Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series - Heidi Thompson

When I sat down to read and review the book "Calm Focus Joy: The Power of Breath Awareness", little did I know that author Heidi Thompson was also a fine artist.  I knew that if her work was even remotely as intelligent and fascinating as her book - that she would be someone I would definitely like to interview for the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series.  Well, as you will read, Heidi certainly did not disappoint.  I hope you will find this amazing artist's journey and work as fascinating and inspiring as I did.  Thank you Heidi!

                                                                                                          ~ diane fergurson

Orange Breaking Through

MBS: Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in art?

Heidi:  I have loved painting, drawing, and making things ever since I was young. When I was five, I remember sitting in a mudpuddle scooping up the velvety warm muck and splattering it all over myself. There was something about the tactile, hands on, messy experience that has always given me great pleasure. Even now, at age 56, I have the same eurphoric feeling when I am pouring and splattering paint over my canvas.

I grew up in Vernon British Columbia. My mom was an artist and was always drawing or painting. Our house was filled with beautiful paintings that she had brought over from Denmark. These paintings had a profound effect on me, though at the time I didn't realize it. I remember gazing at them a lot. When I was ten, we travelled to Europe and visited the Louvre and other museums. My mom was also interested in meditation and yoga, and took us to stay at ashrams. I grew up surrounded by books on Eastern philosophy, religion, and art. All of these things in my childhood influenced me, but I never believed that I could become an artist. My father strongly suggested that I find a more sensible trade. However, as soon as I moved away from my family and lived alone in Europe, I started to pursue my passion for art.

I attended the University of Art and Design in Zurich for four years, and became a professional photographer. But even though I loved photography, I knew that I wanted to be a painter. Choosing to study painting was always a struggle. I was brought up to believe that artists couldn't survive - that it was a unrealistic dream. But my passion was too strong; I couldn't help myself.  After graduating from the school in Zurich, I studied painting at art colleges in Nurnberg and Budapest. I was in Europe for almost nine years; seven of these were spent attending art schools and being an apprentice for a German artist.

When I returned to Vernon in 1982, I set up a photography, publishing, and painting studio. I married Ted, a guitar maker, and we had one daughter. We are still together after 30 years. At some point, I went back to university to become a teacher.  However, I have stopped doing photography and I rarely teach. All I want to do is paint. I live in Vernon and paint full time. Now and again, I create books. Recently, I have written and published Calm Focus Joy, a book about breath awareness and helping children focus better.

MBS:  That sounds wonderful, to be able to study art in Switzerland.  What is the one big thing that  you took away from that experience?

Heidi: There was one significant experience which continues to affect my paintings today. I was attending first year art studies. We were given a technical assignment to shade a 3" x 4" rectangle using a sharp 3B pencil. The shaded area was to be perfectly even with no lighter or darker areas. It took several days to finish. Whenever I thought I was done, my professor saw some discrepancies which I had to correct. It seemed an impossible task and at times I questioned this "Swiss" perfectionism. However, while focusing on the work and the shading, I experienced profound, almost visionary insights. At night, I began writing about the meaning of grey and how it symbolizes life. By focusing exclusively on one small patch of grey, new dimensions of its reality revealed itself to me. Today, many of my paintings resemble monochromatic rectangles with evenly distributed fields of color. I am still applying the same meditative and focusing principals that I learned in my first year of art school.
Eternal Optimism

MBS:  You also mentioned that during your time in Europe you were an apprentice for a German artist. What type of artist - and what was it like working as an apprentice?  An apprentice is usually quite different then working as a studio assistant, which many artists have spent time doing as well.

Heidi:  After earning my Swiss photography degree in 1979, I still wanted to be a painter. I met Nurnberg artist, Oskar Kollar, who was well-known for his minimalistic abstractions of landscapes and flowers. He was prolific and sold his work all over the world. He invited me to live with his family, and in repayment for food and rent, I would work half days in his studio doing jobs like stretching canvas, cutting matts, framing, operating the printing press, cleaning, and shipping paintings. I would also help to hang exhibitions, both in galleries and in his home.

