Friday, December 24, 2010

What Are Tai Chi (Taiji) and Qigong?

Many people hear about tai chi in the news or may know a little bit about it. Less commonly, people may hear about qigong. However, people are often confused about how these terms are related to each other.

Qigong (pronounced chee gung)) is two words from the Chinese language. The word qi is often translated as “internal energy”, but this doesn’t really seem to be a very good translation. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it primarily refers to connecting different parts of our body. It also refers to communication where our mind, or intention, moves our bodies. Gong can be translated as exercises or work done on a regular basis. So qi gong can be used to mean “exercises that enhance our vital energy and connectedness”.

There are thousands of qigong exercises for everything from curing illnesses to preventive medicine. Any qigong exercises can be put together in any order to accomplish the health goal. A simple qigong exercise set can be learned in a single class, although a detailed understanding of qigong can take years of study.

Tai chi has roots in the Chinese martial arts. In the West today, it is almost always used for its health and wellness benefits. Tai chi consists of a sequence of graceful, flowing movements always done in the same order. Tai chi incorporates many elements of qigong as part of the long-term practice. Tai chi can take weeks to months to learn a short set and can take a lifetime to master.

There are several parts to tai chi (taiji)/qigong. The first part is the external aspects consisting of the physical movements of a form or an exercise. This is just the tip of the iceberg. After the physical movements are learned, you can start working on turning your movements into slow, graceful, continuous movements, where you move against a gentle force. While learning, it is important to focus on shifting your weight and maintaining an upright posture. Eventually, you develop the ability to loosen your joints, use mindfulness in your movements, and direct your qi throughout your body. The essential concepts are developed as the form is learned and refined as your practice continues.

Tai chi and qigong have been studied by western doctors and scientists and shown to be effective in promoting health and wellness.

© 2011 Eric Borreson

Sunday, December 19, 2010


After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. “There,” he said to the old man, “see if you can match that!”

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. “Now it is your turn,” he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.

Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.

“You have much skill with your bow,” the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, “but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot.”

There are many ways to look at this parable. This simplest way is to simply say that the Zen master removed the braggart from his comfort zone in order to defeat him.

A deeper look at this parable can also tell us that it is as important to have a strong mind as it is to have a strong body. The point is not to hit the target. The point is to master your mind so that your mind is in control of your body.

There is saying, “The mind commands the body and the body obeys. The mind commands itself and finds resistance. —Saint Augustine (354-430) ” In addition, tai chi teaches us that “Yi leads Li”, or “intent leads external strength”. Both of these sayings talk about developing the mind and will.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, December 12, 2010

High Peaks and Low Valleys

Qigong is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are thousands of exercises and routines that have been used for centuries to promote wellness. I developed this Qigong for Health routine as a healthy and fun way to unwind after a busy day. The first four exercises build your energy. The next four exercises move your mind and body into the calming phase. Alternating between building energy and calming is called “high peaks and low valleys” and is intended to improve the flow of Qi through your body.

All exercises start in wu ji posture with your feet about hip’s distance apart. Relax your shoulders and let all the tension go. Stand with active knees to allow for slow, smooth movements. Use abdominal breathing to encourage deep breathing. This is where you expand your abdomen when inhaling and compress your abdomen when exhaling. Note: This is one of the routines I teach at the Heartland Spa.

1. Rainbow Dance – for stomach and for headaches
Step out into horse stance. Shift your weight to your right leg and lean to the left. Raise your left arm out to shoulder level and look at your left hand, inhaling. At the same time, raise your right hand and hold it above your head so that the palm faces the top of your head. Shift your weight to your left leg and lean to the right. Let your right hand swing down to shoulder height and look at it, exhaling. At the same time, raise your left hand and hold it above your head so the palm faces the top of your head.

2. Flying Wild Goose – for kidneys and legs
Inhale as you raise your arms out to your sides, level with your shoulders. Slowly drop your arms, step forward with the left foot and exhale. Repeat, stepping with the right foot. Continue with alternate stepping.

3. Rotating the Wheel in a Circle – for back strength
Step out into horse stance. Bend forward with your fingers pointing toward the floor and palms facing backward. Begin by swinging your arms to the left, allowing your right hand to cross in front of your body. As your arms begin to circle left and up, allow your hands to turn so that your palms face forward. After your hands have passed over your head and are descending to your right begin to bend forward from your waist. Keep your knees bent and don't move your feet. Allow your left hand to cross in front of your right. When your hands are pointing straight down, you should be fully bent forward. Repeat and alternate direction.

4. Marching While Bouncing the Ball – for strengthening legs, coordination, brain, and balance
Move your hands gently from your sides up to shoulder level in front in time with your legs. Begin with the right leg and hand and then alternate to the other side. Try to lift your leg to horizontal. Change up by using opposite hand and leg.

5. Rolling the Arms – for shoulder and neck flexibility and stress management
Step forward with your right leg and turn your body to the left. Raise your arms, palms up, to shoulder height, with right arm toward front and left arm back as you inhale. Look at your left hand as you bring it forward past your ear, then in front of your chest with the palm down as if holding a ball. At the same time, step back with your right leg, bring your right hand down and in, then in front of you with the palm up, turning your body back to center. Repeat to the right, looking at the right hand.

6. Alternate Punching – for strengthening legs and stress management
Step out to horse stance, bending your knees. Hold your hands in loose fists at your waist. Punch forward gently with one hand, rotating your fist so that your thumb faces down, exhaling. Bring your fist back, inhaling. Repeat on the other side.

7. Opening the Chest – for heart, lungs, and depression
Raise your arms to shoulder height in front and inhale. Turn your palms to face your chest. Open your arms out and slowly exhale. Bring your hands back together shoulder width apart with the palms facing one another and inhale. Turn your palms downward. Lower your hands to level with your waist. At the same time bend your knees and slowly exhale. Raise your arms back to shoulder height, straighten your legs, and inhale. Repeat.

8. Balancing Qi – for promoting qi flow and balancing
Bring your hands to the Dantien, palms up and fingers facing each other. Lift up your hands out and up to chest height while inhaling. Turn palms down, bend your knees slightly, and let your hands move in toward your chest and sink down to the Dantien while exhaling.

© 2010 Eric Borreson This exercise set is modified from the Shibashi Tai Chi Qigong routine.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What is OM-AUM?

By Dr. Jagdish P Dave

OM or AUM is the most sacred syllable in Hinduism. It is uttered at the beginning and end of a prayer or a mantra. AUM like the Swastika is seen in every Hindu temple and shrine. AUM is referred to in almost all Upanishads-Spiritual Books of Wisdom.

AUM consists of three phonemes A, U, and M. AUM represents the Hindu Trimurti or Trinity- A: Brahma representing the principle of creation, U: Vishnu, the principle of sustenance, M: Mahesh or Shiva-the principle of dissolution for further creation. AUM also represents the three Goddesses or forms of Shakti-energy associated with the Trimurti. AUM represents three Gunas, attributes: Sattvika-light, purity and serenity, Rajasika-activity, heat and fire, and Tamasik-dullness, darkness and ignorance. It also represents the three stages of existence: birth, life and death.

AUM symbolizes the manifestation of the formless Absolute Reality, Brahman, in form and sound. AUM symbolizes the oneness in the multiplicity of existence. AUM represents the triple appellation of the Brahman - that is beyond the beyond-beyond time, space and causation.

AUM is used as a mantra by itself. It is called Bija (seed) or Moola (root) mantra. AUM represents four states of consciousness: A-Jagruti (wakefulness), U-Swapna (dreaming), M-Sushupti (deep sleep) and Silence-Turiya-the Fourth (transcendental state of consciousness). When you pronounce AUM, say A as you begin to round up your mouth very slowly. You pronounce U when you begin bringing you lips closer and closer, and pronounce M when your mouth is completely closed.

When the sound is ended, listen to the silence, the soundless sound. This deep silence is felt in the seventh Chakra, the Crown Center, called Sahasrar in the Kundalini Yoga system. By meditating on AUM, one realizes the three inter -connected attributes of the Brahman-Sat-Truth, Chit-Pure Consciousness and Ananada-Bliss-Sacchidananada.

AUM is the Eternal Syllable, Pranava - the Primordial Sound;

AUM is pronounced in Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism in chanting and in Mantra Meditation. AUM is usually pronounced at the end of an invocation or benediction for Shanti or Peace. It is pronounced as AUM shantihi, shantihi, shantihi- let peace prevail locally, nationally and globally, for me, for you and for everyone.

reproduced with permission

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Windhorse – Lungta

Meditation is intended to make each of us a better person. To become a better person (to move forward), we must be brave, calm, and steady. In order to develop these qualities, we must learn how to harness our mind.

