begin at the beginning
The whole sphere and orbit of Neidan yoga circles about standard practices of energy medicine—especially traditional Chinese approaches such as acupuncture, medical qigong and Daoist alchemy. Other important sources of guidance include Ayurveda, shamanic work, and modern tools such as body-centered and object relations psychotherapy, cranial osteopathy and visceral manipulation. Rounding out the lineup, we have the time-honored traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Hindu Yoga, both of which have incredibly rich insights and techniques for inner and outer transformation.
When a client shows up at the clinic door, the first thing to address is “what’s up?” That is: “what do you want some help with?” Health and fortune along with the sun and weather simply come and go so what’s important now may not be so later. Nevertheless, it IS important now. In medicine, we call this an acute condition. Acute simply means the situation is on top—it needs attention now. So, the symptoms a client reports as the problem or goal may or may not be the real cause of the situation. The first goal in treatment therefore aims to patch up whatever needs fixing while at the same time seeking to understand—and eventually access—the deeper more relevant reasons for the situation.
Although there are many situations where what’s wrong can be clearly identified and appropriate therapy commenced straight-away—say, the patient has a sprained ankle—it just ain’t so for the deeper work of living and growing spiritually. Why? Because nature, and this means you and all your experiences and concerns, spans many levels of expression like a rainbow. You know this from experience but like everyone else tend to shelter within the safer borders of the known and obvious—that is, you hang out in everyday experience and awareness even though you know, maybe “for sure,” that other worlds and possibilities exist.
Rainbow over Hawaii — You have many aspects too just like the different colors and hues
Spiritual practice helps you to move beyond your own limitations to these more rewarding venues. But the price is: change. And this culls out the real rub. Simply, there are many voices both pro and con at work all the time. If you rock the boat in a little way, they push back a little. Why? Simply because no one and no thing really likes to be stressed and most of nature runs by habit so unwanted change or change that happens too fast or too awkwardly runs into opposition.
Big inner change usually leads to big outer change
Well then, what happens if, despite your best efforts at being politically correct, you rock the boat in a big way? Yes, you are so very, very correct—all those voices both pro and con push back—AND HARD. So, true spiritual transformation necessarily causes some big ripples in the cosmic pond. Hence, once you have started addressing your immediate concerns—the acute conditions—the swift next step takes you out for a sprightly but judicious shopping spree to latch onto a sangha (spiritual tradition or group of fellow seekers on the path) that can serve to support your growth and shield you somewhat from all those cranky voices. This gives the first two steps on the path:
step 1 — fix what’s on top
You need to understand what’s happening in your life in the key areas such as health, finance, relationship and personal meaning. If you haven’t already, take an inventory of what’s going on and what your goals are. Then prioritize all the items—whether a challenge or a goal. Pick one or two of the topmost tasks to begin with. The idea here? Anything in life can be used as a vehicle for personal and spiritual transformation. In energy medicine it’s common for the life force (of a person or nature itself) to manifest—that is, speak through—some seemingly innocent symptom or experience. For instance, an upset tummy might belie personal anxiety about an upcoming event.
So, whatever you choose to work on will be addressed both at the surface (acute) level and at a deeper, more symbolic and archetypal level that can provide clues and guidance for transformation of your heart, mind and luck. At the surface level, you just need to work practically to get the job done. If needed, you may have to learn new skills or improve your current abilities. Just like a good business person or engineer, you should plan your day and coming months and organize your activities. Not everyone’s so practically-oriented but these skills—to some degree—must be mastered.
In an energy medicine session, these acute symptoms receive attention and treatment but the real work centers on tapping into the deeper patterns and beginning to unravel them. Likewise, here, with your topmost task, you must dig deeper into your heart and understanding to effect a more powerful change. In Neidan yoga, now’s the time for you to pick up the thread of qigong practice.
You need to classify your goal or healing focus into an energetic pattern so you can use techniques that have worked for thousands of years to help you get the improvement you want. In Daoism and Chinese medicine, any symptom or situation gets associated with a particular energetic pattern and it is this pattern which is treated in therapy. Returning to the example of a fluttery tummy from before: a practitioner would treat the related pattern, say, “Stomach fire,” rather than what the client complains of: “my stomach just doesn’t feel right but eating a meal helps make it better.” Accordingly, your objective now pivots on finding an appropriate metaphor.
