The journey

The healing power of Qigong

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This is a guest post, written by Sharon Nepe, a Holden Qigong Teacher since 2017 living in Papakura South Auckland. 

I was blessed to have made friends with Emily when our paths crossed on our healing Qigong journey with Lee Holden Qigong. The journey started for me with the loss of my late husband in 2010 after a 7-year battle with renal failure.  I had given up my career to care for him fulltime and found myself alone and stuck in a grief and depression that I just could not break free from. I needed the pain to stop and many days just wanted out of life. I was also battling chronic lower back and hip pain from a badly degenerated disc in my lower spine.  I found myself under mental health services and on anti-depressants after my GP got a bit freaked at carrying the risk as my depression escalated.

It was a couple of years on and still trying to find the right anti-depressant that I found Lee Holden on U-tube. I felt an aliveness I had not felt for a long time as I had a go at a couple of his Qigong classes.  I ordered many of his DVD’s from the US and started a regular practice. I found it easier to face each day and developed a thirst for the Taoist teachings. The practices helped me reconnect with life and slowly heal my grief and depression.  My back pain became more manageable and I was physically able to do more and more. As I healed, I was able to come off the antidepressants and I trained to be a Mental Health Peer Support Specialist. I have worked for the last five years supporting others in Community Mental Health on their own journey of recovery.  A couple of years ago Lee made the Qigong teacher training available online and I knew a life sharing this practice that literally saved my life was what I wanted with all my heart.

I am so fortunate to have a manager that allows me to run Qigong mindful movement sessions in my Peer Support role.  I run weekly classes at a community centre in Pakuranga and have also at the hospital for staff in their lunch breaks.  I have patients attend who are so socially anxious that they come into class not wanting to talk to or look at anyone. Now my group meet after class sharing lunch, board games, smiles, laughter and support.   One young man a couple of weeks ago told me I had done a miracle. He said he had been so anxious when he came to class and felt bad. Now he was calm and peaceful. That touches my heart. I see them relax and connect with themselves, with others and with the renewing energy of the elements.   Together we are learning to trust in and enjoy this practice that is restoring our health and wellbeing.

Encouraged by Emily I am so excited to also be travelling to Santa Cruz California in October to complete my level Two Teacher training with Lee.  At 53 years old it will be my first flight overseas in 42 years. I am so looking forward to spending time with like minded Qi junkies. In the mean time I am starting my business Rhythm of Life Qigong and will be kicking off with community classes at the Howick Leisure Centre in East Auckland from the beginning of April.  

If Lee had not developed and shared his empowering integrated style of Qigong, I may not have made it through my grief and depression.  Now it is my turn to pass it on. To teach there is hope and always, always an answer we have not yet found. For me and many others those answers came through Qigong.  I have gone from not wanting to be around anymore to wanting to live another 100 years as there is so much I want to experience, so much to learn. I have also been blessed with finding love for the second time in my life with a man who is supporting my Qigong journey.  Qigong taught me to be open to new possibilities and not live in the past.

Qigong has the power to transform and heal body, mind and soul without the negative side effects of western medicine.  You can’t experience it by just reading about it though. Make it a daily practice and restore the rhythms of your own health and wellbeing.

Thanks again to Emily for having me as part of her Qi Tribe for inspiring me and for this opportunity to share.

 

 

Master stress with this simple technique

One of my “aha” moments in my Qigong journey came when I learned this simple technique to turn stress into vitality.

Imagine you are stuck in traffic, you are late to pick up the kids / get to an important meeting / *insert your reason here* – what would you do? Most people tense up their bodies in an attempt to control the situation – sounds silly right? For some reason the default reaction of humans in stressful situations is to tense up – as if by some feat of magical power, the traffic will suddenly start flowing if our shoulders are super tight, we grind our teeth and clench our jaw.  So why is it that some people cope really well in the same situation, they turn up the volume on their favourite tunes, stay relaxed and enjoy the moment of the traffic jam, and others turn into raging frustrated mess?

They have figured out that the only thing we have control over is ourselves, our own bodies and our own actions. We may have some limited influence over others, but in reality we can’t control other people or situations. We especially cannot control traffic jams. It takes an enormous amount of energy to keep our body tense in a futile attempt to control something that’s out of our control. Yet this is exactly what most of us do every day – building layers of tension, exhausting our energy system leaving us tired, grumpy and no better off than we were before.