A common approach to harnessing our mind is by using our breath, or wind. Tibetan teaching talks of the windhorse, or lungta. Windhorse is the subtle energy, or air, within our body. It is the unlimited energy of goodness and awareness. When we have windhorse, our life moves forward. Regular meditation helps us to know our mind and learn how to harness it to accomplish our goals.

A focusing meditation is one type of meditation that we can use. We focus on our breath during meditation. When our mind wanders, we need to gather it up again and bring it back to the breath. With practice, our mind becomes stronger and our inner strength can come out as we begin to know our mind. As we start to learn our mind and its highs and lows, we begin to accept those highs and lows as part of ourselves. Our meditation becomes more peaceful as we worry less about things.

Part of meditating is learning to recognize wandering thoughts as they happen. With practice, we can quickly bring our focus back to the breath. There is no reason to feel bad about a wandering mind. Anyone that meditates knows that the mind will begin to wander again, no matter how much we practice. It just happens.

If we do not learn to manage our minds, self doubt starts to show up at some point in our lives. It starts to make sense to say and do negative things. This state of mind begins to accept violence and aggression as the way to get things done. We do not try patience or compassion because we have no practice using them. We have confidence in aggression.

We need windhorse to help us break out of this cycle. The enlightened qualities of the mind are available to those who look for them through meditation.

This article was based on an article in Shambhala Sun, September 2009.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Don’t Ask Me, Ask My Donkey!

I have written several times recently about Nasruden. Nasrudin is a character in many tales and parables. He lived in the Middle East many hundreds of years ago. Here is another story about Nasrudin.

Nasrudin was riding his donkey one day. The donkey was frightened by something and bolted. The donkey started running down the street as fast as it could.

Some of his countrymen watched with amusement. They called out to him, “Nasrudin, where are you going in such a hurry?”

"Don't ask me, ask my donkey!", Nasrudin shouted back to them.

Have you ever felt that your life was out of control? Has it seemed like things were flying past and you were being carried along with the current? Or in Nasrudin’s case, carried along with the donkey.

The first step in regaining control of your life is to step back and look at where your life has gotten out of balance. It all starts with taking time for reflection. Stop and think about what is really important. Make up a list of the top five or ten things that are important to you.

Take some time and talk about this list with the people who are important to you. Think about it for a few days. Make sure the list truly reflects your priorities. Then keep track of how you spend your time for a few weeks.

Compare your priority list with your log of how you spend your time. Do they match? If you are feeling that your life is spinning out of control, I would bet that your time is being spent on things that are not important to you. Now it’s time to take action.

What are you going to do about all the time wasters in your life? What are you going to do to learn how to spend your time on the important things in your life?

This is your chance to differentiate between what you want and what other people want of you. Time is your only asset in your quest for meaning in your life. If you allow it to happen, the parasites in your life will use up all your time. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do a favor for a friend, but the choice must be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Song (Sung) – Relax and Loosen

The most common translation is relax, but this is not sufficient to adequately describe the term. It can also be translated as loose, open, yielding, free, and responsive. It can refer to releasing all unnecessary muscular tension while maintaining structural alignment. This means loosening and stretching your muscles, releasing your tensions throughout your body, and opening your joints from within. This does not mean that you turn limp and soft. It means loose and prepared with no unnecessary tension.

Work on developing your Song by visualizing your joints loosening up as you move. When you stretch your joints, you are achieving Song and you are not tense. Your qi improves and you improve flexibility.

Wuji. Wuji is the posture of neutral. An important purpose of wuji is for posture awareness, where we allow ourselves to mentally scan our body, discovering our physical and mental needs and wants.

To learn how to stand with wuji posture, stand with your feet directly below the hip sockets so that your legs are vertical, your feet are parallel and with a very slight knee bend, and keep your body's weight evenly on your feet. Start from a military attention posture; chest out, shoulders back, stomach in, and lower back arched. Relax into wuji; let your shoulders relax down and slightly forward to allow chest to relax down; let your abdomen relax out; slightly tuck in your pelvis (imagine sitting down, but stopping after about 1”); and slightly push in your chin to avoid the tendency to let your head lean forward. This allows your body structure to support you instead of using your muscles.

Keep your body symmetrical with shoulders level and arms even. Let all your muscles release any unnecessary tension. Consciously open up all your joints. Being symmetrical (in alignment) means that your internal organs are in the proper place and your skeleton can do its job of supporting the body. This allows your body to function normally.

Find Your Qi. First, stand in wuji. Raise your hands in front of you. Hold the inside of your wrists near each other, about an inch or two apart but not touching. Slowly move your wrists past each other in a small circle without touching. Repeat about 10 or 15 times.

Second, hold your hands several inches apart with the palms facing each other. Slowly move your hands past each other in a small circle without touching. Repeat about 10 or 15 times. Many people start to feel a warmth or tingling while this is happening. This is your qi. Hold your hands near each other and slowly move them apart (open) and move them back towards each other (close). Inhale as you open and exhale as you close. Learn to manipulate the qi that you feel between your hands.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chen – Sinking the Qi to the Dan Tien

Chen means to sink. Chen refers to using your breathing to sink your qi to your dan tien. The dan tien is important to everything we do in tai chi. Chen enhances song and jing. During exhalation, your qi naturally sinks to the dan tien when the principles of tai chi are followed. When song and jing are achieved, the qi flows naturally.

Breathing is generally not taught to beginning tai chi students because they have a tendency to let the breathing become more important than the movement. Specifying breathing patterns during a form can impede your progress by creating tension. It can lead to an emphasis on the breathing at the expense of the essential principles of tai chi. It should be the opposite. Allow your body to breathe naturally. Use these guidelines to give some direction. There may be exceptions.

In general, inhale during movements that are up and in (opening movements) and movements that store energy. Inhale during movements when expanding your chest, such as with the open hands movement in Sun style. Also, inhale during movements creating an insubstantial movement, such as when doing a roll back.

Exhale during movements that are down and out (closing movements) and movements that deliver energy. Exhale during movements when compressing your chest, such as with the closing hands movement in Sun style. Also exhale during movements creating a substantial movement, such as when doing a push or press.

Tai chi movements generally alternate between gathering (storing) energy and delivering that energy. Inhaling during opening stores the energy, like drawing a bow, and brings in the qi. Exhaling during closing delivers the energy and sends the qi. Raising your hands in commencement stores the energy. Lowering your hands delivers energy and sends the qi. This means to inhale or exhale sometime during the movement, not necessarily during the entire movement. Your body will develop the ability to breathe properly as you practice tai chi.

Abdominal Breathing
Abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, helps you to sense qi. As you exhale, you should try to sense a warm, tingly, or heavy feeling in your dan tien. Don’t worry if you don’t feel this at first. That’s normal. Continue practicing to develop your ability to sense your qi.

For abdominal breathing, take several long slow deep breaths. Allow your mind to relax so you can begin to focus on your mind-body connection. Concentrate on the abdomen area belinow the diaphragm. When you exhale, gently contract the muscles in your pelvis and lower abdomen. Keep the chest still. When you inhale, expand your abdomen. Keep your chest still. In other words, exhale by contracting your abdomen. Inhale by expanding your abdomen.

Continue to practice abdominal breathing during meditation or while practicing tai chi. With enough practice, it will become natural and comfortable. I should point out that abdominal breathing is also practiced in yoga.

Reverse Abdominal Breathing
When inhaling with reverse abdominal breathing, your upper abdomen expands and your lower abdomen contracts. When exhaling, the upper abdomen contracts and the lower abdomen expands. The exhale is usually faster than the inhale. This is how you deliver force. As you breathe out, try to song (loosen) your body. Focus on the feeling of qi sinking to your dan tien.

Dan Tien Breathing
The muscles closest to the spine work different than other muscles in terms of function and neuromuscular properties. Their function is to protect and strengthen the spine. In Western medicine and anatomy, these muscles are called the deep stabilizers. A way to strengthen these muscles is to use dan tien breathing, as well as proper posture and alignment.

To learn how to breathe with this method, place one hand over your upper abdomen, above your belly button. Place your other hand over your lower abdomen, below your belly button. When you inhale, imagine that the air fills your lungs, bypasses your upper abdomen, and fills your lower abdomen and gently expands it like a balloon.

When you exhale, gently contract your lower abdomen as if the air is leaving the balloon. During both inhales and exhales, try to keep your top hand from moving. When you are comfortable with dan tien breathing, remove your hands and stand in dan tien. In addition, the dan tien breathing method can be practiced while doing the Open and Close Hands form of Sun style tai chi. Dr. Paul Lam describes it like this:
“The dan tien breathing method is especially effective for relaxation and for healing. Whenever you feel stressed or nervous, take a gentle breath. Start doing open and close. Breathe in and out and you most likely will find your mind clears up and the stress eases off.”

