VIDEO: “The Art of Stop Fighting” – Master Zhongxian Wu and Damo Mitchell in conversation

In this second of three videos, Masters Zhongxian Wu and Damo Mitchell look at the potency of softness in internal cultivation.

 
Watch Video #1: The foundation form as the most advanced – true learning in Qigong »


Master Zhongxian Wu is the lineage holder of four different schools of Qigong and martial arts. While in China, he served as Director of the Shaanxi Province Association for Somatic Science and the Shaanxi Association for the Research of Daoist Nourishing Life Practices. He has now been living and teaching in the West for just over ten years.

Damo Mitchell has studied the martial, medical and spiritual arts of Asia since the age of four. His studies have taken him across the planet in search of authentic masters. He is the technical director of the Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts, and teaches Nei Gong in the UK and Sweden.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Developing habits to restore calmness: Qigong healing sounds for children and adults alike

By Lisa Spillane, author and illustrator of Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children.


The Six Healing Sounds teach children the calming benefit of pausing and using the breath to connect to the present. Observing the sensations of the body without thinking about the past or the future strengthens our awareness of the peace we have at the core of our being. In Qigong, negative emotions are not considered ‘bad’. Holding onto, cultivating and acting on negative emotions is when the ‘bad’ comes into things. Because negative emotions are part of the ego and have a role to play (mainly related to survival) it’s good to learn how to acknowledge them, listen to anything useful they are trying to communicate and then release the excess of them. Central to this practice is an acceptance that trying to resist, ignore or smother your feelings will only, in the end, make them grow stronger. Rather than letting negative emotions have the driving seat over your brain and body you can teach yourself how to regain calm.

The exercise that generates the most feedback from my book,
Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, is the one that helps children to stop worrying. Basically, worry happens when we meditate on fear, and being fearful gets in the way of clear thinking. When faced with a threat, the mind instinctively becomes more focussed on the urgent actions needed for survival and less inclined towards higher levels of thinking. This ‘fight or flight’ response far exceeds the requirements of our contemporary daily stressors. For children, things like spelling tests and unfamiliar situations and ideas can be interpreted as a ‘threat’, stimulating their adrenal glands and provoking biochemical changes in the brain that incline them to freeze, fight, hide or run. Over-stimulation of the adrenal glands takes its toll on the body, so it’s especially important to develop habits to restore calmness. Through a combination of smiling, deep breathing, visualization, positive thinking, gentle movements and sound-making Qigong breathing techniques help to reverse the body’s stress response and instead support its physical and mental well-being.

These exercises might seem strange when you first encounter them but there is a growing body of scientific research to support them. In my book, Ted overcomes his worries by doing the healing sound exercise for the stomach. The stomach together with the oesophagus, small intestine and the colon, make up what we refer to as the gut. We all know what it’s like to have ‘butterflies in the stomach’ and ‘gut feelings’, but it is a lesser known fact that there are about the same amount of neurotransmitters (one hundred million) in the gut as in the brain. These nerve cells communicate with each other via chemical and electric signalling, processing information and learning from past patterns. The healing sound exercise for the stomach helps children to establish healthy patterns for when they encounter worry. Instead of supporting an anxiety-driven chain reaction, they learn to pause, close their eyes, smile and breathe in the feeling of trust and openness into the belly. They think about their stomach smiling and filling up with a warm yellow light. Then, with eyes open, they exhale worry with a ‘whooooooo’ sound, imagining it leaving them as dark cloudy smoke. Doing this helps the brain and the stomach to calm each other down. Smiling produces serotonin and nearly all of that ‘feel-good’ chemical goes to the gut to help it with digestion. It also reduces cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline and it helps you to relax by getting the brain to release chemicals that not only make you feel happier, but support your immune system too. And, breathing deeply gives the brain a chance to see the broader picture, it’s calming and detoxifying and helps you to feel more positive.


Click to hear what the Six Healing Sounds should sound like!


Worry and anxiety is what keeps most of us awake at night. I know from personal experience and from the response of many of my readers that this practice works as well for adults as it does for children. I actually get a lot of adults telling me they’ve bought my book for themselves!

When you are doing this exercise, yourself or with a child, gently rub your stomach in a clockwise direction. Cast your mind on beautiful images of late summer (in Qigong, each organ is associated with a season) and as you smile, picture your stomach smiling too. Practising gratitude is medicine for the body and the soul so as you do this exercise, say ‘thank you’ to your stomach for all the hard work it does.

A little bit of time spent doing the Six Healing Sounds helps to promote relaxation both physically and mentally. It is also a great way to introduce children to the benefits of Qigong from a young age, and crucially, gives them tools to help themselves to deal with life’s challenges.

Join the Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children community on Facebook!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

VIDEO: The foundation form as the most advanced: On true learning in Qigong – Master Zhongxian Wu and Damo Mitchell in conversation

Master Zhongxian Wu is the lineage holder of four different schools of Qigong and martial arts. While in China, he served as Director of the Shaanxi Province Association for Somatic Science and the Shaanxi Association for the Research of Daoist Nourishing Life Practices. He has now been living and teaching in the West for just over ten years.

Damo Mitchell has studied the martial, medical and spiritual arts of Asia since the age of four. His studies have taken him across the planet in search of authentic masters. He is the technical director of the Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts, teaches Nei Gong in the UK and Sweden.

In this, the first of three videos, the two authors provide key insights and advice for the Qigong practitioner on the steps necessary to move forward in practice, and on the gradual nature of learning and the importance of taking pleasure in repetition.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Managing stress and achieving balance through seated Tai Chi and Qigong exercises – An Interview with Cynthia Quarta

Cynthia W. Quarta has taught martial arts for over twenty five years and was the Activities Director at an assisted living facility. She continues to teach seated Tai Chi classes in a number of locations to a range of ages and levels of physical fitness. She lives in Great Falls, Montana, USA.

In this interview, Cynthia talks about how she came to develop the exercises in her forthcoming book, Seated Tai Chi and Qigong: Guided Therapeutic Exercises to Manage Stress and Balance Mind, Body and Spirit.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to practice martial arts in the first place?