In the mornings I worked alongside Oskar and then, for the rest of the day, I went to cafes and bars to draw and paint people. He offered weekly critique, and this helped enormously with my drawing. His focus was always on a work's composition. He believed that every artist evolves a personal composition - his or her unique way of seeing the world. You could distinguish a Picasso from a Monet through their painting's composition. He explained that composition is all about how space, line, and color interrelate; it is through this relationship that the artist expresses feelings, ideas, and personal truths. While I was doing my "apprenticeship", Oskar also helped me to prepare my art portfolio. In 1980, I was accepted into the Nurnberg Art Academy, which I attended for one year before going to the University of Art in Budapest.

The most important lesson that I learned from Oskar was that if you wanted to be a painter, you had to paint. This was his motto. This meant making a decision to be a painter and then struggling through years of not being recognized or paid. Oskar showed me that it was possible to be an artist. He was in his mid-fifties and was financially successful, raised two children, and had a beautiful home. He also warned me that not all artists can sell their work - some do and some do not. However, this shouldn't make a difference to one's commitment to the path.

MBS:  After reading your last answer, I can't help but think about what a totally different attitude that is - that a person should expect to paint for years and struggle to make it as an artist - if they do at all.  Sure a person needs to support themselves, but it seems like in the American culture, and probably Canadian, there is such an attitude of entitlement and immediate success.  For many people they don't even bother making art unless they can 'sell' it, and then it's substandard and mass media driven.  And then, like you also mentioned, you have to put in the work, hard consistent work.  Any thoughts?

Heidi:  Artists may feel entitled when they hear about other artists selling work for big bucks. But the reality is that there are more artists today than ever before in history. Overabundance makes art redundant. Everyone has a camera; everyone is an artist. As well, art became a profitable investment, escalating prices to incredulous heights. So the poor artist, like dreaming of becoming a rock star, wants to become the next Damian Hirst. And why not? It is obvious that you don’t need your masters in art or talent to make art. Because anything goes when it comes to art, people may see art-making as a way to strike it rich. Well, for me, these dreams may have crossed my mind in my younger years, but experience has shown me that you need to create what makes you happy, find a balance in life so you can stay healthy, and be grateful for those occasional sales that give you the validation every artist needs.  

Blue Light Breaking Through
I actually enjoy that there are no guarantees. Art remains a mystery. Success (and whatever success means to an individual) depends on accidents, luck, connections, economy, and other uncontrollable and unforeseeable factors. Because there are no guarantees, the struggle to survive as an artist continues even today. I think that the hardest struggle is staying committed to one’s unique vision. Artists often have an extraordinary way of seeing things. Sharing these insights with others becomes an important “duty” or calling. Again, even when artists pursue their vision, there is no guarantee that he or she will be understood or appreciated. Nevertheless, there is something noble and worthy in the struggle to stay true to one's vision, despite financial hardships. Many of our most influential artists sacrificed comfort and security to bring into the world art that changed how we see, feel, and understand. Their artistic struggle may or may not have “paid off”, but most of us are grateful for their contributions.
MBS: Several months ago when I was going over the background information for your book Calm Focus Joy, I remember reading about the long practice history you have with Buddhist Meditation.  Spirituality is obviously a very important aspect of your life and is  reflected through the artwork you create and the writing that you do.  What insights do you have about spirituality and your artwork?

Heidi:  I have been practicing Vipassana since 1982, which is a meditation technique rediscovered and taught by Buddha. Buddhists practice forms of Vipassana, but I am not a Buddhist. Vipassana is a universal, non-religious technique used by people with different beliefs and religious backgrounds. Vipassana, as it is currently taught at 10-day silent retreats under the instruction of S.N. Goenka, requires students to do breath awareness or Anapana (observing sensations of the breath) for three days, and then Vipassana (observing sensations in the body) for the final seven days.