This type of breathing uses your diaphragm to expand your lungs. As we get older, we tend to breathe shallower. This change is primarily due to sitting and hunching over. This exercise greatly expands your lung capacity and counteracts the bad influence of hunching over. This is very relaxing and improves your qi.

Another way to think about this is to gently contract the muscles of the pelvic floor located at the midpoint of the perineum. Visualize that you are contracting those muscles toward your belly button as you inhale. Allow those muscles to relax as you exhale. If you get tired, just relax and go back to breathing naturally.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wuji (Wu Chi) – Posture of Infinity

A foundation of traditional Chinese thought is a belief in a single, cosmic universe full of energy called qi. In the beginning, the universe was an endless void known as wuji. From this void arose activity expressed as yin and yang. Yin and yang are sometimes thought of as aspects of female and male, but this is incorrect. It’s the other way around. Yin and yang are the all, representing the opposites that exist throughout the universe. All opposites are aspects of yin and yang. Light and dark, day and night, earth and sky, water and fire, and female and male are typical aspects. Yin and yang are represented by the double fish symbol.

In tai chi, wuji is the posture of infinity, corresponding to the neutral universe. A main purpose of wuji is for posture awareness, where we allow ourselves to mentally scan our body, discovering our physical and mental needs and wants.

External Aspects of WujiIn traditional qigong and tai chi practice, the wuji posture is used as a resting position before beginning exercise and sometimes placed between other movements. It symbolically represents the “great emptiness” of the original universal void. The tai chi classics say that wuji gives birth to tai chi, where emptiness transforms into activity. We practice tai chi to develop our ability to understand and use the energy of the universe.

To stand in wuji, begin with your feet about shoulder width apart. Relax your entire body. Your weight should be evenly distributed on the three balance points of your foot: the ball of the foot, the point at the base of the little toe, and at the heel. Be sure that your knees are loose. Tuck in your elbows, drop your hands to your sides, and allow your shoulders to droop. Do not lock any joints.

Keep your spine straight without being stiff (song). Tilt your pelvis slightly forward and push your chin slightly back to straighten your spine. Imagine that your head is suspended above your body by a string from the ceiling. Allow your eyes to close without pressure, and bring each breath all the way down to the dan tien energy point, about three inches below the navel. Proper alignment opens the gates of the body to achieve proper qi flow.

Progressively relax your body from the top down. Look forward and relax your eyes without focusing on anything. Relax your jaw, neck, and shoulders. Relax your arms and hands, allowing them to hang loosely. Allow your breathing to deepen gradually and expand your diaphragm.

Internal Aspects of WujiThe first step is to relax in the posture for a few moments. Stand as still as a tree and pay attention to any sensations you feel. Do not try to change anything. Just pay attention to the sensations.

Visualize a string connecting the top of your head with the heavens, lifting you and stretching your spine. Let your mind travel throughout your body. Continue with deep breaths for several minutes. Use your breathing as a point of focus. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. Calm and empty your mind. A calm mind can better sense the flow of qi.

Be aware of any feelings of comfort or discomfort. Be aware of any muscular tension. These are not good or bad. They just are. Do not be judgmental. The goal is to develop your ability to sense what is happening in your body. Awareness of your body develops your self-awareness.

Standing in wuji is the ideal posture for the balanced flow of qi. All the places where qi is not flowing become apparent. Areas of poor qi flow become uncomfortable or even painful. Discomfort during standing reveals places where your body is not functioning properly. Your natural instincts are to move when you are uncomfortable. Move your body to eliminate painful postures, but try to maintain the posture when you are merely uncomfortable.

One method to eliminate the discomfort is to imagine your breath moving to the area of discomfort. Imagine your breath entering and leaving your body at that area. With every inhale, bring healing qi into your body. With every exhale, expel stagnant qi and carry away the tension and pain. Allow the healing qi to eliminate the discomfort.

Another method to eliminate the discomfort is to image the discomfort dropping through your body toward the ground. Allow it to fall through your feet and into the ground. When the discomfort leaves your body, it should be replaced by a feeling of comfort.

Try to stand in wuji for a few moments every day. It seems very simple, but it will be very difficult the first few times you try this. The time will drag on seemingly forever. Boredom will drive you crazy. Be persistent and these feelings will pass. Over a period of several weeks, gradually increase the amount of time you spend standing. Remember though, quality is more important than quantity. Do not force yourself to stand when you are distracted.

With practice, you can develop the ability to achieve the same mental state at any time, even when sitting. This can enhance your health by helping you deal with stress. Apply the principles of body awareness and dan tien breathing to develop calmness.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Relinquish Your Attachment to Perfection

I have written several times about Nasrudin. Nasrudin is a character in many tales and parables. He lived in the Middle East many hundreds of years ago. Here is another story about Nasrudin.

Nasrudin wanted to add some beauty to his life, so he started a flower garden. He prepared an area in his yard and planted many kinds of beautiful flowers. In due time, the flower seeds sprouted and the garden was filled with the beautiful colors and aromas of the flowers.

There was only one problem. The flower garden was full of dandelions. He didn’t want dandelions. He wanted only the flowers that he had planted. He tried everything that he could think of to get rid of the dandelions. He asked advice of gardeners from all over and tried everything they suggested. Nothing worked.

Finally, he went to the capital to ask advice of the royal gardener at the palace. The royal gardener was a wise old man that had given advice to many gardeners. He suggested many things to Nasrudin, but alas, Nasrudin had already tried them all.

They sat together in silence for some time. The royal gardener finally looked at Nasrudin and said, “I suggest that you learn to accept them.”
The second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by attachment. When I was first learning tai chi, we used the phrase, “Relinquish your attachment to perfection.”

We cannot expect things to be perfect. There are times when things just do not work out the way we want them to. There are some things in life that we cannot control, no matter how much we want to or how hard we try.

How we respond to events determines our stress level. We can worry and stress about how things didn’t work out the way we wanted or we can let go of our attachment. Peace and happiness comes when we accept what we have and do the best we can with it.

Let me repeat: “We cannot expect things to be perfect”. We are all human. We make mistakes. We have weaknesses. For example, I have been working to lose some weight. This is not vanity. I am trying to get better control of my blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. I need to do this for my health and my life. I have been doing great for the last several weeks.

So what did I do last night? Laurie and I went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. I ate almost the whole basket of chips. At least I saved some of the meal for later. My blood sugar was way too high that evening because of it. I could beat myself up emotionally about my failure, or I can remember that I need to “Relinquish my attachment to perfection” and get back on track.

Let us not forget that “We are spiritual beings on a human journey”. Life is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the trip.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tai Chi – Stages of Development (Part 3 of 3)

This article has been extensively updated. Click here to see the updated version.

In general terms, there are three stages of development of your tai chi practice.

Stage One – practice your external movements so that they are done with correct posture, pacing, and direction of vision.
Stage Two – practice how force is stored and delivered in each form.
Stage Three – practice moving your qi to where you are delivering force.

In Stage Three, you begin to learn to use your intent to direct the flow of qi through your body. Mental focus is essential to this step.

Circulating Your Qi
The next phase of understanding open and close (see Stage 2 for more information) is to start moving your qi as you open and close. When you open (inhale), move your qi from your dan tien, through your perineum, and up your yang meridian (along your spine) toward the bai hui point at the crown of your head. When you close (exhale), move your qi down your yin meridian (the front center of your body) to the lower dan tien.

Keep your mouth gently closed with your tongue touching your upper palate. It may take a long time (years) to become comfortable with this. It is important that you do not force your breathing here. If you are not sure where to be inhaling and exhaling or you get tired, just allow your body to breathe naturally.

There is a statement in the tai chi classics that says something like, “The mind (intent) moves the internal energy and the internal energy moves the body.” This is an important principle, but it is difficult to learn. It is important to practice your way through the three stages of development before you can really understand intent.

Whenever the "use of intent" is mentioned with regard to the practice of Taijiquan, most Taijiquan practitioners think "the mind is the primary controller and the body is the follower. This is illustrated in Yang Cheng Fu's Ten Essential Principles of Taijiquan as “use intent, not muscular strength.”

There are usually three meanings of intent when discussed in Taijiquan. The first meaning is "to pay attention to one's internal strength.” The second meaning of intent is the same as the term "internal energy" or qi. For example, "the movement of the intent" or "the intention (qi) must change with vigor while remaining circular and smooth.” The third meaning of intent is "expectations" or "thoughts.”