So what’s the best way to change things up? The answer is a super simple technique of reminding yourself in the moment of stress, of where you do have influence and control – in yourself. That’s it. Simple right? When you become aware that stress is a natural reaction to wishing things were different, and you understand the only way you can change things around you is to focus on yourself and your reaction to the situation – it suddenly becomes clear – getting tense is a waste of time and energy.

Going with the flow, accepting things with relaxation when they don’t go exactly as you anticipated them to and understanding that you only have control over yourself is a simple, yet powerful shift in perspective.

Emily Drysdale from Bliss Calm Qigong in Hagley Park

Now, I didn’t say it was easy! Next time you find yourself tensing up in a stressful situation, simply observe your reaction with no judgement. Be kind to yourself. Take 2 -3 deep slow belly breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Observe how you feel. Often all it takes is a couple of minutes of deep belly breathing to shift your nervous system from a state of stress, fight or flight into a state of relaxation – it’s like taking your nervous system a little holiday without leaving the room (or car!). As you relax, the energy that was trapped in your tense muscles begins to flow freely, boosting your vitality, leaving you feeling vibrant and energised.

Qigong embodies the principal of relaxation and flow. Often described as a moving mediation, the flowing movements of the body allow the mind to become still, and align you with the energy of the constantly moving universe that is all around us.

 

If you’d like to transform your stress into vitality, join me for a lovely lunchtime Qigong session on the banks of the Avon in Christchurch, every Tuesday and Thursday 12.30 – 1pm over summer.

Fire, the element of summer

In traditional Chinese medicine, summer represents the fire element. The energy of fire is dazzling, exciting, all embracing and very yang, just like the strong summer sun warming the earth enlivening the plants and animals, brimming with energy.

As we look inwards the fire element is represented by our hearts. The fire of the heart symbolizes our relationship to ourselves and to others.  It’s the element of enjoyment. It dictates our ability to give and receive love, warmth and joy with our friends, colleagues, intimate partners, and that particular feeling of oneness with the universe.

The heart is the ruler of emotional energy. Love, joy, happiness, compassion are all positive expressions of heart energy in harmony. When the heart is pulled off balance, negative emotions such as anxiety, panic attacks, hastiness, rushing, impatience and hatred appear.

Summer has a way of provoking the fires of the heart to lead us to new emotional experiences. When fire and heart energy is directed in a healthy way, we can feel joy and happiness circulating throughout our body.

Legendary adventurer Wim Hof talks about the importance of enjoyment even in extreme situations in this interview with Elise Loehnen from Goop. When he’s climbing Mt Kiliminjaro wearing nothing but shorts, or running a marathon in the Sahara without water, he relaxes, goes with the flow and refuses to tense up and become rigid with his thinking which in turn allows his body to achieve the seemingly impossible –  great comfort in extreme conditions. He’s adamant that he’s no super human and anyone can tap into their deepest potential just like him.

These are principles that also apply to Qigong practice – enjoying the movements, stretches and flows helps increase harmony with the mind, emotions and body, leading to deep relaxation, less stress and more energy, allowing you to tap into your highest expression.

Join me for the Summer Lunchtime Series where we will explore the fire element, learning Qigong techniques to enhance our connection to our heart energy and balance our emotions. 

Who will you be this year?

It’s that time of year to reflect on the year behind us, and set intentions for 2019. Who will you be in 2019? Richer, stronger, healthier?

I heard this lovely Zen story recently and it reminded me to be grateful not only for the wonderful experiences to come in 2019, but also for the struggles we will face and the hardships we will endure. For they are the real treasure – the opportunity to grow and learn and become better than we are today.

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.

After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

The peasant learned what many of us never understand:

“Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.”

Recently I listened to Oprah interview former Catholic nun, world-renowned religious scholar and author, Karen Armstrong. In our “perilously divided world,” we need to live more compassionately now more than ever, she says.  Karen outlines simple practices anyone can do in hopes of making a lifelong commitment to creating a more harmonious world.

In Qigong we learn that the world around us is a mirror to world within us. My new years resolution is to be more compassionate, not only with all the beautiful people whose lives connect with mine, but also to look inward, and be more compassionate with myself. What’s your resolution, who will you be in 2019?

It’s officially official!

Over 12 months of study and hard work, about 600 hours practice including 60 hours in person with Lee Holden in Santa Cruz has lead to it being officially official – I am now a Certified Holden Qigong teacher.

Huge thanks to my lovely family for supporting my Qi passion, my gorgeous friends for turning up to class, even in the rain (Becks!) and my amazing colleagues who have been kind, generous and supportive of my lunchtime classes. Not to mention my US based Qi-buddies who’ve been up for teaching via Zoom at all hours of the day and night.