Over the past 30 years, my Vipassana experience has not only positively influenced my health and relationships, it has influenced how and what I paint. My early artwork was shaped by old European tradition and expressed what I percieved the human condition to be. My drawings, paintings, and photographs were of people. They were dark, depressing, and expressed universal suffering. This is how I saw and experienced the world in my twenties. It is possible, though, that these disturbing images may have been expressing my confused state-of-mind and psychological struggle that came from living alone, dealing with my past, and trying to find myself.

My current work, in contrast, expresses my inner physiological condition and a more uplifted state-of-mind. Meditation training has enabled me to turn my attention away from my intellectual, agonizing thoughts, and calmly focus on bodily sensations. Focusing on sensation actually changes my state of mind and lets me experience an amazing, peaceful, and energizing dimension of myself. Meditating has helped me to experience who and what I really am - a vibrational field of perpetually moving sub-atomical particles. The more I experience this reality, the more my paintings mirror what I am discovering. My paintings, at least to me, express my perpetual, vibrational, changing, sensational truth of who I am.  

MBS:  What is a typical work day like for you?  Do you work on your artwork everyday?

Heidi:  I love daily routines, but interruptions and unexpected challenges seem to outweigh any schedule. On a fruitful day, I wake at five and meditate for about an hour. At six, my husband, Ted and I have breakfast, planning to get lots done. But we end up in lengthy discussions about family, problems in our work, health, future plans, dreams, and figuring out what the purpose of life is. This takes at least two hours. We are both in our mid-fifties, and "purpose" seems to be a major topic. I always plan to paint, so if all goes well, I go to my studio, which is in a separate building overlooking a beautiful wild field with deer, bears, owls, and coyotes. Recently, I almost bumped into a growling bear. Once I start painting, I spend most of the day working. While waiting for my paintings to dry or if I finish one, Ted and I go on a walk, hike, swim, or bike ride. We live out in the country, so we are surrounded by nature. On many days, I get distracted from painting. I end up either working on my book, which involves interviews, responding to emails, or going to Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills. I also give the occasional workshop. In the evening, we eat a great vegetarian dinner (I like cooking), and we sit around and continue discussing. Even if I had no interruptions, I couldn't paint everyday. I am motivated by inspiration, which only comes in waves. It is difficult to find the energy to paint if I do not have a goal. So I am constantly creating goals for myself.    

Orange Red Yellow
MBS:  Are there any particular materials or format you prefer to work with?

Heidi:  I enjoy working on larger paintings up to 66 x 90 inches. After stretching the canvas, I prime it with gesso. Then I create a textured surface using a thick mixture of silica sand and gesso. I splatter this mixture evenly over the whole canvas. Once this rough surface dries, I prime it again. I begin my painting with flowing colors; maybe dark Prussian to light turquoises. I use acrylic paint because it doesn't smell bad, it dries quickly, and it lets me spontaneously repaint a canvas several times - sometimes seven to eight layers.

Depending on my mood, I use one of two techniques. My first, more random and accidental approach, involves applying layers of color. I will let the paint dribble, flow, and do its thing. I ususally tip, tilt, or turn my canvas around to change the direction of paint. This often creates patterns or stripes, which show through later. I dry sections of these colors and patterns. Then, with a garden hose, I wash away sections that aren't quite dry.  I may scrub the drier paint surface if I want more underlayers to show through. I call this method the "patina" approach. I am inspired by weathered surfaces and simulate the weathering process using sun, wind, and water, and friction. For me, the remaining scrubbed, washed away surfaces expresses change, process, transition, and the impermanence of matter.