The emphasis on intent is important in tai chi because the use of strength is very different than other martial arts. Tai chi uses slow, soft force to deflect or divert an opponent’s energy instead of meeting force with force. This allows time for your mind to contemplate the movement and imagine the movement in your mind before your muscles actually move.

When you are practicing tai chi, move slowly and continuously and use intent to move beyond the physical part of the form. This helps to develop a strong mind-body connection. Qi gets stronger as it continues to flow, just like the force of water gets stronger as it flows downhill. If you stop moving during the forms, your qi also stops moving.

Intent also involves the use of your eyes. In the tai chi classics, it says something like, “The eyes and the hands must follow each other.” However, this does not mean that your eyes must exactly follow the movement of your hands. It means that your eyes and hands must arrive at the same point at the same time.

Don’t forget that tai chi is an internal art. This means that the movements begin in your mind. Your intention leads the movements of your energy. And from that energy, you create an internal force. As you move, think about applying a soft gentle force to your movements. Use that to lead your movements. Eventually, you will begin to feel the internal energy move within you. The key is to practice regularly.

Dr. Paul Lam, the developer of the Tai Chi for Arthritis form, uses a slightly different description. He divides the stages of development as follows:

1. Make the movements slow and continuous, developing control of your muscles.
2. Move as though there is a gentle resistance, as if you have to move through water. This helps cultivate internal force.

3. Be aware of weight transfers. Control your balance, alignment, and posture.
4. Be aware of body alignment, keeping your body in an upright posture.

5. Song – loosen the joints. Stretch and loosen the joints. Be aware of this as you practice.
6. Mental focus – try to keep your mind from wandering. This helps to integrate the internal and external.

NOTE: Of course there is much more to it than this. You need a good teacher and lots of practice to find it though.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tai Chi – Stages of Development (Part 2 of 3)

This article has been extensively updated. Click here to see the updated version.

In general terms, there are three stages of development of your tai chi practice.

Stage One – practice your external movements so that they are done with correct posture, pacing, and direction of vision.
Stage Two – practice how force is stored and delivered in each form.
Stage Three – practice moving your qi to where you are delivering force.

In Stage Two, study each form in detail and understand the details. Most of my experience in is Yang style, so this explanation will follow that experience.

Even the simplest forms have several (many) parts to learn and master. It is a big oversimplification, but we can say that the six things to focus on at this point are 1) what your feet are doing, 2) what your hands are doing, 3) what your waist (body) is doing, 4) what your eyes are doing, 5) opening, and 6) closing.

According to the classics of tai chi, “Internal force is rooted in the feet, developed by the legs, governed by the waist, and expressed in the hands.” This internal force is a spiral force generated at the feet that causes the waist to rotate, which leads the hands in the various tai chi forms. Spiral force is beyond the scope of this article, but the comments about the feet, waist, and hands are important at this point in your learning.

1) What is your stance? What are your feet doing? There are many stationary stances, from horse stance with equal weighting on each foot (wu ji); to bow stance, with the 70/30 weight ratio (brush knee); to empty stance, where essentially all your weight is on one leg (playing lute); and T stance during transitions (fair lady works shuttles). In addition, you should become familiar with dropping stance (snake creeps down) and independent stance (golden rooster stands on one leg). Other forms have stances that I am not familiar with, such as sitting stance, pan knee stance, and cross stance. The stance is important in delivering force (power) during each form.

2) Your hands should be in certain places during the movements of the form. Your hands deliver force during each form. Understand this and be aware of it during each form. There are many specific hand positions and shapes for different forms. I’ll write about that someday.

3) The waist is the part of the body above the hip bones and below the diaphragm. The waist can be moved independently of the hips in some forms. In general, most forms have turning movements. The waist should lead the movement of the arms and the rest of the body. This increases/improves the delivery of force.

4) During most forms, your eyes should follow your hand(s) during movement. When your hands are moving separately, your eyes should follow the dominant hand. The dominant hand is the one that is delivering force. This is usually the higher hand or the one that is the most forward. For example, during brush knee, the hand that pushes forward is dominant and should be followed with your eyes. The hand that brushes the knee is not dominant. However, this statement is a little misleading. Your eyes really should be looking “through” your hand at a point beyond the hands to where you want your force to be delivered.

5) Every form has an open. This is the part of the form where power is developed and stored. Think of it as a bow and arrow. Pulling on the bowstring is opening and storing energy. For example, during brush knee, one hand goes back while the other one is placed somewhere near your elbow. This is the opening where you are storing energy.

In general, you should inhale sometime during opening movements. Chen Jin, a Chen-style tai chi master, wrote that when you are opening, you are solid outside and soft inside. You can feel your body soften as you inhale and expand your abdomen.

6) Every form has a close. This is the part of the form where power is delivered. Again, think of it as a bow and arrow. Releasing the bow string is closing and delivering energy. For example, during brush knee, one hand goes forward while the other one brushes past your knee. This is the closing where you are delivering energy.

In general, you should exhale sometime during closing movements. Chen Jin, a Chen-style tai chi master, wrote that when you are closing, you are soft outside and solid inside. You can feel your inside harden, or become more solid, when you are delivering force as you contract your abdomen.

Continue to learn the essential principles of tai chi. Read Yang Chen Fu’s Ten Essential Principles and start to incorporate them into your practice. They should be starting to make more sense now. Keep returning to them and it will become more clear in time.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tai Chi – Stages of Development (Part 1 of 3)

This article has been extensively updated. Click here to see the updated version.

In general terms, there are three stages of development of your tai chi practice.

Stage One – practice your external movements so that they are done with correct posture, pacing, and direction of vision.
Stage Two – practice how force is stored and delivered in each form.
Stage Three – practice moving your qi to where you are delivering force.

Over the next few weeks, I will write an article about each of these stages. Let’s start with Stage One.

It is important to practice your form at this stage until the movements and postures are automatic. This is the easiest stage to learn, but it can be very frustrating for beginners. Everyone else, teachers, videos, etc., seem so fluid and graceful. It takes time to get past the negative self image and learn to enjoy the movement.

Most teachers and videos do a pretty good job of explaining the movements of a tai chi form or set. However, there are many subtleties that can only be learned from a teacher. If you have access to a good teacher, great. Enjoy it and learn lots.

If you do not, do the best you can with videos, books, and other resources. Choose a common form so that you can find an occasional workshop. I recommend either the Yang 24 (Beijing) forms or the Tai Chi for Arthritis from Dr. Paul Lam Tai Chi for Health Community. There are many good weekend workshops available.

There are a few simple things that you should know as you begin your practice.

Take your time and learn methodically. Learning faster is not necessarily better. Work through learning the forms at a steady pace and take your time in understanding the details. It's better to learn a few forms or sets well than lots of them carelessly. Plan on learning only 1 or 2 new forms each week.

Remember the 70% rule. Estimate your greatest ability to perform an exercise. Practice at only 70% of that level. This is not a competition. If it hurts, stop immediately. Apply this rule to everything in tai chi, from how far you stretch, to how many repetitions, and to how long you practice. As you become more familiar with the forms and with your own body, you can gradually increase this.

Control Your Movements. A good first principle at this stage is to learn control of your movements so they are slow, smooth, and continuous. You should move as though there is a gentle resistance. Think of your qi flow as a river. As it flows downhill, it gathers strength. Keep your movements slow, smooth, and continuous to smooth the progress of the qi flow.

Body Alignment. Another way to think about controlling your movements is to work on body alignment. Being upright is very important, but it is not as simple as it seems. A way to approach it is to think of your spine as a string. Imagine gently stretching the string from both ends. Being upright provides the internal organs with more space. An upright body also strengthens the internal deep stabilizer muscles. Try to keep your body upright and supple throughout all the movements. Be especially aware of this when you start bending your knees because your alignment can change. When you bend your knees, imagine that you are sitting down in a straight chair (not the Lazy Boy!) and keep your back fairly straight. Use a mirror or video camera to check yourself while practicing.

Practice a little each day. Ten minutes of practice each day will bring you better results than practicing for an hour at a time once a week. You will find that tai chi is more challenging than it looks. If you need a break, take one. Frequently, take time to review what you have learned.
Start to learn the essential principles of tai chi. Read Yang Chen Fu’s Ten Essential Principles and start to incorporate them into your practice. Most of them won’t make much sense yet, but that’s OK. Keep returning to them and it will become more clear in time.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Heng – Perseverance

Heng can be translated as perseverance, or constancy of purpose. It implies steady, unceasing effort, patience, and a long-term point of view.

