Calming the busy mind, healing the wounded heart and cleansing the toxic body
John Du Cane
QIGONG PRACTITIONERS INSIST there are three central intelligences in our beings, all equally important. There is one in the head, one in the heart area, and an intelligence system in the stomach. If only one intelligence receives attention, the other two suffer. One of the central insights in qigong practice is that all of these intelligences have to be recognized, otherwise they become like abandoned children.
The head or ‘monkey mind’ is very dominant in our culture—we’re very, very busy in our heads. The mind lives to create disturbance—it loves the surges of sudden excitement and wild fluctuations that arise from its addiction to stress as a favored lifestyle.
When we allow ourselves to live in this highly analytic, stressed out state we become preoccupied and inattentive and therefore less effective as human beings. When you’ve got 101 things going on in your mind, you end up not really paying attention to any of them. And all of your relationships—business, family, social, romantic—suffer accordingly. Because, really, nobody is at home anymore. Just an empty, preoccupied husk. One of the skills you learn in qigong is how to stop, let go, and be attentive.
You have to seduce the monkey mind, while its back is turned, to calm down and allow you to get back into your heart and stomach intelligences.
Our modern civilization has become a society of wounded hearts, busy minds, and toxic bodies. A wounded heart could be a neglected or abandoned heart. A busy mind is distracted, inattentive, and preoccupied. A toxic body is tight, closed, and stagnant.
We have become fragmented beings. We have lost our integration and joie de vivre and ability to operate in a connected, passionate way with life. If you want to be effective in business, if you want to be competent and truly help people, you need that passion in your life. If you allow yourself to get stressed out as a matter of course, it’s going to affect every aspect of your life, including the most practical. How practical is it to be sick in bed? How effective is it to be dead?
Qigong teaches us to get in touch with the subtle, bioelectric energy that we need to be alive. It’s important to learn to play with that, like a musician. Learn to be fluid with your energy, in touch with it, massage it, as it were.
When you train yourself to move in a very slow, relaxed way, you can remove all of the tension and blocks in your body, and become more like a wild animal. If you have to, there can be a sudden release of strong energy. But for the most part, you stay in a buoyant, relaxed state, rather like a little kid. As we get older, because of the way we create stress in our lives, we tend to lose that buoyancy, which is so essential to our overall vitality.
Our addiction to stress is one of the most devastating aspects of our modern culture. According to the Chinese, your vitality is intimately bound up in your adrenal and kidney areas. When you allow yourself to respond to pressure by stressing out, you’re depleting yourself and becoming sick and toxic inside. You start feeling run down. That’s your life-wax melting away.
The irony in our society is that in our quest for creature comforts we’ve actually created more stressors. We’ve produced a competitive environment. When the telephone rings, or when a fax comes in, our bodies react to these stressors. When a car cuts in front of you on the freeway, you have a potential stressor. Going to action movies, reading the newspaper, watching TV—all of these activities trigger that adrenal/steroid surge. Most of us have come to associate stress with pleasure—to the point of being addicted. Many of us, when not in a state of excitement or arousal, don’t feel that we’re enjoying ourselves. There are these lulls when we feel sort of depressed and out of it, so we start looking for the next excitement. That’s a roller coaster.
And then, there is the qigong-induced state of “harmonic balance.” You find this state when you look into a lover’s eyes, sit on a beach in Hawaii and watch a sunset, or listen to beautiful music. It’s that sensation of gentle beauty. Just appreciation and the feeling that everything is okay. But being competitive and yammering at people, arguing, screaming at the computer, freaking out at the emails you’re receiving, dealing with the telemarketers calling just as you’re about to eat, easily destroys this appreciative skill. You start to lose the ability to fall into harmonic balance. It becomes like a distant memory. You’re anxiously looking for it a lot of the time, but you start to lose the ability to manufacture it for yourself. One of the beauties of qigong practice is that you get seduced back into what I regard as your birthright—harmonic balance.
Why is this important? In terms of daily living, when we go into a state of stress, a number of things happen. We tense up, and instead of relaxing when the cause of stress disappears, we stay tight. In this way, we become more and more blocked and rigid in our bodies. Health and responsiveness in your daily life comes from the ability to respond to things with fluidity and flexibility. If you get into the habit of tightening and closing, sooner or later it’s going to impact the way you do business, the way you are with your family and friends, and your health.
Qigong practice starts to take you back into the heart and stomach areas, and allows you to get in touch with how it is to be relaxed and fluid. One of the keys to this is abdominal breathing. If you want to get back to that childhood buoyancy, learn to breathe like a child. The optimal breathing technique is that of a little baby, where the stomach gently inflates on the inhale and softly contracts on the exhale. Your attention and breath is low, near the stomach brain.
What happens when you breathe down in the stomach is that your lymph system is activated. When this system is stimulated, an automatic relaxation response is triggered, which puts you into that "aaahh" state. The lymph system is the body’s trash removal system. It is more extensive than the circulatory system and it’s responsible for removing crud from the body, including excess blood proteins around the cells. If the cells are going to be vibrant and alive, they need to receive blood and oxygen on a regular basis.
Imagine if one day the garbage man just didn’t show up anymore. That’s essentially what happens in a lot of our bodies. When the lymph system gets sluggish, as it tends to do as we age, the body starts to stagnate. It starts to have literal sludge. So no matter what you do, you’re not able to do it with optimal vibrancy or health. And sooner or later, you’ll almost certainly get cancer or some other major disease. When you breathe from the abdomen, and do certain types of upper arm movements, and when you bounce, as in rebounding, you stimulate the lymph system. This crud, if you take these measures every day, will be removed from the body.
We want to avoid disease, because it’s very impractical! But we procrastinate enough about our health that we set ourselves up for disease all the time. Want to be practical in your life? Then adopt a daily practice that stops you getting sick.
When you adopt a practice that takes you into a more serene, contented state, it helps you change how you react to stressors. There are two ways to handle someone cutting in front of you on the freeway. You can grip the steering wheel, shout at the person and treat them like they were stealing your time, stealing your life; or you can just smile and relax and breathe. It’s not going to help you to shout and curse; in fact it’s just hurting you. When you get into a daily practice and gain the ability to relax and breathe, you’re able to handle so-called stressful situations in a much freer, easier way. And this applies to your business. When something doesn’t go the way you want it, you can go ballistic and get all worked up about it, or you can relax out of that state. You need a daily practice to build the skill to be relaxed.