The other technique is called "splattering". Although this sounds random, it is more controlled than the previous approach. It is a highly controlled spattering, which allows me to build up surfaces without any accidents.  I use a 1 inch fan brush and a stick. I load the brush with paint and then tap it lightly on the stick. The paint flicks onto the canvas creating beautiful delicate splattery lines. I was inspired by Jackson Pollock, but I prefer not pouring the paint or using heavy, large lines. I prefer the delicate look. I build up layers of color allowing space between the lines. I often create a dark, almost black edge. This edge somehow encloses the the random chaos and reminds me of my own body. Inside my body is subtle, delicate movement, sensations, and transformation. But my physical body seems to confine this randomness. I feel the same about the dark boarders enclosing the color energy field. If you stand close to the painting, you would see that the weave comprises subtle complementary colors. For me, monochromatic paintings need to incorporate all three primary colors, yellow, blue and red, to emit a natural, healthy energy. This may have something to do with the fact that we need white light to be healthy. White light is made up of primary colors. When I am successful, these meditative, one color paintings express my experience of inner vibration, dissolving separation, unity, and peacefulness.

MBS: You are also a writer.  How do you see your writing as an extension of your creative process?  Also, how do you effectively manage your time to do both?

Heidi:  I have met many artists who also express themselves with words. Although we artists are predominately visual people, we are also philosophers and thinkers. When we feel that there is something important to be said that can't be done with painting or artwork, we artists may try writing. Some are really good at it. I am not skilled and have struggled to become more clear and concise. I felt compelled to write my book, Calm Focus Joy: The Power of Breath Awareness, because I wanted to share this amazingly helpful technique with others, especially children. I see a great need in the world to help educate children. They need to learn ways to gain more confidence, self-knowledge, and calmness. Schools aren't teaching these skills. Over the years, I have conducted breath awareness workshops with children and have seen positive results. To see children learn how to focus, calm down, and tap into their inner worlds was very rewarding. It seemed to be more purposeful than painting. So, at times I was dedicated only to helping children. However, when ever I let too much time pass without painting. It has been a juggling act with between spending time writing or painting. Luckily life is long, our children are independent, and I do have time to both write and paint.

MBS:  What advice do you have to anyone who wishes to (seriously) pursue an 
artistic path?

Heidi:  There are countless ways to pursue one's artistic passion. Many successful artists would suggest unique and non-conventional routes to achieving your artistic goal.

I had the opportunity to ask one of America's iconic painters, Robert Ryman, the same question when I was a student in Zurich. He told me that he never went to art school and learned everything about art while working as a watch guard at a public art museum. He spent his days studying the paintings of masters and thinking that he could do that too. Ultimately, a person's passion, talent, drive, and ambition will determine whether or not they will succeed at becoming an artist.

My path was more traditional. I would recommend a traditional path for serious young artists who are wanting advice. I went to art European art academies and earned a degree. I also spent a lot of time in historical and contemporary art museums. I worked hard and drew almost every day, When I wasn't drawing, I was reading about art, especially writings written by artists. I was serious about my passion and tried to get the best education I could.

My advice for any one who is just starting out would be to attend an art foundation course in a reputable school. Most art colleges offer such programs. Foundation studies teach a variety of skills giving students the important opportunity to explore different areas of art-making. Usually, the focus of these programs is to develop drawing and observation skills, which I still believe, are essential for artists. Drawing the human figure and face may be one of the best ways to learn.

Foundation courses also offer things like color theory, silk-screening, jewelry, pottery, photography, film, painting, sculpture, 3-design, graphics, web design, and art history. As well, there are usually classes that develop critical thinking, writing, and a deeper understanding of art and humanity. The best thing about going to art school is the experience allows you to become immersed in art. With the support of teachers and peers, you can dive into the wonderful world of creative life without thinking too much about the practicality of life. For this reason alone, I would recommend going to art school for several years.

Many students, after one year of foundation studies, quit and pursue a more adventurous path. These paths are perfectly valid. They include traveling, learning new languages, having a family, painting, or even working at mundane jobs. Art is about expressing life, and all things we do in life become material for our art. 

I knew of a young artist from Toronto who was bored with art school, quit after a year, and started painting hundreds of pieces to sell on Ebay for $25.00. As he sold them, he gradually increased their prices.  He made a lot of money, and could afford doing his more "serious" work. A gallery was intrigued with his unique approach to painting and picked him up. Through this high-end gallery, he sold his serious paintings for around $100,000.