Emily Drysdale Qigong Certificate

 

The three treasures

Going into the holiday season it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to fix what’s going on inside, on the outside. Shopping anyone?? We’ve all been there. It’s a short fix, and before you know it that shiny must-have piece of tech or amazing can’t-live-without-them shoes have lost their lustre, your house is more cluttered and you’re daydreaming about your next gotta-have-it item that will solve all your problems.

One of the fundamental practices of Holden Qigong is the beautiful transformative concept of The Three Treasures. The story goes that the angels and God were having a discussion one day in heaven “Where should we hide these treasures? If we just give it to people they won’t appreciate it, we all know that. So let’s hide them, then when they find them they will really appreciate it. Will we hide it on the top of a mountain? No too easy. What about at the bottom of the ocean? Nope too easy still, they’ll find it there too. Then one said I know, lets hide it inside themselves, they will never look there!” So the Three Treasures are within us, the three marvelous energies are within us.

There’s no clear definition of what the Three Treasures are. We can experience them, but can’t put them in a box. Essentially they your personal experience, they are unique to every individual, like no two waves in the ocean are the same, each person’s experience of the three treasures is unique.

The Three Treasures reflect the answers to three questions – Who are we? Why are we here? What do we want? In a simple sense, the Three Treasures are the energy of our body (Jing) our heart / emotions (Qi) and our consciousness / mind (Shen). When the Three Treasures are aligned and in balance it brings peace, harmony and effortlessness. When there is a disconnect, it can manifest as stress, sickness, feeling unfulfilled or struggling to find meaning and purpose with your life.

By practising Qigong with a focus on the Three Treasures you cultivate a strong connection between your mind, emotions and body, allowing your highest purpose to channel through you.

“Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest life in a hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief came the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught the thief. ‘You have come a long way to visit me,’ he told the thief, ‘I do not want you to return empty handed. Here, take my clothes as a gift.’ The thief was bewildered. But he still took Ryokan’s clothes and crept away.

Ryokan then sat naked, and watched the moon. ‘Poor fellow,’ he thought to himself, ‘I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.'”

As you begin to wind down for the holidays, it might be worth reflecting on those three important questions. Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want? We don’t all have the luxury of being a Zen monk in a cave, we have the added challenge of finding peace and harmony in a chaotic world with ever present demands of families, jobs and our busy lives.

What does this mean for you?

Going with the flow…

Just south of Santa Cruz, in Moss Landing, California I had the enormous privilege of sea kayaking with 15 enormous humpback whales as they (and about a hundred sea lions and sea birds) ate lunch last month.

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Sea Kayaking with Humpback whales in Moss Landing, California

They were in equal measures beautiful, awe inspiring and terrifying. I shouldn’t have been even a little bit uncomfortable, as they actually were incredibly kind to us given we were probably quite hard to avoid (just google whale landing on sea kayak and you’ll see what I mean). The sea lions were like sea puppies, having the time of their life chasing around where the whales surfaced looking for a free bite. The sea birds were competitive to last scrap.

The grace, beauty and gentleness of these amazing giant sea creatures still sits with me today. They don’t rush, they take their time. They are the living embodiment of the Qigong philosophy of going with the flow. A wonderful way to live if you ask me.

Massive thanks to the brave and wonderful Gianna who piloted our kayak, with a remarkable resilience despite suffering a fully asleep leg due to a (very painful) pinched nerve for most of the journey meaning we could only turn in one direction!  She was well outside her comfort zone, yet didn’t let on quite how bad it was until we were safely back to shore.

Dave from Venture Quest Kayak tours totally over delivered on the promised whales and sea life, an experience I’ll find hard to forget.

Qigong bliss

A month ago I was wrapped up in wonderful bubble of morning Qigong on the beach,  afternoon lectures and evening practices with a wonderful community of like minded Qigong teacher trainees from around the world being taught personally by Lee Holden.

Lee Holden with Emily Drysdale
Qigong master Lee Holden with student Emily Drysdale on the beach in Santa Cruz, USA

A highlight was a special trip to the Land of the Medicine Buddha in the redwoods near Santa Cruz.

Although Qigong is the most popular form of exercise on the planet, with over 80 million people practicing daily, it’s almost unknown in the west. There are over 3,500 different styles of Qigong, all with their own objectives yet all sharing the principle of moving with the breath, with intention, relaxation and flow.

