Qigong; Essence of the Healing Dance
By Garri Garripoli
In my research throughout China, I found that experts agree that the inner, meditative aspects of Qigong emerged from the ancient mystical traditions of Taoism, Buddhism and the animistic spiritualism that preceded them. The outward expression of Qigong, they say, comes from primitive Dao Yin dances. These were amongst the various tribal rituals and customs of many villages. They survived throughout the generations because they had a very practical aspect. They helped alleviate aches and pains, presumably from rheumatoid arthritis that was common among those who worked in the rice paddies and in other damp conditions. Dance is part of nearly every culture, playing its role in courtship and mating rituals, artistic expression and entertainment. Physicians recommend ballroom dance to the elderly to help keep their bodies limber. Young people flock to dance clubs as if driven by an unseen force. Dance is a way for us to freely express ourselves, to feel young again.
Qigong reminds us to be like a baby, soft and pliable. It was a time when our legs could bend back so our toes could go in our mouth. Our skull plates were not yet nearly fused together; our skin was supple. We had few toxins in our bodies. Our voice was strong. Our bellies were full and round, dense with Jing Qi, that energy core empowering us to grow. Anyone could see our soul through our eyes. This mirrored a spirit that was needy, yet free to live by the drive of those basic instincts and nothing artificial. There were no masks apart from the body itself; self-awareness didn't yet exist. Everyone admired your beauty; they were reminded of the gift of life each time you held on to their finger with a strong grip, each time you stared at something with your complete focus, each time you cried to exercise your lungs and express hunger. Qigong returns us to this simplicity, to our essential nature. It brings us to that soul we long to embrace, seen darkly through the fog of the ego as it struggles for dominance, like a child fighting for a few-more minutes of television-watching before getting some needed evening sleep.
Maybe it was that child in me that needed to be nurtured when I walked away from my successful business a few years ago and decided to live in China. It was time for a cleansing of sorts. I had come to a place in my life where I needed to secure my dedication to my beliefs. I had to face a lot of fears in the process, but on a soul level, I realized I had no choice. I only knew a few words of Mandarin, but I traveled across China propelled by my hope of meeting sincere Qigong teachers. Synergetic forces conspired to bring me in touch with Masters in the most curious of ways. I am honored to have been accepted by so many beautiful people. One day, while riding on a bus in Beijing, I heard an old man with a long white beard humming a tune. It was a melody I hadn't heard since going to church as a child. I began humming with him. He turned and smiled. When he got up to leave the bus, he gestured for me to leave with him. Why not, I thought. . . we went to a park and I soon realized I was with Master Duan, my new Qigong and Kung Fu teacher.
Master Duan is many things to many people, fulfilling the notorious role of an elder teacher. The master's game is one of movement-sometimes internal and sometimes external. Master Duan moves in the grand dance, flowing from situation to situation with a confident elegance painted in humble strokes. One evening, after a particularly long day of workouts. I found myself in a joyous celebratory gathering outside of Beijing. It was composed of several Masters and a large entourage of students from China and Japan. With the energy up, somebody asked me to teach everyone the Macarena, a Latin-inspired dance routine that was making big rounds in America.
Amidst Qigong and Kung Fu Masters-and students as proficient in a variety of moving forms as any Master-I shared this simple dance, thinking to myself that it was too pedestrian, too trite for this dedicated crowd. Watching the serious intent of everyone bent on trying to learn this basic routine opened my heart to the level of focus in this crowd. They didn't judge this dance as just another commercial craze as I did. For them, it was a form to be absorbed and honored, as if it was part of my revered tradition. They were "in the moment," and this dance consumed them as they became it. People who were proficient in complex Shaolin Kung Fu combinations stumbled over the macarena's progression until they made it part of their very being. Like a flock of birds moving as one, the group finally locked in and became macarena experts. With this level of comfort at hand, they became jovial and they returned to being their childlike selves, laughing and carrying on. Watching the process of transformation was amazing.
Master Duan then gestured for everyone to open up a circular area amidst the crowd and pulled me in with him. We both did the macarena to the backbeat that had now repeated what seemed like a hundred times on the stereo. He then slowly modified the dance with hysterically funny gestures, ranging from holding his nose to grabbing his butt. Then he engaged me in a hybrid macarena/push hands routine. Liquid change from entertainment to a martial arts exercise. That elegant expression of moving from one state to another without missing a beat. He turned a simple dance into a lesson; you could hear the crowd acknowledging this as they watched. The Dance. Always changing, infused with the intent of the dancers. . . .
Master Duan dances Qigong. He moves as if entranced in a tango with the Universe. In a one on one with students, he draws you into his undulation. In this way, you learn how he directs his Qi flow throughout his body. Every move he makes is a lesson. This is the charge of a true Master. After a long day training a group of students in Wuji swordplay, he asked me to organize an evening dance. In a secluded hotel nestled on a lake far from any city, I transformed a meeting room into a dance hall as best I could. The students came, expecting a frivolous party and began to mill around. Duan appeared, in his typical, long and flowing traditional garb, and began to take people onto the dance floor one at a time. Watching the faces of each person as they completed their experience was precious. A glazed stare and a nod of understanding attached to each person. Several women came up to me and secretly told me they had never danced with such a sensual partner as the ninety-two-year-old Master Duan.
This is the essence of Qigong: a total absorption of the senses and spirit. With this absorption comes a rebalancing. What was most out of balance in our life seems to make itself known to our awareness. A Master is akin to a profound experience embodied. A true Master commonly can trigger the awakening and realization of our realignment. That Master Duan moves like a dancer simply reflects his attitude toward life. He uses the Chinese word bundun when he refers to his family's system of Qigong. This word closely resembles the English word "chaos." Through chaos, we learn stillness. Through chaos we learn that everything is in a state of flux. By embracing chaos, we embrace the Tao. Immerse yourself in the chaos, flow with the natural energies around you and experience the freedom of your being.
It becomes evident in Qigong practice that our body is a field generator. As we move our body in Qigong exercise, we become conscious of how waving our arms and hands in a specific way can have an effect on the rest of our body. We also become conscious of how this can have an effect on someone else. Our body generates fields of many radiation types, from heat to light. It generates Qi. It generates probability, more commonly thought of as karma. These emissions happen naturally but it is believed that through practices such as Qigong, we can enhance and focus this radiation. Key points in our body emit, receive, store and generate Qi more than others. All points in our body can do these things actually, it's just that some are more easy to observe at the novice level. The glossary in this book will discuss some of these points.
When we practice Qigong, we use our breath to build Qi and to regain a sense of balance and focus. Breathe deep. Pause for a moment and simply breathe deep. While you read these words, you can be practicing Qigong. Breathe deep. Get in touch with your breath. This is the technique fundamental to healing and meditative systems in nearly every culture. Breathe deep. It brings us in touch with our body and soul in such a complete way. Breathe deep.