An art student of mine went on to get her BFA degree. She then combined her dance and gymnastic skills with painting. Now at age 25, she is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity doing her high acrobatic art painting stunts. As you can see, success comes to those who are creative. The safe and traditional confines of a regulated art academy can never guarantee an artist's success. However, a serious education and even getting an art degree has benefits.

Provided a young student stays true to his or her vision while at school, there are advantages to earning an art degree. Not only do these degrees help you get recognized as an expert in your field, they show future employers, galleries, and art collectors that you have invested time and  money into yourself as an artist. If you have taken yourself seriously and learned your craft well, they will be more confident to invest their money and time in you.

Heidi with Cerulean Blue and Orange Yellow Energy
As well, teaching art, whether privately or at a school, is a viable means to earn a living. Throughout history, many famous artists taught art to support their art careers. Therefore, having a degree, will help you be seen as a more qualified teacher. To teach at college level, you will be required to have at least a BFA, though most colleges now require a Masters. 

Artists do not always do art, but can be employed in many areas of our society. Having a few years of education under the belt, and even a degree or two, makes life easier.

To sum up my advice for the serious young artist I would say:

Take your art education seriously and attend at least a one-year foundation course.
Learn how to draw and observe. Study some art history.
Choose a preferred field of art and learn everything you can. Become the expert.
If possible, earn a degree.
Go to galleries and museums, learn from the masters, and read artists' writings.
Copy other people's work to learn, but never loose your unique vision.
Find a mentor who will give you feedback and support.
Visit artists in their studios and ask questions. (It's not about you)
Work hard, discover your vision, and be creative when it comes to practical survival.
Never lose your integrity for the sake of art.
Don't sell your soul. 

~Thank you Heidi.  Wise words...

You can find out more about Heidi, her artwork and her book through the following links:

Links to other interviews in the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gemstones of the Zodiac Part 6: Agate

Welcome to Part 6 of our “Gemstones of the Zodiac” series.

The sixth sign of the Zodiac is Virgo (August 22 - September 21).  The Mystical Zodiac stone for Virgo is Agate.

Agate is a member of the chalcedony family.  Most chalcedony is one color, but agates are banded or layered.  These layers are formed by ground waters carrying sediment and depositing them on top of existing layers.

The name “agate” is derived from the Greek word for the river Achates in Sicily, the first place that agate was found in large amounts.

Early History/Mythology

The Sumerians held agate in the highest regard.  They used the stone in signet rings, seals, and in jewelry.  Legend has it that Mithridates, the King of Pontus, has a collection of over two thousand bowls made of agate (some legends have the number as high as four thousand). 

The Byzantine Empire and European royalty during the Renaissance were also huge collectors, as museum exhibits in Europe can attest.  Persians and Arabs often used the stones for rings, and would carve their names into the stone, as well as verses from the Koran.

Physical Properties

In terms of physical properties, agate is primarily used for strength, wellness and balance. 

For strength, it was used on the breastplate of armor for soldiers to help protect them during battle. 

For wellness, in ancient times, it was boiled in water, and then the water was consumed, to help relieve symptoms of illness. 

For balance, agates help keep your yin and yang in harmony.  This is also why agates are believed to be good for strengthening relationships, because they can balance the yin/yang in your relationships as well.  It is also looked to for improving your ability to sleep and have pleasant dreams.  As such, it would be a great stone for using in dreamcatchers or keeping on your nightstand.

Emotional Properties

Agate is said to be a strong emotional healer, allowing on to discern truths and accept circumstances.   It is believed to improve your memory and concentration, as well as encourage honesty.

It’s a wonderfully grounding stone, allowing you to see inside, boost your self-confidence, allay your fears and give you a stronger center from which to operate.

As part of its ability to balance and harmonize, you can use it to cleanse your aura and release negative energy.

Agate is a great stone for artists because it is also used for strengthening ones intellect as well as enhancing creativity.

