When people ask me how I started on this path to health, I reply by saying, "Yoga saved my life" and then I talk about how I finally connected with Yoga. While Yoga did save my life, it's not the first thing that got me on the path to wellness. I learned how to properly breathe way before I met up with Yoga .
The year was 1995...it was early in the year. It wasn't quite Spring yet but Winter was definitely over. To put it plainly, I was a serious pothead then. I also loved Kung Fu Movies. Watching the "Drive In Movies" on Channel 5 in Brooklyn was my Kung Fu fix...but I never even took a karate class.
So back to 1995, I was hanging out with my friends one day, smoking (which was the usual back then), when one of my friends started talking about Kung Fu. I mentioned that I loooved Kung Fu movies and how much I always wanted to learn Tai Chi (by this time, I was a huge Jet Li fan...my favorite movie then was called the " Tai Chi Master"...so I was really open to what my friend had to say). My friend then said to me, "want to learn some Kung Fu right now?"
All of us...all 12 of us, immediately perked up. Our excitement seemed to come to a near boil in almost seconds as we all said a resounding "yes", like we were in the Pothead Church Choir. He told us to sit down and listen well.
Now that I look back, I realize that as soon as he said that, I calmed my body. My back became straighter. My shoulders relaxed. My chest, slightly elevated and I could feel my breath. I couldn't control what I didn't know about but I can safely say that I did notice something had changed. The air, maybe?
When everyone else sat down, I also noticed that he looked at me the most when speaking. I didn't think much of it back then, I just chalked it up to me starting the convo leading to this so I seemed the most eager to learn. I didn't know what I was going to feel. Tell you the truth, I didn't expect to feel anything. I thought it was all going to be BS.
He told us to fix our legs. "Do not cross them. Let them spread hip distance apart. Don't let your knees fall too far in or too far out. Let your hips control your legs. Sit up straight." The others already started to feel bored. The looks on their faces was a dead giveaway to what was to come. I gave them a look that calmed them down...at least long enough for me to see what was really good.
"Bring your palms together." We all did it at the same time (maybe you should try this too ). "Now rub your palms until they become really hot. When they feel hot, rub them some more. When they are super hot, just separate your hands and watch what happens."
I rubbed my hands really hard. They started to burn when I separated them. I took a huge breath in and when I exhaled, my hands moved! I felt...a charge...it was a little electric almost. I took a huge breath in and my hands came closer. When I exhaled again, my hands separated further! I had no control over my hands what so ever but they still moved. I realized that with every breath, my hands moved further and further apart. What felt like a straight stream of energy now felt like an arch. As my hands opened up and towards the sky, it was as if I felt a rainbow in my hands.
And then it left. (don't forget to click the "Read More" link at the bottom of this post to continue)
I looked up at the sky as if I could actually see this feeling float away. I didn't see anything. I looked around at my friends. They were amazed at what they were feeling. Some of them were dismayed because they didn't feel it for too long. A few (only 2) didn't feel anything at all. I wasn't the only one who had my experience. There were 3 of us who did and we were straight buggin out!!
I asked my friend what kind of Kung Fu that was. He smiled and then laughed. All he needed was long hair and a flowing beard and he would have been able to call me "grasshopper" and I would call him "Sifu" (Chinese for "Master"). He told me to sit down again. What he told me after this would be the catalyst to changing my life forever:
What you felt was not Kung Fu, persay. What you felt was Chi. The essence of Kung Fu. The essence of Life. You have heard of Chi from the Kung Fu movies but have you ever felt it? (I nodded my head yes...I never felt it in my hands like that but I have felt it before). If you cannot feel your chi, then there is no reason for you to learn Kung Fu. None whatsoever.
I want you to start reading books on Chi. Chi is the life essence, your spirit, your soul. It is a part of the universal soul. There are many names for it. Chi is air but Air is not Chi. Get a book and read it. Then come back to me when you are done and tell me what you have learned.
The first book I purchased is called "The Essence of Tai Chi." With this book, I learned many things. The most important was how to breathe.
Before understanding the concept of breath, I wanted to know exactly what Tai Chi is. The name Tai Chi means "the ultimate" (pg. 6). But the ultimate what? Reading the book further, I came to understand that Tai Chi was regarded as the ultimate "art" - whether it was martial art, a healing art, or a spiritual art.
According to Tai Chi principles, which come from the book the T'ai Chi Bible, there are three forms of chi - all which come from the breath and can be manifested, grown, and maintained with the breath - chi, jung, and shen.
Chi is similar to prana (the term for "breath" and "lifeforce" in Sanskrit) in that it is considered that Chi is everywhere. According to The Essence of Tai Chi (pg. 33), "ch'i is...commonly known as the nature of things." "According to Tai Chi theory, the correct meaning of chi is..."internal energy." (pg. 34)
Jing is the power that is generated by chi.(pg. 35) Li is the physical strength resulting from body movement. (pg. 36) I understand how the terms work but want to explain it to you in the best way possible. So let me explain it this way:
If you strike a punch, the force that is released is a result of Li. However, if someone were to attack you and you were able to throw them on the ground with little physical force (or with your hand, like in the kung fu flicks), then that is Jing because you have the same power but without the physical strength.
Recently, I worked out at Embora Wellness and Movement Studio (which is no longer). I did a class with Emory Moore and he wanted us to do certain exercises that included martial arts and yoga techniques. As I was doing these exercises, I wasn't getting the full effect he was looking for. He explained to me that with Yoga, you keep the prana (or chi) inside. Everything stays inside. Martial Arts and Tai Chi is different because sooner than later, that chi needs to come out. You create the internal energy and let it out externally.
It was at that point, I realized that Emory was working with Chi, Li and Jing. However, I wanted something different.
I began to understand that I wanted to achieve shen, which means spirit. According to The Essence of Tai Chi, "when chi is purified, it elevates to shen." (pg. 35) Yoga Asana maybe similar to li and but at the end of the day, Yoga wants you to have shen - connection to your spirit, your true nature.
According to Tai Chi theory, meditation helps you to become aware of your chi (pg. 37) and condensed breathing helps to convert chi to jing (and yes, it's very similar to certain pranayama techniques - pg. 42).
Of course, I have more to talk about in regards to Tai Chi but I'll leave it here for now. Next time, I'll talk more about Tai Chi and its relation to Yoga. I'll also talk about certain Tai Chi practices you have to watch out for (especially in regards to breathing), how to increase your awareness of chi, and my experience with different Tai Chi forms.
Yeah, I know...it took me long enough to write this but better late than never!
So until next time....stay strong, stay healthy, and fight dis-ease!