-- Yoga and qigong both deal with energetic movement and esoteric issues, but yet they are also quite different. Often people will study yoga for years but have never heard of its counterpart. Can you elaborate on that?--
Actually I think the root yoga and qigong are all about the same thing - keep the energy moving. I again do not have much experience with yoga - although I have been taking a kundalini class now for a couple years. The movements are different, but the intent is the same.
Yoga is more popular than I think qigong will ever be - at least in the foreseeable future. I think part of the issue is that yoga appears more familiar - at least in set-up, and as more people do it, a newcomer loses the trepidation of starting something "weird". To my eye it seems more similar to standard aerobic gym classes with a set of exercises not necessarily joined with a connecting theme. Much of the language going along with the class depends on the instructor - I'm not saying there is no connecting theme, just that the instructor may not be comfortable with talking about it in a certain setting. And it can be that the teacher doesn't know or is not interested in the more "invisible" or esoteric side of the work. That can be the case with qigong as well.
Qigong has only recently gained more momentum in the "fitness" world. T'ai chi was the art most instructors were offering, and that looks much easier than it is. It is a set of moves - a "form", like a karate "kata" that requires practice and understanding of body mechanics for what seem to the onlooker to be very simple moves. My thought is that many people started t'ai chi with interest and high hopes, and assumptions that something that slow had to be quick and easy to learn -- and found out it wasn't so, and dropped out. Instructors could also tend to be teaching in the Chinese style - that is, not explaining what was going on, just expecting the students to do what was told. We, in the US, do not enjoy that lack of information. By the way, this has changed dramatically as more and more senior U.S. instructors have captured students through video, as well as personal instruction. While qigong has come a long way in the media in the last 20 years, it certainly does not have the name recognition yoga does. I don't know why!
-- You mentioned that after you became involved with the Healing Tao that you understood the whole esoteric component connected to the practice. To me, studying that is just as important as the forums and exercises themselves. Can you talk a minute about the esoteric component to qigong?--
I certainly don't want to give the impression I know the "whole esoteric component" of anything! Part of the reason I enjoy t'ai chi and qigong is that it is a never-ending study. As you come to understand something, you realize it opens up a whole new avenue of exploration.
Qigong is rooted in Taoist philosophy. It shares many of the ideas that Buddhism made popular in the west, but differs in one major way. In the Taoist idea, we are here on this planet to BE here, not to try to find an escape. Being here is full of challenges, as we all know. Practicing t'ai chi shows you how to move to deflect the challenges, to relax into the present and stay rooted in yourself. T'ai chi mastery is seen when the energy of an individual is so powerful that just by being in a place, the "vibe" (as we would call it) shifts and productive work can be done.
Qigong is a method to help discover yourself. As your focus and movement slow down, and become deliberate and intentional, so too does your mind, and then ultimately, so too does your spirit. You begin to re-establish contact among these parts of yourself.
As a more specific example, the system in the Healing Tao asserts that each of your five primary Yin organs has a consciousness of its own, and has its own set of attributes, including color, emotion, sound, familiar animal, linkages to the physical body, and more. The meditations encourage You, your mind, to get in touch with your organs, understand them and nudge them to work more as a team than a set of 5 individuals going their own way.
Many people work only with the esoteric side - they get interested in the meditations and never move to the movement piece. I started with movement and got into the meditations. I am sure there are qigong and t'ai chi practitioners who do only movement. There is benefit everywhere - the more focus you bring the more benefit there is.
-- After studying qigong for a while I was inspired to create a series of paintings depicting the theme "Connecting Heaven and Earth". Can you explain about the connection and balance of heaven and earth chi?--
A big feature of the Chinese classics is the balance of Heaven and Earth. Heaven is seen as the male essence, creative, outward oriented. Earth is seen as the female essence, nurturing and inward oriented. In the yin-yang sign, Heaven is the light color, Earth is the dark color. Notice in the yin-yang that within Earth there is the circle of Heaven, and vice-versa. Each has consciousness and desires to move to wholeness. They need each other to reach that state, and the human is introduced as the means to connect them, sort of like a lightning rod that works both ways. In some specific qigong forms we've worked with, the intention is clear. One move is called "Bring Down Heaven Qi", and another is "Bring Up Earth Qi". Without the human to facilitate this, would it be possible? Who knows?
-- Finally, one of the last classes I took from you, you were working on a system of using yoga mudras (hand gestures) and combining them with the qigong healing sounds. It was an interesting process. Can you explain about that a little further? What are the healing sounds and how are they used?--
The healing sounds relate to the 5 organs I mentioned before. The sounds can be used to relieve stress on a certain organ system, sort of like humming to your child to calm it. The sounds are not difficult chants, simply syllables which can be used out loud for physical conditions, or in your thoughts for energetic issues.
There are many physical exercises as well that relate specifically to the organs. A friend of mine, Andrena Bonte, an acupuncturist, had developed a series of mudras which also related to the organs. I thought it would be interesting to put all this together in a series following the organs through their daily active cycle, using physical exercise, mudras, meditation and healing sounds to really get in touch with what's inside us. One of the big ideas (in my mind) in t'ai chi and qigong is that we work from the inside out. In other words, we work on the organs inside us, and the rest will take of itself. This in direct conflict with the normal western approach of getting rid of the flab, or developing muscles, or deliberately stressing the heart through approved cardio activity.
*Joanne Kornoelje is an Associate of the Healing Tao and has been practicing t'ai chi, qigong and meditation for over 20 years. She has taught for over 10 years with students ranging from 9 to 90.
'Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way you live it is what makes the difference.'