and hormonal repercussions of having the chemical components to those emotions constantly streaming through your body.  If you have trouble with thoughts then a mantra can work wonders.  Let that dominate your mind and be your focus.  On the physical side positive action works very well; either do good things or exercise.

On the lighter side, if tension is not painful and is just impeding your range of motion, just continue to practice relaxation, breathe, massage and stretch.  When in a stretch or just practicing a yoga pose and muscles are contracting when they shouldn’t, you have to really use your mind to relax them and contract the muscles that should be used in that particular stretch or pose.  Using the technique of breathing chi through the limbs and condensing breathing are very helpful techniques as well.  Breathing the limbs is straight forward but when using condensing breathing I find it effective when focusing on the tension; as in breathing the muscle.  Inhale, condense muscles, exhale expand.  I find this to be very effective.  Also a light touch can help wonders as well when having trouble getting the mind into that area.  And massage before stretch is extremely helpful.

Stillness

 

Stillness is a hugely import concept in practicing yoga, meditation and relaxation.  By stilling the mind we can still the body and vice versus.  When practicing any of these it may be hard for someone to reach still at first.  Also it may be hard for someone to reach stillness if they haven’t experienced it.  Truly it is not that hard to reach, holding it is a bit tougher.  Stillness is that point at which you feel relaxed, comfortable and have no craving to do or move.  You are just in the moment.  You don’t even have to be completely relaxed to feel stillness.

Once you can reach a point of stillness in your meditation you can sit for longer and focus without distraction.  When practicing relaxation you can easily work towards deeper states of relaxation and relieving tension.  In yoga it will help you to find that comfortability in your poses.  Practicing stillness will also help with anxiety and the need to feed or do.  You will find that you need other things less to help you relax, like drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

To get to a place of stillness is easy.  When sitting or lying down take 3 full deep breaths and on each exhale let go and relax into it, letting the breath fall out and holding the exhale without using any muscles.  Then breathe naturally and with each exhale try to relax a little more and holding the exhale for a few seconds.  You should feel a sinking feeling, as if you are melting.  You will feel a sense of comfort and won’t want to move.  This is stillness!

Being still is tough, sitting or lying down especially for long periods it may be a bit exhausting at first.  It is tougher when standing as well.   Just try to hold on to that even when you start to move.  This will help you understand the stillness in movement that is talked about in Tai Chi.  There is also another type of stillness in movement associated with Tai Chi or movement in general.  Imagine, your body is still except for one arm moving.  Or the opposite, the arm is still and the body moves. That is stillness in movement.

Once you can find the stillness hold it as long as you can.  If you find yourself restless, practice your breathing and come to stillness.  This is a practice that can open you up to a whole new level of relaxed while living.  Your body may be relaxed but you aren’t truly relaxed or comfortable until you find the stillness.  As a bartender or sushi chef I find this is extremely helpful.  When it gets busy and I have to move a super speeds and multitask at a quantum level I find that when I can find that stillness and relax into the movements I don’t mess up, tense up or fumble with objects which can impede my ability to perform admirably.  Just remember to breathe, stay relaxed, find the stillness and hold that form/posture if you can.

Breakthroughs

Breakthroughs come in many forms, because healing also comes in many forms.  When you have a break through you will know; you will feel a difference in your body and your life.  I have had breakthroughs where I finally am able to let go of something holding me back and suddenly I lose weight or my body is looser.  And that was from a mental or emotional breakthrough.

As you can see, mental and emotional breakthroughs can manifest physically.  This is because the mind is linked to the body and the body is an expression of the mind.  We hold a lot of what is in our mind in our bodies.

We can also have breakthroughs from physical practice that affect us on all those levels.  A physical breakthrough is when you finally get that muscle to give and let go and you can stretch it.  You may find that the work you have been doing is really starting to show in the alignment of your body.  Progress is very exciting!  Sometimes you come to a place and you are using massage or yoga and you release tension and you feel it release and you might experience pent up emotions or trauma.  This is great, just be open, experience and don’t hold on to those feelings, let them go.  Then you will feel a great relief and might even come to a great epiphany about yourself and healing.

Using a mantra to overcome anxiety was a big breakthrough for me.  Even though I understand a lot about healing and yoga, it is in my nature to worry, be emotional and moody.  But there comes a time when you have had enough and can see how these negative emotions and thoughts are ruining your progress in life.  This is the time I and possibly you make a stand, I used a mantra to focus on something positive and create positive action and it worked.  I have had anxiety since but not on the level that I was experiencing.  What I learned from that was that I need to stay positive no matter what and if something bad happens then it might be for the better.  But in the meantime my fear and anxiety was manifesting my fears and it had to stop.

So just remember breakthroughs come in many forms and have great effects.  Just keep practicing and moving forward to bettering yourself and doing what it takes to create happiness for yourself.  It’s all about how bad you want it.