I saw my first martial arts demonstration (jujitsu) when I was nine years old. I wasn’t able to take lessons, however, until many years later when one of my advanced ballet students asked to be excused from classes so she could take her black belt test. That was the first I had heard about her involvement in the martial arts. I offered to barter dance lessons in exchange for instruction in her style of Korean karate (Kwon Bup) to which she agreed. Shortly after that she began teaching several other classes in which I also participated. I finally received my black belt and, after my sensei moved out of town, opened my own dojo. Throughout the succeeding years, I had the opportunity to study Eagle Dragon Chinese Kenpo Kung Fu as well as a smattering of WuShu and Tae Kwon Do.

What motivated you to write this book, and what is it about generally?

While I was working as the Activities Director at a local retirement community, I used my dance and martial arts background to design an exercise program for the residents. When the community changed from one for able-bodied retirees to an assisted living facility for those with limited physical mobility, I had to change my approach. With the help of a core group of resident fitness enthusiasts, I developed a program of seated exercises based on the Yang style of T’ai Chi Chuan and the energizing exercises of Qigong.

This book presents a series of seated exercises to benefit people of all ages and levels of fitness. It is written for therapists and caregivers who want to provide an alternative, effective and creative approach to healing. The book includes instructions specifically for these health care professionals to assist them in their work with their patients/clients.

Why do the Tai Chi and Qigong exercises you’ve adapted in the book lend themselves so well to being practiced in a chair?

Both Tai Chi and Qigong are gentle exercise systems that provide healing and increase overall wellness. Regardless of a person’s situation – whether they are recovering from surgery, recently injured, elderly, or dealing with a chronic disability – these exercises are safe and yet amazingly effective. The emphasis in these exercises is on proper breathing and the involvement of the mind in the process of reducing stress, increasing energy and improving oxygen levels. For that reason the practitioner need not be in top physical condition or, for that matter, even able to stand in order to reap the benefits from the use of these exercises.

What positive effects can professionals hope to see in their clients and patients as a result of using the exercises?

The professional who uses this system with his/her patients will see immediate results in stress reduction, increased oxygen levels, improved appetite, more restful sleep, and a decrease in pain and stiffness. Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School and a number of other medical facilities with research divisions have published studies on the benefits of regular Tai Chi and Qigong practice. I encourage any health care professional considering whether or not to try this program to research these studies (most of them are conveniently available online).

Are there any common obstacles that professionals face when trying to guide their clients/patients through the exercise? How can this book help?

The primary challenge is the lack of knowledge and familiarity. Most of us in Western countries haven’t been exposed to Eastern medicine to any great extent. Overcoming the resistance to a new, holistic approach to improved health is usually the biggest obstacle at the beginning. As time goes on, though, and as patients begin to experience the benefits, their attitudes will change. This book contains a basic but inclusive explanation of Chinese medical theories to help professionals explain to their patients why these types of exercises can improve anyone’s level of health.

Why is it important to include a chapter on self-care for the professional?

If there is anyone who needs help in managing stress and achieving balance in their busy lives it is those who labor daily with patients who are ill or disabled! Therapists must be both relaxed and balanced in all areas of their lives if they are to help others achieve their wellness goals.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy about health?

I believe that an exercise program that works in combination with a healthy lifestyle and a well-balanced body, mind and spirit is the secret to a long and vigorous life. The exercises described in my book are gentle and safe and because they are designed to be practiced while seated, they provide a program that can be used daily even by those with physical limitations or of advanced age. In other words, this exercise system can be used throughout one’s life from youth through middle age and on into the later years, while at peak physical condition or at a stage of life when diminished mobility and strength present a daily challenge.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Qigong is the source of Chinese medicine

Master Zhongxian Wu is the lineage holder of four different schools of Qigong and martial arts. While in China, he served as Director of the Shaanxi Province Association for Somatic Science and the Shaanxi Association for the Research of Daoist Nourishing Life Practices. He has now been living and teaching in the West for just over ten years, and in February 2012 will visit the UK for a series of lectures and workshops celebrating the new Chinese year of the Water Dragon.

We are honoured to publish this special extended interview with Master Wu.


Master Wu, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to Singing Dragon. I think you have just celebrated ten years of living in the West. Have you found over that time that our understanding of Chinese medicine has changed?

The Western understanding of Chinese medicine has definitely changed in the last ten years. I have noticed two main changes, with respect to the general public and the practitioners themselves. In terms of the general public, more and more people recognize the efficiency of Chinese medicine to meet their health care needs. More people are embracing Chinese medicine treatments because they want minimal unwanted side effects (or better yet, none at all) and also want to build up their health in order to prevent a future illness. In terms of Chinese medicine practitioners, I have seen that more practitioners are looking to understand the roots of Chinese medicine, and are emphasizing their own personal cultivation (for example through meditation, Qigong practice, studying the Yijing, Chinese astrology, etc.) to help them deepen their knowledge of Chinese medicine. Also, I see more practitioners are educating their patients about how important it is to strengthen their own Qi by improving their daily lifestyle habits and having a commitment to some internal cultivation practice.

How can Western practitioners best prepare themselves for studying Chinese medicine?

In terms of studying Chinese medicine, there is no difference in preparation for a Western practitioner or an Eastern practitioner. The best way to prepare is to do personal cultivation. In the Chinese medicine traditional education system, before the Master teaches you anything about medicine, they always first stress that you learn to be a good person and to cultivate your virtue. A good doctor first needs to be a good person, and have a good heart to help others. Traditionally, you didn’t learn medicine as a business venture to make tons of money. For the Master to share knowledge with you, he/she has to be clear that your deep purpose and drive is to help others. The HuangDiNeiJing (the Yellow Emperor’s classic text of Chinese medicine) emphasizes that you have to be careful not to teach certain skills to the wrong person – the wrong person, meaning someone who does not carry a high level of virtue.