Bagua - the eight trigrams relate to the four seasons: SOUTH = Summer; WEST = Autumn; NORTH = Winter; EAST = Spring
The first level to use simply stems from the four seasons. Does your goal somehow seem more related to spring, summer, autumn or winter? Think about the qualities of these times such as weather and the cycle of time—for example, spring is a beginning and autumn is a harvest. With this relationship in hand you can use the following fundamental qigong practice to garner real and positive transformation for this area of your life. And, don’t worry if you haven’t got a clue about which season is correct or if you’re not quite sure about it: the following practice will, over time, help you to identify the real pattern and fix it.
practice 1 — strengthening the good
Regardless of what your first goal may be, it’s commonly true in Chinese energy medicine, that a good place to start treatment is the middle of the body—what is called the middle burner (middle jiao, MJ). This corresponds to the stomach, pancreas, liver and other organs in the middle part of the torso just below the ribs but above the navel. In terms of seasons, this relates to late summer and has a special relation to the four other seasons. You might think of a circle with each season in a quadrant (refer to the above diagram of the bagua). Late summer is like the central point so all four seasons revolve about it. By starting your qigong here, you will be working toward a solution no matter what and, over time, with some coaching (coming up) you will be able to get clearer insight into the pattern and the better ways forward for you.
The below video, Introduction to Spiritual Qigong, explores five specific skills used to cultivate energy and awareness:
1. Sweeping qi (in and around the body) (starts at 5:00)
2. Projecting qi (thru the central channel and far out of the body) (starts at 10:15)
3. Tai Yin — Yang Ming streams (harmonizing the middle jiao) (starts at 20:35)
4. Liver toning (salutation to the spiritual teacher and/or Spirit) (starts at 33:00)
5. Building qi (strengthening qi at the crown chakra and Dan Tian [elixir field]) (starts at 43:45)
As explained, but not demonstrated, there really are two more aspects needed:
6. Breathing / pranayama (combined qigong and breathing exercises)
7. Meditation / healing work (harmonizing the body, heart, energy and mind)
So, your first task in Neidan yoga combines the goal you identified (“what’s on top”) with the third qigong set in the video (Tai Yin — Yang Ming streams = Spleen, Lung, Large Intestine and Stomach meridians). The set starts at about 20:35 minutes into the video and is the part where one hand traces from the opposite-side leg up to the opposite-side hand and then across to the same-side arm and then down to the same-side leg.
As suggested on the recording, practice at least three rounds and work up to seven or more. While you run the qi with your hand you should focus on the desired goal or healing outcome. At the end of the practice, while resting with hands at the Dan Tian, focus one more time for a minute or more on your healing goal. This is the stuff of powerful transformation and does work—if you give it time and faith.
Sweep the front four meridians in order: Spleen up to same-side Lung; then Large Intestine across to opposite-side Stomach; then repeat starting at opposite-side Spleen
And as a final note for those with a background in energy medicine or who are just plain interested: this beginning set corresponds to the time-honored first step of building/finding a “safe place” (that is, marshaling up some resources) before going and looking for “trouble” (that is, the bad guys and gals who need fixing). In Chinese medicine, qi must be strong (tonified) before it can be used to break up blockages and establish more effective physiological function. The same initial step echoes in many other approaches: psychotherapy, spiritual practice and, even, business process management—you can’t get anything profitably done unless you have some useful leverage to instigate and oversee the required activities and changes.
step 2 — get help
Of course, make sure to follow the good advice of your spiritual teacher and/or healthcare practitioner as well. This person’s advise should have top billing. For, we all need a coach to help with the difficult and hidden parts of our psyche and nature. So, do make sure to have a primary care person who can act as a sounding board and guide for your journey to the better.
Help takes many forms. The traditional Buddhist formula of “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” provides good direction. Called the Three Jewels, these three aspects of the spiritual path reign supreme. They fashion an indispensable context for successful practice. These concepts find different forms in different traditions but all genuine spiritual approaches give central emphasis to:
Spiritual teacher — a master or accomplished practitioner who oversees your progress
Spiritual teachings — the body of knowledge that you study along the way
Spiritual community — a formal, or informal, group of spiritual seekers that study and practice together for the benefit of all members and the greater community of beings in this world
Therefore, along with being practical from the get-go (fix what’s on top), you should also strive to find a community of like-minded folks who can help support you and provide guidance for your spiritual journey. Fixing what needs fixing now is a tactical solution. Finding your version of the Three Jewels is a strategic solution—it will serve you both now and in the long run.