An important element of learning tai chi is “perseverance”. When you start tai chi, you may find it slow and even awkward. This is because tai chi is very different from most western exercise and sports. Tai chi puts emphasis on soft flowing movement while delivering powerful internal energy. That is why we move slowly and in a curve. It can appear easy but it really does take time to get used to. The slow, yet controlled, movement balances the stressful fast pace of today’s life. In nature, slow and fast and soft and hard complement each other. Persevere and soon you get used to the rhythm and feel of tai chi. Begin to enjoy the wonderful feeling of well being and serenity from within.

“Perseverance first and foremost means persistence. Whether or not the weather is cold or burning hot, you should train regularly. It is a process of testing the character and strength of mind of the student. Furthermore, perseverance means a constant quality, i.e. a certain intensity must be achieved. Only the person who trains under the motto “A pestle can be honed into a needle with an iron will” can learn the true essence of Tai Chi Chuan.”

This is closely related to the ideas of morality expressed in martial arts training. Morality of the mind includes will, endurance, perseverance, patience, and courage.

In Chinese thinking, we have 2 minds. The emotional mind (xin), also called the monkey mind, is the part of the mind that jumps around from one idea to another and lacks focus. The wisdom mind (yi), also called the horse mind, is the calming, strong and stable part of the mind. Without training, xin dominates yi. When someone fails at something that requires long-term effort, it is usually because the emotional mind has overcome the wisdom mind.

With training and practice, the yi can learn to control the xin. This means that you have to fine-tune your wisdom mind in order to control your emotions and become calmer and more focused. Different meditation styles use different methods to train your mind.

This article is primarily about learning tai chi. However, the lessons apply to all aspects of life. According to a translation of the I Ching, “Heng [Perseverance] demonstrates how, faced with the complexity of things, one yet does not give way to cynicism.” Sometimes we hit rough patches in life and become distracted from practice. However, achievement comes from steady effort at improving. Improvement comes from perseverance and continued practice. Success comes to those who endure and have faith in themselves because of their long hard work.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Qigong Benefits Heart Health

From the May, 2006 issue of Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, reported in the Summer 2007 issue of Qi Journal.

Recent studies have concluded that qigong, an ancient technique, may benefit the human heart’s overall health. Practicing qigong lowers the pulse rate, blood pressure, metabolic rates and oxygen demand.

Doctors of a recent study of qigong said, “the qigong group demonstrated greater improvement in psychological measures in addition to reduction in systolic blood pressure.” Note: the article did not specify the qigong exercises used.

Qigong is a 4,000-year-old technique that involves preventative and therapeutic health care, physical training and philosophy. There are nearly 5,000 styles of qigong cataloged by the Chinese Government.

Medical qigong consists of breathing exercises and meditation, which controls energy within the body, which, in turn, replaces stress and anxiety with positive images, increased confidence and enhanced spirit.

Qigong is frequently practiced with Taiji [t’ai chi], a Chinese movement-based exercise. The practice of qigong and taiji is a low-cost means of improving functional status in older persons.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meditation Practice and Improvement (week 3 of 3)

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows the effect of the “Monkey Mind” where one’s mind jumps around from one idea to another like a monkey jumping from one branch in a tree to another. This article from Wildmind gives some practical advice on how to train your mind to improve your practice. The third principle discussed in this article is to apply knowledge of which antidotes are effective in dealing with the hindrances.

“The next week you might take on building up and applying knowledge of which antidotes are effective in dealing with those hindrances you have recognized. I suggest that you take on the practice of noticing distractions quickly, recognizing hindrances accurately, and applying antidotes effectively, in three-week cycles over three months.

“A good habit to establish if you meditate within a busy schedule is to give yourself at least five minutes at the end of the meditation, before plunging into something different. If after meditating you suddenly listen to the news on the radio or even start to plan your day in a determined way, that original subtle experience of concentration will be jarred. Over time an inner rebellion to being put through such jarring can develop. The result may be that you feel resistant to meditating, without knowing why.

This is really interesting. I can’t remember all the hindrances while I am meditating. My mind wanders. I have found it useful to sit for 5 minutes after completing my morning meditation. I think about where my mind had wandered and try to identify the hindrances. Then the next time my mind wanders off in a similar way, I can try to catch it sooner by identifying that hindrance.

This article went on to discuss how discipline arises from faith. In this case, faith means that we can have confidence that meditation really works and that we can apply ourselves to make it work.
© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Meditation Practice and Improvement (part 2 of 3)

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows the effect of the “Monkey Mind” where one’s mind jumps around from one idea to another like a monkey jumping from one branch in a tree to another. This article from Wildmind gives some practical advice on how to train your mind to improve your practice. The second principle in this article is to learn to accurately recognize the hindrances that cause your distractions.

Faith and Discipline (week 2 of 3)
By Vajradaka
“In the following week you could take on another task for each meditation practice. This time have the general intention to recognize accurately the hindrances underlying your distraction. To call this ‘wandering off’ is not really enough. At this point it is worth mentioning that there is an important relationship between knowledge and discipline. It is helpful, for example, to be familiar with the traditional list of five hindrances — the varieties of distraction — and their antidotes. This kind of knowledge comes partly from reading and being taught by others, and partly from learning through your own experience. For instance, on the basis of knowing the symptoms of ‘restlessness and anxiety’ you can differentiate them from ’sense desire’. Taking time outside formal meditation to consider whether you’re recognizing the hindrances accurately can be useful. Correct recognition of hindrances allows you to be more effective in countering them.”
There are 5 ways that the mind wanders during meditation. These are typically called hindrances (nivarana). The 5 hindrances are “sensual desire”, “ill will”, “restlessness and anxiety”, “sloth and torpor”, and “doubt”.

Sensual desire is a desire for pleasant experiences. Your mind may wander off and think about something pleasant, like food, sleep, or sex. It may also be pleasant thoughts of planning for a event, like a holiday party. These things attract our thoughts because them seem more interesting than our breath.

Ill will is the reverse of sense desire. It is related to painful experiences, like physical pain. It may be an unpleasant encounter that you can’t let go. The true problem is preoccupation with the experience.

Restlessness and anxiety is a quick-moving or unsettled mind or body. It may happen when you have a lot on your mind. You may not be able to get comfortable. Something always aches or itches.

Sloth and torpor happens when we are tired or have eaten too much. Your body and mind just want to give in to the easy way. Be aware that it may also include a deep resistance to meditation. There may be something else going on that you are not aware of.

Doubt is when you start to question whether or not you are doing the right thing. It creates a difficulty in committing to the practice. “Is this helping me?”

When your mind wanders during meditation, it is because of one of these reasons. Your focus can improve by simply naming these hindrances. “That is sense desire. It’s OK to ignore it.” “This is restlessness. Let it go because my meditation is important.”

There are a couple of other things to try to help maintain your focus in the face of the hindrances. First, Try to remember why you are meditating. Don’t fight the hindrances. Don’t argue with yourself. Just bring your mind back where you want it.

Second, “cultivate the opposite” hindrance. Focus on the opposite to counteract an undesired hindrance. The opposite of sense desire is contentment with our situation. The opposite of ill will is enjoyment in our experience. The opposite of restlessness is calm. The opposite of sloth is activity, with the intention of getting your mind involved so you can come back and meditate. The opposite of doubt is commitment, where you can just do your meditation and clarify your doubts later.

For more about this topic, there is a good article by the Dublin Buddhist Center at .

This is the second of 3 parts. Next week, I will post the rest of the article. This will give suggestions for the third week of Meditation Practice and Improvement.
© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Meditation Practice and Improvement (part 1 of 3)

Anyone who has practiced meditation knows the effect of the “Monkey Mind” where one’s mind jumps around from one idea to another like a monkey jumping from one branch in a tree to another. This is an excerpt from an article from Wildmind gives some practical advice on how to train your mind to improve your practice. The first principle in this article is to learn how to recognize when your mind begins to wander.

Faith and Discipline (week 1 of 3)
By Vajradaka
“Most of those who have difficulties are not disciplined enough in the way they work in meditation, and a measured amount of discipline each day can make the process easier and more enjoyable. For example, you can set yourself the task of shortening the time it takes you to notice when your mind wanders off. At the start of each practice, form an intention to catch yourself as soon as possible each time your mind wanders. If you consciously decide to do this every day for a week, a positive inclination to acting in this way will develop. Your skill in noticing your attention wandering will increase and your concentration will benefit. Taking on a task like this is within your ability and if it succeeds it will increase your confidence, interest and engagement. It will make the practice feel more your own.”

I don’t totally agree that one week of extra focus will make much difference. I have been practicing standing meditation daily for more than that and I don’t think that I have noticed much change in my ability to notice when my mind wanders off. I think that it takes more time for people with active, or jumpy, minds like mine. I have difficulty concentrating anyway. I have started meditation practice to try to improve that.

I do expect to be able to notice a difference in the near future. I may be getting hung up on the physical difficulties of the standing part of the meditation. That part is getting better with time.