If using for chakra work, agates can work on any of the chakras.  If you want to focus your chakra work more, you can choose a colored agate that matches the color of the chakra you are dealing with.

Types of Agate

The photo at the top of this article shows you but a few of the many types of agate.  So you can know them all by name, here is identifying information

1 - Madagascar Agate
2 - Asia Agate
3 - Moss Agate
4 - India Black Skin
5 - Plume Agate
6 - Blue Lace Agate
7 - Banded Agate
8 - Plume Agate
9 - Montana Agate
10 - Red Agate
11 - Crazy Lace Agate
12 - Crazy Lace Agate
13 - Argentina Agate
14 - Montana Agate
15 - Dry Head Agate
16 - Mexican Lace Agate
17 - Laguna Agate
18 - Banded Agate
19 - Graveyard Point Agate

Agate Jewelry

Agate has so many types, in so many colors, that it can make a wide variety of wonderful jewelry.  Some examples are:

 Tiger Agate
Orange Agate

Crackle Agate

This is where agate is heated to the point where banding forms inside.  Although it is called crackle agate, it is still just as sturdy as any regular agate.  The crackle effect does not affect the durability or strength at all 

Cleanse and Purify Your Stones

For information on how to cleanse your stones, see this article by Diane Fergurson, published recently on Mind Body Spirit Odyssey.

~  ~  ~

You can read Giani's Tarot reviews in the Review section of this blog.
This is the sixth article in this wonderful series, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more
 in the upcoming months!  I thank Giani
 for his wonderful continued contributions to Mind Body Spirit Odyssey. 

The beautiful jewelry pictured above can be found in Giani's shop on CraftStar.
 ~ diane

Series Article Part 1 - Opals 
Series Article Part 2 - Sapphire
Series Article 3 - Amethyst
Series Article 4 - Moonstone
Series Article 5 - Diamonds

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Lovingkindness Blessing

Lovingkindness (metta) is an ancient practice, though it's as valuable today as ever. More love in your own life, and the lives of others, will always have positive effects. Not only will you benefit from this practice, so will all recipients of the blessing, and yes, even the world. 

Lovingkindness Blessing by Karen Casey-Smith

The Lovingkindness Blessing presented here is only one version of this beautiful traditional blessing. It's to be said with feeling, from your heart, and very importantly, without expectation. It has to come from a sincere desire for the well-being and happiness of others.

Begin to practice lovingkindness, and directly experience the benefits. Observe how things shift in positive ways with this powerful practice. They cannot help but shift. As you offer peace, love, and good wishes, your feeling toward others changes. Without your doing anything other than offering blessings, those around you will also change in how they relate to you. Don’t attempt to send a blessing in order to get someone to change though. That won't work. The blessing must come from your heart, with no expectations, only a sincere wish for their happiness.

Peace on the outside begins with peace on the inside. This is why it's important that you begin your practice by saying this blessing for yourself. As the Dalai Lama says, We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. 

You can’t do blessings for yourself, and not have your life change for the better, and you cannot send a blessing to another being and maintain any unkind feeling toward them, or about them. As you are filled with a deep peace, and love that asks nothing in return, you begin to notice that everyone around you is more comfortable, and happier. How you are is that important. 

Next, you can send blessings for those close to you. After that you can begin to send them for neutral people, which would be someone you’re often in contact with, but you don’t have strong feelings about. When you're comfortable with this, you can move on to difficult people, blessing all of the above equally. Now you’re ready to send blessings to the entire universe.

It wouldn't be unusual to find yourself resistant to sending blessings to difficult people. Give yourself time. Remember, you aren't blessing their behavior, or their actions. These blessings are not about being deserving. All beings wish to be happy, healed, and free from pain. Don't you imagine these difficult people would have very different actions if they were at peace, had open hearts, had realized the beauty of their true nature, were healed, and a source of healing? In time, I believe, this is something you could sincerely wish for everyone.


Lovingkindness Blessing 

May my heart remain open.

