Joy   Leave a comment

True joy is not something I acquire from outer events or things – it is something I release from within.
In this statement we find the key to a long and happy life. So often we base our happiness on the external environment, how we are treated and what we receive. By looking within we can discover the innate joy, peace and vibrant health (zheng qi) that is our birthright.
Within each us us lies the answer to all of our needs. In classical Chinese teachings this source within is called Zheng Qi (seiki in Japanese). This is the true energy of our being. When we rest our being in/on the zheng qi all that distorts our health and happiness is rectified.
One can access this adamantine source of health and well-being through the simple practice of zhang zhuang. You can read about this simple and profound practice elsewhere on this blog or you can learn it directly from me or my teacher Sifu Fong Ha.

Posted May 18, 2011 by Devon in Health, Internal Development

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Sinew Changing – Thoughts on the Yijinjing   2 comments

copyright reserved Devon Hornby 2008

In the history of qigong no set of exercises may be as highly revered as the yijinjing. The yijinjing or sinew changing classic is attributed the famous Buddhist saint Damo or Bodhidharma. It said that Damo taught the yijinjing to the Shaolin monks shortly after he arrived from India because he felt that the monks’ weakness and ill health were affecting their ability to progress spiritually. This series of exercises is said to transform the sinews, which is the fascia.

Why, we should ask, did Damo develop a specific routine in response to ill health and weakness of the monks? Why not just some basic calisthenics? The answer to these questions is profound and directly relates to the practice of qigong and healing in general.

Damo devised a series of exercises that not only increased strength and general vitality but also transformed the very fabric of the monks’ physical being. He sought to do this because inherent in the fabric of our being is much of what must be overcome in the process of spiritual awakening.

It is widely known that how we think affects our posture and body use and vise versa. Research has demonstrated that when we stand up straight and smile we fell better, uplifted and cheerful and when we stoop and frown our mood quickly deteriorates regardless of how we felt previously. Our mind body connection here is obvious and profound.

Repeated patterns of physical behavior literally sculpt our bodies. This seen most obviously in the modern obsession of “working out” which almost always has as its goal a particular physique. Our bodies are physically sculpted on at least two levels, one muscular the other fascial. The muscular sculpting is determined by the amount of exercise we do, the relative tone of muscles and to a certain degree, genetics. The fascial level is deeper and significantly more profound. The fascial sculpting, barring serious trauma, generally takes years to condition. It is normally the result of our habitually body use patterns and posture but can be profoundly affected by certain forms of qigong training and yoga.

By playing a decisive role in our range of motion and basic movement patterns fascia can and does determine not just our physical bearing and posture but our mental one as well. Fascia is the medium upon which much of our habitual tendencies are recorded. It is in this sense a major player in our karmic being. Karma is the momentum of our habitual tendencies. Fascia is a means by which we get locked into these habits.

Fascia is found through out the body. It is our “soft skeleton”. It provides support for our organs, integrity to our muscles and literally connects every part of our body to every other part. Fascia also has an important energetic function. The Chinese, have for centuries, recognized fascia as a reservoir and conduit of qi. In the west we are just beginning to understand the profound role of fascia in the complex workings of the human body. Fascia, like quartz crystals, generates piezo-electric currents. Its very structure determines the growth and function of tissues and organs. The perineural fascia may be the locus of an entire primitive neurology henceforth unrecognized. The interrelationships of just these, already recognized, functions of fascia point to its role as the most important tissue in the body.

The pivotal role fascia plays in our mental and physical health and well-being underscores the importance of any healing modality that addresses its proper function. Qigong, in the form of taiji, yiquan, yijinjing, qigong anma or others, is just such a modality. Qigong anma, the yijinjing and certain other forms of qigong represent a corpus of knowledge and techniques which allow practitioners to take charge of their own and others health in a profound way not even yet recognized in the west. The east in general and the Chinese in particular have long recognized the subtle and profound role of fascia in health and longevity and so it is from this vantage point that we will further explore the role fascia plays in the healing arts.

Fascia is the reservoir of qi and the medium through which it reaches the various structure of our body. Qi flow in the fascia has at least two important functions; getting qi to the entire body and the generation of qi fields. As a conduit of qi flow the fascia must remain open, healthy and abundant. If the fascia is compromised qi flow is impaired or blocked and certain areas of the body become deficient in qi allowing them to become weak and depleted. Furthermore if the qi flow is impaired the fields it generates will change. A change in a qi field changes the information sent to the surrounding tissues and can have disastrous consequences. Qi fields regulate the growth and regeneration of cells in tissues. If the field changes cell growth may not be properly regulated and organ dysfunction and/or cancer can result. Organ dysfunction can also result from the obstruction of qi flow through the fascia in terms of the meridians as well.