This is the first of 3 parts. Next week, I will post more of the article. This will give suggestions for the second week of Meditation Practice and Improvement.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Relax your way to perfect health

It seems that the mainstream news organizations are finally starting to see what has been right in front of them for years. I came across this article recently. It is from the British newspaper, the Independent.

Take a deep breath... How to relax deeply So how can you access relaxation's healing powers? Harvard researchers found that yoga, meditation and even repetitive prayer and mantras all induced the relaxation effect. "The more regularly these techniques are practised, the more deeply-rooted the benefits will be," says Jake Toby. Have a go at one or more of the following for 15 minutes once or twice a day.

Body scan Starting with your head and working down to your arms and feet, notice how you feel in your body. Taking in your head and neck, simply notice if you feel tense, relaxed, calm or anxious. See how much you can spread any sensations of softness and relaxation to areas of your body that feel tense. Once your reach your feet, work back up your body.

Breath focus Sitting comfortably, become aware of your breath, following the sensation of inhaling from your nose down to your abdomen and out again. As you follow your breath, notice your whole body and let tension go with each exhalation. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, come back to your breath.

Mantra repetition The relaxation response can be evoked by sitting quietly with eyes closed for 15 minutes twice a day, and mentally repeating a simple word or sound such as 'Om'.

Guided imagery Imagine the most wonderfully relaxing light, or a soothing waterfall washing away any tension or worries from your body and mind. Make your image as vivid as possible, imagining the texture, colour and any fragrance as the image washes over or through you.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meditation and Breathing

When we are stressed, our body activates the “fight or flight” response. Several involuntary responses follow (sympathetic nervous system), such as the release of stress hormones, increased heart rate and blood pressure, the activation of our immune system, etc. With long-term stress, our sympathetic nervous system gets overloaded and contributes to many chronic illnesses.

From the web site,, breath “…can be used to find a balance between the mind-body, the conscious-unconscious, and the sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous system.”

Breathing is something that we do both voluntarily and involuntarily. We can use conscious breathing to affect the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system works to counteract the sympathetic nervous system. In other words, we can use conscious breathing to control, or even to reverse, the effects of stress on our body.

As we get older, we tend to breathe shallower than when we were younger. This means that we do not empty our lungs very well and we breathe with the top part of our lungs. Abdominal breathing is a breathing technique that helps you learn to use your lungs better. It helps your body develop the “relaxation response”, which is the opposite of the “fight or flight” response caused by stress.

To practice abdominal breathing, start in a normal meditation posture. Take several deep breaths with long exhales to allow your mind and body to relax. Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen just below your belly button. Pay attention to how your hands move while you are breathing. Inhale through your nose and consciously expand your abdomen. Exhale through your mouth and contract your abdomen. You should notice that your right hand (on your chest) barely moves. Your left hand (on your abdomen) should move much more. After you become comfortable with this technique, you no longer need to place your hands.

Your exhales should be about twice as long as your inhales. In a yoga class, teachers often have students inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8.

This breathing technique does not feel natural when we start. With long-term practice, abdominal breathing becomes natural and we always breathe that way.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Conscious-Walking Exercise

I generally prefer to give you my own work in this blog. There is not much value in just providing a quote to you. In this case though, I came across an article that I wanted to share. This exercise teaches you to be aware of the moment and to pay attention what your body is telling you.

Master Wasentha Young of the Peaceful Dragon School

Find a safe environment to walk. As you begin this Conscious-Walking exercise, in silence, stand and allow each breath to bring you into the moment, sensing your mind, your body, and how you are feeling. When you get the impulse to move, start the walking journey. Remain mindful of your body's movement as you walk down the street, on a nature path, or around in a room. Be aware of your feet placement on the ground, your legs supporting your body, and your arms gently swinging. You may also notice the emotions that arise and the thoughts going on in your mind as you stay aware of your breath. You are now doing Conscious-Walking, a type of walking meditation.

Now allow your senses to expand and begin to notice your environment: your eyes seeing the colors and shapes, your nose smelling the scents, and your body maybe feeling the wind. If you are walking through a neighborhood, see the squirrels, cats, dogs, and people gardening or doing home-based chores. If you are walking on a nature trail, see the trees, leaves, and rocks; hear the birds, or even a fly. Check in with how you feel and your emotions as you let your senses grow.

Before ending your Conscious Walking, allow yourself to revisit what your body feels like. What are you thinking? Reflect on your experience and feelings associated with what you saw, heard, smelled, and sensed in your environment. Do you feel a change in your state of mind from when you started? This dialogue between your mind, body, emotions and your environment can be very useful in developing an awareness of your relationship with the world around you.

Peaceful Dragon School
1945 Pauline Blvd. Suite B
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Copyright 2004-2008 Peaceful Dragon School. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduced with permission

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More on Breath Counting Meditation

In a previous essay, I described the concept of relaxing and energizing breaths. In another one, I described a simple breath counting meditation. In the breath counting meditation, you take long slow breaths and count up to 10 starting with 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, etc. When reaching 10, start over at 1.

A variation that combines these two ideas is to count the inhale and the exhale as 1 and only count up to a smaller number, such as 3 or 4. Say the number to yourself as you finish the exhale. In other words,
inhale, exhale – 1
inhale, exhale – 2
inhale, exhale – 3
inhale, exhale – 4

After practicing this meditation for several days or weeks, modify it by counting before the breaths. In other words, say the number to yourself before you begin the inhale.
1 – inhale, exhale
2 – inhale, exhale
3 – inhale, exhale
4 – inhale, exhale

It’s a subtle difference, but it is noticeable. In the first stage, your mind links the counting with the exhale. Long slow exhales are relaxing. This emphasis tells your body to let go of tension and relax. This is a good start to a meditation to allow yourself to relax and learn to enjoy the other benefits of meditation.

In the second state, your mind links the counting with the inhale. Inhales are expanding and energizing. This emphasis tells your body to wake up and get energized. This is where you can begin to increase your awareness.

Some of this information was adapted from

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meditations for Relaxing and Energizing

The mind commands the body and the body obeys. The mind commands itself and finds resistance. —Saint Augustine (354-430)

We spend years training our body to do what we want it to. We learn to crawl, then to walk, then to run. We learn sports, or climbing skills, or tai chi, or many other physical skills. It’s not necessarily easy, but we put in the effort because we see the value in it.

Somehow, we never are taught to train our minds in the same way. Breath counting meditation is one way to develop focus. It’s not easy. Our mind resists and wanders all over the place like a monkey jumping from one limb to another in a tree. The counting helps us focus.

In general, quick inhalations and long slow exhalations are very relaxing. Combine them with a long hold after exhaling for an even more relaxing meditation. Moderate inhales and exhales are balanced and energizing. Inhales with a long hold are energizing.

For example, inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 1, exhale for a count of 8, and hold for a count of 4. This is relaxing.

Inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 6, and hold for a count of 1. This is energizing.

Inhale hold exhale hold effect
4 1 8 4 relaxing
6 2 6 2 balanced
6 4 6 2 energizing

Depending on the type of meditation that you want to do, you can vary your breathing to get the desired effect.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Elderly's Restless Nights Helped By Ancient Martial Art

I recently found an online article that described how tai chi chih has been shown to help with sleeping difficulties. Over half of older adults report occasional or frequent problems sleeping. See for the full article.

People with sleep difficulties often turn to medication, which leads to side effects or other health problems. A study, published in the journal Sleep, describes how tai chi chih has been tested and shown to help improve sleep. The lead study author was Dr. Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.

Exercise has been shown to improve sleep. However, older adults may not be able or willing to participate in active exercise programs. Therefore, tai chi chih was selected for a test study. In the study, two groups were compared. One group practiced 20 simple tai chi chih moves. The other group received classes on stress management, diet, and sleep habits.

The study found that the tai chi chih group showed improved sleep quality and a remission of clinical impairments, such as drowsiness during the day and inability to concentrate, compared with those receiving health education. The tai chi chih participants showed improvements in their own self-rating of sleep quality, sleep duration and sleep disturbance.

Dr. Irwin led a previous study that showed that tai chi chih strengthened the immune system of elderly people suffering from shingles. Other studies done at UCLA have shown improvement in control of headaches and that tai chi chih may help in reducing blood pressure.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Tai Chi Family

I just finished my first week-long tai chi workshop. It was hosted by Dr. Paul Lam in Tacoma. I took one class that lasted the week. It was called Exploring the Depths of the 24 Form. All of the students had roughly similar experience with tai chi so we could really help each other.

This workshop was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I have new calluses on my feet. My legs hurt in places I didn’t know I had. In the mornings, I woke up so stiff that I could hardly walk. But that doesn’t matter because I learned more, smiled more, and laughed more than at any time I can remember.

