It is virtually impossible to live a life that straddles East and West, as we do, geographically, without straddling East and West, philosophically.
There are many layers of philosophical / world view differences, and the purpose here is not to catalog all such differences. But we do want to confront the concept of Qi.
Qi (pronounced chi) loosely translates as “energy”. Qi has many names, but yogis recognize the concept as “Pranayama”, also translated as energy, or life, or life energy.
This is not at all a remote concept for us. In fact, for years Pete and I have turned to Chinese medicine (in lieu of Western medicine) ~ not always, but whenever possible and appropriate. (Not recommended for ailments requiring antibiotics such as strep throat or an ear infection). Neither of us take any daily pharmaceutical medications and we do our best to avoid having to take antibiotics or even aspirin, if possible.
We have plenty of personal empirical evidence of positive experiences with Chinese doctors, acupuncture, cupping, reflexology and Chinese herbal medicine. As we travel, we always seek out Chinese practitioners whenever possible. ( In Chicago, San Francisco, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Thailand to name a few places that come to mind that we have benefited from Chinese medicine.)
The West is increasingly well served by availability of foot reflexology and acupuncture. In both cases, the acupuncturist or the foot reflexologist apply well known techniques to release blocked energy, or Qi. Increasingly, the concept of “Meridians” ~ the invisible, but critical infrastructure of energy vessels that parallel the nervous and blood vessel systems.
Let’s delve into the Qi or Pranayama topic…
Whilst in Hoi An, Viet Nam, we attend a once a week, 3 hour “Energetic yoga workshop”, (taught by our friend and therapeutic yoga teacher Brook Skillman.) This leads us to wanting to understand further and articulate this pervasive, life-critical concept of Qi and what we might do moving forward, as our Asian hosts tend to, to manage our Qi, for optimal health and energy.
Some description of Qi is required…
How to bridge Eastern and Western basic understanding of the human “body”? A succinct explanation is provided in “The Root of Chinese Qigong” by Jwing Ming Yag.
“At this time, there is no clear explanation of the relationship between all of the circulatory systems and the Qi circulatory system. The Western world knows of the blood system, the nervous system and the lymphatic system. China added a Qi circulation system. Chinese medical society believes that the Qi and blood are closely related. Where Qi goes, blood follows. It is believed that Qi provides the energy for the blood cells to keep them alive. As a matter of fact, it is believed that blood is able to store Qi and that blood helps to transport air Qi especially to every cell of the body…. If you compare the routes of the blood circulatory system, the nervous system and the lymphatic system with the course of the Qi channels, you will see that there is a great deal of correspondence. ”
Perhaps it is useful to give a metaphor:
“The human body is composed of two major parts – the first part is the physical body, and the second is the energy supply which the body needs to function. Your body is like a factory. Inside your body, are many organs, which correspond to the machines required to process the raw materials into the finished product. Some of the raw materials brought into a factory are used to create the energy with which other materials will be converted into finished goods. The raw materials for your body are food and air, and the finished product is life.
The Qi in your body is analogous to the electric current which the factory power plant obtains from coal, oil, wind, solar… The factory has many wires connecting the power plant to the machines and other wires connecting telephones, intercoms and computers. There are also many converter belts, elevators, wagons and trucks to move material from one place to another. It is no different in your body, where there are systems of intestines, blood vessels, complex networks of nerves and Qi channels to facilitate the supply of blood, sensory information and energy to the entire body.
In a factory, different machines require different levels of current. It is the same for some organs, which require different levels of Qi. In order for a factory to function smoothly, it will no only need high quality machines, but also a reliable power supply. Qi is affected by the quality of air you inhale, the kind of food you eat, your lifestyle and even your emotional make up and personality. The food and air are like the fuel or power supply, and their quality affects you. Your lifestyle is like the way you run the machines and your personality is like the management of the factory.”
OK enough context, lest we lose our audience. Qi is very much a concept that weaves through our lives and we are even more aware of it, living in Asia. It is very common in most of Asia to see locals doing Qi related exercising in parks in the early hours of the morning. Chigong, Tai chi, yoga and stretching are a part of every day life for a majority of the population.
Yoga and Meditation are directly connected to the concept of Qi.
We have both been doing yoga for about 16 years and incorporate stretching and breathing whenever possible into our daily lives.
Massages, in the U.S., are somewhat of a luxury. At $100 to $150 per hour long session, it is for most of us something that falls into the category of a special treat. Of course the value of massages goes well beyond the one hour of treatment, but one should not expect magic either. Massages are part of a holistic approach to wellness.