You are lecturing at the Confucius Institute in London in February on the topic of Qigong as the basis for Chinese medicine. Can you say a little about why this is such an important topic?

Yes, Qigong is the source of Chinese medicine. The whole system was discovered by ancient enlightened beings who made profound connections about their bodies and Nature while in heightened Qigong states. According to the QiJingBaMaiKao (Investigations into the Eight Extraordinary Vessels), a book by the Ming Dynasty’s famous herbalist LiShiZhen’s, the subtle energies of the inner pathways of the body (for example the pulses, the points, the meridians, and even the organs themselves) may be seen only by those who cultivate Fan Guan (literally, ‘reverse observation’), or the ability to look within with clarity. LiShiZhen concluded that only high-level Qigong practitioners could see the meridian systems. Before the modern term Qigong became popularized, all Qigong cultivation practices (including seated meditation) were known as Guan, which itself means ‘observe or observation’, and implies self-observation.

Also, to develop an appropriate herbal formula for someone requires an understanding of Qi harmonization. Chinese herbal medicine was first taught by the ancient shaman king ShenNong (Divine Farmer). Actually, the first Chinese book of herbal medicine, ShenNongBenCaoJing is named after him and it is generally accepted that he wrote it as well. Our legends say that, through tasting the herbs, he was able to feel the different quality of Qi in each herb and understand how it relates to the Qi of the organ and meridian systems in the body. This kind of sensitivity and awareness was possible because he was a very high level Qigong practitioner, and was able enter into heightened states of consciousness and perception.

There would be no Chinese medicine without the ancient shamanic Qi cultivation practices of Qigong.

Would you tell us a little more about Qigong? Many people in the West are confused about what it is.

Qigong is modern, popularized term for an ancient method of physical, mental and spiritual cultivation. It can be translated into English as Qi cultivation, spiritual cultivation or working with the Qi. By the way, by Qi, I mean the vital energy of the universe that keeps everything alive. Qigong practice models a harmonious way of life and has been used throughout thousands of years of history by those who wish to attain Enlightenment.

Qigong involves working with the three parts of the body (Jing, Qi and Shen). In Chinese, Jing means essence and represents the physical body. The physical body is our structure and our container. It holds our essential life energy, our Qi body and our spiritual body. We can strengthen our physical bodies by practicing special Qigong postures. As I mentioned before, Qi translates as vital energy of the entire universe, including of course, the vital energy of your body. Your breath is deeply connected with the Qi body. Qi can also be translated as ‘vital breath’. In Qigong, we cultivate our Qi body by maintaining awareness of our breath and by learning techniques to regulate our breath. This will increase our vital energy or life force. The Shen means spirit, and represents our spiritual body. In general, our mind is related to our Shen. Once we pay too much attention to the external world or worry too much about what is going on in our life, we weaken our Qi. If we are always looking outside, we leak our spiritual Qi. In Qigong practice, we learn to look within in order to preserve our life energy.

How does it relate (if it does) to practices such as Yoga?

I have never practiced yoga, so I don’t have the personal experience to be able to talk about how it relates to Qigong. However, a number of my students are yoga practitioners by profession, and many of them connect their Qigong practice with their yoga practice. They have found that elements of their Qigong practice complement their yoga practice so that in general, the practices enhance each other.

What is the purpose of your cultivation/Qigong practice?

From the view point of Daoist practioners, the Daoist tradition is the immortal tradition. The purpose of Daoist cultivation practices is to become immortal. This often begs the question of what exactly is meant by immortality. In Chinese, the word for immortal is Xian, which is an image of a person who lives on a mountain. Throughout history, many Daoist masters have referred to themselves as ShanRen– Mountain People – because they spend long hermitages in the mountains (or anywhere in nature), cultivating their true humanity. Another word for immortal is ZhenRen– real or true human being. From the Chinese ideograms, we can see that the concept of an immortal is of one who has cultivated good health, happiness, and humanity and embodies these qualities in everyday life.

The idea of immortality or everlasting life has nothing to do with yearning to live forever. On a superficial level, of course no living being can escape death. Death is simply a part of the universal Five Elements natural cycle. However, death is always accompanied by the process of rebirth. In this way, there is no death. In the Immortal’s tradition, we have an expression – XinSi ShenHuo, which translates into English as “allow your heart to die so that your spirit will live.” I interpret this to mean that by embracing death and bringing it gracefully into our hearts, we understand the knowledge of immortality. This, to me, is enlightenment.

Yes, our lives are short – no matter how long we live, compared with the long stream of the time of the Universe, our lives are just a momentary sparkle. Sometimes, when people physically die, their spirits remain very much alive. The quality of our lives is not measured by the time we spend in this world, but how we learn to transform our personal emotional energy into a force that can help others.

You are also teaching a couple of workshops in the UK in February. They sound very interesting – can you tell us a little more about the practices?

Of course. I am excited to be teaching Fire Dragon Qigong in London and Five Elements Qigong in Oxford. Both are traditional Chinese Qigong forms.

Fire Dragon Qigong embodies the spirit of the rising dragon, which is an auspicious symbol of transformation in Chinese culture. Regular practice of this form establishes free flowing Qi in the 12 meridian systems of the body. It also helps transform areas of stagnation, thereby bringing the physical and emotional bodies into a balanced state of well-being. Actually, according to the Chinese calendar, the year of the Dragon begins on February 4, 2012. I will teach Fire Dragon Qigong that same weekend in honor of the Dragon and the great global transformation that will happen in 2012.

The Five Elements theory lies at the heart of classical Chinese philosophy and healing principles and is the foundation of Chinese cosmology and Chinese medicine. The Five Element Qigong form helps harmonize the Five Element’s Qi in our bodies and organ systems with the Five Element’s Qi of the Universe. Regular practice will help us smoothly navigate change in our lives.

What in your view are the greatest benefits of practice for people looking for a healthier lifestyle?