The importance of fascia has already been touted in regards to basic myo-skeletal relationships. Binding and restriction of the fascia is generally the root cause of the pain, discomfort and restricted ROM.

The complex interrelationships supported by the fascia make a holistic approach to healing essential. This is particularly relevant to chronic conditions but many acute injuries also have origins here in that is was what predisposed the injury to occur in the first place.

The etiology of fascial pathology is, in and of itself, complex. Muscles hold positions for the short term but fascia locks habitual body use patterns into place. It is through our physical habits that fascia gets sculpted. This can be the result of how we think, what we do, our physical surroundings and probably many more factors.

By opening up fascial planes and qi flow, for example through the sinew channels, we temporarily step outside our habitual patterns and get the opportunity to change course, so to speak. We get a taste of freedom; it is up to us to change the actual patterns that gave rise to the issue in the first place. Often the process of opening up restriction will bring whatever deeper psycho-spiritual issues are partner to this dysfunction to the surface allowing us to, if we so choose, move on. One can affect change directly through fascial restructuring, such as yijinjing, yi quan or qigong anma or regulation of qi flow through more meditative approaches.

Since the time of Damo the forms of qigong designed to benefit the fascia and hence the whole body has increased both in quantity and quality. Today we have Iron Shirt, Golden Bell Cover, Lo han Patting, and many different “styles” of Yijinjing, not to mention the nei gong exercises of the various external and internal martial arts. It is not by coincidence that many of these styles have massage and self-massage as part of their training regimens.

There are two important aspects to training fascia from the perspective of qigong. The first is to open the channels. This means to stretch the connective tissue and remove obstructions. The second is to fill the tissue with qi. This can be done externally via striking, rubbing, rolling, or patting the body or internally by the guiding the qi with the intent, yi. One can also accomplish both of these aspects through massage.

Stretching fascia and removing obstructions is basic to most forms of effective therapeutic healing practices and therapies. Filling the fascia with qi is a much more subtle art. This will often involve acupressure or deep tissue techniques and may at times require the use of herbs either externally in the form of liniments and oils or internally through herbal teas. The martial traditions of China have created a number of formulas that one can use their training.

The martial qigong practices such as iron shirt, iron palm, golden shield, and golden bell cover training all provide recipes for external and internal training formulas that increase the quantity and flow of qi in the fascia. This is because these traditions postulate that the cushion created by increasing the qi in the fascia protects one against trauma or external invasion. It has been observed amongst qigong practitioners that the external reservoir of qi produced by these practices greatly increases the overall health of the individual. This observation has led many non-martial practitioners to do these practices for health benefits alone.

There are many techniques that one can use to enliven the tissues with qi some more, and others less, suited to the practice of healing arts. Friction techniques are a common practice in both Asian and western healing modalities. Patting and slapping are also common and useful for personal cultivation although not always the best adjunct to some of the more subtle approaches to healing others. The use of various tools is also common in traditional Chinese massage, particularly in the martial traditions. Mallets, pestles, wire “brushes”, rattan sticks, and balls of various types are just some of the large array of tools found in this arsenal. Many of these tools are more commonly used in self-massage, especially today.

The friction techniques of traditional Chinese massage are the most refined in the tradition of rolling hands tuina. Circular friction is by far the most common technique in Chinese massage but cross fiber friction can also be very useful.

Patting and slapping are similar in technique but vary in intensity and intent. Patting is meant to stimulate deeper into the body with deep penetrating blows often having a more tonic affect. Slapping is more superficial and is meant to stimulate local, superficial blood flow to very specific areas. It can disperse qi and blood stagnation or tonify an area depending on how it is administered. Slapping can be used in lieu of or in combination with a number of liniments to affect therapeutic inflammation.

It is very important to recognize the profundity of the work we are doing both on the physical plane and deeper. By changing fascial relationships in the body we are changing the structure of the body physically and energetically. We are, in effect, taking karma in to our own hands. We must know what we are doing and have a plan; there is no room for error here. If we make inappropriate changes in basic structures we can worsen the condition and perhaps even cause irreparable damage. A thorough assessment of the condition is absolutely necessary before we do any substantial fascial releases. This applies as much to yoga and personal qigong practice at it does to any form of therapeutic bodywork.