The fact that high quality massages can be had in Vietnam for $15/hour, and for $25 in Sri Lanka means that we are able to integrate massage as part of a complete approach to health, without breaking the bank.
So what does massage have to do with Qi?
For this, we turn to writings by Suzanne Friedman, who wrote in ‘Massage Today’ some useful tidbits of Chinese medicinal history…
“The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (Neijing) was compiled in 200 BC, and it is still considered the bible of Chinese medicine today. The Neijing discusses four major healing modalities: acupuncture, pharmacology (herbs), massage and qi gong.
Early Chinese medicine and Daoist texts frequently grouped massage and qi gong together as the two most powerful methods of self-healing.
Qi gong became an official part of Chinese court medicine by the Tang dynasty, and it is likely that massage therapists were already part of court medicine before that time.”
Massage and qi gong are two complementary approaches to bodywork. It is said that qi gong balances the energy, blood and body fluid flow from the inside, and massage strengthens the flow from the outside.
Qi gong uses intention and particular body movements to guide the qi in healthy directions, while the physical pressure and body manipulation of massage help to do so from the outside.
Daoist masters and early Chinese medicine doctors saw the value of this internal-external approach to balance the body and harmonize the interior and exterior.”
Nutrition and diet
Some might call Peta passionate about her thoughts on the optimal food supply source and in particular her advocacy in favor of a fruit and plant-based diet. That resonates fairly well through out our family ecosystem, with most of our boys having gradually shifted from a somewhat meat-centric diet, to a meat “accented” diet. Taming Ben’s French tastebuds remains a challenge, especially in a country like Vietnam where there are phenomenal pork-skewers, banh mi (baguette stuffed with cuts of pork) and a host of other delicious bites to be had. On the whole, Ben does enjoy veggies more than the average.
Qi is energy. The prominence of uncooked (live) greens and herbs in Viet Nam’s, and no dairy, makes it a good place to connect with one’s Qi through healthy nutrition. (That is of course, if you can avoid the MSG that sneaks into Vietnamese food quite often.)
Qi and spirits
There is a direct link in the Chinese understanding of life and death and the spirit world, and Qi.
Much has been written about what happens to the Qi upon one’s death. In fact the Chinese perspective is that the relationship between the two goes in multiple directions. In some cases, one’s diminished energy, is the cause of an eventual winding down of the body, often due to age. But conversely, a premature accidental death, would result in the remnant of Qi and this is one of the conditions that results in a prolonged existence of the spirit, even if the physical body perishes.
For more on evidence of an ongoing conversation about the Spirit world: http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2013/09/ancestors-and-the-spirit-world.html
Qi and manifestation
The final dimension of Qi we’d like to acknowledge is the connectivity between Qi and “manifestation”.
The West has discovered the concept of manifestation through the best seller book “The Secret”. Marketed in the west as some kind of a revelation and a breakthrough, the concept of manifestation is nothing new in Asia. The concept of being able to affect one’s future through clear thoughts and intentions is one that is difficult for most Westerners to digest and accept. This is because the West tends to see the world in black and white terms, especially when it comes to life and death . Secular, science-based reality here, religious or spiritual intangibles there.
For many Westerns (most?) the notion that one can affect one’s own life trajectory by just “wishing it so”, might seem absurd. And the only thing that comes remotely close to this concept is the religious concept of “praying” for certain outcomes to be granted from the big guy in the sky.
But not so absurd when you take into consideration the concept of Qi.
In fact, we are squarely on the side of Albert Einstein, who in his unique and authoritative way addresses what would seem like a philosophical perspective. For Einstein, though, it’s a simple matter of the physics of energy. He explained:
“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is NOT philosophy. This is physics”. Albert Einstein.
So what to make of this? The Chinese practitioners of Qi describe the same phenomenon by talking about how to align one’s internal Qi (Einstein’s “frequency”), with external Qi, and … the hoped for reality manifests itself.
We are both conceptually and empirically convinced that there is something true and real about the ability to manifest a future reality.
So with this in mind, we might as well put our money where our Qi is:.
Peta’s frequency and intentions for our new lives in Sri Lanka:
* Play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka’s wild elephant population
* Create a vegetable/herbal/ayurvedic garden
* Have our Sri Lanka nest become a destination for our 4 sons (and their partners)
Ben’s “frequency” and intentions for our new lives in Sri Lanka:
* Successfully close on business pursuits to assist the Sri Lankan Government with its ability to deploy Sri Lankan troops in support of UN Peace Keeping Operations
* Play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka’s wild elephant population.
* Set up a Sri Lanka based think tank to address international security and climate change issues
Tuning in our Qi to this multi-dimensional future reality. We will update periodically on these manifestations…