In the traditional Chinese healing system, the definition of medicine is something that embodies these three qualities: vitality, joy and harmony. Anything may be considered medicine, and doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical object. Instead, medicine is any object, event, thought or action that increases your vital energy, brings you joy (that you then can share with others), and helps you live harmoniously with yourself, with your family and friends (and society as a whole), and with Nature. In Chinese tradition, we consider Jing, Qi and Shen to be the best and most important medicine in the world. The greatest benefit of a regular Qigong practice is that you learn to access and optimize your own best medicine within – your Jing, Qi and Shen – to support your daily life.

Does a knowledge of Chinese medicine increase the benefits of Qigong?

Yes and no. In my experience, everyone who has a regular practice of a traditional Qigong form receives benefits from their practice. In ancient times, Chinese medicine was discovered through the practice of Qigong, and it gave a pathway of understanding the Universe through each individual body. In this way, the benefits of Qigong practice precede formal knowledge of Chinese medicine itself. In modern days, we often go the opposite direction, and use prior knowledge of Chinese medicine to help guide the practice. People who have taken time to study Chinese medicine may have a better idea of the specifics of how the Qigong form is working in their bodies. In spiritual cultivation practice, there is a phenomenon called “knowledge stagnation”, where having a lot of knowledge and thinking too much about what you think the practice will do becomes an obstacle to experiencing what is actually happening. On the other hand, advanced Qigong practitioners can use their knowledge of Chinese medicine to really deepen their practice. Either way, as long as you continue your daily practice with an open heart, Qigong will improve your health and deepen the relationship you have with yourself and with the Universe.

You have for some years been teaching an interesting Lifelong Learning programme, where students spend several days on retreat learning intensively from you. Could you tell us a little about this, and about the change and development you see in the students that follow through the programme?

In China, the traditional relationship between the student and Master is like parent and child, so that the Master can continue to give students guidance and support through their lives. Also, in different stages of practice of even the same Qigong practice, students will experience different phenomena, some subtle and some strong. Having step-by-step guidance helps the students understand the changes and keeps them from getting discouraged.

The purpose of the Qigong lifelong training is to create a family-style community of practitioners who are dedicated to supporting each other in their cultivation practice. We meet annually to share our experiences with the practice and to learn how to go deeper on this path to Enlightenment. Our intensive, week-long retreats provide the opportunity to learn a form in such a way that the practice becomes a part of the students, a part of their body and a part of their spirit, and this makes it easier for the practice to become part of their daily life. The retreats offer a different level of experiential learning than a few hours’ workshop or a weekly class can provide.

Over the last ten years of teaching in the West, I have seen many changes in my students – recovery from a disease process, increased energy, strength and flexibility, uplifted spirits, better relationships with others, healing practitioners who report greater success with helping their patients, etc. It is always nice for me to see how close my students grow towards each other during the retreats and how friendships grow into relationships that feel like family. We enjoy having a big Qi family!

Is Qigong a practice in which progress for all students occurs at roughly the same rate?

Not really. Different people have different bodies, different health conditions, different commitment levels (in terms of daily practice) and so have different experiences with their Qigong practice. Even the same person will have different experiences with their Qigong practice. Sometimes you will experience areas of plateau before you reach the next level, sometimes you will feel like you are moving ‘backwards’ in your progress and suddenly shoot forward, and sometimes it is just steady. After almost 40 years of practice, I feel I learn something new from my practice every day, even from the same form, again, again and again.

Would you tell us a little about your own experience with Qigong? How old were you when you began to practice?

I started to try some Qigong practice when I was about five years old, and began to take my practice really seriously when I was about 11. Originally, I practiced Qigong to have some fun. Surprisingly, I discovered many health benefits through the practice. In my first years of my memory, I was very sick, and every week I would have a terrible fever and my parents would take me to the hospital for medicine. I realized that I didn’t have to use medicine to recover when I was 11, and recovered through my Qigong practice even faster. So, I decided to stop taking any medicine and dedicate myself to my Qigong practice. Also, when I was young, I was very nearsighted and needed glasses. One summer break, I spent about one month in nature, practicing Qigong. At the end of the month, my eyesight improved so much that I didn’t need glasses anymore. Anytime I am feeling sick, have low energy, or something in life happens that affects me on the emotional level, I always practice Qigong and it helps me recover quickly.

Did you find it hard to keep up the practice during your education years, and how did you manage it?

Not at all. I followed the traditional way, as taught by my Masters, and got up early, at 4 am, to practice at least 2 hours every day. I lived on-campus during high school and university, and would be done with my practice before anyone else had gotten up. I always felt like I had more time to do everything I wanted than my classmates did. I think I had more energy than everyone else because of my Qigong practice.

Do you go back to China to visit the Masters who taught you?

Yes. Almost every year I go to China to see my Masters and spend time with them. It is the same way I go to visit my parents, just like family.

I know you are the lineage holder of several lineages. Would you tell us a little about what this means, and how the lineage holder is chosen?

In China, traditional arts and disciplines are passed on through a discipleship system. In this system, the acknowledged Master of a given discipline teaches a small circle of students. Traditionally, the Master will always design many obstacles for the students, making it difficult to continue studying. Most students will drop off because of these obstacles. When the Master feels the time is right, he/she will select the next “lineage holder” from the close-knit circle of students who have had the perseverance to carry on. The lineage holder is then responsible for preserving the entire system of knowledge and passing knowledge to others.

Your beautiful calligraphy appears on the covers of your books – would you tell us a little about the relationship between Qigong and calligraphy?

Calligraphy is a form of Qigong — it is movement within the brush and painting with your breath. When we practice calligraphy, we are working with our three treasures, Jing, Qi and Shen, which is the same as any Qigong practice. When we make a piece of art, we need to have the same three elements found in all traditional Qigong forms – correct posture, breathing and visualization techniques. In fact, in the Daoist tradition, we use the calligraphy brush as a tool for healing and spiritual cultivation. One special kind of calligraphy created by a Master is used as talismans for healing and for FengShui purposes.

It seems it all connects up – Qigong, Healing work, Calligraphy, Qin music, Yijing prediction, FengShui. Do they all support one another?

