by Furman Riley.
In speaking about spiritual practice, I’d like first to announce that my orientation is eclectic. My core spiritual practice, though, is Qigong, generously seasoned with Taoist spiritual principles. Chi is the Chinese term for the subtle energy and Vital Force characteristic of all Life forms … and more.
Qigong refers to “energy work.”It is a system of movements as well as stationary meditation techniques designed specifically to stimulate, circulate and balance one’s bodily Chi. Qigong is related to traditional Chinese medicine from which acupuncture derives. One of the things that especially draws me to this system is a particular difference between the science and philosophy of Chinese medicine compared to that of Western science and mainstream medicine. In the West, body and mind have been seen as a mostly unrelated dichotomy, and spirit is seen pretty much as fanciful. It’s true that view is changing somewhat, but it’s a long way from acceptance by most Western medical practitioners.
In the East, however, a human being is seen as body, mind and spirit essentially intertwined. Qigong and Chinese Medicine provide the methodology for integrating body, mind and spirit. In the process of this integration, one’s spirituality, or at least one’s readiness to receive spirituality, becomes literally embodied, that is, it becomes one with the tissues and physical structure of the body.
Qigonghas been my core practice for over 15 years. To harness life and health-enhancing Chi energy through Qigong, there are three entities that one learns to regulate and employ in practice: Regulation of the mind, the breath and the body. With mind, I bring intention to bear during the process of breathing. Along with this intention, I employ techniques of Taoist breathing, and I use that breathing process to then bring in the third entity, the body. The breathing process “teaches” my body how to relax and open, in order to revitalize its systems. As the breath and Chi flow, in rhythmic expansion and contraction, bodily tissues and channels respond and awareness grows in relation to what actually occurs physically and emotionally during my practice.
Another key element in Qigong practice, both in movements and in standing still, is the importance of postural alignments. By maintaining openness in the joints, between the vertebra, and through other postural guidelines, not only does the Chi flow more freely, but so do other bodily functions. Awareness of one’s bodily functions is heightened, characterized by fluidity of the tissues.
Sometimes, at the beginning of a practice, my body internally feels almost wooden as a result of stiffness, soreness or the presence of arthritic inflammation. At those times, first I establish the required postural alignments. I then put my attention on how and where the bodily expansion and contraction from breathing occurs. Because of many previous repetitions of practice, the mere activating of this intentional awareness triggers the beginning of the process of relaxation and opening of various tissues and joints. During a session, after an initial period of relaxation and freedom of function occurs, I often experience a kind of embodiment of certain spiritual qualities like, serenity, spaciousness within, gratitude, even agape.
Invariably, at the end of my practice, I feel like a person with a changed structure. I typically spend 1 to 1 ½ hours in practice daily. When circumstances require I do as little as 5-20 minutes for my initial practice, I’m very glad for the previous longer practices where the cumulative effect of practice stores Chi.
With that sort of preparation for the day, I feel equipped to do the real work… prayer and mindfulness throughout the day as challenges of all sorts present themselves to me (or more likely, within)! And most importantly, serving others through the fruit of practice and the planting of seeds.