May I realize the beauty of my own true nature.

May I be healed.

May I be a source of healing for this world.
 ~~~~~~~Black heart (cards)~~~~~~~

May you be at peace.

May your heart remain open.

May you realize the beauty of your own true nature.

May you be healed.

May you be a source of healing for this world.

Some benefits of practicing Lovingkindness include: 
  • peace of mind and sense of well-being
  • sleeping easily and waking happily
  • not suffering from bad dreams
  • good health
  • easy concentration
  • radiant complexion
  • antidote to ill will
  • people around you are more comfortable and happy
  • you contribute to a world of love, peace, and happiness
  • dear to humans and non-humans (affection and good will of all)
  • devas protect
  • one dies unperturbed

Long ago appreciated by the ancients, the benefits of this practice are increasingly being recognized by present day researchers.

Using one of my photographs of the sweetest fern “heart,” I’ve designed prints with the Lovingkindness Blessing on them. It's a nice reminder for me to say it each day, and I thought that others might enjoy them too. There’s a 5×7 version, and a 12×9 version. Keep one near as a reminder, or they can be given as gifts.

Best of all, simply offer this blessing from your heart, and know that you too are blessed.

 Black heart (cards) Karen Casey-Smith

I'd like to thank Karen Casey-Smith for sharing her beautiful Lovingkindness Blessing with the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey.  I recently purchased a copy of this beautiful, gentle loving reminder for my studio.  It's definitely something we should all keep in mind.
                                                                                                                     ~ diane

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Mind Body Spirit DVD Review : Qi Gong-Discover The Ancient Art and Tai Chi-Discover the Ancient Art, Featuring Master Jian Liu Jun

The Mind Body Spirit Odyssey is very pleased to have the opportunity to review two excellent new DVD's that True Mind is releasing this month from Master Jian Liu Jun, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Professor of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Guangzhou University.  Master Jain's career is long and highly respected.  His credentials are extensive.  Master Jain is the Vice President of the Guangzhou Shaolin Qi Gong Association  and represents the Center of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan at Chenjiagou in Europe.  In addition, he is also the Head of the European branch of the International Da Cheng Quan Association.

Qigong - Discover the Ancient Art is a two disc guide to learning and understanding the basic techniques associated with the 4,000 year old Chinese practice of breath alignment, movement and energy awareness that is used for healing and meditation.  Qi Gong is also practiced as a form of preventative medicine and is an effective method for self discovery and understanding. Rooted in Taoist philosophy, it is not only widely practiced in China but worldwide.  It has, however, only recently started to gain any kind of momentum and popularity within the United States.

As explained in the DVD's there are five different types of Qi Gong practices and studies.  Taoist, Buddhist, Confucianist, Martial Art and Medical.  This DVD covers Taoist style, with some Buddhist practices included. Besides an outstanding introduction to the Qi Gong practice tradition, it's historical roots and philosophy in Traditional Chinese Medicine; the DVD gives a very detailed explanation and demonstration of the 18 Tai Chi Qi Gong Exercises, the 8 Pieces of the Brocade and the 5 Animals. 

In Tai Chi - Discover the Ancient Art, Master Jain focuses on Spiral Movements, which form the basis of all Tai Chi Chuan. He focuses on these movements as he teaches and fully explains the Yin Ying, Yin and Yang, the Five Elements and the Eight Trigrams.  He also demonstrates Spiral Movements and the Figure 8.  Although Tai Chi and Qigong developed from from the root and Tai Chi is often referred to as a form of 'meditation in motion' by it's deceptively soft style, the primary difference between the two practices is Tai Chi is a martial art.  This is very evident if you watch both DVD's and note the similarities and differences between the two.

Both the Tai Chi and Qi Gong DVDs were filmed at the Garden of the Bronzes at the Coubertin Foundation in Saint-Remy les Chevreuse, France.  The setting is just stunning.