All of these are different styles of Qi arts and Qi cultivation. These practices are Qi vehicles for human beings to connect to Nature and live in harmony. On a superficial level, these practices may seem different or unrelated, but yes, they do connect up. The entire Universe is like an invisible Qi web, which connects everything. As LaoZi states in his DaoDeJing, the universal web is vast, and nothing can escape from it.

Master Wu, thank you so much for answering all these questions. We truly appreciate it, and the Singing Dragon in London is really looking forward to your visit in February!

Please visit Master Wu’s website at www.masterwu.net to find out more about his visit to the UK in February 2012 as well as his writing, teaching, music and calligraphy. You can find his four books published with Singing Dragon – Chinese Shamanic Cosmic Orbit Qigong, The 12 Chinese Animals, Seeking the Spirit of the Book of Change, and Vital Breath of the Dao, as well as his DVD Hidden Immortal Lineage Taiji Qigong – on the Singing Dragon website singingdragon.com

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.

Singing Dragon and Authors attend the National Qigong Association (NQA) Conference 2011

Singing Dragon was thrilled to attend the 16th annual conference of the National Qigong Association (NQA) in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, USA, from August 19-21.

We were so pleased that our distinguished author and Tai Ji Master, Chungliang Al Huang, was asked to give the keynote address on the Saturday night. During his presentation, Master Huang painted some beautiful calligraphy and demonstrated his joyful style of Tai Ji. Immediately following the talk, Singing Dragon was honored to host a reception where Master Huang signed dozens of copies of his four new perennial editions: Quantum Soup, Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, Essential Tai Ji, and The Chinese Book of Animal Powers.

Master Huang signs a copy of 'Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain' with his distinctive calligraphy for Jeannie Peck.

Singing Dragon author Solala Towler was also a presenter at NQA this year. His book, Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life, drew considerable interest at our stand.

Singing Dragon author Master Zhongxian Wu was unable to be with us this year, but in his absence two of his senior students stepped into the breach and led the workshop on the Mother Form. Master Wu’s new book, Chinese Shamanic Cosmic Orbit Qigong, and his DVD, Hidden Immortal Lineage Taiji Qigong, were very well received by the attendees.

We had a phenomenal time at NQA this year and we wish to thank the organizers, presenters and attendees for their good will and positive energy!

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Singing Dragon author Master Zhongxian Wu on the Shamanic Root of Qigong 气功 and of all Chinese culture

Excerpted from the Introduction to Chinese Shamanic Cosmic Orbit Qigong – Esoteric Talismans, Mantras, and Mudras in Healing and Inner Cultivation by Master Zhongxian Wu.

The Shamanic Root of Qigong 气功

When I was a child in China, I was curious about the way that the local Wu 巫 (Chinese shaman) would give treatments to patients. How could an acupuncture needle release the pain when the Wu placed it in a suffering patient’s body? How could chanting, meditation, and use of talismans help patients recover from illness? Although I gathered more knowledge about the principles of Chinese medicine as I grew up, I did not get answers to my questions during my childhood. Ever inquisitive, I sought the answer to more questions: What are meridians? What are acupuncture points? Where did this knowledge come from? How did this intricately layered system of medicine develop? Through decades of dedicated Qigong and self-cultivation practices, I gradually found the answers to these questions. As my practice of ancient Chinese wisdom techniques deepened, I began to understand that ancient Wu 巫 (Chinese Shamanism) is the root of all Chinese culture.

In ancient China, shamans were respected as sages, or enlightened beings who understood the way of nature and how it related to human beings. Ancient Chinese shamans considered human beings as the precious treasure residing between heaven and earth. How then, does one protect this precious life? Through study and observation of the Universal way, the ancient Chinese sages realized that achieving harmony in the body is possible when a person follows the balancing principles of the universe in everyday living. With living in harmony as the final goal, the ancient shamans created an ancient life science system designed to keep the physical body, the mind, and the spirit healthy. Today, we know this ancient life science system as Qigong 气功.

Choose A Beneficial Qigong Form

The term of Qigong made with two Chinese Characters: Qi 气 and Gong 功. In English, Qi translates conceptually as vital energy, vital force, or vital breath, while Gong translates as working hard in the correct way. In general, Qigong 气功 means Qi cultivation. Any movements, postures or activity done in a conscious relationship with Qi can be called Qigong. If you are not yet aware of the Qi flowing through and around your body, you can cultivate this consciousness through correct traditional Qigong practice, and develop a better understanding of the internal and external Qi network.

Qigong is a way of cultivating knowledge and a method of practice that should be learned through correct and careful guidance and through personal experience. You will feel it is easier to merge the principles of your Qigong practice into your life and to feel its powerful effects if you have the support of an experienced teacher to guide you. People often ask me what kind of Qigong form will be suitable for them. I always suggest that they choose a traditional style of Qigong, one with deep cultural roots that has proven to be authentic over centuries of practice.

Chinese Shamanic Cosmic Orbit Qigong

Three of the essential practices of Chinese Shamanic Qigong are the Fu 符 (talismans), Jue 訣 (mantras), and Yin 印 (mudras). Talisman, mudra, and mantra are specific rituals common to ancient shamanism. In my tradition, we still preserve and utilize many special talismans, mantras, and mudras as specific techniques for cultivation and healing/self-healing. Fu (talismans) are Qi (vital life energy) energized diagrams, symbols, or Chinese characters used to channel a vital energy in order to create a harmonious Qi field for healing or living. Jue (mantras) are special syllables, spells or sounds used spontaneously to resonate with Universal Qi and to circulate the Qi within the energy network through the vibrations created by your voice. Yin (mudras) are ancient hand positions used to connect with universal energies and act as a vehicle to access ancient wisdom of the Universe that is bound within the body.

Chinese Shamanic Orbit Qigong is a time-honored, esoteric style of Qigong, which focuses on cultivating internal Qi circulation and attaining enlightenment. Ancient shamans discovered that the energetic patterns of nature are reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest, macrocosmic (Universal level) scale to the smallest, microcosmic (living organisms and the cells, organelles and particles within them) scale, they deduced that the flow of Qi in the body is just like the ceaseless rotation of the sun, moon, and stars. Therefore, in Qigong terminology, orbit refers to the Qi circulation in in the body. The fundamental concept of balance in Chinese wisdom traditions holds that you will maintain health and experience well-being if Qi is free flowing in your body.

