Chi Gung Diary

Today we had our first session with our new chi gung instructor, Fred Gordon. He’s a very interesting guy. I’m really hoping this is something that can help with the ever-increasing pain Jeff is having from the degenerative disk disease in his neck, but it’s also something I’m just really interested in knowing more about.

Jeff is a natural with the energy stuff. He’s ‘way ahead of me at sensing it, even though I’m the one that’s been doing all the exploring for the last couple of years. My head gets in my way — it’s the engineer’s curse. I want objective data. Am I feeling something, or is my brain making it up because I’m thinking about it? I start analyzing and mess everything up. Jeff, on the other hand, spends a lot of time using and depending on pure intuition in his line of work, and is a lot more comfortable with simply feeling. He feels it easily, much more strongly than I do.

After we talked for a while, and Fred showed us a few things and explained more about chi gung, he decided to do a demo. “Stand up,” he told me. I stood. He and Jeff both studied me for a moment. “Try standing on the carpet instead of on your feet,” Fred suggested. I considered this, puzzled, focusing my awareness on my feet, then on the carpet under my feet. Something shifted in my brain. “Good.” They both nodded, even though as far as I could tell, my physical position and posture had not changed.

“Now twist your body back and forth at the waist,” Fred instructed. I obediently twisted my upper body to the right, then back to the left. “That’s not your waist,” Fred told me. “You’re just moving your shoulders. Twist at the waist.” I tried, but nothing happened. Fred demonstrated, swinging easily one way and then the other. “Now watch this,” he said, and did it again, asking me as he did so, “What’s moving?” I studied him. His torso was moving as a unit; his knees continued to face forward. The twisting motion was mostly happening in his thighs and hips. I mimicked the movement, and found myself swinging easily back and forth. After a moment, Fred stepped closer and placed a hand over each of my hip bones, immobilizing me at the hips. “Now twist,” he told me. I tried. Nothing happened. I tried again. Without my hips, and without twisting my shoulders, I couldn’t seem to do it. Fred chuckled. “Watch this,” he told us. He rapidly tapped the fingers of both his hands around the muscles at my waist, moving from front to sides to back and then around to the front again. Then he clamped my hips like he had before. “Twist at the waist,” he told me. I swiveled at the waist, then stopped, startled, then did it again, feeling silly for not having been able to do it before. Fred grinned. “I changed your mindset,” he told me. “I showed your brain which muscles to use.”

“Now let me see you stand on one foot,” he said. Ha. Ever since I developed Meiniere’s Disease, an inner ear disorder, my balance has been off. With my eyes open and both feet on the ground, I’m fine. Without a visual frame of reference, though, my brain can’t seem to make good sense of the conflicting information it gets from my vestibular nerves, and “up” becomes difficult to locate. And when I took a Yoga class in nursing school a couple of years ago, I discovered that standing on one foot had also become a supremely difficult proposition. The rest of the class would serenely stand there, eyes closed, arms dangling, one foot resting gently on the knee of the other leg. I, on the other hand, would be flailing wildly as I tottered from side to side, trying desperately to get one foot off the ground. I couldn’t even get it all the way to my knee before starting to topple over and having to catch myself. And that was with my eyes open.

I tried to do as Fred told me, but just like in the Yoga class, I started veering to one side and had to catch myself. Fred ran me through a balancing exercise, having me march in place, lifting first one knee and then the other, slapping the outside of each knee with the palm of the opposite hand as it rose in front of me. After about a minute of this, he told me to stand on one foot again. I lifted one foot, stood for a few seconds, then swayed and had to put my foot down. Fred grinned. “Your brain is getting in your way again,” he told me, and tapped my forehead. I lifted one foot and stood easily, not swaying, for 30 seconds or so. “Now the other foot,” Fred said. I switched feet, stood for a moment, then swayed again. “There goes your brain,” Fred said, and tapped my forehead again. “You have to change your mindset,” he told me. “It will take practice to change your brain’s habits, but you can balance now.”

Then he stood in front of me, held his hands on either side of my head with his palms about 4 inches from my ears, and had me close my eyes. I sensed his hands there, and felt a swirling warmth over each ear. “Can you feel that?” he asked. I told him I could, and peeked briefly. He was moving his hands in circles around each of my ears. After a moment, he said, “can you still feel it?” “Not as much,” I told him. “Look where my hands are,” he said. I opened my eyes. His hands were far out to the sides now, each a good 20 inches away from my head. He grinned, and Jeff looked bemused. I closed my eyes again, feeling the sensations. I felt a sense of gentle buffeting at my left ear for a few moments, and peeked to find Fred moving both hands alternately in and out toward my left ear. I closed my eyes again, and heard Fred move around to my right. After a moment, he asked, “What do you feel now?” I considered this. “It’s like…pulling,” I told him, and opened my eyes at the chuckle this elicited. He was moving his hands as though pulling an invisible rope hand over hand out of my ear. I glanced at Jeff, and saw his startled look. Later, he told me how it had been interesting, watching what Fred was doing and hearing me, with my eyes closed, describe what I felt. It had all correlated, he said, “but when he was doing that pulling thing, and you said it felt like pulling — that was kind of freaky!”

I find it ironic that it’s the engineer part of me that understands where the energy comes from and why it’s there, and yet it’s that same part of me that makes me doubt that I can actually sense it. But maybe there’s hope for me yet. I’ll keep working on it. Meanwhile, I need to go practice standing on one foot. Stay tuned!

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