￼My Childhood Energy Blocks
Personal Story: The early roots of my journey with Qigong/Tai chi
Excerpted from The Path of a Reluctant Metaphysician: Stories and Practices for Troubled Times ( Mayer, M. 2012, Bodymind Healing Publications).
As a six-year-old child, I remember lying in bed trying to find the best posture to go to sleep. My favorite position was to sleep on my belly with my left leg outstretched and bent, with my left arm bent at the elbow with my fingers pointing up and my right arm pointing downward next to my straight right leg. I realized that the anxiety in my stomach from so much pressure from trying to excel at school was soothed by this posture of lying on my stomach, and from my body pressing against my pillow that lay on an angle from my right ear to my heart. As I slowly breathed and directed the breath alternately up and down the left and right sides of my body, there was some strange peaceful relaxed energy that was released from my left fingers pointing upward and my right fingers pointing downward. This “energetic streaming sensation” that I experienced helped me release my tension and enter into the sought after world of sleep.
It was much later in my life that I learned that the experience of energy I felt as a six-year old is called qi (also spelled chi) in Chinese, which is the focus for a practice of cultivating the energy of life for healing in the Chinese medical system of Qigong. I also found out that the awareness of energy moving up and down is called “the raising and sinking of the Qi.” The use of intention to direct qi is called yi; and in Qigong, it is said, “the yi leads the qi.”
I also noticed, as I was lying in my favorite sleep posture, that one hip felt more blocked than the other— due to a hernia operation and in that era not having physical therapy afterwards. But on the nascent path of becoming a wounded healer, I intuitively tried various methods to heal those blockages. For example, I turned over and switched my position from my left leg outstretched to my right leg being outstretched, which in conjunction with various breathing methods helped to bring balance to my body. Bringing balance to the body by switching postures from one side of the body to the other, I later discovered, is a fundamental part of the philosophy of medical Qigong. It is called “balancing excess and deficiency.” Little did I know in my early years that the sensations in my body would lead me on a quest to discover more about the energy of the body. This path led to my becoming a healing practitioner, teacher, researcher, and writer about the energy of the body and about Qigong in particular.
Though I may be getting a little ahead of the story, later in my life I was fascinated to discover the research of Dr. Felicitas Goodman, the anthropologist who researched trance postures. Her research showed how our ancestors assumed various postures for hunting and survival purposes, and how shamans of indigenous tribes used postural stances as a method to enter into a trance state for the purpose of healing, divination, and metamorphosis (Gore, 1995, p. 14).
As a young child I did not need to travel back to a pre-modern hunter-gatherer society, go to a yoga class, or practice sitting, standing, or moving meditation in order to experience traditions of postural initiation. As a young child in bed, my body was carrying a “higher-glyphic” of what I was later in life going to teach … that postures for expanding human consciousness are part of our everyday waking and sleeping lives. Every child can discover these postures naturally. What is your favorite sleep or waking posture and how is it a healing, postural ritual that brings energy and balance into your life?
When I was sick in bed during my grammar school years, I remember not being able to sleep because I was so congested. I noticed that one nostril was more filled than the other. I instinctively rolled over to my side so that the congested side was higher; and in a few moments, the congested side flowed to the opposite nostril. As I turned from side to side, in those moments of clarity when there was no congestion, I was able to fall asleep. It was much later in my life that I realized this experience was an early entryway into one of the key healing pathways of the ancient art of Tai Chi Chuan. It uses movements of filling and emptying to activate the healing powers of yin and yang.
Borne from my congestion was another part of the path of Taoist healing that I would later discover. Finding the calm place after the out-breath, a person can enter into a zone of peace beyond the opposites of yin and yang. The early Taoists called this primordial state, Wuji (the mother of yin and yang), the void from which they believed creation and healing energy emerges.
After many years of practicing Tai Chi, I was introduced to one of hidden purposes of Tai Chi practice. The movements of the Tai Chi set repeat the cosmogenic creation myth of moving from Wuji to Tai Chi and then back to Wuji. By beginning the set in stillness, and then moving into the world of Tai Chi’s balancing of opposites (of yin and yang), the practitioner enacts a parallel process of the creation of the world (Tai Chi). At the end of the set one returns to stillness. In our everyday lives we all repeat this cycle as we get caught in the world of opposites (of good and bad, right and wrong, stuck and unstuck), and we need to find the relaxed center point of equilibrium to find peace and return to stillness (Wuji).