My new book, Chinese Shamanic Cosmic Orbit Qigong, illustrates the details of the Shamanic Orbit Qigong practice, including talismans, mantras, mudras, movements, visualizations, and therapeutic benefits. I hope you will enjoy this book and gain great benefits from your daily practice.


Master Zhongxian Wu is the recognized master of multiple lineages of classical Qigong, Taiji and martial arts. He has been teaching unique and professionally designed courses and workshops to beginning and advanced practitioners, as well as for patients seeking healing, for over 25 years. In addition to Chinese Shamanic Cosmic Orbit Qigong – Esoteric Talismans, Mantras and Mudras in Healing and Inner Cultivation, he is the author of The 12 Chinese Animals – Create Harmony in Your Daily Life Through Ancient Chinese Wisdom; Seeking the Spirit of The Book of Change – 8 Days to Mastering a Shamanic Yijing (I Ching) Prediction System; Hidden Immortal Lineage Taiji Qigong: The Mother Form; and The Vital Breath of the Dao – Chinese Shamanic Tiger Qigong. He and his wife, Dr. Karin Taylor Wu, live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia, USA, and together founded Blue Willow Health Center. You can find more details about his teachings at www.masterwu.net.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

VIDEO: Lisa Spillane demonstrates the Six Healing Sounds – Qigong for Children

Lisa Spillane is the author and illustrator of the new book, Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, which teaches young children how to transform negative feelings into positive ones by using simple breathing techniques that are based on ancient Chinese Qigong exercises.

Using a special sound for different parts of the body, Lisa and Ted show that a “haaaww” can heal the heart and blow away impatience, and a “whooooooo” can steady the stomach and chase away worries.

In this video, Lisa demonstrates each healing sound from the story so that parents, teachers, carers and children can make sure they’re getting the most from them.

Click below to see how it’s done!

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Lisa Spillane qualified as a teacher of Art and Design at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin, Ireland. She also has a master’s degree in Education and is a co-founder and former Director of Artlink Ltd., a charitable company promoting access to art in the North West of Ireland. Having taught at a number of schools, Lisa went on to work for several years in Northern Ireland on community projects with children and young people. She learned Qigong meditation from attending classes taught by Grandmaster Mantak Chia. Lisa currently lives in Brussels, Belgium.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Teaching Tai Chi and Qigong in Schools – An Interview with Singing Dragon author Betty Sutherland

Betty Sutherland is the founder and director of UK Tai Chi and ‘Chi for Children’, a leading provider of Tai Chi based initiatives in schools across the UK. She has studied Tai Chi Chuan since 1994 and is a senior instructor at the Five Winds School of Tai Chi Chuan. She is also a member and listed as an ‘A’ grade instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain and a member of the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts.

Here, she answers some questions about her new book and DVD, Chi for Children: A Practical Guide to Teaching Tai Chi and Qigong in Schools and the Community.

How did you get in to Tai Chi Chuan, and what do you love about it?

I was originally directed to Tai Chi to help me during a very stressful time in my life. I was actually being ‘bullied’ in work by a boss and this was taking a serious toll on my health and mental wellbeing. A neighbour saw me with a dreadful migraine (I was having regular debilitating migraines) and she said “Take up Tai Chi – you need grounding”. She said this regularly for 2 years until I did indeed ‘take up Tai Chi’. It helped me work out my situation and deal with the daily mental punishment in the work situation, and other people began to notice that I was dealing with things a lot better. I will always thank my neighbour for her insight. (Incidentally years later the ‘boss’ took up Tai Chi!)

To this day Tai Chi is still my solitude and when things go wrong, my head says “Do Tai Chi” and I am compelled to go and do some form – it’s weird but it works.

What was the impetus for establishing UK Tai Chi? How have you found running Tai Chi and Qigong classes in schools?

I was asked to go into a school for their International Day and do a little bit on China. When the teachers saw how calm the students became while doing Tai Chi, they asked me to do more and show them how to help their students by teaching them Tai Chi. Hence the programme of Educational Tai Chi and Qigong called ‘Chi for Children’ was born, and train-the-trainer (the foundation for this resource) established in schools. In 2002 my programme was supported by school sports management and rolled out across Yorkshire (and now beyond).

Most teachers have embraced Tai Chi and the Chinese approach to life, so much so, that I now have several teachers in my traditional Wudang Tai Chi Chuan evening classes. On the whole the educational ‘establishment’ see the benefits to students, especially for the calmness that Tai Chi brings to the classroom. They also recognise the benefits of teaching students how to ‘manage the mind’ and improve their ability to focus and in the long term improve discipline. Mostly students (mainly 6-11 years old) love it and as they calm their energies and come alive to the movements they report mainly good feelings about themselves, of feeling calm but happy and often pleasantly surprised that they can feel Chi (energy) in their bodies. Often teachers attending these sessions will comment on how calm the class becomes during and after Tai Chi.

I have lots of letters and drawings from kids who have enjoyed the Tai Chi sessions, but the one I remember most was a little girl who had obvious learning difficulties. At the end of the session she came up to me and said “Miss, I didn’t think I would be able to do this, but I can”, with a big beaming smile on her face. This to me was the best reward that I could have asked for.

I also have a teenager who was withdrawn and a loner because of family difficulties. This student has since competed in Tai Chi at local and national level. However to me the best thing that has happened to him is that he has stepped forward to mentor and nurture some of the younger pupils and was recently pictured with his arms round them laughing and smiling. Like myself these students have embraced Tai Chi and are reaping the benefits.

How did the book and DVD come about, and what is the idea behind it?

