In a couple of months’ time I will have been teaching Taijiwuxigong for twenty two years. What a truly life affirming journey it has been! I’d like to tell you some of my story, how Taijiwuxigong so profoundly improved my well-being and how it remains a continuous and living source of learning; guiding me and keeping me steady and strong. There may need to be a part two! What I hope is that something catches your interest enough that you try for yourself. Taijiwuxigong has to be experienced!
My childhood was both beautiful and terrible. I lived on a farm and was surrounded by animals and the natural world. I had a lot of physical freedom. However, my parents had a very volatile relationship and I was often extremely traumatized by what I saw and heard.
When I was eight I had my first bout of Alopecia. At thirteen a friend’s grandfather sexually assaulted me. From then on, throughout my teens and early twenties, I experienced and put myself through, many traumatic and sometimes violent situations and was often unwell. My outlets were nature and art. I was very creative, writing songs, poems and plays and singing and painting. I also enjoyed sport as I liked to push myself physically. These things were a real source of release and expression for me but they weren’t enough to clear the ‘sick’ information that I had absorbed. By the time I went to University I was mentally and emotionally unwell, self-medicating through drugs and seeking answers from religion and philosophy. My greatest love was singing and I had some really wonderful opportunities come my way. I’d take them up for a while but I was just not mentally well enough. The drive to find healing and peace was stronger than anything. In 1990, a year after the birth of my son, I was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. I was extremely sick, skeletal, very depressed, and had a large goitre, exophthalmos (protruding eyeballs) and Alopecia yet again. The need for health and some peace within, was stronger than ever, especially as I now had someone else to care for.
I started learning Tai chi at the suggestion of a friend and something kept me going to that class week after week. No-one asked me questions, I didn’t have to talk endlessly about the things that had traumatized me. It was just me, with the teaching. I was doing it in a group, but did not have to enter ‘group think.’ I just did something physical that began to influence the way I felt and thought. Going every week brought me back to the joy and benefits of self-discipline. It was graceful and fluid and appealed to my artist sensibility. It was also powerful, allowing most levels of physical ability to be enhanced. I enjoyed the martial element, exploring economy of movement and energetics. Tai Chi offered something for every level of my being.
Five years on, I heard that a Chinese Tai Chi Master, Dr Shen Hongxun was coming to our school to give a talk and demonstration. I decided to go along. To be honest, at the time I did not understand what was happening. The Master seemed to do something with his hands and without touching caused his volunteer ‘patient’ to move spontaneously. It was clear that the volunteer felt that something profound and unusual had happened. They certainly seemed very happy about it! I had no idea what I was seeing and no inkling that this moment was the beginning of the most wonderful journey of my life.
A couple of months later I heard that the Master’s daughter, Shen Jin, would be coming to Bristol to teach a weekend of Taijiwuxigong. I was very attracted to the idea of a female Master and decided to go along. That weekend was utterly mind blowing. I really cannot think of another way to describe my experience. I love to study and so took copious notes and practiced everything she said assiduously. The experience and how I felt, both in the class and after, I could not ignore or diminish. Something shifted in my being and I felt as if I had been given a peep into the wisdom of human history. The experience is actually not possible to put into words but I recognized its truth and that was the beginning of my study with the Buqi College and eventually many years with Dr Shen himself.
Dr Shen became my touchstone as soon as I began to study with him. The Buqi system he created through his endless research and practice, comprises, through different disciplines, a breadth of study that covers martial art, self-healing and the healing of others as well as meditation.
Taijiwuxigong is a complete system of self-healing in itself and is one of the major practices of the Buqi System. The meaning of Taijiwuxigong can be translated as Tai –unlimited Ji –size Wu- five Xi- breathing and Gong –Exercises. The breathing element could be thought of as ‘refreshing the joints.’ I think it is a great place to start learning Tai Chi principles. It is fairly easy to access and can be practiced by most people. It can be both simple and utterly profound. I have now been practicing for thirty years and I am still finding new things. The basic premise is that posture and emotion form a double vicious cycle that creates imbalance and ill health. Other factors also play a part, such as diet and environment. Over time we form habits that are often a hindrance to our well-being. Often we believe that it would take such a lot for us to change and heal, that we feel our problems are insurmountable. I can relate to that feeling, as I too, felt that before finding this practice. It is important to understand that just enough, in just the right place, in the right moment can change everything.
The Taijiwuxigong system includes three main types of exercise: Daoyin, spontaneous movement exercises, and meditation. These work together to activate the body energetically, open up the spine, and cleanse the body’s channels and meridians. The aim is self-healing, and self-regulation of the body and mind.
Daoyin are exercises with a guiding or directing function and a clear mental intention. They provide a balance to the deep relaxation of spontaneous movement and are very specific. The Daoyin use mind, breath and body movement to guide sick information out of the body. Different exercises focus on specific parts of the body.
Spontaneous movement can help to regulate balance in the body and mind and between body and mind. It can help to release blocked emotion and clear sick information. You can experience this type of internal energy force effect, through the practice of specific exercises that bring the force from the earth (earth force) into the body and combined with posture and breathing, activate the body’s lower Dantian. This technique encourages voluntary muscles to act non-voluntarily and vibration force to move around the body, creating spontaneous movement and opening the channels and meridians. Spontaneous movement exercises can be both great fun but also allow healing and deep insight and eventually bring about a natural state of meditation.
At a later stage one can awaken latent functions.
During exercise one can feel the energy activity within the body as a sensation of something moving, sometimes very strongly. This qi activity is called neiqi, in qigong terminology meaning internal energy. In Taijiquan one only uses the word qi to describe this. There are infinite levels of refining this force and a continuous process of balancing and harmonizing. You can think of this as a kind of fine tuning to a more and more subtle degree, which not only develops force, but also sensitivity. We can see the interplay of Yin and Yang and their innumerable permutations perfectly illustrated in this fine tuning idea. The body is receiving and transmitting information to an ever more refined level.
In a Taijiwuxigong class every individual works at their own pace and complete beginners can work next to experienced practitioners. This means you can join a class at any time.
I would love to tell you more about some of the specific experiences I had studying with Dr Shen, but I will save that for part two! I will just say that in these past thirty years of study and teaching I have been on an incredible journey which has brought tears and laughter, healing and insight and personal peace and strength. I want nothing more than for everyone to experience some of the great joy of this elegant and transformative practice. Don’t be shy. Give it a go!
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality... A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us.” Pema Chodron