I was the only man in a group of 10 of the most beautiful women I have ever met. Beauty is smiles and happiness and grace. It is openness and sharing and it is learning and growing together. Beauty is also the courage to face the doubt and anxiety created by that little voice inside our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough.

At the end of the first day of class, I shared an observation with the group. I saw in them the smoothness and gracefulness and beauty of experienced tai chi players, while I “felt like a klutz.” Every single one of my classmates disagreed with me. They all said they were the ones who were stumbling around and I looked graceful.

Where does this self-doubt come from? We all have it. How do we quiet that little voice and recognize the goodness within ourselves? I would like to quote something Caroline Demoise wrote in a recent newsletter.

What you believe is frequently the most important predictor of the outcome in both medicine and in learning tai chi. When you expect that you will learn a form, you do. When you believe that you can improve with practice, you will.
My simple interpretation of Caroline’s words is that “my thoughts create my attitude and my outcomes.”

Imagine a bathroom scale. How many of us consider that scale to be our friend? It’s a way we measure our imperfections. What if there were a scale that weighed our worth instead of our weight? What if that scale weighed our worth based on what other people think of us instead of what we think of ourselves? I can tell you the results. All of you, my tai chi family, are worth your weight in gold. Use that thought to quiet that little voice so you can appreciate beauty as you should.

It may seem a little strange to tell everyone about spending a week with such a wonderful group of beautiful women without my wife being there. But they are my tai chi sisters that I didn’t know I had.

PS: I haven’t told my wife yet about next year's workshop in Terre Haute.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ba Duan Jin – Eight Silk Brocades

I teach tai chi and qigong at the prestigious Heartland Spa, in Gilman, IL. This is one of the qigong routines I teach.

Qigong is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are thousands of exercises and routines that have been used for centuries to promote wellness. Ba Duan Jin is one of the oldest traditional Qigong routines. It is translated variously as Eight Pieces of Silk Brocades, Eight Section Brocade, Eight Fine Exercises, and many other names.

The eight exercises focus on different areas of the body and different qi meridians. The eight sections consist of progressive stretches (yang) from the ground and relaxations (yin) to the ground. The alternation between stretch and relaxation is called “high peaks and low valleys” and is intended to improve the flow of qi through your body.

1. Support the Heavens – This improves the flow of qi in the triple warmer.
Start in Wu Ji. Inhale slowly and circle your arms overhead. At the crown of your head, turn your hands with the palms up. Exhale and stretch your hands up as if holding up the sky. Inhale slowly and lower your hands to your head, turning them so they are palm down. Exhaling and circle your hands out and back to your sides.
2. Drawing the Bow – This improves the flow of qi in the lower back near the kidneys.
Start in horse stance. Cross your hands in front of your chest with your left hand outside. Inhale slowly, bring your right hand back toward your right shoulder in a fist, and extend your left hand out to the left. Turn your head to the left and look at your left hand. Exhale and release the fingers of your right hand, imagining that you are releasing the string of a bow. Bring your hands back to your chest with your left hand outside. Repeat to the other side.
3. Separating Heaven and Earth – This increases the flow of qi in the stomach and spleen.
Start in Wu Ji with your feet a little wider than normal. Hold your hands in front of your chest with your palms facing down and your fingers pointing to each other. Shift your weight to the right, inhale, raise your right hand overhead, and turn your palm up. Press your left hand down with your palm down. Exhale and return. Repeat to the other side.
4. Looking Backwards to Amend Five Strains and Seven Impairments – This improves the flow of qi in the neck and head.
Start in Wu Ji with your eyes closed. Inhale and slowly turn your head to the left, slowly opening your eyes. Optionally, lean back and look over your shoulder down at your opposite heel. Exhale and return. Repeat to the other side.
5. Head and Tail Swaying to Get Rid of Heart Fire – This pushes qi from the middle dan tien and out through any obstructions.
Start in horse stance, your hands on your thighs with your thumbs pointing out. Slowly wave your head side-to-side a total of four times. Bend left and rotate your upper body down and around to the right. At the same time, sway your buttocks towards the left. Continue rotation around to the beginning position. Exhale as you bend down and inhale as you stand up again.
6. Pulling Toes to Strengthen Kidneys and Waist – This improves the flow of qi in the kidney meridians.
Start in Wu Ji. Inhale and lean back, raising your arms sideways with palms facing up until your hands are overhead. Exhale and bend forward to reach toward your toes, or ankles if you cannot reach your toes. Pull your toes (or ankles) for a second, then release, inhale, and resume the beginning position. Place your hands at your lower back, bend back gently, and massage your kidneys.
7. Punch Slowly with Intense Gaze – This moves stagnant qi to the skin where it can be removed from the body.
Start in horse stance. Inhale and slowly punch your right fist forward. Exert all your force, with an intense gaze as if staring down an opponent. Exhale suddenly and draw your hand back. Repeat with your left hand. Inhale and punch your right hand to the right, exhale and draw your hand back. Repeat to your left. Inhale and punch both fists forward. Exhale and draw your hands back. Inhale and push both palms forward. Exhale and draw your hands back. Keep your body facing forward but watch your hands during all punches.
8. Seven Jolts Prevent All the Ailments – This stimulates six of the main qi meridians and balances the flow of qi.
Start in Wu Ji. inhale and raise up on your toes, lifting your heels as high as you can. Draw your shoulders back and expand your chest. Exhale suddenly, drop your heels to the floor and relax your entire body. Come back to the beginning position. Optionally, clasp your hands behind your back as you raise your heels.

Note: I have greatly expanded the descriptions of the 8 forms of the Ba Duan Jin. You can begin here to read Ba Duan Jin (Part 1 of 8) - Support the Heavens.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Nature of Reality

From the web site,

“The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamed that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, " ‘Was I before a man who dreamed about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?’ "
Take a moment to think about what that means. Reread that paragraph and really think about it. I’ll wait. Then continue reading below for my thoughts on it.

How do we really know if we are awake or dreaming? What is this reality that we perceive? Do we believe in what our senses tell us? That’s risky. Our senses can be fooled in so many ways. My eyes tell me the world is flat. I know that isn’t true. My sense of balance tells me that the ground is stable. I know that isn’t true. The earth is rotating on its axis at over 1000 mph.

Do we believe in what scientists and doctors tell us? That’s risky, too. Doctors tell us that our body is a collection of chemicals that react together to give us awareness. Scientists are unable to detect the presence of qi. I know from personal experience that qi exists. These same scientists have shown that acupuncture works but they can’t explain why. Their view of the nature of reality is very incomplete.

Reality should be the same for the scientist, philosopher, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, magician, atheist, or any other observer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be true, either. In the Tibetan traditions, reincarnation is a fundamental principle of reality. To an enlightened person, there is personal experience in the form of memories of past lives that justifies this view of reality. In the Christian traditions, God as a creator is a fundamental principle of reality. There is personal experience in the form of prayer and conversations with God that justifies this view of reality.

According to Buddhist traditions, Vipassana meditation gives us a better understanding of the nature of relative reality. From the web site,
“Although Vipassana does not introduce us to the absolute, it is designed to help us see much that must be seen, and in my view (and that of most Buddhist teachers) it is the place to start. We first need to learn to quiet the mind and look with detachment at the relative reality into which we are heavily immersed and identified. The Tibetan Buddhist practice of Dzogchen and the Advaita Vedanta of Nisargadatta, on the other hand, seek to introduce us to the absolute. Yes, underlying the relative world of mental information, and allowing it to exist, is that enabling something we usually call awareness.”

So where do we go with this? I have no idea. It looks like I have a lot of work in front of me.

© 2010 Eric Borreson


During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to the battle, they stopped at a religious shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, "I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself."

He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads. The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, "No one can change destiny."

"Quite right," the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads on both sides.

The Theory of Provided Conditions
“If you want to create a certain result, you must first create the conditions that will absolutely force that result to occur.”
Kazuma Tateisi
CEO, Omron Tateisi Electronics

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Breath Counting Meditation

This breath counting meditation is designed to improve your ability to hold the mind steady, without wandering. It is not very elegant or spiritual, but it does strengthen your "concentration muscles." Breath counting can be part of a regular routine of meditation.

Counting your breaths gives your mind something to focus on so. When distracting thoughts arise, you can come back to your counting. The method is easier to understand than it to do. The goal is to do this meditation with full mindfulness. Success comes from repetition.

1. Find a quiet place, calm yourself, and try to get rid of distracting thoughts from your mind.
2. Start in a sitting position, either in a chair or on the floor. Gently close your eyes.
3. Take slow, deep breaths and count each breath, one on the in-breath, two on the out-breath, three on the next in-breath, etc., up to ten.
4. After reaching ten, start over.