In the early days teachers who wanted to sustain Tai Chi in schools asked me for a teaching resource; they stressed that it would be easier for them if it was in a visual format. I sat down and worked out how I was delivering the sessions and wrote it all down. This was the foundation of the DVD and book. It is for anyone who wants to learn the basics to teach to the younger age group.

How does Tai Chi support children’s physical, mental, emotional and academic development?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the emotions and physical health work hand-in-hand, one balancing the other. When we follow these principles and teach them to the younger generation they benefit from an early age. Recognising that stress, fear and adrenalin inhibits learning, we teach students how to manage the mind, reduce negative emotions and improve and enhance a positive attitude. This in turn can benefit their emotional and academic development, and also helps going forward in life (interviews, driving exams etc.).

On a physical level, I have found that children are not as fit as they could be for their age. Tai Chi is not ‘an easy option’ – it just looks easy. Tai Chi is a ‘weight bearing’ exercise and holding postures develops muscles and bone density. In Tai Chi we ensure that don’t over-stretch or ‘hyper extend’ in the way that some other exercise systems can. A session last between 45 – 60 minutes and the students are standing for that period of time. Most comment that ‘it’s hard work’.

What advice would you give to someone looking to introduce Tai Chi into school and community settings?

I would recommend that teachers attend a Tai Chi class, however my resource Chi for Children will lead the teacher through the basic forms and postures that they need to help them get started. Each and every action is shown in the easy to follow DVD and explained in the book – a teacher could start to teach some of the simpler posture from day one. I know this because I have taught several hundred teachers/activity and community leaders backed by my resource.

Tai Chi is an excellent way to start the day and calm the classroom environment. I would recommend that teachers take learning slowly and as I say in the book – “Encourage your students to help you as you are also ‘new to the subject’. Empowering others always gets lots of enthusiasm.”

Praise for ‘Chi for Children’ from the Barlby Sports Partnership:

“The ‘Chi for Children’ program, delivered by UK Tai Chi has made a huge impact within the Barlby School Sport Partnership.

After a comprehensive review of the partnerships activities, it became apparent that, young people wanted more from their current physical education program. There was also a real need to target those children that took little or no interest in the traditional team activities that were currently being offered.

Alongside this the School Sport Partnership wanted to run an initiative that not only captured the imagination of all the young people involved but offered primary teaching staff the opportunity to gain a qualification in delivery archived through a excellent personalised mentoring scheme offered by UK Tai Chi.

The impact to date has been huge, 20 primary schools (45% of all schools) have been involved with the Chi for Children initiative, with over 20 teachers attending the train the trainer module 1. Over 200 pupils now regularly participate in Tai Chi either in the classroom as a focus session or as a stand alone PE lesson. One school was even used as a show piece example in the Partnership Dance Platform event.

As well as the health and physical benefits to all the young people what has been most encouraging is the impact the initiative has had within the whole school. Schools have been using Tai Chi as a means of stress relief for pupils (and staff) prior to exams, as a means of calming children down after lunchtimes, as a way of focusing children in the mornings to start the day.”

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Lisa Spillane on How Qigong can help children who feel ‘pushed and pulled’ by their emotions

In this interview, Singing Dragon author Lisa Spillane answers some questions about her new book, Six Healing Sounds with Lisa and Ted: Qigong for Children, which teaches young children how to transform negative feelings into positive ones by using simple breathing techniques that are based on ancient Chinese Qigong exercises.

Tell us about your background and your experience of Qigong.

While I’m thankful for the many happy times I enjoyed as a child, it’s mainly the challenges I faced in my early years that have led me to write this book. I was born in New York and lived there until my father died shortly before my eighth birthday. After that we moved to Ireland where my parents were from. My father died from a brain tumor which he suffered with for two years, and the trauma of that and subsequently moving to a new and very different country was a lot to deal with for a little girl. In time, those experiences gave me a desire to pursue a career in education with the aim of helping children to express themselves.

I qualified as a Teacher of Art and Design, and for my Master’s Degree in Education I researched and developed programs for children from at-risk backgrounds and for young offenders. Nearly twenty years ago, along with two artists, I co-founded Artlink, a charity located in the Northwest of Ireland that provides opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to learn and experience art. My childhood experiences coupled with what I’ve learned through teaching have reinforced my view that children need to be taught techniques to manage their emotions so they can develop lifelong habits to protect themselves from the consequences of stress.

I was introduced to Qigong meditation by attending classes taught by Grandmaster Mantak Chia three years ago. Since then I’ve continued to learn through local trainers in Brussels, where I live, and through self-research. The first time I did the Inner Smile and Six Healing Sounds meditational exercises it occurred to me, when I was being shown how to rub my liver, that previous to that moment I hadn’t given much thought to its location. My organs were like abstract objects that I was connected to on a very superficial level. And, it dawned on me how ridiculous it was that even though I’d had this body for so many years and took an interest in health and nutrition, I was unable to confidently point to my spleen, pancreas or liver. I thought to myself that if I’d learned these exercises as a child, not only would I have known more about my body but I’d have been able to help myself in those dark times when I felt pushed and pulled by my emotions. Qigong techniques can help children to understand their emotions better and to have more control over them by showing them that they have the power to transform negative ones into positive ones through utilizing the body-mind connection.

What are the Six Healing Sounds and where do they come from?

This book combines the Six Healing Sounds and the Inner Smile Qigong meditational exercises. Qigong is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The exercises were developed thousands of years ago in China to help people to purge toxic negative emotions from their bodies. Doing them combats the dangerous effects of stress by activating the body’s own healing systems through a combination of: deep breathing, smiling, touch, gentle movements, sound vibrations and positive thoughts. Many of the elements we do instinctively, which is how the doctors of ancient China became aware of them. They created the healing sounds from observing the noises (sighs and groans) people make for different ailments because they realized that these sounds cool and detoxify the body’s organs. In the practice, each organ has its own healing sound, color and set of positive and negative emotions. Also, each organ has a season and associated elements. For example, the season for the liver is spring and its element is wood. To avoid information overload, I’ve only suggested the seasons and elements through the stories and illustrations so that children can absorb them with less effort.