So, whether we are congested with a cold or with the psychological issues that encumber our free flow of qi, we all are tested in life to look under the crosscurrents that pull us from side to side and find the sacred place of stillness deep within, which is beyond the forces that disturb our equilibrium.
As an adolescent and not confident in myself, I saw that other more popular boys held their chests out more proudly than I did. I experimented with expanding my chest farther and felt a bit more confident. (It was a combination of experimenting with assuming this posture as if I was more confident, and the inner work I did through the years, which helped this stance to gradually take hold.)
This was long before I discovered the ancient traditions of “shape-shifting” that would become one of my contributions to psychotherapy and Western bodymind healing methods. I did not know then that what I was learning in my own life would parallel the issues in my patients’ lives and serve them.1
When I was in high school, I had so much tension in my neck that I was desperate to find a solution so that I could return to studying. I intuitively touched and pressed some points on my shoulders; and after a few (sometimes quite a few) breaths, the tension re- leased. During my acupressure training many years later, I learned that one of the points I touched as a teen was called Gall Bladder 21 and that acupuncturists use this point for releasing neck tension. I further found out, during my medical Qigong training, that the principle of touching points lower than a tense point high in the body to reduce tension is a key to Taoist healing. It is called “sinking the Qi.”
So, not only the renowned mythologist Mircea Eliade (1952) knew that the sacred is hidden in the profane of everyday life; each of us may experience in any moment a natural depth emerge onto the surface of our lives. It may be from a posture we assume while asleep or awake, a place we touch on our bodies, or from an illness we suffer.
When I was a child I did not know that the tension I had, and the subluxated vertebrae below it, was probably related to the fact that I was a forceps baby. In the 1940s, as part of the movement to medicalize childbirth, many mothers were convinced to go against natural childbirth and were given drugs to make them sleep through childbirth and avoid pain. Then the child would be extracted with a forceps— often pulled out by its neck. Dr. Robert Bradley called this, “knock-em-out, drag-em-out obstetrics.” This, I believe, created an energy block in my neck. The pictures I have of me as a young child show a major tilt to one side probably related to this “birth trauma.” Later in my life, various forms of stress (including drinking coffee, or using psychedelic drugs), increased the energy that traveled through my body (and its meridian lines) and created major tension in my neck. Many a weekend I would have to lie still, and I was not even able to leave the house. So, my body carried the effects of the story that the medical system sold, that “a safe painless childbirth could be produced by using medical intervention.” This perhaps sowed the seeds for my later interest in taking into account the “side effects” of medical interventions, and co-founding an integrative medical clinic that specializes in using alternatives to pharmaceuticals whenever possible.
Also, in the 1940s corporations propagandized mothers with the story that their breast milk was not as good as various companies’ formulas. Years later, research showed that babies who were “bottle fed” and brought up without breast milk had increased ear- aches (from which I suffered). So, the hypnotic effect of stories had a direct effect on my life at an early age.
Beliefs, particularly ones that are funded by large corporations, are repeated on tele- vision; and they can alter the most natural and healthy of our instincts. For example, how many mothers changed their behavior after listening to advertising slogans such as, “Why suffer the pain of childbirth, take our drug and be pain free,” or “Take our baby milk formula, it’s better than your breast milk?”
There is a pathway and a solution for those of us (and our bodies) that suffer the bad and lasting effects of others’ self-serving stories. I call this, “The Path of the Reluctant Metaphysician;” and the path of the “Wounded Healer” (Halifax, 1988) is one of the most important trail-ways of its terrain. We are those who, reluctantly, due to a life wound, another person’s false story, or a symptom in our bodies are called to heal these wounds by going on a path that leads to and from the world behind the world. One part of the journey of the Reluctant Metaphysician is to be aware of collective stories that put the mind into a trance state, identify distorted beliefs that poison our perspectives, and to discover healing stories that are remedies for our souls.
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I’m intrigued. Thank you for sharing your early story.
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Fantastic work Michael! Very impressive!
Turning pain into service is awesome.
Your light is shining and I’m very happy to have seen this 🙂
Rachel, Thanks for your appreciation. For those reading this post you should check out Rachel’s personal story in the QuietudeCommunity.com. She has a moving healing story about her healing pathway to Tai Chi.