This is a skill which must be cultivated over time. Be patient, thoughtful and listen to the body and messages of pain and resistance as well as comfort and relief. Keep an open heart and mind and move slowly and you will succeed.

Posted September 18, 2009 by Devon in Health, Internal Development

Why Schools Should Remove Gene-Altered Foods from Their Cafeterias   Leave a comment

By Jeffrey M. Smith

Before the Appleton Wisconsin high school replaced their cafeteria’s processed foods with wholesome, nutritious food, the school was described as out-of-control. There were weapons violations, student disruptions, and a cop on duty full-time. After the change in school meals, the students were calm, focused, and orderly. There were no more weapons violations, and no suicides, expulsions, dropouts, or drug violations. The new diet and improved behavior has lasted for seven years, and now other schools are changing their meal programs with similar results.

Years ago, a science class at Appleton found support for their new diet by conducting a cruel and unusual experiment with three mice. They fed them the junk food that kids in other high schools eat everyday. The mice freaked out. Their behavior was totally different than the three mice in the neighboring cage. The neighboring mice had good karma; they were fed nutritious whole foods and behaved like mice. They slept during the day inside their cardboard tube, played with each other, and acted very mouse-like.

The junk food mice, on the other hand, destroyed their cardboard tube, were no longer nocturnal, stopped playing with each other, fought often, and two mice eventually killed the third and ate it. After the three month experiment, the students rehabilitated the two surviving junk food mice with a diet of whole foods. After about three weeks, the mice came around.

Sister Luigi Frigo repeats this experiment every year in her second grade class in Cudahy, Wisconsin, but mercifully, for only four days. Even on the first day of junk food, the mice’s behavior “changes drastically.” They become lazy, antisocial, and nervous. And it still takes the mice about two to three weeks on unprocessed foods to return to normal. One year, the second graders tried to do the experiment again a few months later with the same mice, but this time the animals refused to eat the junk food.

Across the ocean in Holland, a student fed one group of mice genetically modified (GM) corn and soy, and another group the non-GM variety. The GM mice stopped playing with each other and withdrew into their own parts of the cage. When the student tried to pick them up, unlike their well-behaved neighbors, the GM mice scampered around in apparent fear and tried to climb the walls. One mouse in the GM group was found dead at the end of the experiment.

It’s interesting to note that the junk food fed to the mice in the Wisconsin experiments also contained genetically modified ingredients. And although the Appleton school lunch program did not specifically attempt to remove GM foods, it happened anyway. That’s because GM foods such as soy and corn and their derivatives are largely found in processed foods. So when the school switched to unprocessed alternatives, almost all ingredients derived from GM crops were taken out automatically.

Does this mean that GM foods negatively affect the behavior of humans or animals? It would certainly be irresponsible to say so on the basis of a single student mice experiment and the results at Appleton. On the other hand, it is equally irresponsible to say that it doesn’t.

We are just beginning to understand the influence of food on behavior. A study in Science in December 2002 concluded that “food molecules act like hormones, regulating body functioning and triggering cell division. The molecules can cause mental imbalances ranging from attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder to serious mental illness.” The problem is we do not know which food molecules have what effect.

The bigger problem is that the composition of GM foods can change radically without our knowledge. Genetically modified foods have genes inserted into their DNA. But genes are not Legos; they don’t just snap into place. Gene insertion creates unpredicted, irreversible changes. In one study, for example, a gene chip monitored the DNA before and after a single foreign gene was inserted. As much as 5 percent of the DNA’s genes changed the amount of protein they were producing. Not only is that huge in itself, but these changes can multiply through complex interactions down the line.

In spite of the potential for dramatic changes in the composition of GM foods, they are typically measured for only a small number of known nutrient levels. But even if we could identify all the changed compounds, at this point we wouldn’t know which might be responsible for the antisocial nature of mice or humans. Likewise, we are only beginning to identify the medicinal compounds in food. We now know, for example, that the pigment in blueberries may revive the brain’s neural communication system, and the antioxidant found in grape skins may fight cancer and reduce heart disease. But what about other valuable compounds we don’t know about that might change or disappear in GM varieties?

Consider GM soy. In July 1999, years after it was on the market, independent researchers published a study showing that it contains 12-14 percent less cancer-fighting phytoestrogens. What else has changed that we don’t know about? [Monsanto responded with its own study, which concluded that soy’s phytoestrogen levels vary too much to even carry out a statistical analysis. They failed to disclose, however, that the laboratory that conducted Monsanto’s experiment had been instructed to use an obsolete method to detect phytoestrogens results.]