Why are they so beneficial?

Although the exercises are simple and easy to learn, there are many complex scientific reasons for why they work. A good number of those reasons have only become evident to us in recent years through advancements in brain scanning which, for example, has proved that smiling, even when we don’t feel like it, produces endorphins in the brain which help to reduce stress and support the immune system. Neuroscience has also shown that thoughts of gratefulness and appreciation calm the nervous system and protect the heart. We instinctively know that using the breath to calm down is very effective. And, deep breathing also increases the amount of oxygen rich blood in the body which is needed for energy and healing and it boosts the lymphatic system helping it to get rid of toxins.

Is there a “right way” to do them?

There are many variations to this practice. This book demonstrates the exercises I learned from Grandmaster Mantak Chia. I’ve tried others but these are the ones I prefer. That said, I felt it was necessary to make some alterations so they’d be more accessible for children. In the second story I chose to refer to just the stomach, even though it should be the stomach, spleen and pancreas because I didn’t want to overwhelm young readers with too many new words. And, it’s good for them to focus on the stomach at this stage in their lives because there’s so much temptation for children to comfort themselves through eating junk food. This gives them an alternative to trying to numb their feelings of worry with food. I’ve also made alterations to the Triple Warmer exercise. This exercise doesn’t relate to a specific organ, but because it aims to even out the body temperature by bringing hot energy down from the head and cooler energy up from the feet it made sense to me to describe the hot energy as the chattering, busy thoughts in the brain. The exercise ends with Ted resting his hands on his stomach which is roughly the Dan Tian area, which relates to this exercise.

For readers who’d like more clarity regarding the sounds: “haaaww” rhymes with “saw”, “whooooooo” is like the sound an owl makes except longer, “sssssssss” is like the sound a snake makes, “tchewwwww” is like a sneeze sound “achoo” except made slowly and without the “a”, the “shhhhh” sounds like you’re telling someone to be quiet and finally “heeeeee” rhymes with “pea”. And, although you should try experimenting with the volume it’s recommended that the sounds be made softly and slowly.

It’s best to do all the organs in the order they are shown in the book, making the sound at least three times for each one, but you can concentrate on just one or as many as you like as long as you do them in the right order. The more you do this the more you will make it your own. If you get caught up in trying to do it perfectly then you won’t get the most out of it. There are also postures and movements as well as other emotions for the organs to be learned but what’s in this book is more than enough to make a good start with. Learning this practice should be seen as a continuous lifelong process that taps into our inherent abilities to heal ourselves.

Undoubtedly we could all gain something from these exercises – why did you decide to write it for children?

There’s an abundance of information on the internet and many excellent books and videos that teach adults how to do these exercises but from what I see there’s very little on the subject for children. Firing up the imagination with colors and beautiful imagery, smiling and making different sounds are all things I knew would appeal to young readers and the earlier we can learn tools to deal with our emotions the better. The format of a children’s picture book is a great learning tool because it allows for a lot of the information to be presented visually. When we use our eyes to dart around the page to look at all the different elements it helps the brain to create meaning and record images, thoughts and feelings together which in the future help us to remember the sequence of the exercises with all the associated information. And, I think many adults will find through the experience of sharing the book with children that they’re benefiting from the practice too.

How do you use these exercises in your own life?

I try to do the practice daily, either in the morning to give me energy and optimism for the day ahead or before bed as a way of clearing out all the emotional garbage that I’ve collected over the course of my day. More significantly for me though are the benefits I gain from weaving the Healing Sounds into all aspects of my life. For instance, I’ve recently taken up yoga, so when I’m doing a pose that works on, for example the kidneys, I’ll smile and breathe in peace, imagining deep blue calm water filling them and then I’ll make the “tchewww” sound as I breathe out my fears. Or, if I’m confronted with any kind of a challenging situation, I’ll take a moment to smile, breathe, connect to the relevant part of my body and if I happen to be in a public place and don’t want to draw attention to myself I’ll imagine that I’m making the sound as I exhale. I find it helps to stop the stress cycle. Simply smiling, breathing, being aware of what my body is telling me and being positive instead of negative helps to put me back in control of the ship, as it were. Also, if I become aware that I’m worried about something I’ll smile and gently rub my stomach, spleen and pancreas and that helps to calm me down as I try to think rationally about whatever it is that’s bothering me.

Essentially it’s all about making a loving connection to oneself and others. When I’m outside taking nature in, I’ll look at the leaves on the trees and connect with my liver and think about filling it up with generosity and kindness. It’s a great way to quieten the “monkey mind” – to stop negative self-talk and instead bring thoughts of appreciation and joy into the mind and body.

Spiritually it’s been good for me in many ways. For example, when I’m praying I usually begin with a few cleansing breaths and making the “haaaww” sound I’ll think about my heart, release any resentments in it and then fill it up with loving attitudes. And, like Ted in the story, when I have trouble sleeping I make the “heeeee” sound and push all the noise from my head out of my body so I feel more relaxed and ready for sleep.

What do you hope readers, including parents and teachers, will gain from the book?

When my son Dualta was a little boy, it was usually when I was reading him a bedtime story that he would decide to tell me about the ups and downs of his day. Mindful of this need to “offload” at bedtime, I’ve written the stories short enough to give children the space to bring up any negative feelings that may be troubling them. Also parents can choose to just concentrate on one or two stories depending on what particular emotions are raised. For example, if a child is grieving over the loss of a pet it might be more appropriate to just do the lungs and the heart. Using this book as a guide, it’s my hope that readers are led through a process which soothes away troubling emotions so they feel calm and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Teachers can use this book to encourage children to learn about their bodies and to consider how their attitudes and behavior effects themselves and others. Learning through stories is a fun way for children to absorb information and they can relate the scenarios to challenges they face in their own lives. It can be used to prompt children to share their experiences and in so doing they will learn that emotions and feelings are a natural part of life and common to everyone. More importantly, the exercises will help them to see that they can learn ways to manage their emotions and cultivate a sense of peace within themselves.

*Singing Dragon is an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.