I have viewed numerous Qi Gong DVD's over the years, both out of curiosity and also as an addendum to my own continuing studies.  I can honestly say that I found Master Jian's detailed instruction and presentation of the information relating to Qigong, it's philosophy, roots and connection to Traditional Chinese Medicine to stand head and shoulders above the rest.  The presentation of the information is easy to understand, but the content is also very thorough and it does not cut corners.  I also appreciated some of the more subtle aspects of the production.  As a true "master" would, Master Jian is not glamorized or presented as the "star" of the production, but rather in a more background role.  The DVD is edited so that the shots rotate between Master Jian and an additional instructor, Akli Hammadi, a well seasoned instructor who serves as a federal monitor for the Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong Federation.  There are also beautiful shots of Hammadi's class being conducted at the Sculpture Park in France, and visual references to illustrations of the anatomy and meridians as each movement is demonstrated.  A British woman with a very pleasant, lovely voice is the narrator for the DVD, which provides the perfect balancing Yin energy to balance the presentation.

The Tai Chi DVD follows a similar format, although there is one disc instead of two.  The narration is provided by different British female whose speaking voice, although more intense and sharp, once again complements the martial energy which is inherent to the Tai Chi tradition.  The instruction of the movements is once again very detailed, but easy to understand and follow.

Although Qi Gong is slowly becoming more widely practiced and studied within the United States, in most locations proper instruction and traditional education is still very difficult to find.  To a lesser extent, this is true of Tai Chi Chaun too.  Both of these DVD's provide a very much needed, more thorough education and instruction to both traditions.  Whether you are currently practicing and studying Qi Gong and/or Tai Chi Chaun, or have an interest in just learning more about them, I would highly recommend obtaining a copy of these DVDs.  They will both be available on Amazon beginning August 14.

~ diane fergurson, Editor

DVD links:
Tai Chi - Discover the Ancient Art 

Qi Gong - Discover the Ancient Art

You may also enjoy reading some of the articles and interviews that we have conducted about Qi Qigong and healing over the last few years -

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Importance of Being

Black Eyed Susan Photo by Karen Casey-Smith

The Importance of Being
By Miriam Moran Shankman

I spoke in class today about the importance of being. We call ourselves Human Being, yet, looking around (and within) I mostly notice Doing.

I spoke about the three forms of meditation we practice in Chi Kung:

1. Moving meditation
2. Standing Meditation
3. Sitting Meditation

Moving meditation, why?

Because the opposite of movement is death. Living things have a movement flow within them. In death the flow within the body stops. We move to create, encourage, assist, direct and regulate movement and flow within our body. That flow nourishes and maintains the cells in our body. The flow also establishes our body as a whole. All parts, all cells are connecting, relating, exchanging, supporting and by doing so being one.

Standing meditation, why?

A long, strong, and some say, the most powerful tradition of standing meditation is in the practice of Chi Kung, Standing Meditation enhances us with strength by breaking the illusion of separation and allowing a connection to our surrounding, to nature, to the universe, and to its flow. Standing meditation is the cultivation of being one with all (or, being the one.)

Sitting meditation, why?

Sitting meditation so we can Be. In sitting meditation we do nothing. Nothing at all.

Think of a cup: What is required of a cup? To hold water. What does a cup need in order to hold water?

Two things:
1. Shaped material. That is the material world. That is the Doing.
2. Empty space. That is the non material. That is the being.

As the cup so am I. Needing the material. Needing the open space. Needing a good balance between the two. In daily practice of sitting meditation. I gently settle and quiet the material. I sit in the emptiness.

As we are now experiencing the heat of summer, sitting meditation makes good sense. A short gentle moving Chi Kung followed by sitting in emptiness. Conserving energy, and not over doing.

Miriam Moran Shankman  is a practitioner and instructor of Tai Chi and Chi Kung in the New York, Tri-State area.
If you would like to contact her, you can visit her website at:
or drop her an email at:

Black Eyed Susan Photo courtesy of photographer Karen Casey-Smith.  Prints are available through her shop on Etsy.

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