Page 3 - Applying TCM Principles to Western Psychotherapy
The notion of using mind/body modalities is not particularly ground breaking. The practice of mind/body medicine has been around for years and has been an integral part of the programs at prominent facilities like Duke University's Center For Mind/Body Wellness. The emphasis of this article is the particular usefulness of qigong and taiji in treating these ailments because of the duality of their process. This duality allows for the existence of healing energy and assertive (martial) energy to coexist or to be indistinguishable. Other excellent bodywork disciplines like Feldenkrais, Rolfing and Alexander method work on the level of mind/body but can lack the flexibility to reframe fear or anger into confidence or peaceful reconciliation. This is vitally important because the impulses to fight or flee are among the strongest humans possess and when they become exaggerated by illness, injury or trauma such impulses can interfere with healthy living and healing. This requires that the astute healer be able to treat these impulses as an integral part of therapy. This is where qigong and taiji can become indispensable resources for practitioners working with chronic physical or mental illness.
Qigong and taiji instructors become familiar with many types of incorrect posture and movement in the course of teaching qi practice. The instructor's role is to help the student to practice correctly and thereby receive the benefits of qi. One aspect I emphasize in practice is how a student's thoughts influence their movements. A student who has a habit of tasking themselves with thoughts of "I have to get this" and use words like "make" and "force" often have abrupt choppy movements with a lot of tension and little grace. In the practice of push hands their style is more aptly called shove or strike hands. An astute instructor, when this is noticed, can ask a student: "What is that movement, what are you thinking right now". At this point the student often gives a revealing answer like "I feel like I have to win", or " I am afraid I will get hurt". If this is regarded as a verbal expression of blocked or stagnant qi the instructor can help clear or move the qi through verbal suggestion. The instructor can respond to a "I have to win" remark with "Take a long slow deep inhalation into your Xia Dantien, exhale out slow and thin through your Laogong and Yongquan, release the need to strive and fight and let them flow out of your body through your hands and feet and feel striving replaced with calm strong qi". Follow this with a brief explanation that combat is a state of mind. If the student releases combat, all that is left is movement. Calm balanced movement can respond to opposing movement in a far more effective and safe way than rigid combative movement. The combination of verbal and physiological instruction often speeds understanding and releases qi blocks in a way that either technique alone cannot accomplish.
It is also common to work with students who have difficulty maintaining erect posture, are easily frustrated and have a tendency to give up when challenged. Practice with these students can include horse stance Xia Dantien breathing and drawing in qi on the inhale from the earth through the Yongquan and from the universe through the Bai Hui filling the Dantien. The instructor can notice the student's difficulty concentrating or frustration with the practice and ask, "What is happening right now? What is making this difficult for you?" Common responses would include, "I just can't get this right" or "I'm just no good at this". The instructor can address the psychological qi block with a comment like "breathe the calm powerful qi from the earth and universe in to your dantien, release, on the exhale, your fear anxiety and insecurity, replacing them with calm powerful qi". Adding these components to some students' routine can help them, much more quickly, overcome deficiencies in their practice.