This is much more difficult than it seems. What’s going to happen is that your mind will begin to wander. If that happens and you lose count, begin the count again at one. Sometimes your mind will want and you will count past ten. When you realize you have drifted, begin at one again. This difficulty is so common that it has a name. It is called "monkey mind", where your mind jumps from one idea to another like a monkey jumping from one branch to another.

The goal is to learn how to notice when your mind begins to wander so that you can bring it back to the meditation again. The counting is a feedback to help you know when your mind has drifted off. When your mind wanders off and you return to your counting, you are improving your ability to focus. Every time your mind wanders and you bring it back to the meditation, it is like exercising. Your “concentration muscles” get a little bit stronger.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

What is Meditation?

This is the first of a series of essays on meditation.

Meditation is a mental practice used to get beyond the thinking mind into a deeper state of awareness. It is more important to meditate regularly than to follow a rigid schedule. According to Wikipedia,

“Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which may emphasize different goals -- from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.”
A common form of meditation is concentration meditation. This is the easiest for beginners to do. Part of the idea of meditation is to develop concentration so that you can control distractions. The meditator tries to keep one’s mind on a single point of focus. The point of focus could be a short repetitive prayer, one’s breath, a breath count, qi energy flows, or anything else.

Meditation has a long history. It has been part of Buddhist culture for thousands of years. The two common types of Buddhist meditation are shamatha and vipassana. Shamatha consists of types of concentration meditations used to develop focus. Vipassana consists of practices to develop insight into the true nature of reality.

Step eight of the eight-fold path of Buddhism refers to “Right Concentration”, referring to meditation. In this context, concentration refers to a mental state where the entire mind is directed toward a single object. Through meditation, people develop the ability to concentrate on focus in everyday situations.

Christians have practiced meditation for almost as long, although they prefer the term "contemplation" nowadays. Some Catholics use the rosary to practice meditation. There are many biblical references to meditation among the prophets. Many scholars and religious officials of the Middle Ages wrote guides to meditation. In addition, there are many secular meditation practices.

Regardless of our motivation or background in meditation, our first efforts at meditation are difficult. Before we even notice it, our mind has wandered away. We find that our mind bounces around from one idea to another and it seems that there is nothing we can do to stop it. Some people describe it as your “monkey mind”, where your mind jumps around like a monkey jumping from one branch to another.

Continued practice develops better mental focus. Exercise develops your muscular strength or endurance. Meditation develops your “concentration muscles” and helps us learn how to maintain focus. When the mind wanders, all that is necessary is to bring the mind back to that point of focus. Do not allow recriminations or frustrations to develop.

I will discuss specific meditation techniques in future writings.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Right Effort

One of the steps on the eight-fold path is “Right Effort.” Nothing can be achieved without effort. However, misguided effort distracts us from our right efforts. The energy put into misguided efforts, such as envy, aggression, greed, and violence, could be channeled to right efforts, such as self-discipline, generosity, love, and kindness.

Here is a story about Nasrudin. Nasrudin is a character in many tales and parables. He lived in the Middle East many hundreds of years ago.

The town's richest man had died. The next morning, another rich, and particularly miserly, old man said to Nasrudin, "I wonder how much he left."

Nasrudin said, "Every cent of it, sir."
There is nothing in Buddhism that opposes accumulating wealth. In fact, there are many passages in Buddhist writings that encourage people to seek and amass wealth in “rightful ways.” What is wrong is to accumulate wealth in unlawful ways or to allow wealth to enslave us with greed, possessiveness, and miserliness.

Here is a quote from
“In opposition to contemporary urban values, Buddhism does not measure a person's or nation's worth by material wealth. Nor does it go to the opposite extreme, as do Marxist thinkers, and condemn the accumulation of wealth as an evil in and of itself. Instead, Buddhism judges the ethical value of wealth by the ways in which it is obtained, and the uses to which it is put.”
None of us are likely to ever be considered wealthy, but being miserly means much more than money. Are you hoarding your time instead of giving it? Are you hoarding your love because of fear that it won’t be reciprocated?

Someday, every one of us will pass. It’s not something we like to think about, but it may be worthwhile to give it a little thought. Think about how you will be remembered. Will you be remembered as a kind, generous, loving person? Or will you be remembered as a miser?

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Finding Success in Life

Everyone wants to be successful in their life. Success is different for everyone, so only you can define it for yourself. It doesn’t matter much what you choose to do in your life. If you want to be good at it, you must spend time learning something about it and how to do it the best.

Do you have the willingness to work hard to reach your goals? Maybe you talk about doing it. Maybe you talk about planning on how to do it. Maybe you don’t even do that. What stops you from doing more? Do you keep running into a wall?

Knowing how to do something well only happens when you struggle to find your way. It doesn’t come from reading someone’s blog. It doesn’t come from listening to a talk. Those things can give guidance, but you need to do the work. The Chinese have a saying: “To learn how to do something, do it 10,000 times.”

Look at your circle of friends. Are they doing interesting things and working hard? Are they partying all night and sleeping all day? Which kind of friend do you think will help you reach your goals?

Surround yourself with your sangha, your virtuous community, of successful, positive people. Ask several of them to help you plan. Talk about your options for the future. Ask for crazy ideas to help you come up with unconventional ways to get things done.

Nasrudin is a character in many tales and parables. He lived in the Middle East many hundreds of years ago. Here is a story about Nasrudin from

One day, while staying at a friend's house, Nasrudin peered over the wall into the neighbor's yard and saw the most wonderful garden he had ever seen. He noticed an old man patiently weeding a flower-bed and asked, “This is a beautiful garden. I'd like to have one just like it. How do you make a garden like this?”

“Twenty years hard work.”

“Never mind,” said Nasrudin.

Do you want to create a great garden of your life? The time to start is now. Enjoy the journey because it’s a long trip.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Thinking about Priorities

The following is from YMAA News, Issue 54, June 15, 2000 (available at

One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget.

As he stood in front of this group of high-powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He pulled out a large wide-mouthed jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more would fit inside, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

Everyone in the class agreed, “Yes!”

“Really?” he teased. He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing the gravel to work itself down into the space between the rocks.

Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”

“Probably not,” one brave student ventured.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it filled the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked, “Is the jar full?”

Now the whole class was on to him. No!” they shouted.

Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher and began to pour water in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is: no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in!”

“No!” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all.”

Friends, what are the “big rocks” in your life? Your priorities, the most important things in your life, which only you can decide? You must put these “big rocks” in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat the little stuff, then you’ll fill your life with worry over little things that don’t really matter; and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

The Frog and the Scorpion

There are many variations on this story. Here is one I like.

Once upon a time, there was a scorpion that wanted to cross a river. Since scorpions do not swim, he needed help. There was a frog nearby so the scorpion asked the frog to carry him across the river on its back. The frog refused and said, “If I carry you on my back, you will sting me and I will die. That is what scorpions do.”

The scorpion replied, “If I were to sting you, I would drown in the river. That would be suicide.”

The frog considered this. Being a trusting soul, the frog accepted and carried the scorpion on its back out into the river. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. As the frog was dying, it asked the scorpion, “Why did you do this? Now we both will die.”

As the scorpion was sinking into the water along with the dying frog, it replied, “That is what scorpions do. It is my nature.”

Of course, the story isn’t really about frogs and scorpions. It is about human nature.

Do you know someone that drives you crazy? My boss is that one for me. He refuses to allow anyone to make any meaningful decisions without his prior approval. He micromanages the tiniest details of every project, but I can’t get him to take care of the important things that I need him to do.

There is a good description of a micromanager at

When someone believes he is the only one competent to make decisions, he creates suffering (stress) for others. His leadership is not trustworthy. His mind is telling him that what he does is coming from his greater knowledge. It is actually a delusion of the ego. However, my boss is not going to change. He is acting out of his true nature. He believes that his actions are correct. His lack of leadership and management skill is affecting everyone around him. It’s not because he is acting wrongly. He simply does not trust anyone else to do a job as well as he thinks he can do that job.

I have worked for many years to reduce the stress in my life. He has been working just as hard at putting the stress back into my life. Being angry with him for acting according to his nature gets me nowhere. I cannot easily walk away from this job. I need the income.

We have beliefs about who we are. We act in accordance to our beliefs, even if it hurts us. As humans, we have the ability to choose how we act. Bruce Lee once said, “As you think, so shall you become.” It’s up to me to think that I can find positive ways to use this situation. I need to find a way to choose actions that allow me to take care of my family.

As Shantideva says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,

There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.

© 2010 Eric Borreson