In 1996, Monsanto published a paper in the Journal of Nutrition that concluded in the title, “The composition of glyphosate-tolerant soybean seeds is equivalent to that of conventional soybeans.” The study only compared a small number of nutrients and a close look at their charts revealed significant differences in the fat, ash, and carbohydrate content. In addition, GM soy meal contained 27 percent more trypsin inhibitor, a well-known soy allergen. The study also used questionable methods. Nutrient comparisons are routinely conducted on plants grown in identical conditions so that variables such as weather and soil can be ruled out. Otherwise, differences in plant composition could be easily missed. In Monsanto’s study, soybeans were planted in widely varying climates and geography.

Although one of their trials was a side-by-side comparison between GM and non-GM soy, for some reason the results were left out of the paper altogether. Years later, a medical writer found the missing data in the archives of the Journal of Nutrition and made them public. No wonder the scientists left them out. The GM soy showed significantly lower levels of protein, a fatty acid, and phenylalanine, an essential amino acid. Also, toasted GM soy meal contained nearly twice the amount of a lectin that may block the body’s ability to assimilate other nutrients. Furthermore, the toasted GM soy contained as much as seven times the amount of trypsin inhibitor, indicating that the allergen may survive cooking more in the GM variety. (This might explain the 50 percent jump in soy allergies in the UK, just after GM soy was introduced.)

We don’t know all the changes that occur with genetic engineering, but certainly GM crops are not the same. Ask the animals. Eyewitness reports from all over North America describe how several types of animals, when given a choice, avoided eating GM food. These included cows, pigs, elk, deer, raccoons, squirrels, rats, and mice. In fact, the Dutch student mentioned above first determined that his mice had a two-to-one preference for non-GM before forcing half of them to eat only the engineered variety.

Differences in GM food will likely have a much larger impact on children. They are three to four times more susceptible to allergies. Also, they convert more of the food into body-building material. Altered nutrients or added toxins can result in developmental problems. For this reason, animal nutrition studies are typically conducted on young, developing animals. After the feeding trial, organs are weighed and often studied under magnification. If scientists used mature animals instead of young ones, even severe nutritional problems might not be detected. The Monsanto study used mature animals instead of young ones.

They also diluted their GM soy with non-GM protein 10- or 12­fold before feeding the animals. And they never weighed the organs or examined them under a microscope. The study, which is the only major animal feeding study on GM soy ever published, is dismissed by critics as rigged to avoid finding problems.

Unfortunately, there is a much bigger experiment going on one which we are all a part of. We’re being fed GM foods daily, without knowing the impact of these foods on our health, our behavior, or our children. Thousands of schools around the world, particularly in Europe, have decided not to let their kids be used as guinea pigs. They have banned GM foods.

The impact of changes in the composition of GM foods is only one of several reasons why these foods may be dangerous. Other reasons may be far worse (see http://www.seedsofdeception.com).

With the epidemic of obesity and diabetes and with the results in Appleton, parents and schools are waking up to the critical role that diet plays. When making changes in what kids eat, removing GM foods should be a priority.

Posted September 10, 2008 by Devon in Health

Natural Liberation   1 comment

In many of the spiritual traditions of the world as they are practiced today much is made of the duality of light and dark, enlightenment and ego, God and self. This can be very useful concept for explaining our seeming irrationality, our lack of enlightenment. As a paradigm of spiritual development it is possibly one of the gravest errors we could make. Although in modern times this duality is mostly internalized it is really no different from any religious or philosophical concept that posits a separation between the absolute and our self. In fact internalizing this duality may in fact be driving the stake even deeper into real spiritual liberation.

We fear positing that we are inherently good in our totality. Should we do this, we may be seen as psychotic. This is no exaggeration. How would you react to me if I told you I was perfect?

So let us consider the dualistic mindset for a minute. Which part of me is not enlightened? How do I know? Is it not true that, if there is a separation, we will now have to depend on another to discern for us which parts of me are enlightened and which are not? Have we not therefore already surrendered our spiritual liberty? It seems surely inevitable that anyone no matter how well intentioned is going to see the parts of us they like and agree with as enlightened and those parts which contradict them as “the dark side”. This is a reflection of our internalization of the paternalistic relationship we have with government and any other fear based authority.