Lee Holden is the master for Holden Qigong, for the last 30 years he’s studied with many lineage holders and famous Qigong masters around the world distilling their wisdom and expertise into an easy to understand, practical style that is wonderful for integrating into our western lifestyle.  After over 200 hours of teacher training with Lee, I am excited to bring the Holden Qigong style to New Zealand.

Qi on the beach! Sept 2018
Holden Qigong teacher trainees on the beach in Santa Cruz

We start the class with an awareness of where we are, focusing on our breath. The class then moves to some gentle warm ups and stretches, followed by some flowing movements, standing postures and finally a short meditation.

In many ways, Qigong is similar to Yoga in that they both work with our internal life force energy. In Qigong this is called Qi, in yoga it’s called Prana. Both practices work with energy to prevent illness and cultivate vitality. In fact thousands of years ago Indian yogi’s travelled to China to learn about Qigong, and share their wisdom of yoga. This shared history means that a lot of the postures you may be familiar with in yoga are also present in Qigong. In Qigong the focus is on flowing movements that reflect nature, with the goal to release tension, become more resilient, increase strength and flexibility.  It calms the mind and brings a deep integration between all parts of your being.

Our class was filmed practicing on the beach in Santa Cruz (below), it captures the inspiring power and flow of Qigong. If you’d like to try Qigong, check out what classes I am running at the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the right amount of Qigong for me?

 

Got 5 -10 minutes? Take a Qi break.

Got 20 minutes? Get your Qi flow on.

Got an hour – you hero. See you out there Qigong-ing it up.

Really it doesn’t matter how much time you have, any Qigong is better than no Qigong. You will immediately feel the benefits even if it’s only a quick 5 minutes squeezed into your break time.

Advice on how often you should practice Qigong is varied, with some experts recommending 20 minutes 3 times a week, others recommend an hour a day personal practice followed up by another session where you learn new techniques and do your Qi homework.  Really what matters is that you listen to your own body, you will know the right balance for your lifestyle.

You might just find that you don’t have time not to do Qigong.

If you’d like to join us for a short & sweet session, join us for Forest Qigong. The winter sessions start 23 July, 2pm – 2.40pm, Mondays and Wednesdays in Little Hagley Park. Drop-in’s and beginners are welcome, there’s no charge. Wrap up warm (gloves and hats are recommended if it’s a cold day). Check out our Facebook page for updates / cancellations.

 

 

Which of the five elements are you?

I recently completed a 40 hour Qigong immersion course on the five elements, which is a core principle of Chinese medicine. When the elements water, wood, fire, earth and metal are balanced physically, mentally and emotionally within ourselves we feel calm, happy and healthy. Each of the five elements is present in nature, as well as within us. As well as theory, Qigong techniques and mediation we also learned that we tend to favour one (or more!) of the five elements in our personality type as well.

In the book Between Heaven and Earth there is a quick quiz you can do to find out your psychological five element type. Do you have one type that you are strongest in, or two or three that are all about the same strength? Find out with this online version of the quiz from the book. Once you’ve taken the quiz, find out what type you are most like on the “results code” tab in the quiz.

Looking into what type you are is not only a little fun, it can help define why we struggle in some situations and excel in others.

The following descriptions of the personality types of the five elements are taken from the book Between Heaven and Earth:

Wood – The Pioneer

Striking into the wilderness with a bold adventurous spirit to break new ground, face challenges, overcome difficulty and conquer the unknown. The pioneer is action orientated.

Water – The Philosopher

Preoccupied with seeking the truth and exploring the hidden mysteries through the medium of his own imaginative mind.

Earth – The Peacemaker

Stable, centred and relaxed, drawn towards being a mediator in the service of harmony and unity.

Fire – The Wizard

Magnetic and exciting, inspiring faith that dreams can be realised and desired fulfilled.

Metal – The Alchemist

Observes, studies and analyses phenomena to extract fundamental laws and principles in the service of universal order.

How do the five element archetypes interact?

Wood does well under intense competitive pressure that upsets Earth and paralyzes Water. Water prefers to have time to think things through and Earth feels most comfortable when people are working together cheerfully. So Wood thrives on the challenge and fast pace that threaten Water and Earth.

Metal appreciates the same order than can hastily be case aside by the impulsiveness of Wood and the excitability of Fire. Earth can be hurt and discouraged in attempts to be warm and friendly with Metal and Water types who remain detached and withdrawn. Yet Earth may also be just the animated, imposing social force those types need to be included in events that would otherwise pass them by.