By Simon Weir – Qianfeng Daoism UK (ICBI)
I got my knowledge of Qianfeng Daoist self-cultivation from Mr Charles Luk (1898-1978). I never met him in person, and I have never been to China. I am not an expert on Chinese history, and cannot read or write the Chinese language. Come to think of it, I do not have any Chinese friends in the UK, simply because I lack the social skills and social connections to make any, etc. I can safely say that my only ‘Chinese’ friend was Charles Luk, and I only knew him through written letters over a five year period (1970-1975). Having said that, I am very grateful for the Chinese wisdom contained within Daoism as I believe it guided, changed, and gave my life meaning. I know from documentaries and photographs (and from what others tell me), that China is a beautiful country. The mountains are tall and narrow (with their peaks hidden in the mist), whilst the rivers and lakes appear perfectly placed throughout the valleys and flat landed areas. The Chinese landscape seems to exude ‘correct placement’ and ‘appropriate positioning’. Of course, this landscape is primarily natural, but from where I am perceptually standing in the West, China and her landscape, together with the Daoist culture her people has created, offers a method for acquiring and maintaining ‘balance’ in one’s mind, body, and environment. Similar philosophies may have existed elsewhere in the cultures of the world, that is for sure, but the point is that I do not know any of these alternative paths. I simply have no knowledge of them.
Just as everything appears to be in its correct place in the natural environment of China, the self-cultivating philosophies produced by the Chinese people often require that the body is not only moved correctly from one posture to the next (such as in the movements associated with Taijiquan), but that the ‘internal’ structure of the body is also correct and does not deviate into bad posture. What is good posture? Good posture is physical and psychological – it is not just physical as many seem to believe, but it is usually acknowledged that a straight mind is the product of physical training and discipline. Training the body can be achieved through sitting still, or moving in a prescribed manner. Whether sitting or moving, exactly the same principles of physical organisation apply. The trunk of the body contains virtually all the major (and life sustaining) bodily organs (excluding the brain, eyes, ears, nose, and throat; all of which are contained within the head and neck cavity). If the posture of the trunk cavity is poor, misaligned, distorted, or dysfunctional in some way, then the inner organs will be constricted, deformed, knocked out of place, unnecessarily compressed, and lack a correct and nourishing blood supply. When organs lack an adequate blood supply, their life-sustaining function is hindered, and the health of the mind and body diminishes. When the health of the mind and body diminishes, the lifespan is reduced, and physical death occurs much earlier than it would have done if the blood supply and posture had been optimised.
Poor posture of the trunk creates a constriction of the lungs so that breathing is shallow and oxygen intake is meagre. A reduced oxygen intake obviously means that the organs cannot ‘breathe’ qi energy and gain the required nourishment. In this position, the mind remains ‘unaware’ and ‘ignorant’ of the cause of the bodily discomfort and disease. The mind must be made aware of the poor position and its causes, and thereby understand the logical chain of events that lead to poor health, and the corrective and positive chain of events that lead to good health. In essence, this re-training of the body out of its bad habits of positioning, require a completely new approach. This approach is the generation of good or ‘aligned’ posture of the bones and joints. When sitting, the root of the trunk is the crossed-legs and the pelvic-girdle. The legs should be crossed so that the posture is flat to the floor and stable. The pelvic-girdle should not ‘tilt’ in any direction, be it forward, back, or to the sides. If the legs or disorganised, the pelvic-girdle will tilt and there can be no subsequent alignment of posture. If the legs are correctly organised, then the pelvic-girdle will be naturally and rightly positioned. Everything depends upon this firm foundation.
The spinal column is the next component of bodily alignment. The inner organs are intimately associated with the spinal column and its many vertebrae due to ligaments of attachment, stabilisation, and positioning. A spinal column that is out of alignment, passes this deficiency onto to all the inner organs. Organs that are out of place, restrict the blood vessels and prevent appropriate blood flow. The lungs do not fit into the chest cavity correctly, and a deep and full breath is not attainable. Restricted breathing means that less oxygen and energy enters the body through the blood stream. The breathing mechanism is a muscular ripple that invigorates the structures of the body and passes through the entire torso area. If breathing is constricted, then this revitalising and refreshing muscular wave activity cannot occur and the body goes unrefreshed. In this case, poor breathing technique prevents oxygen entering the body, and the body processes operating in a manner that restores and ensures health. This constriction is always a symptom of muscular tension in the abdominal area. Tension of this type not only hinders blood flow and circulation, but also prevents the digestive system from operating efficiently. If food and drink are not digested properly, the body does not receive the nourishment, and toxins build-up in the body because they are not properly flushed out of the body through faeces. Muscular constriction around the kidney area constricts the organ from properly filtering the blood of urea and expelling it through urination.
The shoulder girdle should it squarely over the pelvic girdle so that the two areas are soundly connected by a naturally curving spine. The curvature of the spine is both concave and convex which means that the vertebrae should never be held unnaturally straight and deliberately non-curved. The muscular of the shoulder girdle should be relaxed so that the shoulder appear to ‘hang’ in mid-air. This allows the arms to also ‘hang’ from the shoulder joints with no need for muscular tension. In this way the hands can rest in the appropriate position upon the lap area. The vertebrae of the neck are extended by placing the chin slightly forward and down. When performed correctly, this open, loosens, and extends the neck vertebrae, whilst simultaneous loosening and extending the musculature of the neck. The tongue should touch the roof of the mouth to connect the energy channels (and flow) within the body.
Full abdominal breathing must involve the entire musculature of the torso without exception. Awareness of the oxygen (and qi) as it enters, flows through, and leaves the body, must be exact and precise. The oxygen (and qi) flows through the body in waves and this wave-like action is provided by the muscular contractions and relaxations of the body. Full muscle use is directly related to full and complete breathing. To achieve this use of the musculature, the musculature must be released of all previous and unnecessary tensions. Tension is bundles of energy trapped in the muscle fibre through habit of posture and habit of thought. These tension bundles can be released by breathing deeply and actively visualising the dispersal and dissolving of the previously trapped energy. Releasing trapped energy, frees the musculature to operate optimally and provide a full oxygenation of the body system. This is in effect the oxygenation of all the body cells in the body with the inward breath, and the cleansing of all body cells with the outward breath. The inward breath brings oxygen in – whilst the outer breath dispels carbon dioxide from the body. Carbon dioxide is the by-product of the process of the body cells absorbing (and burning) oxygen in the mitochondria. As the body cannot use carbon dioxide, it is expelled through the outward breath. During the day, plants absorb this carbon dioxide as part of the photosynthesis process, and expel oxygen into the environment as a by-product. Nothing can be achieved with regards to breathing if the musculature is not first freed from its habitual tension. Habitual tension builds up in the musculature over long periods of time as a defence mechanism against internal or external shocking events. The tension remains even after the traumatic events have long faded into distant memories. If it is understood that muscular tension can be reduced and removed through focusing the mind and breathing deeply, then breathing deeply and profoundly becomes normal for the Daoist practitioner. While all this is going on, qi can be gathered in the lower tan tien for spreading around the body through the inward and outward breathing mechanism – augmented by the physical movements of martial arts or chi kung exercises. Qi blocked in the muscles is muscular tension and is no different to it. Breathe deeply and qi will flow through a liberated inner system without bounds and without ends. When instructing me by letter from Hong Kong, Charles Luk was very specific and precise when teaching me how to align the mind and body and breathe efficiently without any systemic tension in the body.
This article was originally published in the ICBI eJournal Patriarchs Vision (Vol. 1 no. 9, September 2015).