Perhaps our “dark side” only exits because of the shadow being cast by the wall we have erected in our own psyche. This darkness, no doubt, fosters evil, perversion and psychosis. What if instead we were to bring the totality of our being into the light, completely out into the open? In the light all that is within us can be accepted and revealed. There would be no dark corners of our mind where true abominations arise. To remove the dualistic power relationship in our minds is to rob the food of poverty mentality, that weak self-pitying dialog that justifies our greed and hatred.

This so called dark side is just made up of elements of our greater being. It is an illusion, Buddha taught this, and yet many make it real, give it life, energy. There is no doubt we all have less than desirable aspects of our being. The important point is that we do not have to group them together and build a wall around them. We can, instead, just see them for what they are and address them one by one. Grouping them together empowers these bad habits and turns them into a source of frustration, and more importantly shame and guilt. It is the shame and guilt which demeans us and makes us targets for oppression either overtly, through establishments such as government, and subtly, in the form of religious dogma and other -isms.

Let us become whole. Take responsibility for our Selves and throw off the shackles of duality. Let us be free.

Posted August 5, 2008 by Devon in Spirit

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There: The Art of Zhan Zhuang   Leave a comment

In the modern world of diet fads and exercise trends it may be hard to believe that one of the best things that you can do for you health and wellbeing is just standing doing nothing. Standing meditation has been practiced in Asia for millennia but has only recently come to the fore, even there, as a popular health regimen.

Zhan Zhuan (pronounced jon juong) literally means standing like a post or a tree. The practice involves standing with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart, all your joints loose and “unlocked” and with your attention resting at your lower dan tien, below the navel and in front of the spine. Breathe deeply and relax. That is it.

So why should you just stand there and do nothing? Well, for a lot of reasons, most of which are best experienced rather than explained. Suffice it to say that through this practice one can free the flow of energy in their body and hence achieve profound states of wellbeing and joy.

It takes some getting use to. That is the trick; we actually need to learn how to relax. Generally in our day to day lives we are so busy externally and internally we have no chance to experience peace. Zhan Zhuang allows us the time to learn to relax and become familiar with the feeling. From there we can step out in to our world centered and integrated.

Because we actually have to learn how to relax this practice does requires some patience and discipline. We need to commit to a regular practice of at least 15 minutes a day, more is better. After a few days the benefits start to become apparent and our desire to practice increases as the fruits of our effort blossom.

Zhan Zhuang is the foundation of all good tai chi and qigong. It is the basis of Sifu Fong Ha’s system of Integral Chuan. I encourage you to experience the joy of standing and the profound sense of wellbeing which it can inject in to your life. Try it on your own or join us for a class, just do it and feel the difference doing nothing can make.

Posted July 15, 2008 by Devon in Internal Development

The Wisdom of Classical Five Element Theory   Leave a comment

In classical Taoist cosmology the phenomenal world is seen to be the expression of five phases or elements of energy. These elements are earth, metal, water, fire and wood. The classical mandala of their relationship places earth at the center, fire on top, water on bottom, metal on the left and wood on the right. This arrangement differs from modern representations which show the elements in a circle. the later diagram is useful for understanding the cyclical nature of their relationship but robs us of understanding the profound relationships that exist between them particularly on an esoteric level. This later point should not surprise us as the circular model is the one popularized by the materialist-communist pundits of so called “traditional” Chinese medicine.

The classical mandala speaks to us of the relationship between the elements of the human psyche. The intent, earth element, is central to the configuration. Above it we find spirit, fire, and below our divine will, water, which is the seal of heaven, our personal destiny which is to be fulfilled in order to be in accord with the great way, Tao. Balanced on either side, by intent, are our corporeal (metal) and non-corporeal (wood) souls. These souls reflect the two basic drives in our lives, our karma and our survival based needs. The hun, non-corporeal soul, contains the karmic seeds planted by all of our past actions. The po, corporeal soul, is the drive to fulfill our basic needs of survival. Ultimately on the integral path neither of these forces should determine our destiny. These two forces must be tamed and balanced and brought under our conscious control. they are depicted mythologically by the dragon and the tiger. Until we have come to know and work with these forces we are bound by the laws of fate and stand no chance of any true spiritual enlightenment.

Posted June 30, 2008 by Devon in Internal Development, Spirit

Welcome!   Leave a comment

This blog gives me a chance to express views, present theories and pass on useful information concerning all aspects of integral living.

Posted June 18, 2008 by Devon in Uncategorized